Studio of Edwin & Marcia Ward

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Frank T. Rios


© 2018 Edwin Forrest Ward


as always for Marcia

September 20, 2018

Cover & Front End Page Photo

  © 1978 Marcia Ward

Back End Page Photo

© 1976 Joe Kinneavy

A Piece of Flight

 Black Ace/Temple of Man/BOWERY 24


1216 Forest Street

Denver CO 80220

303 322 9324

Frank T Rios

           Born in New York City, Frankie Rios was a throwaway kid. Abandoned by his parents at age two, he bounced around foster care for ten years. He did not speak until he was six years old and he spoke with a stutter. His friends called him Frankie Cuckles meaning “cursed.” Sometime during foster care he was given the last name of Rios. At age twelve he took to the streets and took up with heroin and a gun, supporting himself by way of armed stick-ups. After numerous failed attempts at rehab and time in jail, in pursuit of being an actor, Frankie was inspired to find his way to California where he could look to the beach and the Pacific and turn his back to the world of post World War II white picket fence America, the square world that had informed his heritage. Fortunately for Frankie he found himself inside Stuart Perkoff’s Venice West Coffeehouse in 1959 where he found finally his path. Venice West was the heart and soul of the beat movement in Southern California. In the almost deserted beach town that LA had abandoned, you could share a forty-dollar a month pad with five or ten people with whom you might or might not ever cross paths. Frankie eventually fell in with Stuart Perkoff and Tony Scibella, and when Life Magazine came looking for beatniks, they were looking for Frankie, Tony and Stuart who came to be known as We Three Called Venice. Everyday they hung out together, walking the boardwalk, getting high and writing and making art. Larry Lipton wrote a book about them called The Holy Barbarians and then Frankie, Tony and Stuart spent the rest of their lives attempting to hide, trying to be anonymous, seeking respite from the world of squares, because their lives were never about fame, but rather their lives were about love and art and community and family, about inspiration, about being vessels for the higher consciousness that is inspiration. All three made art everyday of their lives, usually sitting around a kitchen table. Frankie and Stuart spent a lot of time incarcerated at Terminal Island for drug offenses (home at times to the disparate likes of Al Capone and Timothy O’Leary) and spent years walking the yard, watching each others backs, and talking poetry and the muse, The Lady. Frankie went on to write eleven books of poetry as well as producing a coffee-table book of poetry and collages. Frankie was also consumed with ritual; he made an offering to The Lady by burning a poem at the start of every poetry reading.  Because Frankie, Tony and Stuart were such an integral part of, had, indeed, helped spark the Southern California art scene, the City of Los Angeles eventually erected three beach sculptures on the Venice Beach sporting famous lines from poems they had written, Frankie’s being
I am a man who
stands against the mountain
and thinks of pebbles.

            Because some of the Venice West artists – Jimmy Ryan Morris, Saul White and Tony Scibella wound up at different times in Denver, Frankie, too, found himself living in Denver off and on in the sixties, seventies and eighties. His work was featured in Denver’s premiere literary newspaper, The Mile High and Underground, and in many of Larry Lake’s Bowery Publications.
            When Frankie died on August 20, 2018, the world of words lost the man who as he liked to say, “Invented Black.” He wore black and he wrote about black, the space, that is, the heavens between the stars. Marcia and I drove to LA for Frankie’s Memorial in September, and I prepared a eulogy of sorts to share with friends. Frankie was famous for being a poet, an artist, a drugstore cowboy and for the last twenty-five years a rock star in the Los Angeles world of Narcotics Anonymous. My eulogy touches, however, on a side of Frankie that could easily be overlooked.

Frankie . . . Frank T. Rios

            As are we all, Frankie was many things (dare I say tings): poet, husband, artist, father, grandfather, drugstore cowboy, friend, and sponsor. But I’d like to add something to the list: something that reflects my relationship with Mr. Frank T. Rios, and that is prankster! Who’d have thought?
            I met Frankie in 1979, the inaugural year of the James Ryan Morris Foundation presentation of the Colorado Arts Awards, The Tombstones, a means of artists honoring other artists. Frankie was in from Los Angeles along with the Denver-Venice Beach connected contingency: Tony Scibella, Gayle Davis, Marsha Getzler, Fred Mason, Bill Dailey, and Saul and Michelle White. Larry Lake asked me to have Frankie stay with me and Marcia at my house, as Frankie was to receive the first Tombstone for Poetry. Well I had read all of Frankie’s published work (and loved it). I also learned how he fit into the Venice West/Denver poetry world and felt it an honor to have him stay at my house. Right off we found some common ground aside from poetry: our East Coast sensibilities and accents. O.K., I didn’t say tree when numbering the principal muses or counting to five, but our rhythms and cadence were the same.
            We ran around Denver and chilled in my back yard for a few days before heading to The Mermaid Café in Central City for the awards ceremony. Bob Grey received the Tombstone for  Music, Stan Brakhage for Film and Angelo di Benedetto received it for Art. And then Larry Lake, the instigator behind the awards, took the stage to introduce the presenter of the award for poetry: Mr. Frank T Rios.
            I’m sitting in the back of the café thinking What the fuck? figuring that Larry’s had a wee bit too much of something or another as Frankie was supposed to receive not present the award. And then Frankie alley cats his way to the stage and announces the recipient of the Colorado Arts Award for Poetry: me. Holy Shit! Larry and Frankie had completely pranked me. I have never been so bowery baffled! Whereas Stan and Angelo and Bob had all given sweet and inspirational acceptance speeches, I, the poet, was utterly speechless. I think I mumbled Damn or No Fucking Way. Four days with Frankie, and the alley cat never let the cat out of the bag.
            Fast-forward a couple of years, and Marcia and I leave Denver, and after a year looking for a better city to live in, we return. We rent half of a duplex on Delaware Street and by months end the talented painter from LA, Joey Patton, moves into the other half of the duplex to the south and Frankie and Larry move to the place just north of us. We had our own little bohemian enclave and I feel we all did some of our best work that year.
            Fast forward a few more years and I’m in LA with Frankie and Larry, visiting Baza Alexander, the founder of the beatnik quasi-religious Temple of Man wherein I am an Ordained Minister, shortly before his passing. We’re talking weddings and ceremonies and that ministerial state of consciousness one enters into to make such events rituals. And Frankie hips me to the first step to getting there. The process of dressing for the day: the selection, cleaning, knit picking, and preparation of the clothing for the ceremony. I’ve done close to a thousand weddings and I begin each one thinking of Frankie as I polish my boots, roll off the cat hair from my pants, adjust my belt and bola, sort and put on my clothes and become the minister I need to be. Frankie had called it Puttin’ on the robes.
            Fast-forward a few more years. Larry’s gone. Baza’s gone. Anita’s gone. Bill Daly’s gone. Tony’s gone. And Frankie calls me from LA with a request: would I publish his next little book as I had published Tony’s Kid in America. And now Frankie’s asking me to do the same for him.
            Well at the time I had a lot on my plate and even more in the pipeline. And I don’t publish books, I don’t write a check and pay someone to make them, I craft them by hand: I one finger hunt and peck type them, edit them, typeset them and design them. I collate them and perfect bind them with paintbrush, glue and a home-made book press, glue them into covers I score with a butter knife, all one at a time. Finally I drive across town to trim them with Tom Parson’s one hundred and fifty year-old gargantuan paper cutter. Tony’s death had made me realize that I’d better get busy taking care of my own shit, and sadly, I passed on Frankie’s request, telling him No. I’ve neither the time nor inclination right now.  I knew I’d disappointed Frankie and I could hear the bafflement in his voice as we concluded our conversation.
            Finally fast forward to 2010 and the fiftieth anniversary of the Temple of Man. Marcia and I are in Venice for the Temple of Man Parade from Cabrillo to the beach with st0ps at the Sculpted in Stone Poems of Frankie, Stuart and Tony. Everyone’s beatnik-ed and hippy-ed out, meandering and parading when Frankie appears. I’m not sure what to expect, not sure what he’s going to say when he comes running up to me and hands me the Temple of Man flag and suggests, Eddie, go on man, you lead the parade, the perfect Charlie Chaplin gesture, his way of forgiving me and of reminding me: We’re good. No hard feelings. Brothers we were and brothers we are.

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