I am not quite ready to chronicle the craziness of the past week as I haven't had the time to bring it into any sort of communicable reality. But I will in the coming days.
However, today is my Dad's birthday. I wrote about him last year and it turned out to be one of my favorite posts. Somehow it carries even more meaning for me now so I'm giving it an encore...
Meet my dad. Cecil Chesher. He looks rather presidential, don't you think? And he was a president at least two times that I know of... when I was a baby he was president of the Calgary Stampeders (that's a professional football team in Canada for those of you scratching your heads), and he was president of his own company.
He was born in the very small town of Petrolia, Ontario and was an only child. His parents, George and Arlie, were of modest means. I never met my grandfather but Arlie was a fixture in our house throughout my childhood. She would arrive from Eastern Canada in early October for Christmas and would sometimes stay until Easter. I didn't mind. She made the best homemade bread and cinnamon buns in the Universe. She also taught us to play canasta and told really good stories.
My dad graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in geological engineering when he was only eighteen. Yes, he was some sort of genius. He also had a knack of knowing where to drill for oil. While working for Shell he found the Jumping Pound Creek wells, which was a pretty big thing at the time (many, many years before I landed on the planet) and has even written up in a book or two. Whoa... I just came across this poster online at the Petroleum History Society that mentions my dad's accomplishments with regards to that find.
Wow, he would have only been in his early twenties when he accomplished that little feat and many years away from even meeting my mother. You can click on the poster if you want read the science-speak that my brain cells can't decipher.
He later started his own oil company and was also on the board of directors of an oil company based in Southern California. Thanks to that, I got my first taste of California as a kid. But you'll read a little more about that in my book so I won't spoil it for you here. My dad was also one of the founders of The Petroleum Club in Calgary. It was an upscale private club aimed at members of the oil community. I remember going there for dinner as a kid - getting all dressed up and feeling like we were dining with the Queen. They always had a jazz band playing and my dad would let me stand on his feet as he glided the two of us around the dance floor.
All the fun and fancy times ended around the time my parents split up when I was twelve. It was a bit messy as these things often are, but I was still able to see my dad on a regular basis and he was always there for me when I needed him. He was the one who taught me that if I wanted something done right I would have to do it myself. It was a great lesson that made me the independent person I am, but on the other hand it became so etched in my being that I am now just learning that it's okay to ask for help.
When I moved to Los Angeles in August of 1975, my dad was still living in Calgary but he also had a house in Palm Desert. I was struggling beyond belief when I first arrived in L.A. Shooting bands wasn't the problem. I just couldn't have a 'real' job here to support my photography while I was getting established because I didn't have a green card. But being instilled with way too much pride, I didn't have it in me to call my dad and ask for his help. He probably wouldn't have helped anyway... he wasn't the type of dad to give hand-outs.
Finally, in late September I somehow got booked to shoot an Australian band, Ayer's Rock, while they were recording at the Record Plant. The shoot would pay me enough money to cover a few bills and cover my gas to Palm Desert so I could visit my dad and pretend I was doing fine. I made arrangements with him to drive over the following weekend. It was perfect timing. His wife was going back to Calgary so we planned to spend the weekend alone, just catching up and reconnecting.
It was early Friday afternoon and I was sitting in the reception area of the Concerts West offices on Sunset Boulevard. I was waiting to see the main guy who I'd been trying to get an appointment with for two months. I had shot lots of shows they had promoted in the Pacific Northwest and I wanted to show them my pictures in hopes of them letting me shoot their shows in L.A. I planned to drive to the desert right after the appointment. I figured if I could bring my dad good news from the meeting and the Ayer's Rock job, he would give me advice on making my photography business work in L.A. Maybe I could even get him to invest. (An investment proposal would at least be a couple of rungs up from asking for a hand-out.)
So, there I sat, eavesdropping on everything the Concerts West receptionist said to the multitude of callers that rang in while I waited to see the big cheese...when suddenly my pager went off. I had a pager because I didn't have a home phone. Actually, I didn't even have a home. I was crashing wherever I could. And of course this was before cell phones were in every hand of the general public. As quickly as I hit the beeper button, my pager would go off again. And again. And again. What the hell... my pager would go days without beeping and suddenly I was the most popular girl on the block.
The receptionist looked at me and asked if I needed to use the phone. I didn't really want to call in for my message before the meeting - I wanted to stay focused - but she looked insistent so I picked up the phone and dialed. I had somewhere around ten messages. For some reason my pager hadn't been beeping all day. Until right before what I thought was the most important meeting of my life. I began listening to the messages. They were all from members of my family. My mother. My brothers. My sisters. Some of them had called more than once. None of them left me a message other than to call them back. There was only one member of my family that hadn't called. My dad.
The girl behind the desk couldn't help but notice the glazed look on my face when I hung up and asked if I could make one more call. I phoned my brother in Calgary and got the news I expected. My dad was dead. About the time I hung up the phone and tried to regain my composure, the big cheese emerged from his office. Both he and the receptionist saw there was something terribly wrong, so I had no choice but to tell them my dad had died. They offered to reschedule the meeting. I said no, I was fine to go ahead with it. In my head I was thinking about how long it had taken me to get the meeting. And my dad had also taught me pragmatism. He would have wanted me to go through with the meeting. What I didn't realize was that it was more uncomfortable for them than it was for me. I should have rescheduled.
Anyway, I ended up going to the desert that weekend but not before I picked up my brother at LAX. My other brother was already there. The three of us spent the weekend talking about our dad. And we had a few ghostly experiences - stories that I'll save for another time.
I guess you're wondering why the hell I'm writing all this personal stuff about my dad. First of all, it was his birthday on Saturday. But mostly, I thought you should get to know him. Because if it weren't for my dad, Everybody I Shot Is Dead would not be coming out this Fall. You see, my dad left a rather unorthodox will. It's a bit complicated and there's no reason to go into detail other than to say that I received my remaining share a couple of years ago. I put it away as the seed money to build my nest egg on, swearing I would never touch it.
I actually had no intention of publishing this book myself, but I reconsidered after I read through my journals and relived the torture of all the meetings I had with the big NY houses before I decided to publish Starart. Then, as I walked by my dad's picture that hangs on the wall between my living and dining rooms, a thought washed over my mind. I should check and see how much this book is going to cost to print, knowing full well that there was no way I could afford to do it...especially the way I wanted it.
Still, I figured there was no harm in checking. Remember what my dad always told me: if you want something done right... So, I went to a bookstore and scoured all the books that lived up to my quality standards. I found a printer and submitted the specs for an estimate. Turns out my dad's money was the exact amount I needed to print the book. What are the chances of that? I took that as a sign. That, and the fact that taking pictures of rock stars was the one thing he knew I was doing. Oh yeah, and he paid for my camera. And now I can't help thinking that's exactly how it was supposed to be. It just seems fitting that my dead father is financing my dead rock star book. Making it possible for me to honor these fine musicians. I just hope he knows I am also honoring him.
Thanks, dad. And Happy (Belated) Birthday.
Hey, I'm not belated this year. Happy Birthday, Dad.