Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Eulogy for Kelly Lowe by Michael King

I met Kelly at Perry Middle School in 1979, the same year I met Alvin Helms and Eric Fickas. I had just moved to Ohio from Santa Cruz, California, where I had spent most of my life, and the move was a difficult one. I left behind all my friends, and a hometown that seemed to hold so much of my history and identity that I was overwhelmed with homesickness when I left it. Kelly was one of the first people to make me feel welcome, and adopt me as a friend. In fact, Kelly, Alvin and Eric were the first real friends I made in Ohio, and we remained friends throughout that critical crucible of adolescence. The bonds I formed with them during those early, formative years were especially strong—so much so, that I later came to think of them as the Old Guard, the stalwarts who had really gotten to know me and shared an important part of my history with me. At this point, the Old Guard represents people whom I’ve known for more than half my life.

Kelly was one of the Old Guard, and it’s a gross understatement to say that the group, and the years I spent in Worthington, Ohio, would not have been the same without him.

From Air Guitar to Zappa

One common theme in our friendship was music. We were passionate rock and roll fans at a time when MTV was a brand new thing, and we jammed together—with or without instruments—on many occasions. In fact, playing “air guitar” was a favorite pastime of ours. We fantasized about forming a rock band (tentatively called “Fury”), and Kelly had his outfit for the MTV video ready for show time before he had his guitar licks ready. He did actually play guitar, but he also wanted to play drums—an idea that either got vetoed by his parents, or proved too expensive for his budget. Whatever the cause, a real trap set never materialized, but that didn’t stop Kelly from playing a faux trap set made of pillows arranged on his bed. He had the ’80s rock drummer act down pat, right down to knowing when to hold the drumstick aloft and twirl it between his fingers for dramatic effect. Those were some good jam sessions, and I can still hear Rush’s “Fly by Night” and “Spirit of Radio,” and see Kelly wailing away in a heroic impersonation of Neal Peart.

(Not long ago, before I heard that he passed away, I sat down to write Kelly a letter, and I was going to tell him about the new PlayStation game called “Guitar Hero Encore: Rocks the ’80s.” We would have had a good laugh at that, because we were already doing the low-tech version of it in his bedroom in 1981. We were ahead of our time, I guess.)

He liked Rush, the Pretenders, Journey, Yes, Phil Collins, the Police, Van Halen, and (inexplicably) Kiss. I’m not sure what kind of professional musician he would have made, but I know this: He would have made a good MTV VJ.

We both had an affinity for progressive rock, and it was a strong common theme in our friendship. It seemed a fitting thing to draw us together. The music was sophisticated and intelligent, and the particular bands to which we gravitated (e.g., old Genesis and Yes) were filled with optimism and an adventurous spirit that rose above teenage angst and songs of unrequited love, and made a heroic attempt to reach for a larger world amid the stars. That common thread in our friendship lasted from high school right up until the end. (We were both enjoying the current crop of “neo prog” bands that are active these days.) Kelly even touched upon prog rock in his Zappa biography, and I thought that was a fitting way to put his enthusiasm for the genre to good use in his professional life. In fact, the whole Zappa book seemed an ideal pursuit for him, as it combined his adult academic prowess with his boyhood enthusiasm for rock and pop culture. I was really pleased to see him write it, and was pleased it was well received.

Kelly was a Frank Zappa fan even in high school, and it was little wonder why. With Zappa’s wild hair and outlandish lyrics that sliced and diced modern American culture and poked sacred cows and looked at things from strange new angles, it was not surprising that Kelly liked him. It some ways, Kelly was like Zappa: smart, yet without any stigmatic taint of nerdiness about him; popular, yet iconoclastic; a wild party animal, yet disciplined enough to do well academically. If Kelly had gone on to become a famous musician, I could well imagine him writing songs like “The Dangerous Kitchen,” and also using his public platform to speak out about social and cultural issues in his characteristically intelligent yet casual way.

The Madwoman of Shallot

Kelly and I were both active in high school theatre, and performed together in several plays. One of the highlights of our time at Worthington High School together was in our junior year (1983), when we both auditioned for, and landed roles in, the fall school play. This photo of us in “The Madwoman of Shallot” is the only photo of Kelly that I have. He played a police officer (on the left), and I played The Ragpicker (in the middle).

Kelly seemed right at home in the limelight, which perhaps foreshadowed his future profession of becoming a school teacher. I think Bronwyn Hopton, our theatre teacher, would have approved of the way Kelly chose to put his theatrical talent to use.

Dr. Everyman

Perhaps one of the most memorable aspects of Kelly, and one that certainly pervaded our friendship, was his sense of humor. Part of it was in his outlook, and part of it was in his delivery, but either way, words won’t do it justice. You had to be there. Suffice it to say that he always knew how to put me in stitches, and one of the most persistent memories I have of him is his great rollicking laugh. It made him very easy to like, and it was one of the things that marked him as a “people person.”

Kelly was always very bright, he was always an avid reader, and he always had an eye for popular culture. He seemed at once both critical of it and fascinated by it, as though he had one foot planted firmly within it, and one foot outside of it, which allowed him to comment on it from both the inside and the outside. Though I never had the pleasure of seeing him teach, I imagine he was right at home lecturing in his American Culture Studies class. He always was a lively and engaging commentator on our times. (Coincidentally, his nickname in high school was Doc, so we both got a kick out of the fact that he really did become “Doctor” Lowe.)

Kelly was writing a book about Jackson Browne, and I’ve thought about him more than once when listening to Browne’s solo acoustic version of “Everyman.” The protagonist in the song talks about getting away from humanity in order to find his true self, but somehow always ends up coming back to humanity in that same search. It’s an elusive and poetic piece that speaks of the energized tension between a critical assessment of society and a hearty participation in it. Perhaps Kelly related to Jackson Browne in part because he sympathized with his outlook on such things as this very tension. I think it takes a certain art for living to hold that tension in balance. Kelly was good at that.


Kelly and I lost touch when I moved back to California, and he went on to attend college in various places, but we eventually reconnected, and although we wrote to each other only infrequently, there was something about that friendship forged in our adolescence that remained, a bedrock that I somehow felt even during the long spans of silence between our correspondence. I feel its absence now, like a strange, aching hollow. It’s hard to believe he’s gone.

This rambling reminiscence is probably too long for those who did not share those times with Kelly, yet it’s far too short to do more than scratch the surface of a friendship that meant a great deal to me. Kelly’s unwavering acceptance of me, his loyalty, his irresistible sense of humor, his authenticity, and his easygoing, affable demeanor, all helped me weather the sometimes trying times of middle school and high school. In fact, I often look back on those days as the Good Old Days, and one of the things that made them good was Kelly Lowe.

For me, losses of this magnitude can only be managed in small does over a long span. I’m sure I’ll be grieving the loss of Kelly for a long time. I can’t hear certain ’80s rock tunes these days without thinking of him, and getting a lump in my throat. Some of those old tunes will never be the same. Certainly the Old Guard will never be the same. Kelly was a good friend, and I’ll miss him more than words can say.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Anybody still check this blog hoping to see it updated? I can't bring myself not not to.

Anybody interested in turning this blog into a celebration of Kelly?

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Plus ├ža change, plus c’est pareil.

This is Steve.

Kelly passed away on Friday.

I don't have any words right now, but here's a letter I wrote about him not too long ago that begins to scrape the surface.

I’ve been asked by Dr. Kelly Lowe to write a letter about his work as a teacher, and not only am I highly qualified to do so, I am thrilled to. Having taken several of Dr. Lowe’s courses at Mount Union College, I can say without hesitation or qualification that he’s a fantastic teacher with a wide range of pedagogical skills at his disposal.

My first class with Kelly was College Writing (EH 100) in the spring of 1996. As a reticent pre-med major with minor skill but no interest in writing, I initially viewed his class as merely the one before chemistry and the one after biology. However, within a few weeks of completing the readings he’d assigned, participating in the peer-review workshops he’d arrange, contributing to the in-class discussions he’d facilitate, and receiving the encouraging textual comments he’d leave on my essays, I found myself doing better in (and enjoying!) EH 100 more than I ever would have imagined. It was Dr. Lowe’s fine work in this class that directly led to me declaring a writing major (a major he designed, mind you) and pursue a career not unlike his. Over my subsequent three years at Mount Union, I enrolled in many of Dr. Lowe’s classes—Nonfiction Writing, The History of Rhetoric, American Culture Studies, Practicum in Peer Editing, my Senior Culminating Experience—and I found each to be equal parts illuminating, educational, practical, though-provoking, useful and fun.

Dr. Lowe’s demeanor in class is relaxed, conversational. He’ll often gather students around in a circle so that everyone may make eye contact as they discuss that day’s reading, or that class session’s writing prompt. Truly a facilitator, Kelly will allow a class discussion find its own way through students, only adding a comment or posing a question when he feels prudent. As a writing teacher myself, I can attest that this skill takes a patience and a commitment to the search for knowledge that I can rarely achieve myself. It’s so easy for an instructor to butt into a class discussion and steer students toward issues/ideas/material he or she wants to be discussed, and Kelly, to my knowledge, has never taken such an opportunity without it coming organically from the students themselves. Poetry in action, for my monies’ worth.

Another element of Dr. Lowe’s pedagogy I admire is his commenting strategies on student writing. Again, on my own student papers, I know how hard it is to resist “getting out the red pen” and focusing almost solely on those aspects of a student’s writing that are lack. And again, Kelly is a model of commenting that I aspire to: he responds to writers and not to writing. This difference is crucial. Never afraid to engage his students on the page, I found Kelly to be a question-asker in his commenting strategy—that way, revisions could serve as answers, and direct instruction has been nicely avoided. I’d like to think I ape this strategy from him.

Kelly’s pretty much the best teacher I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot. I strongly endorse his application, and I urge you to contact me if there’s any further information I can provide about his abilities outside the classroom: I’ve also worked with Kelly in writing center, I co-taught a grammar class with him, I watched him develop Writing Across the Curriculum (WAC) while I attended Mount Union, and I'm golfing buddies with him.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

For those of you who are interested...

Mario Batali, one of my heroes (if you haven't read Heat, you've got to. Right now. I'm waiting), has taken a turn whacking the bloggers (on a food blog no less - ahh, the irony). You can read it here if you are so inclined:

Extra credit for anyone who can get me 7:30 reservations at Del Posto.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Quote of the night

"I can kill a man and dismember him and be home in time for Letterman. But when my girlfriend is feeling insecure, I don't know what to say." -- Dexter.

P.S. Dirty Martinis and Vantage menthols make all television shows better.

Dear HBO: I'm breaking up with you.

I'm a pretty big believer in monogamy. I'm also a pretty faithful guy. I've been married to the same woman for 15 years. I worked at the same school for 10 and took a lot of shit before leaving. I still watch whatever NBC puts on Thursday nights because I've been doing so since Cosby and Cheers.

And I was, until recently, an HBO man through and through. Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, Half Hour Comedy hour, The Larry Sanders Show...I go way back with HBO. And we've had some great times together.

But it's time to break up. I'm very sorry. You have some promising new shows, although John From Cincinnati is beyond me. [I'll be back for The Wire, I promise].

I'm moving on. I've found a new love. Her name is Showtime.

I've spent the weekend with you and I have to say, it's a deep commitment.

Dexter, Brotherhood, Weeds. That's all I have to say.

What makes it difficult is that when I move in a month I'm moving to a place with no cable, which is forcing me, much against my will, to get satellite. I'm trying to decide between Dish Network, which gets me HBO, Showtime, Cinemax and Starz for about $49.00 or Direct TV, which gets me all of the above, plus the NFL Sunday Ticket for a juicy $250 per month for the first three months. Ouch.

That said, I've got to leave you now to get back to Dexter, who makes serial killing sexy. If someone turns up missing on the high plains, will you be my alibi?

My wife & daughter are out of town, day 2 (movie review edition)

One of my strangest habits is that I really like to watch movies early in the morning, so when I fell asleep last night in the middle of Deja Vu, I woke up at five this morning and continued my festival of "C" movies. To wit:

Deja Vu. Actually much better than I thought it would be, except for the fact that I broke out laughing every few minutes because, right before she left, my wife told me about a student of hers who named her baby Deja Vu because she was watching the movie right before the baby was born and really liked it. I don't hold that against the film.

Epic Movie. Kind of funny. Probably a lot funnier on acid.

Let's go to Prison. Only funny in the sense that Will Arnett is funny. That said, he's really funny, so that made up for a lot. (Extra points for the movie being written by one of the guys in Mr. Show). I still don't know about Dax Shepard, but he was funnier here than he was in Employee of the Month.

I'm going to spend the rest of the day reading about Folk music, which is not necessarily as exciting as it sounds. On tap for dinner: Chicken with lemon, garlic and butter with rice pilaf, broccoli, and a bottle of Chateau St. Michelle Pinot Grigio. And as soon as I get to the store to buy more vermouth, it's Manhattans for everyone!

Entertainment for tonight - catch up on episodes of Weeds, Brotherhood and Dexter. Thanks, Showtime on demand.

Have a nice day.