Monday, July 20, 2009

Tragedy: Tom Pfaeffle

A few days ago I learned that my friend and former teacher at the Art Institute of Seattle had been shot and killed at a hotel in Twisp, WA. Apparently he had been trying to use his room key on the wrong door and the suspect, a 57-year-old man, shot him through the door. Tom Pfaeffle was 49, and is survived by his wife and four children. This is a terrible loss on so many levels. Death never ceases to shock me with its abrupt and unfair delivery. My mind reels with how senseless this crime was.

Tom was a unique individual. I first met him in 2003 while in a class at The Art Institute. I'll never forget his zeal and magnetic delivery. When he spoke, people listened. He was a dynamic instructor, weaving stories of working with great bands like Nirvana, The Black Crowes, Queensryche, Candlebox and Heart. When he taught he spoke as someone who had experienced what he was teaching. He had lived it to the fullest extent. His lessons seemed more like intense movie narratives than the unintelligible droning I received in my other classes. He would spend as much time as needed to insure that the students asking the questions understood the answers. He was passionate about the information he was conveying, and it was clear that he wanted to make sure it clicked before he moved on. I believe because of his techniques many of his students went on to have careers in the music industry. One of these students (Casey Bates) was my classmate at the time and has gone on to produce a laundry list of signed bands. He also produced our first EP, which was never commercially released.

In 2007 I met Tom Pfaeffle again, only this time as a client. We had just released our Seattle Sessions EP and were playing a release show at the Showbox in Seattle. Tom was there to record an opening bands performance, but he told me that since the equipment was already set up he would be happy to record our set at a discounted rate. About a week later I took my hard drive to The Tank - the studio he built next to his house - to get the live tracks from him. As I was there I recalled out loud his conversations with the class four years prior about building the studio, so we reminisced about that for awhile. I met some of his children, who came into the studio to see what daddy was up to. He was very sweet with them. We talked for a few hours while the data was transferred, and I couldn't help but be impressed with how honest and sincere he was. He was a great listener, and listened intently to what I was saying. When he spoke there was a calming wisdom to his words. He told me about the struggles he had faced as his successes. A few he was most proud of were Wild Orchid Children and K.K. And His Weathered Underground, which were a few bands made up of local musicians from other bands.

Tom was very well known in the Seattle music scene, and had the unique ability of using his wealth of experiences to work with the musicians on the front lines. Many engineers and producers fade into obscurity and have trouble relating to new scenes and climates, but Tom had the tenacity to push forward and remain relevant. He was as good a learner as he was a teacher, and that is a rare quality to find in someone who had already seen so much.

I had hopes to work with Tom on projects in the future, and it just seems weird that now I won't get to. I didn't know him extremely well, but I knew him well enough to miss him.

So heres to you, Tom. You made a difference in my life and I will miss you.

Link to the news story:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Friends Are What You Like

You make good friends by having things in common them. You can bond over things you dislike, but in order to make it really work I think you have to enjoy the same things. Your friends are dictated very much by your definition of fun.

I see this in myself and with the people I make time for. I like long, meaningful conversations, so generally I like to spend time with people who like to converse. Sometimes I don't make friends very quickly, and I’ll admit that until I trust someone I will not go very deep with them. It can be hard to develop meaningful relationships with random folks in my line of work. For some, the bridge between fanship and friendship is short. For me, for whatever reason, it can be longer. It could take me minute to trust you, or a year, it all depends on how the conversations go. I like good conversations. I used to think house parties and keggers were fun, and thus my friends seemed to be people who enjoyed that same lifestyle. The point is, my definition of fun has changed, and so it seems my prerequisites for good friends.

I like people who are aware of their surroundings, who can take the temperature of the room and can engage in a conversation without being distracted. I like people who don't overtly break the rules, but don't necessarily follow them either. I like people who are impulsive. My idea of fun now just involves a handful of good friends. I no longer wish to roll the dice with strangers at a bar or a club. I want to meet people one at a time and have more focused relationships.

I was thinking about this recently as Kristie and I spent some time with a couple who are good friends. Jason and Jen are a few years older than us and have three kids. Lifestyle-wise we have very little in common, but somehow we still seem to connect on that deeper level. I think it has something to do with our idea of a good time. Both couples love good conversations. After everyone else leaves they stay, sometimes for hours, just to talk (It's the same when we go to their house, we can never get out of there at a decent hour). It’s as if they too are searching for a chance to experience one of those conversations that leaves you feeling energized and inspired. They relish the same things we do. Their definition of fun is consistent with ours, so when they visit, we expect a 2 A.M. departure. Sleep, work and the priorities of the morning become secondary and unimportant compared to our visits. Sometimes during these conversations we expose truths about ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise expose, we laugh, we cry, you know, we say things that make us feel vulnerable. Without trust and friendship, doing this would make us ripe for injury and embarrassment, but in this case it just causes us to love each other more. It's been said that the greatest fuel for hate is ignorance. If that is true, would that make the greatest fuel for love awareness? How many of us are really aware of our friends struggles? How many of us make our friends aware of our own? I think "relational ignorance" is too common these days and it can really limit true friendship and love. It starves people of their life bread! How does one survive without a confidant or two?

Some people don’t want to be exposed, its uncomfortable, so they keep their friends at arms length and remain ignorant themselves. To be honest, I’m kind of tired of those people.

I'll be really honest here. I am extremely tired of people who are my age but maintain high school mentalities. I am tired of those whose passions come from gossip magazines and reality shows. I'm tired of those who think they know everything and have bought into the idea that life is ultimately about serving themselves. I am tired of those who seek their own comfort at the expense of everyone around them. I can't be friends with those people, because those people don't need friends. They need their friends to abandon them so that they can hit rock bottom. They need to hit rock bottom to find what life is really about. I am tired of selfish motivations. I am tired of fake, fickle, flakey "friends." I believe in the statement that life is about more than struggling to accumulate money to purchase things you don't need to impress people you don't even like. I know everyone needs love, perhaps these ones need a lot of love, but for a time I think these people need pain, and a hefty dose of it, otherwise they'll just die unhappy and alone. That's me being honest.

Back to the part about your friends being dictated by what you like. When I was thirteen, I got into online gaming and my friendships were formed mostly around that. When I was sixteen I got into partying, and thus, my friends became those who enjoyed that activity. It was the same with sports, drugs, music, church, etc. For the last six years most of my friends and I have shared the common bond of music. Good conversations, however, are one of my favorite activities, so regardless of the lifestyle inconsistencies I can enjoy a friendship with pretty much anyone who gets the same kick out of discussing things that matter. I'll go so far as to avoid situations and environments that are not conducive to quality conversations. Nowadays, when the bar is too packed, people are too drunk and the music is too loud, I'll start looking around for the exit sign. I don't even have to think about it, I'll just want to leave suddenly. I think thats why sometimes I am tempted to pick up smoking again. I used to have the best conversations outside and away from the noise. Those good old one-on-ones with a smoking buddy. Now I'll just shiver and check the time... when your body doesn't need to smoke, its hard to motivate yourself to stand outside and mingle.

It's always good to make yourself define the things you enjoy the most. Make a list. Your relationships, your identity and your personality are all things will be influenced by that list. That list will define you. Friends will enter your life because of that list, and nothing will have a greater effect on you than people. Someone once said, "Show be your two best friends and I'll show you your future." You may be a strong person, but spend enough time with a person and you'll find yourself on the same path. Be careful of your priorities, and be careful of the things you start to like. Make them good things, so you have good friends, so you can live a good life.

These are all things I was told by my parents and mentors, and most of these things I disagreed with. My friends accepted me, I loved them, what was so bad about that? To this day I love all of my friends dearly, past and present, but I am very thankful I did not continue down some of the avenues I travelled with them. I'm the exception. By the grace of God my lifestyle today is productive as opposed to destructive. It is only because of my wife and a few others that I am not an addict or in rehab or prison or worse. Where I am today is dramatically different than where I was headed because of a few who invested time, prayers and positive energy.

So, be honest with your friends and invest in your relationships. Expose yourself when the timing is right. Be vulnerable, it builds trust, and trust is the most valuable thing between two people. Define the positive things you enjoy. Make a list of the goals you want to achieve and surround yourself with like minded people. There's my fortune cookie wisdom for the day. I'm done now.