Cover Art - Alfred Dietrick Kleyhauer III
Photo - What Nots Live - Marcia Ward
As always for Marcia
In Alfred Dietrick Kleyhauer III’s first book, BLACK – a collection of poems and ink drawings he created as teenager and published by Alan Swallow of Swallow Press who also published the likes of Henry Miller and Anais Nin, Alfred says of himself: “i was born on a little green hill 1 mile up in the sky. i didn’t talk until I was 3. i said: ‘there’s a damned fly in my window.’ My father has always thought me a bit mad; my mother has always thought me a bit queer. Amazing how revealing genealogy is.” Alfred was, in fact, outrageously queer as well as immeasurably brilliant as the scales used to measure IQ tend towards inaccuracy when approaching the 200 mark.
Alfred spent most of his adult life living in downtown Denver above his father’s optometry shop on Tremont just north of 14th. The last time I looked, the unoccupied building still sports the name Kleyhauer across the door, and it remains one of the few two story buildings in downtown Denver. In keeping with the title of his first book, Alfred painted the walls, floor and ceiling of his apartment black where he eventually spent much of his final years in mourning as his companion, Michael Trego, had died of AIDS. Ironically, a decade before his death, Alfred and Michael had created poster size comic book-like collaged drawings that tell the tale of Trumble and Ding, alter egos of Alfred and Michael. My favorite of the group has a prophetic, Tiresias-esque feel: Trumble and Ding are conventioneers riding a trolley towards a convention center that radiates welcoming and wonderful times. Trumble and Ding are blissful with anticipation. Across the destination light box of the trolley, one word: ETERNITY. Sadly, Alfred died in 1994 while crossing California at 15th, a block from Denver’s, at the time, new Convention Center, the first accident fatality of Denver’s recently launched electric trolley, Light Rail. The Denver papers noted in their stories of the tragedy that Alfred was drunk at the time; well, Alfred was drunk for forty years – Everclear, 200 proof, was his preferred wake-up call. I believe what happened is that he simply was impatient to cross California Street as he lived nearby on Glenarm. He’d crossed that street a thousand times and most likely didn’t take into account presence of the new high-speed line. I gather from certain witness accounts that he simply wiggled through the crowd that was waiting for the train and sadly stepped in front of it. Had the Light Rail trains been equipped with cowcatchers he most likely would have been scooted sideways instead of under the train. Poetically, perhaps fittingly, on the west side of the street from where Alfred died, there is a Colorado Historical Plaque inscribed with words from Jack Kerouac’s 1955 classic On The Road: “I walked around the sad honkytonks of Curtis Street: young kids in jeans and red shirts; peanut shells, movie marquees, shooting parlors. Beyond the glittering was darkness, and beyond the darkness was the West. I had to go.” Alfred was, to my way of thinking, Denver’s glittering darkness.
During his life Alfred embarked on many artistic adventures. He held Sunday potluck art salons. An early evening there was theater in progress. One of Alfred’s assets was his ability to have an answer for any query. Alfred possessed a certain wisdom capable of grasping the simultaneity of time, that is, the timelessness that it generally takes mathematical physics to describe as well as having an alchemist’s passion that absorbed the truth of everyone he knew. Whenever I was burdened by an unsolvable problem it was Alfred who I turned to. Here’s an example of what I mean.
I served as the editor of the Denver literary art magazine POINT in the early 90s. Five or six of used to sit around the offices of the Alternative Arts Alliance drinking beer and figuring out the magazine’s content. One time it was suggested that we publish on the inside cover a drawing by a local artist that I simply found unsavory, to say the least. It depicted an airbrushed image of a mustachioed visage that looked a lot like Adolph Hitler floating above an airbrushed piece of meat, a New York steak. I nixed the piece for use because I was not about to include any reference to Hitler. The other magazine makers called me a censor. I maintained that I was an editor not a censor. We were at an impasse so I called that artist and asked for an explanation of his submission. He told me it was a private joke between him and his girlfriend: “I call her a piece of meat and she calls me Adolph Hitler,” which I interrupted as proof that not only was the piece not funny it reeked of misogamy and ill humor. I was so upset at being labeled a censor by my peers that I called Alfred for advice and solace. His humorous and compassionate “Hell, Ed, it’s nonsense no matter how you look at that artwork because Hitler was a vegetarian” gave me perspective, and I stuck to my guns pointing to the utter inanity of the artwork and used a beautiful photograph of Marcia’s instead for what turned out to be the final issue of POINT magazine, the final issue because I resigned and no one was willing or capable of doing what I had done to make POINT real.
The day I met Alfred, he was playing piano in a small alley-side gallery just west of Washington Street on First Avenue. The actor and director Richard Collier, who had founded The Trident Theater on South Gaylord Street, Denver’s first avant-garde playhouse, was pushing his artistic envelope and exhibiting paintings. Alfred’s compositions and playing seemed that day to channel, all at the same time, Beethoven, Coltrane and Dylan (to whom Alfred had dedicated BLACK). A quick aside concerning Dylan and Alfred: Early in his career Dylan had a scheduled lay over at Stapleton Airport. Hoping to make good use of his airport downtime, he asked his Denver connection, Harry Tuft, to arrange for Dylan to meet Denver’s hippest character. Alfred was asked to go meet Dylan and he told me that when they met, both he and Bob removed their sunglasses as a way of introduction and connection and Alfred claimed all four eyes revealed were as spaced out/drugged out as any on the planet, and they both laughed. Eventually Alfred wrote hundreds and recorded dozens of pop and not so pop tunes that he and guitarist Bob Peek brought to sundry Denver stages via their band The What Nots. I once used in the basement of the house on Pennsylvania where my second son, Zenith Star, was born an old Tandberg reel-to-reel recorder to record Bob and Alfred singing nine of my favorite pop tunes of the twentieth Century. I especially liked “Brenda are you ready, Brenda let’s go steady” as my first girlfriend was a Brenda. His song, “Dancing on the Grave of War” - whose melody ADK composed on a miniature electric piano that he bought at Woolworth’s for twenty-nine dollars - is a haunting masterpiece of nuance and timelessness: “Ships follow trade winds, when there’s no war.”
Mid-life, Alfred started a typing service for term papers as he could type a hundred words a minute without error, both blindfolded and intoxicated. When students - freshmen and doctorate candidates alike - brought him papers to type he would tell them, “I hope you don’t mind, but it would be easier and quicker for me to just rewrite your paper from scratch than deal with the thematic and grammatical errors contained therein. And, of course, I guarantee an A.” One of the youngest Denverites ever to be admitted to MENSA, Alfred earned a dozen PhD’s anonymously via his underground “typing.” He told me that he once got seven “A’s” all in the same graduate class, ghost writing for seven of the eight students enrolled. He had to have a different writer’s voice for each all while writing about the same theme. He also wrote out a check to me for one million dollars because he simply loved my family; even more precious, he gave me a first take Walt Disney drawing of Goofy, that one of Alfred’s wealthy lovers had given him.
In a review of Black for the Colorado Historical Society, I wrote:
BLACK is the quintessential Alfred, possessing as only an eager and tireless speed-reader can, the librarian mind of a ancient lizard whose jewel eyes have knowledge of centuries, civilizations, and art movements unfolding. He writes the dialogue of warriors and composers and sheathes the sword of love. Maybe one day, the Bonnie Bray Library will change its name or name a nook to include a reference to Alfred, as no one used the books in that branch library as did Alfred.