Nurse the Hate: Hate Bad News
I received a text message out of the blue yesterday. "The 20 is now 19. Graham died in his sleep yesterday." Graham Lewis was a creative writing teacher from Eastern Illinois University, and resident of one of my favorite dysfunctional small towns in the nation, Charleston IL. He was a member of what we referred to as "The Twenty". This was a group of some of the craziest and most enthusiastic supporters of twisted up roots rock on the planet. Sometimes it wasn't always clear if they loved to party to the music, or if the music was just the excuse to get the party up to the next level. In the glory days of The Cowslingers, we used to marvel at the fact that people were outside tailgating before our shows. It was like they were getting ready for their version of The Big Game. As we crept through the small town looking for the club, people would give our van a cheer as they stood outside grilling up meat and knocking back 200 beers.
Graham was the loveable guy in the middle of the storm that was one of the tastemakers of the scene. He and his wife Kit's house is like a museum of artistic kitsch and cool, and would usually wind up being the after hours destination for The Twenty. Graham was the guy that had the coolest records/books/art, and was quick to share his enthusiasm for the works of the artists he admired. I loved to ask him about arcane blues records or obscure folk artists and get caught up in his fever for their ideas. He always seemed to have a wry smile and twinkle in his eye that gave away his love of being surrounded by like minded people, and the motley crew that had somehow come together in this little town. One of my most vivid memories of Graham is him dressed in a mexican wrestling mask wolfing down a pan of beans at 3:30am while about 40 people tripping on mushrooms swirled around him engaged in their own dramas. I was sitting next to what may be the wildest guy in Midwest Region, Tommy from Swampass, and pointed to Graham and said "Hey, check that out.". Now I thought that scene was an unusual sight, a rotund guy in a wrestling mask looking like a bear struggling to get honey from a jar.. Not in Charleston, IL. Tommy looks over and says, "Yeah, have you tried those? Kit's a great cook!".
I never heard anyone say a bad word about Graham, and I always looked forward to seeing him. At only 46 years old, clearly he died too young.