The Brightest Fires

This morning before our board meeting (I guess it was officially yesterday morning, now) I had the wonderful good fortune of giving my friend Andy a big congratulatory hug, in celebration of his beating cancer – he had just gotten the confirmation an hour or two before. Fantastic. Incredible, for so many reasons. I’m thankful and happy for him.

Hours later after leaving the office late I was still working in bed, typically banging away at email on my phone around 2:30 AM, when I got an email from a girlfriend I had in college, a very close friend who I hadn’t talked to in years. She thought I already knew, but it came as a total shock : that’s how I found out that one of my best college friends, roommate and co-conspirator in mischief of all kinds, had passed away in February at the young age of 43. I was of completely stunned.

The first thing I did was start typing his name into Google on my phone, which started auto-completing before I could finish his last name:

My heart sank when I saw the word ‘cancer’, and my mind went into an odd state of surreal incredulity.  I got out of bed, put a sweatshirt on, and went to sit in front of the Mac in my studio.  I did the same Google search, which right away produced a full-page of results specifically about my friend Adam Adamowicz, headlined by a Wikipedia entry.  Just now, wondering how deep the relevant results went, I opened page 13 of the results and it was still a full-page of links to sites discussing and mourning his death.

I opened all of the search result links on that first page, and started looking through the pages – then my mac crashed.  Already straining to see clearly through teary eyes, now swearing at this inanimate object that was acting the proxy for my dead friend, I moved to a PC laptop which was sitting on the floor and started again.

The New Funeral for old out of touch friends in the virtual age. Strange but wonderful way to say goodbye. Really, I feel lucky to be able to do it.

Adam was a concept artist, and if you play video games (Fallout, Skyrim), more than likely you’ve lived in worlds that were born from his insanely quick, twisted, wonderful, hilarious mind.

Clearly it was easy for people who loved Adam to paint their version of the artist.  This page and the quotes from his friends really nails it.   Here’s a link to the New York Times article about him.  Awesome Robo created a wonderful post, if you get a chance to view the video on that page you’ll see him at 1:29, sitting among his vast creation.   The Reddit post about him is long. It looks like his artwork is on display at the Smithsonian.  It goes on and on, he touched so many people – truly amazing and wonderful.

I first met Adam when I was a freshman in college at CU Boulder.  I’d been assigned to an unusual room on the basement floor, in the corner of the building, with two other guys.  There was a door on the back wall of the room, which I discovered with great happiness could be opened with the appropriate amount of cajoling, leading to a room roughly an eighth of the size of our regular dorm room.  It was totally over-ridden with dust and spider webs, pipes running everywhere – I fell in love with it instantly, moving all of my loaned CU furniture out of its clean and safe haven to the dark windowless hovel that became my home for the next two years (I successfully petitioned to stay in the same room the next year).  One roommate hated me, the other was amused.

One of my roommates was the quiet, introverted, artsy music-head type of guy that I could totally get along with. I think he was impressed with my obsession with living in a dank closet-like hovel and making odd senseless contraptions, and that’s what likely led to him introducing Adam and I. That first year for Halloween, after painting his face a gruesome green and donning his black leather biker jacket that we bike-less artist types consistently wore those days, my roommate took me to the next dorm over to meet him.  When we walked into his room, (probably Skinny Puppy blaring),  I recall being instantly wowed by the costume makeup he had self-administered.  It was an odd mix of hollywood horror steam punk, and it garnered instant respect.

Those costumes got more and more amazing every year.

I remember taping cheap manila paper up on the walls of my hovel, buying a bunch of pens, and luring Adam over with a 12-pack to get him to draw art on my walls. He got wise to that, but not until after I got a few drawings and after he’d laughed his ass off at my ‘thinking chair’ (my loaned CU lounger up on cinder blocks, with an attached clothes-hanger frame suspending a beer-can mobile powered by a fan motor which caused Bud aluminum to spin around your head at high speed). I remember the beer-ish night we were walking around campus and I introduced backwards-man to him, who comes out as my alter ego sometimes after putting foot in mouth; I did a full audio and physical rewind that made him roar and take up.

My buddy Joel and I got our own place the next year. We didn’t have enough money for a real apartment, so we rented the attic of a house.

The fascist owner of the house had turned the attic into a lie of an apartment, a rubes cheap trick that we had to stoop to walk around in unless we were walking the center line. We were glad to have a cheap roof on our heads. One person was cramped in that hot cubby, two people were constantly bumping into each other. Adam needed a place to stay, so of course he started staying with us. There were only two beds, divided by a make-shift wall made out of unwanted propped-up doors and cardboard, so we took turns sleeping on the floor.

I’d just discovered audio sampling, and had bought a new keyboard, so there were many drunken nights of tempo-shifted bodily noise hilarity. We had a scorpion living in a gutted TV set, and Joel had his homemade weight-lifting rack up there in the attic, for those late-night bench-press contests that our neighbors loved. I’d always wanted a gargoyle at my castle’s entrance, so I made one out of a motion detector, some duct tape and broomsticks (fail). Adam was drawing for comic books and he had me pose in my overcoat for a cover of 2,000 maniacs, brandishing a knife. I later framed it, it’s in my master bath and I look at it every day – so he’s never quite left me.

Then Adam brilliantly found an incredible warehouse in north Boulder to live in, right next to the strip club, auto shops and welding studios.  Here he is in a junk car in his backyard, back then.

The warehouse was perfect for him, and he turned it into an artist’s wonder home. He had fantastic parties there; I remember lighting Joel’s pant leg on fire with lighter fluid, him returning the favor (pre-planned of course, we wore layers), golfing off the roofs of junked cars, and how he took a saws-all and cut the roof off of his already debilitated Saab because he wanted a convertible. At one point he was making great money creating art for raves; crazy huge foam stuff that hung from the ceiling for the trippers.

He worked as a bartender at a local nightclub downtown; friends, brother and I would go and visit and play pool past closing time. Some weekend nights we’d go to Denver, and Adam and I climbed a fair number of fire escapes to be on the roofs of buildings in the middle of the night, with not a small amount of beer driving us skyward. Adam was full of fire, an adventurer. He was the kind of guy you always wanted to hang out with, it was always fun.

I lived in Denver for a while, and these shots were supposed to tell a story, a ludicrous art collaboration, something along the lines of:
“Whoah, that’s a pretty tall tree, Adam. Think you could climb it, and lower yourself on a rope, with a 10-speed bike?”

“Hmmm….let’s seeeeeee here…”

“Yup, wheeee”

“Ha ha!  I was hiding in a large pile of leaves with the hose, to shoot you down!”

Then it came time to move away from Colorado, him to San Fran and I to Seattle.  One one of the various trips back and forth to the coast, we packed his stuff into a cargo van I had at the time and drove west, stopping at Lake Powell for an awesome time.  This is an amazing place that you really should check out sometime.

I dropped him off in San Fran and headed to Seattle to start a new life.

I’ve never known anyone to write letters regularly, except my brother and Adam.  And he wrote hilarious, entertaining, endearing letters.  It may sound odd, but I couldn’t throw them away – I’ve kept them in a box with other important personal stuff I’ve collected over the years.  They’re that great.

Some quotes:

  • I can magically turn a twelve pack of beer into streams of hot pee.  It’s all part of the great circle.  -Twelvpac
  • Facebook…Sucks. Twatter…Sucks. Thanks for the old fashioned email, like we all used to do in the days of yore when computers were carved… from logs.
  • My head is like a treeshredder to any beer unfortunate to come within an armspan, and brother, I got a reach like a goddamn albatross

After a few more years we’d largely lost touch, and even a significant falling out (my fault) , but he continued and still continues to remain on my short list of all-time favorite people ever.

I wrote this largely for myself, to record all of the memories flooding back in an instant after hearing the word.  But I also wanted to share my perspective on the man who left us, and I hope you find it as entertaining as the memories I have of our friendship.

I am entirely shocked, saddened, and full of regret.  My heart goes out to all the people who were close to him and loved him, to our mutual friends wherever you are, and most of all to his family.

Remarkably, one of the last things I said (wrote) to him was “I love you, man”, via email back in March of 2010.   Lucky.

Adam, you made the world a better place.

Jeff Malek

April 26, 2012

Fuck cancer with a flaming barge pole.

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