Larry Epke, Whom I Miss So Much
My friend Larry Epke died a couple of weeks ago at age 57 of a sudden, massive heart attack while visiting family in St. Louis. I’ve been carrying him around in my mind ever since.
Larry and I met about 20 years ago through a baseball project for which we both volunteered. We soon found out that while we both loved baseball, we had more in common, including politics, alternative culture, music, and food.
Back then, Larry was a grain inspector for General Mills. He’d gone to Bowling Green University, where they had a great popular culture department and library, and had graduated from high school in 1969. He’d traveled around the country, working in New Orleans and in the Pacific Northwest, and I was amazed by how much he knew about so many things. He was a pack rat, though a very organized one.
I came to see Larry as a mentor. He remembered things; he processed history and understood it and he was savvy. He introduced me to so much: Terry Riley, Stephen Scott, Brian Eno, the MC5, Sun Ra, Pogo, Jack Kerouac…he was a huge fan of the Velvet Underground, Howlin’ Wolf, beatnik jazz and early-1900s hillbilly music, alternative comics, baseball history, 78 RPM records, and 60s garage-punk. He went to the first WOMAD festival and told me all about a great singer he’d seen named Sheila Chandra.
We shared Indian buffet, Chinese dinners (he found the good restaurants in Chinatown), took the occasional road trip, saw concerts, and went to ballgames, baseball research conferences, and record and book sales. In short, we hung around, although never as often as I would have liked; he lived in the far south suburbs and I way up north by Evanston.
Larry also taught me that you could have a wide set of interests and still be amazingly normal. He was fairly quiet, a wine drinker rather than a beer drinker, almost radical politically but with smarts, empathy, and a great sense of humor. He still loved the Cleveland Indians after all these years.
Many times he came to see bands I played with. We met downtown for lunch. He often commented in this blog, and he read the books I wrote and shared feedback on them. His friendship was precious in so many ways.
Given the depth and breadth of his somewhat unusual interests—alternative culture, music, politics, food, baseball ephemera—it’s surprising to note just how normal he was. Larry was the most well adjusted guy I have ever met; he worked for the CHA, where his colleagues adored him. Kids liked him; even my wife, sometimes a tough sell (especially when music geeks are concerned), thought that he was pretty damn cool. There were no skeletons in his closet…there were, however, plenty of CDs and magazines stuffed in there.
He and his wife Diane lived in a lovely split-level house in Richton Park. Diane had been married before the two of them met, and had three children. Larry was very proud of his stepchildren and talked about them often. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting his stepson Micah and his wife Laura. They’re great people, and Diane is a sweetheart. It hurts that they’ve lost someone who was so important to them. Larry was way too young to go.
Two nights ago, I dreamed that Larry was alive. He had written a successful book and was starring in a reality TV series (and for Larry, that would have been the most ridiculous notion in the world). My reaction in the dream is that I was angry that he hadn’t told me about all these wild things he was doing. Plus, I said, annoyed, “I thought you were gone. How can you still be here when you’re dead?”
“I’m not gone. I’m still here,” he said, with the beatific, kind smile that he always shared whenever he saw the humor in something.
The way I’m getting through him being gone is by believing that he’s still here. And I guess that keeping someone who you cared about in your thoughts, memories, and dreams is the best that a person can do.
We all have regrets. One of mine is not seeing Uncle Lar for the last couple of months of his life. I sent a CD to him that didn’t reach him until a few days after he had passed, and even that little thing hurts terribly.
I never told you how much I loved and admired you, Larry, but I did. I do. Hang loose up there; maybe you’re hanging out with some of the people you admired: Abbie Hoffman, Sterling Morrison, Lester Bangs, Jack Kerouac, Bessie Smith, Walt Kelly, Lennon, Janis, Larry Doby…
They’re all lucky. We miss you terribly down here. I miss you terribly down here.
Peace, brother. Thank you for so much...