I guess because the lives of "ordinary people" so rarely get memorialized, I wanted to create a page about my friend Andy Fowler, whom I first met in 6th grade in Rochester, NY and who died quite unexpectedly at his home in Birmingham, MI in August, 2005.
What first brought us together was music. He had older brothers and sisters who exposed him to a wide variety of records and was quite musically sophisticated even in Middle School. I was the oldest in my family and my early radio listening was mostly news and pop, so I'd had no musical guides. We discovered the Rolling Stones' "Beggars Banquet" at about the same time, considered it quite a fine thing, and held long conversations about each track, walking around and around the small quadrangle in front of the school we then attended. That cemented a friendship that continued for almost 40 years.
Much of the life I've lived would not have happened without Andy. I probably would have discovered my passion for music sooner or later, but by pointing me at the good stuff, and making me unafraid to explore obscure and even unpopular artists, Andy helped make music one of the focal points of my life. He also introduced me to London, a city I quickly came to love, by the typical Andy-ish gesture of paying my way for an entire visit, right down to pocket money for the pubs, when I was a dead-broke graduate student. He even made a point of giving me the pocket money in advance so other friends on the trip wouldn't know I was doing the whole thing on his dime, a consideration I never would have thought to ask for.
Andy was one of the quietest, most unexcitable men I've ever known. In all the time I knew him, we never had a serious argument and I don't remember him saying a cross word. He saw other people clearly, but took them on their own terms. Once he introduced me to a new business associate and, after the guy left, asked me what I thought of him. I said he was incredibly talented, but was a scoundrel who would probably cheat Andy out of everything he could. Andy's response was on the order of "Yes, well, that's probably true." He went into business with the guy anyway, but set limits on the money he was willing to risk, and after the whole thing predictably ended in disaster, never expressed any anger about it. Said he knew what he was getting into and the whole thing was very interesting.
Andy and I liked to take long drives together. After our first years in college, we got together in his old Buick Skylark and spent much of the summer driving all over the Western U.S. We almost drove to Great Slave Lake on a whim just because we thought the name was odd. I only recently threw out the old tent we used on that trip, still missing one rope which got left behind when we were chased out of a campsite by a moose. We also went down to the Mississippi Delta back when people were still surprised to encounter white folks interested in blues music. And every once in a while, over the years, one of us would bring up a drive we took between Horse Creek and Cheyenne, Wyoming on unpaved ranch roads -- the most beautiful drive either of us had ever taken anywhere.
What turned out to be our last trip together was in December, 2002, when he met me in Prescott, Arizona to help me drive a used car I'd bought back to Virginia. Due to an ice storm which filled every motel in the southern U.S. with stranded travellers, we ended up driving all the way from Prescott to Memphis in one shot. Was nice to know, nearing 50, that we could still do crazy stuff like that.
Andy had a fascination with the sites of famous crimes, and the graves of famous criminals. Once on a trip to Dallas, I tracked down the cemetery where Clyde Barrow is buried and jumped over a fence to get a picture of the stone for Andy.
In some ways, Andy was very conventional. He played golf and unfailingly wore tasteful, conservative clothes. But when the going got weird, I usually chickened out long before Andy did. He was not afraid to hang out on the wilder side of the tracks or with people who were extremely, er, unusual. If all the people Andy befriended ever met in one place, it would truly be a disparate group, ranging from highly successful professionals to folks with tattoos and police records.
I'm not sure if Andy ever understood how many people loved him or how strongly we felt about him. I don't think so. He seemed to see himself as an ordinary, rather boring individual, which only goes to show how dimly we often see ourselves. Andy was one of the least boring people I've ever known. In an offbeat way, Andy even had charisma -- when I was a kid, I used to imitate his slow drawl and rolling walk the way you might ape the mannerisms of a favorite movie star. I can still "do" Andy, as can a lot of his friends.
In some ways, the most daring thing about Andy was that he lacked ambition. In a culture where a few of us are rich and famous, and everyone else seems to be tortured by their failure to be either, Andy was very philosophical and frank about the fact that he had no intention of setting the world on fire. He studied architecture (and helped get me interested in it), and then after a few years of fishing around, practiced law undramatically and successfully in a small firm in Birmingham. When the founding partner retired, Andy decided that he had little interest in taking over the practice and pretty much retired from the law. At the time of his death, he was enrolled in library school and seemed -- in his Andyish way -- to be pretty excited about it.
Andy leaves no direct survivors, except all of us who knew him. He was divorced at the time of his death, and in one of the last emails I sent him -- one of a number of similar emails over the years -- I counseled that yes, it sounded like the woman he'd met at work was probably interested in him, and no it didn't matter that she was younger, and absolutely, he should give it a try. It's too bad Andy never had a family. I'm a pretty good parent, but Andy had a natural way with children which you read about in books but rarely see in real life. He would enter their world, slow down his already slow talk a little more, and simply be with them in a way that only a few of us can be.
My life to date would not have been nearly so rich without Andy -- in truth, I'm not sure if it would have been tolerable. In the last year or so, he was busy with graduate school and I was learning a new job and helping my wife through an illness, so we were in touch only sporadically. We were hoping to get together sometime this Fall -- one set of plans had fallen through, and I hadn't had time to come up with another one when I got word of his death.
A few days before he died, I was listening to a boxed set of Sinatra with the Dorsey Band that Andy gave me for Christmas a few years ago (with a comment to the effect that "everyone should have this music"). And I thought of writing him to say how much enjoyment I've gotten out of it over the years. I wish I'd written that email. A sudden death leaves so many things unsaid.
Andy had a network of friends who were spread far and wide -- I'd never even met the friend who called me with news of his death, although I'd heard Andy talk of him. To any other friends or family who might read this, I will say that I'm sure I only knew some parts of Andy's life and some sides of his personality and interests. But what an astonishing person he was, in his own Andy-ish way. Although were he still around, he'd be the first to deny it.