Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


as always for Marcia

I always wanted to be a shaman, a voodoo master, a high priest with entrée to the divine, able to influence the luck of circumstances, mine and others. As has been said, one better be careful about wishes for they do, sometimes, come true, although wishing is not a sure fire strategy because, to paraphrase Ben Franklin: magic is diligence. Well, after sixty-five years of being au contraire, looking inward not upward, walking backwards, and an adulthood of scrupulous honesty, I am left wandering and wondering. There is no knowledge I possess that sets me apart, nothing glamorously glorious. No book of revelations will be written by me, although I have been privy on occasion to some arcane understandings.

Some twenty years ago, my oldest son came down with chicken pox. Already close to six foot, he was an adolescent young man living in an already adult body. And the pox hit him hard as it can with adults. His body produced anti-bodies to the varicella virus; unfortunately those anti-bodies ran amuck in their defense and attempted to infiltrate his brain. Had the anti-bodies gained access, they would have most likely caused death. Fortunately the brain has a defense in cases like this. It swells with water to block entrance. The swelling of the brain, however, caused my son to lapse into a coma that lasted almost week. During the time my son was in a coma, my dreams were unlike any dreams I’ve ever had, before or since. My extra-special dreams were many, but this story is about just one of them and its consequences in the real world, consequences that resulted from my having acted upon the information in my dream. And just so you know, to alleviate your anxiety, my son recovered from his bout with post varicella encephalitis.

My revelatory dream begins with a fabulous rock and roll bus parked outside our – me and Marcia’s – office and studio on 12th Avenue in Denver’s Congress park neighborhood. Essentially a futuristic bus – something the Rolling Stones might engage to tour – it was, what with its racecar contours, pulsing electroluminescence at roofline, and almost soundless - Could it be electric? - idling engine. According to its destination window it is not headed “Further” or “Farther” but to “Ferrisland.” I can’t imagine what this magical bus is doing parked before dawn in front of The ImageMaker. For that matter, I can’t imagine what I’m doing here in the 5 am darkness. And where the hell is Marcia?

As I approach the front door of our studio it opens and out steps Bobbi Blanc, the widow of the man who sold me and Marcia our photo business. “You’re gonna make some money with this one,” she whispers conspiratorially as she walks on by. “Marcia’s inside waiting on you.”

Well, the inside of the studio is packed with people, dozens and dozens of actor types, all dressed to the nines. It takes me awhile but I eventually find my wife among the throng and she tells me that we are redoing yesterday’s album cover shoot for the jazz band, Images. Images was founded by a former roommate of mine, the pianist Lee Bartley, and the bass player, Rich Sallee, over the years had become a close friend and occasional business partner in sundry counter culture endeavors. Rich played bass for my 1979 Denver Poets Day performance and Lee had accompanied my poetry at numerous venues over the years. I had arranged waiter jobs for both early in their music careers when they needed to supplement their gig income. So it was only natural that Marcia would be doing the photography for their latest record. What’s unsettling in all this is that I can’t remember anything about yesterday’s photo shoot, a disquiet that reminds me I am dreaming.

Now, not only is Rich the bass player for Images, but he is also the band’s business manager. And for the purpose of the photo shoot, he is also the art director. He tells me his concept in three words: Above the Crowd. That’s the album name and the approach we are to take in creating an image. All the extras, some fifty or so, are to form a field of faces. In the album cover final layout the faces of the band mates will float “above the crowd.” My job will be to help get fifty faces into one arrangement for Marcia to photograph. Not impossible but something that will take time. I’m guessing we’re going to have to erect some sort of bleacher-like contraption to get the actors heads and faces all in the same plane of focus. I’m deep into the depth of field geometry of my thinking when this dream takes a turn with Rich’s pronouncement.

“Never mind, Ed. I think the shot from yesterday will work after all," and he hands me a color 4x5 Polaroid from yesterday’s session. In the photograph, a barefoot man lies in a coffin. The satin interior of the coffin is psychedelic and flowery. The man is a rock and roll drummer named Larry with whom I have but a passing acquaintance, a friend of Rich’s, but not the drummer for Images. Strangely, the photo is of a younger Larry, Larry in his late teens, not the forty-five year old Larry I know. I’m wondering who did the make-up as this illusion of a youngster is down-right magical. Larry’s long hair expresses a lion-like vitality absent in the present day Larry’s long thinning hair. His clothes are 60s mod – very British, not 90s grunge or late 80s techno, an outfit Larry might have worn when he first stated drumming professionally at age sixteen. No crow’s feet adorn his penny-laden eyes, no wrinkles crease his forehead, no forty-five year old late night bar tan colors his complexion. At the same time, he appears dead and sunny as a new born day.

Now I’ve maybe had two or three conversations with Larry in my life, mostly when we would cross paths at Rich Sallee’s, although the last time we spoke was right here in the studio some six months ago. Larry had stopped in because he was auditioning with the Cherry Bomb Club, a techno band that lived in a loft around the corner from the studio on Madison Street. We patted each other on the back about still doing our own thing despite the disappointing economics of being artists. I had showed him team photos of the youth baseball league I ran, the CYRA. He told me how lucky I was to have such a part in the lives of my sons. His relationship with his daughter had been sketchy, as her loyalties were with her mother from whom he was bitterly and long since divorced. His bar band salary had not been up to the task of supporting a wife and child.

Anyway, Rich’s decision to use the shot from yesterday is disappointing in that we have all these extras here, no small financial investment on the record label’s part, and I was looking forward to helping make the shoot happen. Additionally, Marcia has already loaded dozens of 4x5 film holders with color transparency film. And so, in attempt to save the shoot, I ask, “What does a guy in a coffin have to do with being ‘Above the Crowd’?” Rich’s nonsensical response – remember this is a dream – “The crowd is on Abbey Road” closes the door on further discussion. Soon everyone is filing out of the studio. All fit easily onto the bus. Dawn has broken. The bus driver exits and checks on the luggage compartment that he opens, closes and locks with a remote in his hand. I notice the casket from the Polaroid photograph amidst the drum kit and guitar cases that fill the storage area. And then the bus sans engine noise heads east towards the dawn just as the sun pops over the apartment buildings on Colorado Boulevard. The sun’s rays in my eyes end my dreaming and I awaken to a real dawn, in the hospital, beside my comatose son. I jot down what I remember of this extraordinary dream and find myself exceedingly annoyed that I cannot remember Larry’s last name as I make my notes.

A little later that morning I call Rich Sallee.  Without going into detail about my son’s situation or the nature of my dream I simply ask about Larry’s last name, which Rich tells me: “Ferris.” Rich also mentions that he hasn’t heard from Larry the last few days, an odd thing, in that Larry spends most of his life sitting at a table in his little one room crash pad above a garage in Park Hill, rolling and smoking joints and talking on the phone, his way of self medicating the manic depression that consumed him. Larry generally checked in with Rich most days as Rich was very connected in the live music world of Denver and Rich often hooked Larry up with one night engagements whenever a band was in need of a drummer. Rich ended our conversation with “I think I’ll give Larry a call.”

The next morning Rich calls me. He’s astonished to tell me where my inquiry concerning Larry’s last name led. Rich had called Larry a couple of times yesterday but Larry never answered. And if Larry wasn’t playing somewhere, he usually was home. That was Larry’s pattern and his practice, and he always answered his phone. So Rich called Larry’s married daughter who also lived in Park Hill. And when she went to check on Larry she found her father unconscious, unresponsive, but still breathing, on the floor of his apartment. Apparently Larry had suffered some sort of aneurism. He was still alive on some level, but brain-dead. He stopped breathing shortly after the paramedics arrived.

Now you might wonder why Larry appeared in my dream as he lay dying. I spoke with Rich at length about it, and he told me that Larry had always spoke admiringly of me, for he saw me as someone “above the crowd” who had managed to keep the dream of being an artist alive while not succumbing to what had laid him low: poverty, depression, the dissolution of his marriage, the drugs, the alcohol, his ill health. Even though I never made it big, I had managed to be a lifelong artist, and a husband, and a father. Hell, in my spare time I ran a youth baseball league that allowed three thousand kids to play organized baseball, something that, according to Rich, truly amazed Larry. I guess, Larry somehow knew I’d take care of the business of having someone find him so he could get on that fabulous rock and roll bus that was headed towards the stars.