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A creative blog by Arthur Kegerreis on The Whole 9

Arthur Kegerreis – aka Liberal Art, aka Himat Singh – is interested in way too many things, although curiosity has not killed this cat yet. In LA for 14 years now, he has lived in NYC; VT; Amherst, MA; Santa Fe; Madison, WI; and grew up on Long Island. Arthur has been a cabinetmaker, guitar maker, Kundalini Yoga Teacher, Pilates instructor, graphic designer, composer, and playwright, though he now spends most of his time taking photos, writing songs, making video art, and building websites. Having fought his night-owlish tendencies all his life, he is fascinated by the creative process, so jump in and talk shop into the wee hours…or not.

Rob’s Laughing Heart

After I graduated from boarding school, I joined a handful of tortured fellow graduates who had formed an artists’ colony in Brooklyn. This was the year that Bob Marley died, John Lennon and Reagan got shot, we lost the former and got stuck with the latter. I use the term artists colony loosely; these were a third and diagonally adjacent fourth floor apartment, connected by a well-trafficked fire escape. They became crash pads for a constant stream of high school alumni trying to figure out how long they could put off deciding what to do with their lives. There was a dead TV in the oven. The walls were half-painted. The broken beer bottles remained as evidence of the nightly parties. There was a deaf albino cat named Mingus. Of course, there were roaches. Think of the movie “Mimic” or Patricia Highsmith’s “Trouble at Jade Towers” (dig it up – it’s worth it), and you might have the picture.

I ran into a neighbor in the hall, an old Irish lady in a bathrobe, and struck up a conversation. “Ow many people ya got livin’ up there? 10? 15?” she inquired. “You should tell those girls they shouldna go sunbathin’ up on the roof,” she instructed me, then leaned over and nearly whispered, “Somebody ‘ll rape ‘em and throw ‘em off!” Then she toddled down the hall and slipped into her apartment, like a roach into a wall.

Ah, the roof.

Yes, the roof was our salon. There would be easels with painters at work. The owner of the deaf cat hadn’t yet discovered that he was color blind, and his arrogantly self-effacing paintings all exhibited a strange palette of hues, laying testament to our skewed but lively lifestyle. Jam sessions with a constant stream of visiting musicians fueled the creativity, and yes, the girls were strewn about sunbathing.

Rob Gillespie, photo by Pam Newell

One day I entered the apartment, and Rob, a cynical but funny guy with a long ponytail, clad in an iconoclastic anti-prep de-riguer torn tweed blazer, was sitting by the window with a prized new book. He proceeded to rave about the Strand bookstore in Greenwich village, how he’d looked all over town for this book by Charles Bukowski, nobody had it, but the Strand did. He insisted I had to visit the Strand. He was astonished I’d never heard of Bukowski.

As he drank a beer from a paper container cup from the Park House bar at the corner, smoking a camel straight, he quoted Bukowski voraciously. All I remember now is the passage, “I always take a new job with the knowledge that I will either quit or get fired.” I didn’t like the poetry much, but I admired Bukowski’s spirit and the gall with which he espoused his ramblings as poetry.

As the year wore on, Mingus’s owner and I pushed everyone else out, cleaned the apartment up, painted it, and made it a rather nice place to live. Rob and a few others moved to another apartment down the street, where a similar parade of inhabitants constantly streamed through.

One day Rob walked into that apartment, saw two new guys in the living room, said “Hi,” and walked into the bathroom. When he came out, he discovered they weren’t visiting, they were robbing the place. They tied Rob up, put him in the closet, and stole the only things of value in the apartment; a saxophone and a typewriter.

Seven years later, I emerged from a secret gathering of misfits on the upper west side, picked up a copy of Interview magazine, and perused a larger-than-life Herb Ritts photo of Bukowski’s hideous face. “God, I hope I never end up like that guy,” I thought, before boarding the subway and heading into a new chapter of my life.

As the years progressed, like that apartment, those of us who survived cleaned up our lives and went on to various colleges or careers. Rob and I had never been close friends, but I heard that he had moved to San Diego, and hooked up with Amber, another girl from our high school. They had a son together. He became a Buddhist. Following a recent visit to that city, I realized I had stayed with another friend only a block from Rob’s home, but we only exchanged facebook connections after that.

Last Monday would have been Rob’s 50th birthday, but our friends discovered that he had taken his own life a month earlier. Apparently he had been sober for 20+ years, but had gone back to the cycle of drinking and trying to stop, had lost his job, and ultimately, lost hope.

I think the first time I heard Tom Waits it may have been in Rob’s dorm room – it’s all a blur now – but the album was “Nighthawks at the Diner.” It has always remained the quintessential Waits album to me.

Several months ago, I went to an art gallery in Santa Monica to see a friend’s show, and discovered that she was sharing the bill with Tom Wait’s daughter. Caught off-guard, I found myself a bit star-struck, and watched from a distance as the healthy looking Tom Waits carried on a seemingly clear-headed jovial conversation with a crowd of people, obviously happy for his daughter’s success.

Waits and Bukowski seemed to find the beauty in the darkness, and I think that’s why they resonated with Rob. Thanks old guy, for turning me on to them, and may your spirit find the beauty and peace we all seek.

Tom Waits Reads Bukowski’s “The Laughing Heart:”

  1. I didn’t know Rob…but reading this, I almost feel like I did. What a graceful trip you’ve taken through Rob’s life. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Fabulous reminisce! I love “Nighthawks at the Diner”, the shaggy dog stories and the way Tom laughs and goes, “heh heh…” at the end of a line, or blurts out a little “ownhhh…” One of the first movies I worked on after moving out to LA and graduating from film school was “Barfly”. Mickey Rourke made a great Bukowski. I was familiar with the man from his Beat connections, but I hadn’t discovered Fante up until then. “Ask the Dust”; now there’s a quintessential down and dirty LA saga, in good company with “Day of the Locust” and “Force Majeure”. Rourke made Bukowski seem funny, even sexy, but those guys’ writing always makes me feel jumpy, itchy, same way I get watching “Goodfellas” or reading Stone’s “A Flag For Sunrise”, or with most of Hunter Thompson’s stuff. Too much booze and bad acid and broken dreams. No, being at the end of your rope’s a terrible, desperate place to be, as your friend Rob testified. Not glamorous. No, not glamorous at all.

  3. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story with us, one which resonates deeply within my own heart.

  4. Thanks all. Danger, a friend of mine told me of a chaffeur who’d been hired to drive Bukowski to the set for the filming of Barfly. He showed up at Bukowski’s place as arranged, finding him asleep. After Buke pulled himself together, he instructed the driver that he didn’t want to go to the set yet, and instead they drove down to the south bay to a dive bar he liked. They spent most of the day getting soused there, and then eventually found their way to the set, to the amusement of the crew and director. I can barely remember that film anymore – I remember it being kind of depressing. But Rourke sure made an incredible career of those roles. Like “Spun.” Ah, poor Brittany. But yeah, a life of numbed pain isn’t glamorous at all.

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