Last Friday the extraordinary Craig Lieske-musician, writer, innovator- suddenly passed. Several of us composed tributes to him for Flagpole. This was mine:
Craig Lieske and I became friends four years ago. We were at the 40 Watt, the Truckers were playing and I was raw with grief over a friend’s sudden death. Everyone knew—Flagpole had recently printed my eulogy. I remember sometime that night, Craig found me alone by the side of the stage. I was probably crying. That’s how I picture myself that night, brown eyes streaming tears. But what I remember now was how vulnerable Craig looked as he pulled me aside, telling me he knew how it hurt to lose someone you’d thought you’d be close to the rest of your days. He’d been devastated several years before, back when he’d lost his wife. For the longest time, he told me, he felt he’d never get past her death. He told me how the grief eased, but that it took years.
I remember that night was the first I’d felt good since my friend died, that night, the one I first really talked with Craig. And it wasn’t the whole night, just the five or so minutes it took the Truckers to blast out "Puttin’ People on the Moon." I remember as they played how I thought of Craig’s words, how he said the desolation would eventually pass. I remember wanting the Truckers to never finish singing that song.
But what I now like best remembering is that that evening was the first that Craig and I connected, and that every time afterwards I was stoked to see Craig. I liked seeing his bright smile lighting the 40 Watt’s shadows, liked how he’d surprise my husband Chris and I on the sidewalk outside the club. I like remembering the way his white hair shone in the marquee’s glow. I like remembering how he was such a good listener, blue eyes watching intently, asking pertinent questions in that gravelly voice. I know I am not the only one who liked how you could be in a crowd, but he could make you feel like you were the only person there.
Craig was at my other favorite haunt, Avid Bookshop, one of the last times we had a real conversation, the place where he now (then?) worked in-between tours. Velena and I spotted him through the window—he waved us in. The thing I remember best about that night is that Craig was so happy. “I thought I’d had my chance,” he told us, but he’d found a second one with Melinda—together, the two had constructed a beautiful life. He told us how excited he was to be making music, with his own project, with others. How he was looking forward to embarking with the Truckers on their upcoming tour. He told us how he loved working at Avid, how he was writing regularly, how recently he’d even sent to publishers a finished manuscript.
Like many, I thought I’d have years to know Craig Lieske like I wanted to. I’ll always regret never being able to discuss his book. But the one consolation—and I’m remembering that conversation way back, that night when Patterson sang about Mary Alice’s cancer, back when Craig and I first connected—is that Craig went out happy, heartbreaking as it is for the rest of us to live with the news.