A Noble Gift…

I generally strive to be as positive as I can be, and especially here in this forum, where I can craft what I say, and prune out any unwanted errors and negativity that might creep in (unlike what I can do in life itself in real time — for better or for worse, we’re all forced to live life essentially as the first draft of a large work, with no subsequent editing possible…).

Today, though, I figured I’d release something out there that has some element of sadness attached to it.  It’s a tale having to do with someone I knew briefly, and a gift he gave me…

I’ll pick up the story last year.  I spent about a year’s time recording an album of my own original songs with a friend, whose name is Damion.   We only worked part-time on this project, usually two nights per week, for a few hours at a time.  It was relatively slow-going, as I wrote all the songs and all of their component parts myself (some of these latter elements totally on the fly), played all of the instruments, and did all of the singing.  The album was in some ways like an exorcism of sorts, and I used the experience to purge some of that aforementioned negativity from out of myself — sometimes you need to actualize a bit of that “Out with the old” mojo before you can get to any “In with the new” kinds of work.  Anyway, we managed to get down versions of ten songs that we were both pretty happy with, and the album is now out there in the world.  It looks like this:

The cover of "Try This At Home!" by my band, The Tragic Clowns.  My friend Daniel Oguin, a frighteningly talented artist, created the image for me...
The cover of “Try This At Home!” by my band, The Tragic Clowns. My friend, Daniel Oguin, a frighteningly talented artist, created the image for me…

That’s all just background, though, to get across the idea that I was traveling to this specific loft downtown a couple of nights a week for about a year, and it was a site where I invested a great deal of creative energy over an extended period of time.  Also, the entire time I recorded with him, Damion had a tenant who lived there in the loft, inhabiting a small room they’d fashioned over in one corner of the area.  At almost exactly the end of my project, Damion’s tenant moved on, and then Damion picked up a new tenant, a very sweet-natured woman from Denmark named Birgitte.  We would play music live in the loft on Tuesday nights after that, and Birgitte would often join us and sing along.  Some time after that, I met her boyfriend for the first time, and then he began coming around more often, until he finally just full-on moved in with her there in that little makeshift room in the one corner of the loft.  The boyfriend was a smart, music-loving chap from England, a former DJ and a big fan of hip-hop and electronic music (among other genres), and he worked for a local and rather well-known street artist — Birgitte’s boyfriend’s name was Stuart…

So it was mostly during what passes for winter here in LA that I got to know Stuart, and as my concession to the cool evening temperatures then prevailing, I habitually wore this black hooded sweatshirt that my sister had once given me as a present — it bears the logo of the tattoo shop in New York where I’d gotten my first-ever tattoo, and I love it, and had worn it so often and for so long that the once inky black was fading toward a dark gray.  One evening when I arrived, Stuart suddenly shook his head at it and said, “I need to get you a new jumper.”  That’s what he called hooded sweatshirts: “jumpers.”  I’ve always assumed this to be a British-ism and not his own personal term, but I’m actually not positive on that.

Anyway, he was very intent on this, asking me what size I wore, and he then rummaged around in that same little corner room, eventually returning with a jet-black “jumper” bearing the beautiful, stylized likeness of the Hindu God, Ganesha, on the back.  Do you know Ganesha?  He’s an extremely popular Hindu Deity, with the very distinctive trait of being elephant-headed.  This is Ganesha:

Lord Ganesh -- public domain photo supplied by: Ganesha by Vera Kratochvil
Ganesha by Vera Kratochvil

Ganesha is well-known as being — among other attributes — a remover of obstacles.  Stuart presented me with this sweatshirt, urging me to try it on.  I did so, and it fit me, and he pronounced it mine.  I thanked him sincerely for his generosity, all the while wondering to myself what was prompting this entire interaction — the thing was, although Stuart and I had always been on totally fine and agreeable terms, we’d never really even given each other so much as a stick of gum before, much less an article of clothing that would cost a fair amount of American dollars.  The image on the back of it had been created by another LA street artist called Cryptik, and somebody else there in the loft at the time suggested to me off to one side that Stuart had probably gotten it — along with plenty of other gear — free of charge, through his work in the art world.  I thought that was kind of a cold take on things, and whether it was true or not, I was really touched by the gesture, so out of the blue as it was, and so selflessly presented.

I gratefully accepted the gift, and began wearing the Ganesha “jumper,” especially when I was set to return to the loft…which happened only one more time, maybe two, tops, before I learned — barely a week after being given the gift — that poor Stuart had been struck by a car in a crosswalk, and killed!

This disturbed me greatly for a time.  Like I indicated above, Stuart and I weren’t exceedingly close, and I’d admit that we really only saw each other because he’d moved into the space where I attended a weekly jam session following the completion of my recording project…but I did like him, and I couldn’t escape the certainty that him giving me the gift of the sweatshirt almost immediately before his untimely passing, was a set of circumstances laden with meaning.  I started to believe that it wasn’t just the sweatshirt itself that he’d given me, but the link to Ganesha that it carried with it…

The "jumper" given to me by SN.  The Ganesha image was created by a street artist here in LA called Cryptik...
The “jumper” given to me by Stuart. The gorgeous Ganesha image was created by a street artist here in LA called Cryptik…

I have to confess that while I’m a great lover of mythology in general, I never received a good primer in the Hindu subset of it, and until all this occurred, I had only the most general handle on who and what Ganesha is.  I started to research him, though, after Stuart passed, and I was very taken with the “remover of obstacles” aspect of Ganesha.  I came to believe that Stuart had given me a very tremendous gift of support and encouragement symbolized by Ganesha, which amounted to me being told that I have it within my own power to remove obstacles from my path…and I maybe even have it in me to remove obstacles from the paths of others, as well.  I’m certainly cheered by the idea, and am more than willing to try!

Another Ganesha -- this lovely piece created by my friend and truly great talent, Tashina Suzuki.  You can see more of her work at tashinasuzuki.net
Another Ganesha — this lovely piece created by my friend and truly great talent, Tashina Suzuki. You can see more of her work at tashinasuzuki.net

It’s been just over two months now since Stuart left us, and I still think about the guy a lot, and about what was, for me, a very fateful exchange in that loft, as the month of May was just taking hold here in the city.  I’ll never know why he felt so compelled to bestow the gift of the Ganesha sweatshirt upon me that day, but I do know that I’ll now wear it until it’s as faded and gray as my other “jumper.”  I’m glad I got to know Stuart a bit during our respective wanderings here, and I like to think he’s watching, and smiling that slightly crooked smile of his whenever I now approach any obstacles with new resolve…

2 comments

  1. Stuart saw something special in you; felt something different in you, sensed it, and knew that you would value the sweatshirt and the meaning of the Ganesha design. Perhaps he was very in touch with the spirit world himself but never spoke of it to anyone. It’s a lovely but heartbreaking story. Thank you for sharing it.

    • Thanks for posting such nice thoughts, Rosewyn! I appreciate that a lot. I guess unless/until I ever bump into Stuart again in some way, I can’t know for sure what he experienced, but I do like your take on things! I’ll carry that with me — thanks again…

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