I Miss My Friend Bill

I miss my friend Bill. I am so sad that he has left this world, and I am so sad that the world doesn’t get to have him in it anymore.

Bill was sweet. Bill was kind. Bill was extremely helpful. Bill was intensely funny. Bill was brilliant, and knowledgeable, and deeply sardonic, and gleefully dark, and fun. He had far-ranging, eclectic, and obscure taste in music, and he was always excited to share it and talk about it and make it.

He was a constant creative partner. From the old radio show, to zines, to art, to music, to short stories, he was always excited and delighted to take part in any number of ridiculous things.

We had so much fun over the years. I loved him so much.

Bill in bunny suit, 2009.

[CHAT LOG, March 31, 2009]
Keef: Let’s rent a bunny suit and I’ll take pictures of you for many hours on Thursday doing strange things.
Bill: haha. word. I’ll wear a bunny suit for you.
Bill: what’s the suit look like?
Keef: no clue. they have several “bunny” suits.
Bill: we’re talking full body with a bunny head, right? Not “bunny suit” like the Christmas Story?
Bill: one of those is infinitely cooler than the other
Keef: correct, full suit and mask over the head
Bill: sweet
Keef: which will be uncomfortable and hot and awful
Keef: especially if you have to run, which i may ask of you.
Bill: no one said art was comfortable.
Bill: I’d have a fuck of a time saying no to this, dude.
Keef: ahahahaha saying no to what?
Bill: wearing a bunny suit for art.

We rented that suit, and took pictures; and, when it became apparent that we wouldn’t get everything done in one day, I went ahead and bought the suit (it was cheap), and then we just kept doing photo shoots, resulting in one of the creative endeavors which I am most proud of having finished in my life.

There’s no way in the world I could’ve done it without him.

Last year, Barb and Bill took Rosie on an outing to to some restaurant or other. Later, Bill posted this photo of himself and Rosie:

I beamed with pride. I was so happy for him. I was so happy for Rosie. I was so happy that they were close.

He loved doing bedtime with her. It often didn’t work very well in terms of bedtime– they’d be reading books and singing songs and she’d never get tired enough to go to sleep. I wish I’d kept some of that baby monitor audio of him singing to her. “Pancho and Lefty,” or some esoteric Randy Newman thing, or the Eagles. A lot of old country music. Sometimes she’d wordlessly sing along.

I joked with him: “You’re going to be the fun uncle she can call when she needs to get bailed out of jail.”

He laughed.

Now, when I walk around the house, wherever I go, whatever I see, I remember Bill and Rosie doing something in that spot.

Posted up in front of the little chalkboard, scribbling together.

Bill pushing her really fast in her little cart down the lane that runs through the kitchen, her legs lifted up, with an enormous grin, squealing laughter.

In her miniature “kitchen” in the back room, demanding that he “sit!” and pulling on her miniature potholder to make him cookies (which were “really, really hot!”).

Sitting at the back table, drawing together in a sketchpad.

Every single place I look, there’s a memory of Bill and Rosie.

I treasure them all.

In 2001, I took classes at the Iowa City public access television station, and started working on making short films. One of the very first things I wanted to do was to go out to the Coralville dam. There’s a spillway out there that’s basically an enormous gray concrete plain, a third of a mile on a side. I wanted to film someone running from the opposite corner, so they’d be extremely tiny for a very long time, and then come into view and zoom by in a flash.

“Hey, Bill,” I said. “How would you feel about running naked toward a camera for a third of a mile?”

He laughed. “That is hilarious,” he said.

The first take went well, but I wanted to do a second one. He gave me a dirty look, but jogged all the way back out to the far corner and started running back. As he was about halfway back, an official Department of Natural Resources jeep crested the hill behind us, and he started yelling, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” out of breath, zooming past the camera and diving into the back of the car.

Bill, nude and running in the distance, 2002.

Here is a photo of the filming that my father took. (Yes, my father was there. He always really liked Bill, and Bill always really liked him.) That’s Mike taking photos, me manning the videocamera, and, of course, Bill, nude and running, in the distance.

I maintain a list of every concert I can remember attending. A month ago, after a Facebook meme about concerts made the rounds, Bill messaged me:

“I’m now going through your show list to see which ones I went to with you, or which ones I remember… I’m leaving off Bassturd & Buglies performances and SXSW parties, because I’ve been to too many of them to be accurate or remember. 94 that I’m sure about. Realistically? definitely over 100. That’s 17 years of show going. This was the first one: Sep. 21, 2000 – Gabe’s, Iowa City – Alto Heceta / Joan of Arc / Jets to Brazil.”

One hundred shows– and that’s a very conservative estimate– out of five hundred total. One out of every five concerts I’ve ever attended during my lifetime, Bill attended with me. The most recent was Uglyfest, which was both a Buglies and SXSW show; before that, it was Drab Majesty, in February. They’re a post-New-Wave band, playing that sad 80s synth sound, which was not Bill’s cup of tea at all.

But I asked him if he wanted to go, and he was happy to go with me. He was almost always happy to go with me. And vice versa.

In 2000, I was going to live in a house near campus with my friend Mike. We each had a room in a three-room apartment, and needed a third.

“We should get my friend Bill to move in with us,” he said.

“Who is this guy?”

“A friend from back home. He’s in a band, the Corporate Donuts. He goes by ‘Bill Donuts.’ He’d be great.”

I shrugged, and asked, “Yeah, but man, is he cool?”

The fact that I even asked that question is hilarious to me now.

Bill ended up living in the dorms, but he immediately became part of our tight group. I found an old blog he wrote about the first time we met. Here is that:

“I want to share the first memory I have of Keef. I was sitting in the apartment he and Mike shared in Iowa City on my first night in Iowa City, in August of 2000. Keef was out with Irving at the time. Suddenly, while we were watching Kids In The Hall episodes Mike had taped, Keef burst through the door with a gigantic sack full of frozen meats and tossed one to Mike, and another to their room mate of two weeks, Bob. He was talking sort of like Charlton Heston and Santa Claus and very excited about the gigantic sack of frozen meats. Then he hugged me. It was love at first sight.”

I had forgotten about that completely. I’m so glad he remembered. I’m so sad about all the other things he remembered which have now been lost.

Just a handful of days before he passed away, Bill and I took Rosie to a park to play on the swings and the slides. Swings are her favorite. She’s a two-year-old, and just reaching that point where she mimics and repeats things. As we got out of the car to walk to the park, Bill turned to her and said, “Come on, dude!” She ran after him and grabbed his hand, and they walked toward the playground.

As they got closer to the swings, she started running ahead, pulling him behind her. “Come on, dude!” she yelled. “Come on, dude!”

“Thanks, Bill,” I said. “Thanks a lot for teaching her to sound like an episode of Full House.”

He laughed and laughed and laughed. “Come on, dude!”

Bill and Rosie, May 21, 2017.

Last weekend, after Bill’s funeral, Rosie wanted to show me something she’d set up in her little dollhouse. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along. “Come on, dude!”

I teared up, but did so gladly.

Bill gave this to me on my birthday last year. It’s a magnificent encapsulation of him: his generosity, his creativity, his humor.

I am so glad to have known him.

I am so sad that he is gone.

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7 Responses to I Miss My Friend Bill

  1. Brenda says:

    Keef, we never met during my brief time living in Austin years ago. But I did know Bill. He and I had mutual friends back in Omaha and when I was Austin-bound they all told me I had to meet up with Bill, that I needed a friend down there. They were right, and Bill was in fact my sole source of support, love, and companionship during my time there. I’ve never felt so accepted and cared for by someone during a time I could have been really alone. I have been having a lot of trouble with the news of Bill being gone and have thought about him daily (I’m now far away living in California). I actually went digging through his old website links hoping to read or find something more to help me process him being not here anymore. That’s how I found your entry. I just wanted to say thanks. I miss him too.

  2. Barbara Wenger says:

    This is one of the most engaging and heart rending memorials I have ever read . You made me feel I knew him…but I am lucky enough to know you… my deepest sympathy, Keefer❤️

  3. Ilona says:

    Oooooohhhh so very sorry for your loss Keef. By your story I’m not surprised they needed another angel up high. Sounds like an incredible soul xx much love to all xx

  4. Linda Latham says:

    Thanks for your tribute to our Bill, Keith. You and Barb and Rosie meant so much to him. Many thanks.

  5. Jane says:

    I miss him.
    You did an amazing story to honor him.
    Love you!

  6. Barb Reser says:

    Wonderful! Thanks for the photos.

  7. RJ says:

    I am so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute to an amazing friend.

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