Reporter’s Notebook: Andrew Franklin

Twice this year, for the RFT, I’ve written stories on musician Andrew Franklin. One, published in May, detailed his pitched battle with cancer; the other, published early today, noted his passing at the too-young age of 29.

15210173754_9d48569df7_kWe were introduced a while back by Kelsey McClure, who mentioned that Franklin’s band at the time, Big Brother Thunder & The Master Blasters, was looking for group photos. At the time, I was working on a personal photo project called The Magic Door and, so, he, I and the rest of his band met out back of an auto repair shop on MLK Boulevard, taking pics until dark. Later, we worked on another series with the group, at Cherokee’s Bomb Door. And not much more than a month ago, we met for that purpose again, this time meeting up at Nebula for a series of shots with his new group, Sugar Kings; I can’t say I did a good job with the Sugar Kings shots and wound up getting some decent pics of each musician, but without ever getting that keeper, full-group shot. Would that we could do it all over again!

A few months prior, I’d met with Drew and his longtime partner Jessica Bellomo, catching up at Soulard Market. We sat outside on the steps of the bandstand and chatted for a good hour, before the two went inside to shop for produce. An anecdote that I’ve told since came out of that. (I’ll share it here, then will turn things over to those who knew him better, those I reached out to for the second RFT piece.) Here’s how “the potato story” goes…

Drew was talking about “food as medicine” at one of their stops in the market. Just down the row, we stopped again as he was putting a couple dozen potatoes into a plastic bag, which he handed to the farmer. Weighing the produce, the farmer asked for $2.90 and Drew handed him three dollar bills, telling him to keep the extra 10-cents, that he’d grab an extra potato to even things out. So, that didn’t go well.

27890848462_fceb93c183_kThe farmer, lacking anything resembling social grace, handed back the bag and the singles, saying something like “I only sell what I’m paid for,” which prompted a memory I’ll take with me for a bit. Drew took the bag of potatoes back and calmly, without a word, poured them back into the bin. They then exchanged another word, or two, after all, but all points had already been made. While Drew’s lanky body had obviously been stressed by his cancers and their treatments, his spirit had plenty of spark left; he was not about to take shit over a dime’s worth of potatoes. Not that day.

Random, maybe, but it’s the impression of him that’ll last with me longest.

Here are what his friends had to say when asked to contribute some thoughts to today’s RFT piece. Due to story brevity, I was unable to include most of these, so they’re all here, minus any real edits:

Darian Wigfall: I’m still collecting my thoughts a bit. This is hitting me pretty hard. He was one of the first people to buy my book and one of the first people I met and liked in the music scene in St. Louis when I was writing music buzz for Examiner.com. I loved his band, his spirit; he was a good friend. He was a good friend to a lot of people. He was a fireman, which is one of the most dangerous jobs there is, and a great athlete. That was my guy, man. Even though we didn’t see each other often because he was busy, and so am I, but we always would call each other ‘brother’ when we would meet up with friends for music or drinks or at a show.

27601239162_2a3ffb501b_kDonald Williams: A few things immediately come to mind when I think of my friend Andrew Franklin: kindness, sincerity and his smile. He always had a smile for everyone he knew. The two of us had a lot in common and our conversations almost always touched on our bands, being bass players, writing music, and what it all meant to us. As he was dealing with his cancer there was a period of time where the chemo was really wearing on him. We stayed in touch whenever he was feeling up to it and there were times that I could tell he was absolutely exhausted. I wanted to cheer him up and hear him laugh again so one night Jesse Gannon and I took him out to dinner. Afterwards, he said he had some energy and wasn’t ready to go home so we met up with our friends Darian Wigfall and Ted Brookins for a couple of drinks.  It’s difficult to not have fun with that crew of people but that particular night our conversations were so hilarious and outrageous that some of us were in tears while the rest of us were screaming. At several points, Andrew said it actually hurt to laugh. A few times during the course of the evening, it crossed my mind that there was a very good chance I might not get to hang out with him again. There was a very good chance that his family, girlfriend, and close friends might soon lose him. I don’t know if the others noticed when, for a few minutes here and there, I would withdraw from our ridiculous conversations to watch Andrew. I just sat back and watched him tell his stories, crack his jokes, enjoy himself and enjoy our company. I thought about how good it felt to help make him happy, to see him smile, and then I thought, that’s exactly how he always made us feel. That night with that group of friends is how I’ll always remember Andrew Franklin.

14200301076_1a17e534a5_kKelsey McClure: Drew and I rarely had to call each other to hang out because we had a habit of running into each other at late night bar spots. The night of the Boston Marathon Bombing, we found each other at the Gramophone on open mic night. Drew had come to play and I to drink because it didn’t seem the night for jokes or to be alone. So Drew refused to get on stage, unless I did, too. He coaxed me up by playing to my utter vanity and insisting a full band back my set. But more importantly, Drew swore to never speak of it again if it went poorly, which I insisted it would, having not prepared and also forgotten I was about to take the stage with the bass-playing love child of James Brown and Richard Pryor. There wasn’t a time after that night when we crossed paths that he and I weren’t blowing plans out of proportion to recreate that night in a bigger, better way.

Mathias James: I met Drew when he was about 16- or 17-years-old. Shoulder-length dreadlocks and a thirst to make music his life’s work. I immediately took to him. Despite me being a solid decade older, we ended up having a lot in common. Our love for that FUNK. Good, soulful hip hop. Our mutual zest for the way music enriches your life. Our mutual affinity for the game of baseball. Over the years, Drew became one of my trusted few. Part of the inner circle. Now and then, months would go by without seeing each other, especially when he was out saving lives with the Fire Dept., but when we’d reconnect it was always like not a single day had passed. Early in our friendship, I brought him in to audition for the vacant bass player role in Core Project. I was rooting for him to get it; perhaps he was still somewhat green at the time, so he didn’t. Immediately after that, though, he used that as fuel to go out and become one of the most soulful, innovative, celebrated musicians in STL. He became twice the musician I’ll ever be. I’ll miss Drew terribly. He was always there with a smile and a huge hug. He was one of the most genuine and passionate people I’ve ever known. I’ll be forever grateful to have been his friend.

John Harrington: Every time we played a show & didn’t get paid or I wanted to go to a party instead of practicing he would always say: “Forget about all that side track BS. Let’s get back to the music.” He also was a revolutionary & full of wisdom & would say: “We can’t sit around complaining about what we don’t have, if we don’t get up & go get what we want!”

Dan Mahfood: Not only was Drew a heavyweight in the music scene, he gave his all as a firefighter, brother, son, and cancer victim. Always blew me away that during his battle with the disease that this guy had the determination and strength to keep getting on stage and spreading love through his music. A true hero and funk soldier. RIP to a legend.

-30-

 

 

 

An RFT Two-Fer

Delighted to have written two articles that appeared in this week’s Riverfront Times. That phrase last happened in, oh, the 20th century.

One feature details the efforts of Phil Berwick and his associate Kapp, as they merrily decorate the streets of St. Louis with Berwick’s decades-in-the-making Merferd character. The article grew out of a very different initial angle, which would’ve bounced out of the presumed arrest of the tagger Super. With this approach, the article would’ve delved into more the “traditional” graffiti scene, if such a phrase exists. Instead, I came across the works of Berwick and quickly shifted focus, ditching the usual names for this relative newcomer – and complete outlier – to the local street art scene. Glad to have been able to do so, aided by an understanding editor realizing the real story presented itself later-than-expected.

In the same issue, I interviewed Andrew Franklin, a bass player, only 29, working through the serious effects of cancer treatments. The story touches on his health, his new band (The Sugar Kings) and his approach to life. Was an intense piece to work on, giving a sense of someone creatively flowering, even as their body strains to keep up. Glad to have been entrusted with telling such a story, by both editor and subject.

EDIT: As if on cue, I was invited to DJ Wilson’s KDHXtra blog, Collateral Damage. Talked about the stuff above. Here’s that clip.

-30-

RFT Rotation Reset

01-Cover__2_Not going to lie: it’s still a bit unusual to see my name in/on the Riverfront Times. It’s been a good, long while since I was a staffer at the RFT, a run that encompassed most of the ’90s. It’s even been over a decade since a short freelance run in the early-2000s. As a veteran of very mixed experiences as a reader/consumer of the RFT since, I’m appreciative of the new energy brought to the paper by its fourth ownership group and by new(ish) editor Sarah Fenske, with whom I’d previously worked with at Feast.

This week’s cover, on moving from a vegetarian to a meat-eating diet, was something that grew out of the “Ax to Table” project that I attempted (but didn’t complete) while freelancing with Feast in 2015. It’s surprising for any abandoned project like that to enjoy a second life, especially with as prominent a rebound as an RFT cover.*

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve profiled legendary bar builder Bob Burkhardt, have interviewed Pokey LaFarge and have a story in the can, featuring new-to-St. Louis blues musician John McVey.

This new stretch of work with an old publication’s been fun. And that’s all I have to say about that.

(* The piece drew a rebuttal. Huh.)

Live: thenew20th.com

FullSizeRender(2)Working for Alderman Cara Spencer of St. Louis City’s 20th Ward, I’m writing a year-long series of blog posts around the people, places and developments within that corner of South St. Louis. The project got off to a slower start, but just as the weather’s allowed for a little more traveling within the Ward, the stories are starting to appear.

This short feature, on Earthbound Beer, is how I’d like the blog to look/read as the year progresses.

With a little luck, another project of the same sort will be undertaken with the next month. As always, updates as they come.

Write That Letter

Some months back, I got an email; not exactly testy, but definitely direct. The gist of it was that my monthly music coverage for St. Louis Magazine was lacking in one important respect: not enough diversity, especially racial diversity. Some of the facts presented in it, I quibbled with, but the writer had a point and I started to think about how to diversify the blend of acts that I was covering. The work involved in that was pretty simple: sit and think and contact folks.

At the start of 2016 and looking to the half-year mark: two of the artists I’ve profiled are African-American, three focus on women and one’s still to be determined. It’s a good list of varied artists so far, all of whom deserve media play.

I ended up accidentally erasing the email that kicked off my thinking on this topic and the act he was pitching (if in a unique, just-shy-of-aggressive way) is way out of my head, lost to space and memory. But the gist of the letter, even if challenging, was a worthwhile one to both make and consider; they made me look at this monthly gig in a different way and kicked me out of the autopilot, talk-to-friends-and-friends-of-friends rut I’d fallen into. By extension, I’d like to think that people can civilly, even pointedly exchange ideas and get a result. I appreciate getting the note, in retrospect, sure do. Here’s my list to date:

2016: June, Paige Alyssa; May: TBD; April, Kellie Everett; March, River Kittens; February, Paul Stanton; January, Walk Miles aka The Walkman

2015: December, Mikey Wehling & Vandeventer; November, Lliam Christy; October, Rich Wooten and Nick Barbieri; September, Clockwork; August, American Wrestlers; July, Beth Bombara; June, Animal Children; May, The Tennis Lesson; April, Ethan Leinwand; March, Aaron Griffin; February, Tom & Alice; January, Town Cars

2014: December, Tommy Flynn; November, The Dock Ellis Band; October, Mathias & The Pirates; September, Ian Fisher and The Present; August, Pat Liston; July, Big Brother Thunder & the Master Blasters; June, Lizzie Weber; May, Boxing Clever Records; April, Willis, March, Sleepy Kitty; February, Brothers Lazaroff; January, Jenny Roques

2013: December, So Many Dynamos; November, Kimmy V; October, Letter to Memphis; September, Kentucky Knife Fight; August (not in rotation); July, Tommy Halloran & Guerilla Swing; June, Syna So Pro; May, Black James; April (not in rotation); March, Mike Apirion; February (not in rotation); January, Bruiser Queen

2012: December, El Monstero; November, Tory Z. Starbuck

Looking at that list, I give myself an overall B for effort (with late push), C for execution (ditto). Moving those grades up in 2016.

(And props to Stefene Russell for the continued and appreciated work.)

-30-

This Is What I (Currently) Do

student-using-computerAs someone who makes a partial living through journalism, I’d like to be honest about how my bills are paid. Of late, I’ve been tossing a few rounds at the Great Dartboard of Freelance Opportunities and Funded Projects and a couple of those dart$ have stuck; others, well, those duds hit-and-bounced, but no one died in the process or got stuck in the eye. Such is the freelance experience. In the spirit of disclosure, here’s what I do and don’t do, circa November 2, 2015. The image is an accurate one of me, while slaving away at Nebula.

Tick Tock Tavern: This past weekend marked my passage from a full-time GM to one with fewer daily responsibilities. My current roles at the bar include: booking of acts and events, social media, curating our beer and spirits selections, hanging out. In short, I kept all the fun stuff, sneaky devil that I am. Which brings us to…

The Gaslight: So, yeah. I wrote a piece about The Gaslight, an in-construction recording studio and lounge, located on the edge of The Hill. When I originally wrote the piece, I did so without thinking that conversations would continue and that I’d sign on as a content provider for the business. In coming months, I’ll blog, provide a bit of social media, help book acts into the studio, offer writing services to clients and will undertake a Gaslight Square web project that’s been residing on the back-burner for a good, long while. I’ll be hosting open houses at the space each Wednesday in November, noon-4 p.m., 4916 Shaw; drop by, starting in two days.

St. Louis Magazine & stlmag.com: It’s a joy to have editors with whom you enjoy working and I’m pleased to continue providing stories to stlmag.com’s Arts and Dining sections; thanks to Stefene Russell and George Mahe, respectively. I’ll also continue to write a print magazine feature each month. Journalism’s done here.

slubillikens.com: A new gig, I’m writing weekly web content for the athletics department at Saint Louis University, highlighting various aspects of the SLU program; this work is done directly for SLU. A self-produced, offshoot project idea called billikenextra.com is being mothballed until funding is found. (Thinking hoops season may provide a push here.)

Riverfront Times: After a big ol’ gap in writing for the RFT, I’ve contributed one piece to the new-look RFT and am currently working on a second. It’s pleasing to be offered an occasional byline with the outlet that started it all for me. Journalism’s done here, too.

thenew20th.com: My goals in life do not include being an elected politician. Too much work! But I do maintain an interest in civics and politics and am pleased to have begun prepping a new project in support someone who works harder than most folks I know: the 20th Ward’s Alderman, Cara Spencer. This weekly blog, to be launched in January, will feature news and content relating to the progressive happenings in a South Side ward that’s undergoing a tremendous amount of change, with lots of progressive, people-friendly efforts underway.

The Schwag: You shouldn’t attempt to create a package of freelance projects without doing social media work for a Grateful Dead Experience, or so I’ve been told. Social media support‘s the gig here, along with the odd road trip report.

Mostly, I’m done throwing dart$ for the moment, but I’m always interested in project conversations. ‘Cause, you know, what I’m doing, or not doing, this week could always change. Like, next week.

Cheers and peace to all fellow freelancers. May free dental insurance and a bounty of steady checks be yours!

-30-

 

 

A Man Called Typewriter & The Artican Curse

9062149365_cff8c91935_oOn Saturday afternoon, Typewriter Tim Jordan was at The Tick Tock Tavern a little bit ahead of his normal schedule, loading up our mezzanine with artworks done by the good people who take part in projects at Artists First. That’s a Maplewood-based storefront that offers open art studio hours (along with materials and instruction) for people with disabilities; formerly, it was known as the Turner Center for the Arts. This was the third time we’d opened our doors to Artists First/TCA and we teamed up with the band Unifyah to host a CD listening party for that ska/reggae group’s latest album at the same hour, thinking the two events would dovetail nicely.

Not gonna lie, the turnout was a downer. Sure, there were plenty of reasons. A nice, beautiful Saturday; maybe too nice, too beautiful to be indoors. The Cards in the playoffs, making a mess out of everyone else’s plans. Other art events and sales were taking place around town. Yadda, yadda, yadda. Still, dudes, I was bummed.

At the end of the two-hour fundraiser, I wrote a check to Tim, a teacher at Artists First. I was sheepish in handing him a check for a such a small total, though we also bought a piece of art for the bar.

Me: “Wish it were bigger.” Tim: “Don’t we all.”

A day later, Typewriter Tim, in the guise of the performance artist Bodybagman, apparently fell off of a wall while performing at Artica. Thought he’d dislocated his hip, though he’d actually broken it. In the span of a day, he went from his usual gregarious self to an injured version; though I shouldn’t assume that he’s not upbeat today, too. He kinda just comes that way.

What’s weird is that a year ago, I doubly-broke my wrist while leaving Artica, in a cycling accident that took a toll on both body and mind. I went under the knife, as will Tim. When something like that happens, you deal with pain, first. And the awkwardness of daily activities. Plus there’s the pain. The loss of income and the outta pocket expenses. And there’s the mental push of getting right again, hard to do, what with all that pain. It sucks and it somehow sucks more when it happens at/during something you love. Tim will have a memory of his first Artica, but not one that anyone would want.

This year, I wasn’t able to attend as much of Artica as in the recent past. It’s a great place to chill and be energized, to spend multiple hours just being around. It’s a hopeful, spirited, whimsical, sort childlike environment. So, the kinda place that Tim would seemingly fit into, any day, and certainly during one pretty weekend in October.

This accident’s a drag, but you take something out of the experiences of others. This bit of badness reminds me to give a lot more, whenever possible. ‘Cause of this…

Here’s a quick anecdote from Saturday. Tim was talking about the artist Paul Stanton. I’ve never met Paul, not even during some drop-bys at Artists First. But along the way, I’ve bought three pieces of Paul’s for the bar (Miles Davis, Dizzy Dean, Redd Foxx) and one for my house (Nelly). Self-taught and then polished at Artists First, Paul’s got a recognizable style, one that you’re immediately drawn to when looking at AF  works in a group setting. Not to say the others don’t have gifts, but Paul’s obviously in possession of a unique talent. Just a couple days back, Tim was preaching to the choir of one, me, that he was going to keep working to break Paul in St. Louis and beyond; they’ve already combined to get Paul’s work into a few “important” hands. And that’s the plan for the foreseeable future: to do portraits of famous folks and to get those works into their possession.

It’s an interesting concept. One of probably 100 that Tim’s talked about doing over the past years and one that obviously means something to him. You can hear it in his voice, when he talks about Paul and the desire to see him be a working artist.

Tim and I have circled similar scenes for years. Shared a physical space more than once, usually with something interesting happening. We’ve done a good turn for each other, when possible. And today?

Today’s a day to encourage the ultimate encourager.

 

Billiken Extra & Backstory

billikenextra2For around a decade, I found myself in a deeply-patterned work life, splitting time between teaching appointments at a local college and freelance writing assignments. On some levels, these were worthy ways to make a living. But the lack of certainty in both fields eventually lead me to leave teaching, while continuing to write for a few local publications and sites. Turning to a completely new career (co-owning and operating a South Side tavern, The Tick Tock) ensured that I’d spend every day of the last 13-months learning something new. Freelance writing on the side’s been doable, but challenging.

My current goal is to transition from daily operations of the place within 2015, now that good business patterns and habits have been established, though I’ll still have a direct, near-daily impact on the workings of the bar, through booking events, purchasing, promotions and my marathon Tuesday shift behind the bar (4-7 p.m, donchaknow).

Freelancing through this process, though, has taken a toll, in its own way. While I enjoy some really great editors, there’s still a stress level involved in the story-to-story pitch process, let alone the pursuit of national clips. Even longer-term ideas have suffered; a project that I undertook this year, the “Ax to Table” experiment for Feast, has listed. Other ideas never found funding or a green light with editors. (And here I’ll note that Stefene Russell, culture editor at stlmag.com, gets my lifelong respect for her continued support of my work, in its various forms.) The idea of forming a tight circle of independent, individually-run projects has been my goal for a few months now and the first step in this direction comes with Billiken Extra, which is launching today.

The site’s live. The impish mascot, courtesy of Kevin Belford, is secured. A complementary side project, a weekly feature story for slubillikens.com, is set begin today. And, yes, here comes the money part: the Indiegogo campaign is underway.

My hope with this is that a hunch pays off. The idea’s this: SLU sports are under-represented in local media coverage. I go to my share of SLU sports games. I write. Hey, I could write about SLU sports! While I’m not going to say “no” to anyone’s contributions, my target for contributions to this site are primarily the people who enjoy the program, but feel it could be better-presented in local media.

So. Here’s another media experiment. And another public can-shake.

The creative process is well-underway. The stories are going up, interviews are arranged and my own life is being reorganized. If you wanna help the latter go a bit more-smoothly, your tip of a dollar is welcome. I hope my hunch don’t go sideways. Thanks for reading.