Sean Crane

This post was originally created in 2004 and then lost to a server crash on my old blog several years later. The phantom post continues to bring a lot of traffic to lookatlao.com so I thought I’d revive it from an old database backup and post it here. It’s a sad post, but those comments need to be out there. Great stuff.

When I first met Sean back in 1988 or so, he had just recovered from a serious motorcycle crash involving police and a high-speed chase. He was also trying to date my girlfriend. We immediately hit it off. About a year later we were living together on Fulton and 44th in San Francisco. For the most part it was a 24 hour-a-day party, but the times I remember most were just us sharing a beer on a Wednesday night in our living room talking about life and trying to figure it all out. I wasn’t even 21.

There’s a lot of people out there who claim to have No Fear but in Sean’s case, it was all too true. In everything he did: motorcycles, cars, partying, fighting with lawyers in line at the courthouse while delivering packages, he did it balls-out. He really was fearless. But at the same time he was humble and had a huge heart. He would help any of his friends without question at any time.

I saw him briefly in 1998 when I got back from Thailand, but for the most part we have been out of touch. I just assumed sooner or later we would cross paths, share a beer, and catch up. I guess I won’t get that chance. Sean was killed on Sunday in a motorcycle accident. All cliché aside, he died doing what he loved best. Riding bikes. 

Sean: I’ve never met anyone with a lust for life as big as yours, see you in the next one pal.

Update: I was trying to find information on what happened to Sean and ran across a thread on craigslist.org. There were some kind words there. The thread was soon flamed and then later removed. If anybody wants to leave any comments about Sean, his life, or how he passed please leave a comment on this post and I’ll keep it up on this site permanently.

Thanks, G.

Comments left on this post back in 2004:

From Phoebe:

This is something Sean wrote about himself. When I read it again, I really felt that these words captured what was truly most important to him.

“I often feel too many references proceed many of the introductions I’m allowed & portray an image that may exemplify my passions in life but come miserably short of defining my essence. Memories-whether they be lifelong moments or bitter losses-& more importantly the friends I’ve shared these moments with or were there to make the losses bearable are the most precious aspect of my life & how I define myself.”

Those shared moments, the wry smile and his love for his friends are just a few examples of how he was one of a kind. Oh, how we miss you!

 

From Julie:

Dave D passed on your message about this link. Thanks for doing this. I tried to post on CL in MC and in RR and got blocked. So this is what I was trying to write: 

We will miss you dearly Sean. We came by your house and expected to find Iggy barking, and you at the door telling him to calm down while letting us in. Instead flowers and candles were on your porch. We added our offering. No Sean. It doesn’t seem real. We had drinks to you yesterday afternoon in one of your favorite bars, and it was so sad, but every so often a smile would cross our faces when we thought of all the sweet, loving and kind things you did for all of us. Steph had the best one about the bottle of asparin and the bag of frozen peas the first time she met you, a friendly neighbor who want to make sure she was okay. You were so selfless, kind, and beautifully wild. Always supporting Dave in his creative endeavors. And being such a sweetheart to me. There aren’t a lot of people out there who are like you. You are special and I always told you that you were even when you denied it. Maybe you were ready for the next “ride,” but we wanted you around a lot longer for this “ride.” See you then. Much love, Julie

 

From Hugh:

And Now, We Present: A Conversation With Sean: 

SEAN: Hey! What’s happening? Good to see y..Iggy, shut up. Good to see you! C’mon in!

ME: Good to see you, too - whatcha been up to? 

SEAN: Oh man. We were totally raging last night and then I…Iggy, shut UP…had to go pick up my friend, and he was all…IGGY, SHUT UP

ME: Again!? 

SEAN: I know! And then I’m coming home on my bike and I’m pulling in and…IGGY! Do you want to go in the box? The BOX!? 

(Iggy temporarily shuts up.) 

SEAN: Anyway, it was crazy. So there’s all these fucking cops, so I had to go BACK downtown and hang out, and then I see this…IGGY!….be good….

ME: Dude. You DO realize that you yelling at him is more annoying than him barking, right?

SEAN: I know. But he thinks he’s a badass. (Puts him in tiny chihuahua wrestling hold.) Are you a badass? Are you going to be good? Do you want to go in The Box? 

(Iggy hides under chair, plots to bite my ankle.)

ME: You’re cracking me up. 

SEAN: How is _____? 

ME: She’s fine. Asking about you, as always. She’s the Jewish mother you never wanted.

SEAN: Tell her I said “hi.” 

ME: Of course. Nice skateboard! 

SEAN: You want it? 

ME: Sean, every time I point out something nice of yours, you try to give it to me.

Can I have your wallet? 

SEAN: No. You can’t have my wallet. 

ME: What are you doing tonight? 

SEAN: I need some fucking sleep. So I’m going out.

ME: Jaysus. I ought to put YOU in “The Box.” 

SEAN: I know! Thank ___ for the vitamins. They totally did the trick. 

ME: You know, there’s this cool invention, it’s called “food.” You should try it. 

SEAN: What, now I’ve got two Jewish mothers?

ME: Hey, who you callin’ “mother?”

BOTH: IGGY! SHUT UP! 

###

Goddamnit I will miss him so bad. He had a heart the size of the ocean. (And a pain-in-the-butt Chihuahua.)

Aloha, my friend. 

 

From Gabrielle:

Sean Crane…to know him was to adore him. How could you not see him and smile? He was one of those people who bailed you out of jail at 3am, rubbed your feet and cracked self depricating jokes when you had gotten dumped and felt like shit and always had a smile on his face that would have made the Cheshire Cat jealous.

I had known Sean forever…he helped me haggle the price for my first motorcycle, a Honda Hawk 650 and he playfully referred to me while on the bike as his own “little chickenhawk” there I was trying to keep up with these guys on FZR’s and Ducati’s up the hills and around the curves of San Francisco and no matter how far behind I got Sean would loop around and wait for me. He was just THAT guy.

Sean battled his demons…speed, wine and women he use to like to say. The years of motorcycle racing (professionally) had left him with two broken collarbones that never healed right because he refused to sit still and a swarm of SFPD motorcycle cops who devoted their days to trying to “catch that fucker Crane”.

He was fearless, wild eyed and kind all at the same time. He WAS Peter Pan and while every other asshole with a bike acted like they were never going to grow up, that attitude on Sean was somehow charming. Even my mother loved him.

The last time I saw him we bumped into each other about 3 months ago in front of Amoeba. He introduced me to his new buddy (a Chihuahua named “Iggy Pop”) and we hugged for a long time. We had both lost a lot of friends over the years and he joked that everyone was “dead, in jail or in LA”. I invited him down to LA to visit us all and he said he would. As he hugged I told him to slow it down….as he walked away with a big old grin said “slow down? Never kiddo”

I am so glad he was a donor because someone will get his big, beautiful heart. If they only knew how lucky they are…

I miss you my friend but we should all learn to live the way you did, love with the kind of abandon you shared and be the sweet best buddy you were. May you rest now and know how loved you were…ride and let your wings unfurl…

 

From Ermalee (a.k.a. Beast):

i’ll always remember the great times we had. i will always remember the rides of my life. i will always remember dancing with you. i will always remember your smile. i will always remember your heart and your soul. i will always remember how you brought so many people together. i wish i could have stopped crying last night at your memorial to express these words. as i stood up there all i could see were all these memories and all our good friends. i can’ t believe your gone. you will be missed by everyone. you touched so many lives. you wanted to give me the world but i was too young to accept. i’ll always remember our time together. i will always remember how we loved each other and how we remained friends till the end. 

ermalee

 

From Mary:

I have a great memory of Sean…

It was a couple of years ago at Zeitgeist. Drinks and laughter were shared; the clock approached 2; plans were made to meet at Ken’s. Leaving, we realized the cops had decided to ticket all of the bikes on the sidewalk. We were standing outside half-assedly voicing our disaproval when a motorcyclist doing a wheelie roared up Duboce right in front of the cops as if to say “HA HA You Fuckers!”

Go, Sean, Go! The cops sped off to make a feeble attempt at catching him and we had a great time watching the cat and mouse game. The cops eventually had to let him go; they had nothing on Sean. Feelings were high as we cheered him on. It felt like the good ol’ days, the Lightning Express days, the days that stories are made of.

I’m not sorry to say that was the last time I saw Sean. I think it’s a pretty good way to remember him.

 

From Mamasa:

Barely awake, eyes not working yet, the kids still in PJ’s and chaos reigning, the phone rings and I can’t make out the caller ID.

 

Sean Crane dead. Wow.

Now as the Monday morning chaos continues I am glued to this machine reading, searching. So many thoughts, memories running around my brain.

The last time I saw Sean… If not for Sean… so many things.

I remember Sean stoping to watch me as I struggled to keep up on my 250 on those first late night rides through the streets of SF. Later he told me it was in amazement that I was still there. Sean was one of the first to treat me like “one of the guys” as I forced myself into what was still a guys realm. 

We grew to be friends, then roommates. Living with Sean I was witness to many sides of him. His big heart not the least.

Over 10 years ago I bid SF farewell and headed to South Carolina to grow a family. I went from “Mom” to all of them to “Mommy.”

I am sorry to hear that you have left us Sean. I wish I could write all my memories down. I am sorry you will never meet my children. I will never get to hear you laugh. You won’t be around to share memories. Even if I would never have seen you again, you were there, somewhere. Now you are somewhere else. Good bye old roomie. May your next ride bring you peace.

 

From Rose:

Feels a lot like when Chris Crew died. 

Do bikers have gods? Are Chris and Sean in a new Pantheon? We can only hope heaven has a city tour.

Sean had all the talent but none of the prima donna attitude. I ran into him at Zeitgeist a couple months back. I hadn’t seen him in probably 10 years, and he still remembered my name.

I’ll always remember you Sean. 

My heart hurts.

 

From Kelly:

About three or four weeks ago Seanie drove his bike inside the Cala foods store on Haight Street at 1 am and did a burn-out for his good friend Scot’s birthday present. The store was filled with so much smoke that they had to shut it down for a few hours. He left a big, black hole in the tiles. The next day he went in and apologized and left his Cala club card for an ID. Scot was going to be fired for that, but when they found out about Sean they figured that was punishment enough for anyone. They have even been giving us free flowers for Sean’s house.

I just wish we could get their security tape of the burn-out! That would be fun to watch.

Miss you wild boy.

 

From Jennifer:

sean, you were like a favorite stuffed animal to me. always loving, always smiling, always accepting, always willing to listen. i will miss you, but i am thankful for our friendship. i could not imagine what life would have been like without you in it.

damn!! it was too short for sure.

you live on in us all who knew and love you.

jenn

 

From Jess:

I met Sean about two and a half years ago.  A heart of pure platinum a smile from ear to ear and an abundance of love for anyone that went beyond what most would consider being unconditional.  He was the guy who would be in his hospital bed, get a call that a buddy of his had just been admitted to the same hospital and would roll out of his bed, hobble down the hall in agony and pop that Cheshire Cat smile of his through the door to say “hey man, heard you had a nasty spill on the track, keep your head up this is a tasty life!”.  His confidence was admirable never arrogant, his chivalry was instinctive never forced, his advice, words of comfort and wisdom were always warm and sincere and had a way to bring out a smile and the best in you in the end.  Sean had a gift with people that not many have.  It wouldn”t have mattered if he were in a wheelchair, was a burrito maker, local dry cleaner, garbage collector or worked at the corner store.  Sean had panache, charisma and a zest that nobody else possessed but him and that”s what made him that one in a million.  Yes I will miss him and yes it sucks he is gone but I don”t regret his loss more than I regret the fact that there is a whole world out there that will never know the beauty of Sean, that smile and those eyes, a world that is stripped from the privilege of knowing such a extraordinary man.

 

From Megan:

Sean taught me how to drive.  I always say to people who comment on my parking and driving skills “The reason I’ve never been in an accident, knock on wood, is because this guy Sean leant me his car and made sure I knew how to drive it so I could get him out of jail or pick him up if he laid down his bike.  Or at least, that was the joke.  He wanted to be sure I knew what I was doing.” This was what, in 1986?  Maybe it was 1987. He made me slam on the brakes in ice, in gravel, come out of spins, and parallel park in spots that seemed the size of a piece of toast. My mother and father were terrified that I was bailing this ‘older boy’ out of jail. I was just thinking that after the new year I would see if he wanted to grab a beer and grin stupidly at each other.

I haven’t seen him for a number of years…I just moved to the Bay Area.  (nor have I seen Geoff here at LookatLao since the 90’s)  I wanted to tell Sean that he opened my eyes to a lot of things when I was a teenager living in a small town and put the bike lust in me. That his affect on my life was not just about time and place and fun and flirtations, but that there was a piece of me that had his name on it.  I wanted to let him know that when I lived in L.A. I would see certain places and think of him, his family, and smile.  That I would always look at every fully leathered up biker, anywhere in the world, and wonder if it was him. So mostly, I just wanted to say….aw, crap.

What Shatner Has Taught Me (About Irony And Other Stuff)

Over the past ten years or so I’ve really begun to dislike irony—or more directly: the pursuit of ironic moments as a pastime. Back when I had a job at a design firm, these ironic moments would manifest themselves as Ugly Christmas Sweater Parties or 80’s Theme Nights. As soon as everyone was in the same room wearing the same ironic attire the whole event would become immediately tiresome for me. I just couldn’t keep up the act for very long. (Perhaps my mutual dislike for playing “dress-up” is a factor here, but that’s probably a different rant.)

But as it were, I could never bring myself to enjoy these scripted get-togethers. I would always say: Can’t we just have a party? Serve drinks? Have conversations? Why do we need to pretend to enjoy something we don’t even really like all that much? Soon enough I was branded the workplace curmudgeon. The old grump. I’d still get invited to the ugly sweater parties, but my coworkers kind of knew I wouldn’t show up. To me, it all seemed like too much effort, when all I really wanted to do was have a drink and talk with my pals.

During that same time I had friends who loved to plan elaborate ironic evenings out. On a given Friday they might rent a limousine and spend the entire evening seeking out dive restaurants that offered spicy chicken wings so they could order boxes of them to eat while cruising through the city all night. They might even open the sunroof and begin cheering: “Chicken wings! We’re eating spicy chicken wings! In a limo! Woooo!”

Other friends would join adult kickball leagues or take up ironic hobbies like collecting superhero lunch boxes or cultivating fanciful mustaches. Perhaps it’s not even irony at play here—but more of a desire to simply keep one foot firmly inside the boundary of childhood forever—and I can appreciate that at some level. I really can. But, I still can’t seem to detach myself from the disingenuousness of it all. I do recognize the initial appeal, but I just can’t fathom enduring the followthrough. How does one keep the enthusiasm going? At what point are you really just pretending to have fun? (Maybe that’s the most ironic part after all.)

The musician Beck has made a career out of a peculiar style of ironic music. And it’s good stuff, I like most all of it. But, the one time Beck decided to channel Nick Drake and make a straight, un-ironic folk album, people weren’t so certain what to think. Sure, this was on the heels of 9/11 when irony had supposedly died, but this is Beck—he break-dances in ernest. I actually liked his album Sea Change very much—and I still play it often—but it took me a few listens to figure out that he was being sincere for once. Perhaps this is the danger of living a life of carefully crafted artifice.

All of this brings me to William Shatner. For years, William Shatner has been a very complex, highly ironic version of himself. It’s nearly impossible to discern the line between Ironic William Shatner & Genuine William Shatner. The seminal example of this blurring of the sardonic and the sincere is the musical spoken word album he released in 1968: The Transformed Man. He’s been channeling this debut album and its accompanying persona for a very long time. The first “hit” off the album was “Tambourine Man”, and the song quite possibly had sincere intentions—even though people mistook it for something of a joke. But against all odds, this Shakespearian take on a contemporary pop song eventually became a camp classic. Shatner went on to explain:

…yes, in the beginning it bothered me that people singled it out and poked fun at it. They didn’t know what I was doing. The album The Transformed Man is much more extensive than that song. But since people only heard that song, I went along with the joke.”

So, Shatner understood early on the ironic value of what he was doing, and he played to it for years to come. He even went on to parody himself in the 90s by repopularizing the Shatner spoken word schtick on award shows and then later still on Priceline.com commercials. More recently he did readings of Sarah Palin’s Twitter account in the now classic Shatner spoken word style on an episode of Conan O’Brien. Shatner essentially embraced the character he had long become.

Back in the 90s I would have loved every single minute of this seemingly meta-ironic persona Shatner continues to play. In the 90s I loved irony so much that I once bought an old Jim Backus album where he joyfully sang songs about high society cocktail parties while obviously half-drunk. I played this record over and over for my friends as we cackled through the chorus: “We’re having such a good time!” Backus would sing. “More champagne!” We drank it up. Thurston Howell The Third playing loungy cocktail songs while drunk on actual cocktails. It was perfect for the ironic lifestyles we were fashioning for ourselves. A perfect soundtrack for living a particular version of a real life.

But now, in my middle age, with a certain distaste for costumes and thematic get-togethers, I have essentially dismissed characters like Shatner as perpetual jokes with tiresome punchlines. Don’t get me wrong—I’ve always admired Shatner the actor—just not the ironic poet he had become.

Until now.

I recently discovered an album called Has Been that Shatner released in 2004 with Ben Folds. (Not exactly sure why it took me this long to find it.) On Has Been he’s again playing the role of Shatner The Poet, but I’m now convinced that this has never been a “role” at all. This is the Real Shatner. It always has been the real Shatner. And it’s genius! I genuinely like this album for what it is. The writing is great. The music from Folds is great. The guest musicians and singers are also great. And, Shatner is so, so great! This is actually a wonderful album.

I’m now persuaded that this whole time—since 1968, the year I was born—William Shatner has been staying true to his craft. Shatner The Poet is the genuine article. He rode the long wave of irony because it was an opportunity. It was a means to an end. But it’s been Shatner all along. On Has Been Shatner is impassioned. He’s funny. Affected. Almost world-weary at times. And I love him for it. William Shatner has finally won me over.

Listen to this track from Has Been called It Hasn’t Happened Yet. And don’t laugh it off as another ironic two-step. Listen to Shatner. He’s trying to tell you something—and it’s genuine.

In the meantime, I’m off to play some dodgeball. (Not really.)

Dial Tone

While working on a logo project recently I’ve begun to notice a distinction between two somewhat risky methods of working toward a concept. A lot of the time I will research, sketch and ponder for days before I ever approach the computer and begin to execute a design. Sometimes I even wait until the last possible moment before something is due. This can be somewhat risky if all the sketching and thinking doesn’t point toward a solid solution. But, more often than not, it works. It sometimes feels odd that it works at all—that a last-minute tweak can actually become a final logo is surprising at times—and it can often feel like luck. But it’s not luck at all—it’s experience. Experience and effort, even though the effort is difficult to quantify because so much of it floats around in my head. I like to call this method dialing it in because it feels like concentrating a large swath of thinking down toward a final concept before finishing it off with a quick execution.

Another method I’ve identified is called phoning it in where you, again, wait until the last minute to execute, but this time you are relying on your wits—without the benefit of research, sketching, and thinking. That aha moment in the shower never has a chance to surface because you haven’t given yourself the time to formulate anything close to a concept. This method really does require a lot of luck and it typically falls flat. We’ve all been there: too busy, short deadlines, no time for a creative brief, no time to think. We’re left to phone in the concept and cross our fingers. (See also: pulling it out of your ass.)

I won’t lie, I’ve phoned in a few designs and they have ended up working. But that’s the rare exception. Dialing it in works because even though you are cutting things close—you are setting the stage for success. So dial it in if you have to, but phone it in at your peril.

Why Digital Photography Matters

This year (2008) marks the year that I have decided to seriously rekindle my lost love affair with photography. When I first applied to design school and I had to declare a major, my pen wavered between checking the graphic design box and the photography box. In the end I chose graphic design, and that was probably a wise choice as my natural talent still probably lies there. But, even after high school I never really left the darkroom. My Beseler 23C enlarger made appearances in various apartment bathrooms throughout the late 80s and early 90s as I continued to produce mediocre black & white photographs. When I eventually moved to Thailand in 1996 I sold most of my stuff—including the darkroom—and I never developed another print again. I still shot a lot of film with my trusty Pentax ME Super while living in Thailand, but the corner Photomat was as close as I got to any hands-on work.

Fast forward to the year 2000 and the arrival of my first digital camera, a Nikon 4500. While the camera itself did nothing to improve my natural ability to take a decent photograph, it did allow me to take a lot of them. The cost of film no longer mattered. Mixing chemicals no longer mattered. And this allowed me to take huge quantities of photographs, and in that sense it did improve my ability in one important way: I no longer waited for the perfect shot, I just shot.

At the same time some of my old-school artist friends were still dismissing digital photography as a lower art form. It lacked the “hands-on” of real photography: the smell of chemicals, the labored processes, the selection of papers, the dirtying of the hands. I found this rather ironic as I’m sure that’s exactly what the old-timey painters were telling the old-timey photographers back at the turn of the century: that this soulless new art form with its gadgets and chemicals called “photography” will never achieve the museum-quality status of the works of the great painters and sculptors.

As with anything new, digital photography is maligned for the same reason that its older sibling “regular” photography was back in the day. This general distrust of “digital” art is odd to me for several reasons. First, old school black and white photography (which gets the most “artistic” respect) is a process in which silver halide crystals are exposed to light and are then rendered black or white via chemical processing. As these crystals are grouped together they create tonality depending on their proximity to one or another. So really, light affects the crystals and turns them on or off. Black or white. 1 or 2. It’s a binary process. Black and white photography is a digital art form by definition.

Second, when you shoot film, the film itself is designed to react a certain way depending on manufacturer and style (think Tri-X or Kodak Porta) these films have a “look”. From there the processing of the film is typically done by a lab and that process adds to the total number of hands touching the “art”. Next, paper manufacturers design their paper to have specific looks, feels, and textures—you see where this is going. Conversely, when I shoot a photograph in RAW format and bring it into my software application, in this case Adobe Lightroom, I am editing the raw data the camera captured and I have full control over every pixel in the frame—not the camera, the lab, or the film company. The chain of command is reduced to me and the software with no outside forces filtering my work. So really, my “artistic” control is enhanced with digital photography—both by my ability to shoot a higher volume of photographs and my ability to edit each pixel directly. Now, it’s important to mention that no amount of equipment or software is going to make anyone a good photographer, but that’s true of any discipline. If you can’t paint, the best sable brush will do nothing for you. But the converse is also true: one’s medium doesn’t determine the level of artistic authenticity in one’s work, that can only be determined by the execution and vision of one’s endeavor.

But yeah, now that I have the right equipment, I want to spend the next year really focusing on technique—I want to elevate the craft of making photos—both behind the lens and behind the Macintosh. I’ve never called myself a photographer, but I hope by the end of the year I will feel comfortable doing just that. And I really want to start learning more from some of the modern masters. My latest favorite is Jill Greenberg. Her attitude about photography is right on to me, and this quote from a recent video interview says it all:

I don’t really romanticize straight photography. I think it’s nice to just get in there..If you want to change the picture, change the picture. It doesn’t need to be evidence of some actual event that happened.

I remember when I first started printing my own photographs in high school. I would always make sure to allow the edges of the negative to peek through on the final print as proof that I didn’t enlarge the shot in the darkroom. As if by succumbing to the whims of the camera manufacturer’s frame ratio I was being truer to the art form. That kind of thinking seems so silly to me now.

More photos at LookatLao Photography. There’s always new snapshots over on Flickr as well.