Sorry, We're Closed

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

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...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful heart felt words Stu. Sounds like a great guy.

9:03 PM, May 20, 2009

Anonymous Joyce said...

That was lovely, Stu. I do remember seeing his comments on your blog (and particularly after he 'won' a mix cd from you, which might be the one you refer to). I think a person's interest in the world makes *them* interesting..and it sounds as though Larry found a lot about life worth exploring. I hope you and the Epke family find peace in remembering the wonderful times you shared with him.

9:34 PM, May 20, 2009

Blogger JamesFinnGarner said...

Sorry to hear the news, Stu. Larry sounds like a real treasure, and we meet so few in our lives. I had a hint he was cool when I saw his Facebook picture was the little leprechaun (forget his name now) drawn by Crockett Johnson.

I do remember the leprechaun would say, when things got hairy, "Cushlamachreee!" Maybe that's a good word for now.

6:51 AM, May 21, 2009

Blogger Winona said...

Larry sounds like he was a very cool man - I also recognize his name as a fellow commenter on your blog, but it's nice to know the backstory behind the name. Thanks for keeping his memory alive.

8:35 AM, May 21, 2009

Blogger Laura said...

Stu, thanks for the pointer to this. It is making me smile and smile.
And I can just hear Larry amusedly saying "I'm still heah!"

As Joyce says, I do think Larry's great gift was enjoyment. He was an appreciator.

I miss him too. Thanks for this post and for your kind words.

10:02 AM, May 21, 2009

Blogger Micah said...

Thanks, Stu. I'd say more than that, but I wouldn't want to take away from what you said. Beautiful and true, just like Larry was.

10:18 AM, May 21, 2009

Blogger Bob Purse said...

Hey, Stu,

I can only echo what's already been said. That was a really beautiful letter to and about a friend. I hope you find a way through your grief.

To be able to express yourself so well is a gift, and you have used it well. I'm very sorry for your loss, and the loss his family has endured. I'll also miss him being part of the little community you've built here.

12:07 PM, May 24, 2009

Blogger Richard said...

Stu I am so sorry we never met your friend! I guess I know him a little through you and we have so much to be thankfull for in that! You are a light in my world and the great Larry Epke has is a piece of it.
Maybe you could put together a sampler of music Larry brought you?

9:57 AM, May 25, 2009

Blogger Amy said...

Oh Stu I am soooo sorry to hear this. I do remember his frequent insightful comments to your blog - he sounded like "one of the good ones" - a real straight up sorta guy. He was an Indians fan, how bad could a guy be? ;)

A lovely tribute for sure. Indeed, one can hope he is enjoying a lovely rioja on some funky spiritual plane, in a room full of eccentric intellectuals, in stereo.

11:53 AM, June 08, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am a close childhood friend of Larry's and just learned of his death when I went back to Ohio for the funeral of my aunt. I've been searching the web to see if it was really true. Larry and I kept in touch via e-mail-my last ones returning undeliverable. Your post gave me the answer I did not want to hear. Yes this is the same Larry! He has always been the same.

At this moment I can only see the picture of he and I as we got on the school bus that very first day of school many, many years ago. I am so blessed to have had him as a part of my life in such a quiet way.

His mother passed in her 50's also with a sudden massive heart attack.
How unfair for the same tragedy to take him.

God bless you for being his friend and I pray that all who knew and loved him have been "infected" with his witt and caring personhood.

Mary Jo Henkel
-more then a friend

9:45 AM, July 14, 2009

Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother and I used to repeat a Marks Brothers routine. Chico and Harpo were trying to get jobs as thugs. The person wanting to hire the thugs said "How tough are you?" Chico answered "That depends on how mucha you pay. You pay a little, we a little tough. You pay a lot, we a lota tough." The first person says "We pay plenty." To which Chico responds "Then we a plenty tough." I keep thinking of this and the new line goes like this: "When you lose Larry, how mucha you hurt?" The answer is "That depends on how mucha you love. You love a little, you hurt a little. You love a lot, you hurt a lot."
From his sister who misses him so much.

11:39 AM, December 04, 2009


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