Arts Devo

Remembering my friend, Moondog

RIP Moondog

RIP Moondog

I had kind of a spiritual experience of viewing the moon and the stars through the steam from a fumarole … and a herd of deer was having the same experience. We were both there staring at the moon and occasionally looking at each other. That's more or less when I became Moondog.—Jim “The Rev. Junkyard Moondog” Dwyer

Goodbye, friend As many of you already know, Jim Dwyer, local poet, author, joker, activist, spontaneous dancer, environmentalist, freak, clown, former Chico State librarian and one of Arts DEVO's longest-running friends, died on Sunday, June 28. He was 65. No cause of death has been announced, but according to family accounts, he collapsed at a convenience store in Sacramento on the way home from seeing the Grateful Dead in Santa Clara the day before. He died a few hours later at UC Davis Medical Center.

I'm sure that I'm not alone among those who knew Chico's notorious hippie bon vivant in thinking that Moondog would've found more than a little poetry in how his strange trip ended—staring up at cold fluorescent lights as the bright colors of one final spin with his fellow Deadheads still swirled through his head.

In the beginning was the word/and poetry gives it power./Haiku master takes zen bow/shoots love into the heart of Godzilla./Poetry beats Godzilla!—from Dwyer's “Poetry Meets Godzilla”

Like most of his Chico family, I knew the man as Moondog. We had been friends for nearly 26 years, since first meeting at Chico State's Meriam Library shortly after I moved to town in 1989. I was working there as a part-time shelving monkey and Moondog was the trippy bibliographic-services librarian who was always talking about the latest “killer” local concert he'd been to. He once described himself to me as “a peaceful warrior … a poet, a percussionist, a peace and environmental activist, a dancer and a singer/songwriter who can't sing and doesn't play the guitar,” and that is about perfect. I'd come to learn that he was a constantly active renaissance man who was impressive in his devouring of life; unabashedly indulging every appetite (at times, I suspect, to his physical detriment).

Simple pleasures/more than cheap thrills/they'll fill your heart up/you know they will/they cost you nothing/and yet they paint/the very best moments/of every day.—from a Dwyer song, “Simple Pleasures”

I wrote a column on the occasion of his 60th birthday celebration, and it's still the best way I can think to frame his place in Chico:

“My favorite thing about Moondog is his complete devotion to being open to absolutely everything creative that our town offers. When it comes to the jam-band groove in which Chico is stuck, Moondog is the first one on the dance floor, frolicking in the autumn mist. But to his credit, he's also the first one on the dance floor at the indie-rock show; the first one in line for the play; the first one to sign up for the open mic; the first one to put money in the hat at the benefit; the first one to make a sign for the protest; the first one to learn a song for the cover night; the first one to read at the poetry slam; the first one to send an encouraging e-mail to another artist; the first one to write a letter to the editor; the first one to sing the praises of a punk band after its first show; the first one to buy his season tickets and the first one to hit the free food table at the art opening. Moondog might just be Chico's No. 1 arts lover … and he is certainly one of my personal heroes.”

the first day you say/“back in the day” is the day/you're over the hill—Dwyer haiku

Moondog and I worked together, shared the stage as fellow poets and musicians, and had passionate conversations about the art we were experiencing and the people who made it. I shared many personal and public moments with the man, and as it is with anyone who operates without an internal editor, my experiences with Moondog ranged from the joyous to the embarrassing. But I already miss it all. He was always very kind to me, and always had a compliment or an impromptu poem or song for me, or for my wife. And he loved Chico with all of his giant bleeding heart, and the town won't be the same without our cheerleader waving the freak flag for us all.

Junkyard Moondog/howling through the clouds/chasing heartsick thieves away—Jim Dwyer