I'm Robert's mom, Jane, and it really warms my heart to know how much Robert was and is loved by so many wonderful people. Today is Robert's birthday and although I know there are so many stories about Robert's tardiness, just for the record, he was born on our due date ... and he certainly left this life much, much too soon. So this evening, I sitting at home reflecting on how truly grateful I am to have had such a remarkable child and wishing I had one more chance to tell him how much he is loved and what a privilege it is to be his mother. I went to the cemetery today and was surprised to find that Robert's sister (and my daughter) had decorated the headstone with two tiny rubber chickens and coffee beans ... I can hear Robert's incredibly infectious belly laugh in my mind if he could see Jennifer's tribute. To Josh for starting [his Yahoo memorial] website, to Scott Kendig for his loving message, to Adam Marcus, who I remember with much fondness ... and to all of Robert's other friends and Robert's beloved Jenny, thank you for keeping Robert's memory alive with stories and affectionate tales; he was a one-of-a-kind, unique, loving, tardy and talented man. I miss him very much.
Fondly ... Jane
Once me and Robert were invited to go camping up in Cache Creek, which is kind of near Sacramento. Our hosts asked us if we wanted a ride but we decided that since we were both veteran bike messengers and that we already had a couple of 80-mile rides under our belts, we would just ride up. The car caravan left on Friday evening for the weekend trip, but we decided to leave at six on Saturday morning so we could have time to <prepare>. Never mind on how we decided to prepare; all I can really say is by the time we had to go, we were pretty fuckin loopy. Remember how I said we were going to leave at six in the morning? At that rate, if you keep up a good clip, you should be rolling into Cache Creek by sundown, about 5 or 6:30 dst. Well, fourteen hours, two packs of smokes, an ill-advised trek across a bridge only meant for cars and about three or four 40's later we find ourselves in the middle of fucking nowhere. Of course the sun was already down, of course there was no highway lighting, and, I must remind you, of course we're looped. Bike lights? Nah! Followed the light from Robert's burning cigarette. We pulled up around midnight, to laughter and applause. At least our hosts were nice enough to drive us back. I have a lot more stories like this. I just have to wade through the not-so embarrassing ones.
Robert will always remain one of the coolest people I’ve met through the messenger scene, or just one of the coolest people I’ve met period. He grew up in LA, made his way north to college in Santa Cruz, where among other things, he wrote a musical about witch trials and, together with Spiller, unearthed the secret US Federal Department of Delicious Snacks.
He rolled up to SF in the mid-90s and I knew he was cool because he was down with McIlroy and even played a show with Rodney Kingston Trio. It was always a treat to run into him -- even when he was complaining, he was hysterically funny. He gave the world the Punk Rock Passover. I miss the long nights at the 24th Street house, hearing lectures about Brian Wilson’s unappreciated genius or being griped out because I’m a complete jazz philistine. Or being instructed about how to make “an honest cup of coffee” uncontaminated by hazelnut flavoring. We shared a dread of techno-geek cyclists, the ones with “titanium spoke nipple” fetishes, and, in the days of everyone going clipless, Robert discovered that vintage bowling shoes made excellent substitutes for $200 glow-in-the-dark cycling shoes.
Family Scott was arguably the high point of the San Francisco bike messenger music scene. Stephanie and I spent countless drunken evenings square/slam-dancing to them. One show Robert inexplicably did a Mick Jagger impression the entire set. Robert was a complete flake and never could show up to practice on time, but he made the band was it was. Spiller and Robert had any number of unfulfilled musical agendas – a country punk band with only child’s toys for instruments, a Cheap Trick cover band. Dumptruck, after swearing he would never be in a band with Robert again, was actually working with Steve and Robert to form a new band shortly before Robert passed away.
The last time I saw Robert, I was working on a mural on Sycamore Alley and he was riding home. We chatted for well over an hour. He was looking for work but was still in great spirits. At least the last few years of his, he was upbeat and happy to be with Jennifer, the woman he loved. I missed his wake, because I already had tickets to Oklahoma for Christmas. The night I found out about Robert's death. I just spent the evening drinking a 40 of Miller High Life (Lord, that stuff tastes like piss – how did he drink it??) and crying on my friends’ shoulders. His friends from Santa Cruz have proposed hosting an annual concert in his memory, which I think is a fantastic idea and would love to help in anyway I can. In the meantime, the pain of losing important people from my life is mitigated by the good fortune that I got to share in a small part of their lives.
Chicken Farmin' Jews
Way down yonder, down in San Fernando,
Where all them Jewish folk roam,
Stands a house next to the Ventura Freeway
Where our papa made our country home.
Now in North Hollywood there's
Delis and shopping malls as far as the eye can see.
The neighbors asked my pa if he was a meshugeneh
Pa just said, "Farm living is the life for me."
Cuz we were chicken chicken chicken farmin' Jews
Kicking shit in orthopedic shoes
Some folks thought us strange
But we's just Jews down on the range
Chicken chicken chicken farmin' Jews
Now every Sunday down at the Feed'n'Seed
We'd shoot the shit and spend a little cash
But them goyim sure looked funny at us
When we'd ask 'em for a 50-pound sack
Of kosher laying mash
And at our temple we's the only ones
Wearing yarmulkes made out of straw
And an El Camino covered in CB antennas.
We looked just like we should've been
On Yiddish Hee-Haw.
Sis is in the kitchen by the incubator
Circumcising newborn chicks,
And I'm in the coop cleaning out the poop
Just your average Semitic hicks.
Didn't have no still, didn't make no bathtub gin,
No corn whiskey, no moonshine
But every Saturday night you'd find us
Howling at the moon
And chugging down that Manoschevitz wine.
Back in the back nine we was
Growing up the carrots, corn, and pumpkins
And them great big matzo balls.
Across the fence I'd spy a San Fernando cutie
And wave "Shalom"
'Cuz nice Jewish boys don't do no catcalls.
Loadin' up the matzo balls, Ma would yell at us,
"You'll put an eye out with that pitchfork!"
But when we finished Pa would treat us
To our favorite treat,
That's right, pork rinds –
Just hold the pork!
group for Robert Joseph.- photos, discussion.
Memorial site for Robert with extensive photos
top photo by America, 1995, painting; detail of Holding Fast, Letting Go, egg tempera on ash, 2005, America Meredith; photo courtesy of BAM; final photo by Shawn Miller, Russian River Ride, 1996