Chances are if you’re visiting this blog today it’s because you read an essay I wrote in the Philadelphia Inquirer about my former boss, Ray Daub, who passed away Thanksgiving week at the age of 61. If so, thanks for stopping by and for being interested in finding out a bit more about Ray and me.
If you arrived here via some other referral, thanks to you, too. It’s always nice to see some new faces. If you’re interested in the essay referenced above, you can find in the paper edition of today’s (Dec. 12) Inquirer or here at Philly.com. If you need to head over there to get caught up, I’ll give you a minute. Here’s some background music to read by.
Good? No worries. I promise we weren’t talking about you while you were gone.
Actually, it’s funny because Ray would have appreciated that musical interlude as much as anyone. In addition to being a master craftsman of lifelike static and animated figures, he was an unrepentant music fan and occasional snob.
In his workshop there was always music – usually a radio tuned to Philadelphia rock stations WMMR or WYSP – and he never passed up the chance to mock a moldy classic rock war horse (he used to refer to the band U2 as “Why Me?” and, as a longtime Motown and Stax soul fan, was notorious for rhetorically asking when black people would start making decent music again). He’s the one who first recommended to me the Squeeze album (we called them albums back in the ’80s when they were big and vinyl) East Side Story as a pillar of alternative pop. His love for music was brought to life professionally when he helped craft a life-sized figure of blues legend Muddy Waters for the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Miss., in 1990.
If you read the essay in the Inquirer, you know that I credit Ray with a lifetime of inspiration on what it really takes to be a working artist. What you might not know, however, is that I was inspired by Ray in another, more unorthodox way.
I’ve mentioned in this space that it took me 20 years to complete my first (and so far only) novel, Immaculate Deception. During that long period of time, I found myself reaching into various different areas of my life for inspiration. So when it came time for me to create the character of William Z. Robert, a low-rent, chain-smoking demon, I knew where from my own life to pull his appearance and character traits – Ray.
Just take a look at the photo above (taken about 20 years after I last worked for him) and then read this:
“He was not what Jon expected, especially after Eli’s briefing. He seemed of indeterminate ethnicity – maybe Italian somewhere – with thick, dark hair trailing down the back of his neck in what his dad used to call a mullet. Jon imagined the length in back was to compensate for the thinning of the hair that remained on top. On his face was a full beard that was in need of a trim, and the droopy lids and half-moon circles under his eyes suggested it had been a while since he had slept well. He wore a white tank T-shirt and, on his legs crossed at the ankles under the desk, Jon saw khaki chinos and block high-top Chuck Taylor sneakers. His ancient metal office chair creaked as he leaned back and pulled on his cigarette while tapping out a quick rhythm on his thigh with the other hand.”
If you had ever spent more than 15 minutes with Ray during the 1980s – or I’d wager at any time during his life – you would know that when I was imagining Robert offering Jon Templeton a less-than-aboveboard contract for service, I was envisioning Ray.
And just so you know, despite the occasional crap Ray dished out, he was never demonic. I’m not beyond using revenge against a living human to craft an unsavory character, but in this case it was a shout-out to someone who in my mind – and I’m sure the minds of many others – was the quintessential Character. There was no way you could meet Ray and not remember him. Now I hope generations of readers will enjoy my tip of the hat to the way I remembered him, too.