MY FRIEND ENGLISH CRAIG

I needed to write this out because losing Craig has affected me deeply…

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(Above, collage by his friend Lisa Conrad)

We were friends for less than two years, but our communications became a habitual part of my life that I think we both came to depend on. His loss has left a void in my life that no one else can fill. We had conversations about things we both enjoyed, but also we vented and confided in each other constantly about life’s struggles, and empathized, encouraged, and supported one another. When I started writing this as a way for me to deal with my grief, I went back through all our old messages and I cried for three hours straight. His cancer struggle was a constant reminder to me to keep going and live in the moment as much as possible. His messages to me were always supportive and thoughtful, even though he could have felt sorry for himself or been bitter. He had so many friends in his life that I can only imagine how other people who knew him longer must feel. I will miss my friend so much. I tried to keep this light…

I met my friend English Craig at Viva Las Vegas Rockabilly Weekend in 2014, and again in 2015, when I spent a good portion of the weekender hanging out with him. He was a lot of fun to be around, talking almost nonstop, with a great sense of humor and so many stories. He was an original London 77 Punk, who was right there in the thick of the scene that inspired me so much. He owned clothing from Malcolm & Vivienne’s original Kings Road shops, and had the opportunity to see all those original 77 and 80s bands I would have loved to see. He owned Freaky Tiki Tattoo shop in New Orleans, where he had lived since the 80s after moving there from NYC after leaving England. That first year we met though, I didn’t know any of that about him. All I knew is he was a funny guy, talked a lot and was fun to be around.

1509767_10152067745133671_8968106003717213498_nHe struck me immediately as being generous as well. We were introduced by his friend Smutty Smith, (who was in the ’77 Rockabilly band Levi and the Rockats). The two said they’d known each other over 30 years. (After thinking back and doing the math, they may have said 40!) The three of us were running around the Rockabilly event, and Craig took us over to a vendor table where he wanted to show Smutty a rocker style patch he should get for his leather jacket. Craig bought one for Smutty and bought one for me as well, a person whom he’d just met. Since Craig is gone now and that’s a memory from our first meeting, I hope it re-surfaces in my house. I scoured though drawers trying to find it when I was making a Rocker jacket a year later, and I had misplaced it, which saddens me even more now that he’s gone. His generous spirit was something I saw throughout our short friendship.

That first 2014 meeting, we ran around drinking and having fun, and I didn’t know I’d ever see him again or that we’d become good friends. That’s how music weekenders go, and having been to Viva now 16 out of 19 years, I know people come and go. We became friends on Facebook, and we messaged from time to time, so I was pleased that he planned to return the next year. He saw from my Facebook posts that I started a Punk clothing line and made a jacket for Billy Idol that I took to his concert to give him. Craig read a blog I’d written about the experience, where I was able to have security take it backstage, and they told me to come back at the end of the show and they’d try to help me meet him. Instead, they were very aggressive after the show and practically threw me out of the venue and wouldn’t tell me if he got the jacket that I’d spent time and money on, which was a disappointment.

After Craig read about my experience, he told me he’d known and been friends with Billy during the late 70s in London and early 80s in NYC, and he sent an email to Billy Idol’s son to try to find out if he’d ever received it. He felt bad for what happened to me and wanted to help. This was shortly after we’d begun corresponding semi-regularly, but I had no idea at that time that he actually knew Billy Idol. We never did get an answer, but I met up with him again at that second weekender in Vegas in 2015, where we had the time to really get to know each other.

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I work for the Rockabilly event, so I stay busy most of the time, being tied to my phone, required to keep a schedule and be available for meetings, and never miss an important call or text; so I don’t have as much free time for fun as everyone else there. That year though, every time I had free time, I ended up hanging out with Craig. We walked around the Saturday car show and he told me about his life, owning a tattoo shop in New Orleans, his past in New York, how he’d come to end up in New Orleans, and spoke of his sister Justine and his girlfriend at the time. We would text and meet up after seeing bands, and I loved hearing his stories as well as Smutty’s. Smutty brought his wife Kate along that year and his original band was re-united and playing, so he was busy too, which gave me a little more time to talk with Craig.

Both of these guys were so fun for me to be around and soak up their stories. A lot of single girls my age at Viva Las Vegas might rather be “on the prowl” so to speak, but not me— I’d rather form lasting friendships with interesting people; so every time I had extra time, I took the opportunity to hang with these guys who were almost 20 years older than me.  I really enjoyed them and thought they made my trip that year. I also enjoyed talking with Smutty’s wife and hearing how they’d met. When I got into a conversation with her, Craig said something about how I talk a lot. Everyone who knows me knows that I do, but Craig may be one of the only people I’ve met who talks twice as much as I do. It was hilarious that he said that, so I told him off about it. Often I felt I could barely get a word in with him, so I’d get bossy and demand he shut up for a second. Over the course of that weekender, it became a joke that we were like an old married couple. I’ve always hated being around cigarette smoke, but I tolerated it because I enjoyed the company I was in. I only do that for people I really, really like.

img_3367After that 2015 weekender, Craig and I texted and Facebook messaged each other all the time. He knew that I adored original 77 UK Punk and 80s synth and new wave, so he started sending me photos of pieces he owned from that time done by Vivienne Westwood, sent me photos of himself from back then, even one of him standing with Billy Idol and Johnny Rotten. He joked that he would leave it all to me when he died because he wouldn’t have anyone to leave it to. That isn’t as funny, now that he’s gone. We had no idea at the time that he was to be diagnosed with Cancer not too long after. I could tell he really got a kick out of sending me photos of his clothing, accessories, posters and photos that he knew I’d love, and pics of his house. We started a regular communication where he shared documentaries I should watch or articles I should read, and I did the same. I gave him my Netflix password so he could watch things from my account, and we shared a lot of YouTube videos. It became a part of my life for the next year and a half that meant a lot to me, that I enjoyed and talked about with my other friends. I know he enjoyed it too.

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(Above: Craig with Billy Idol and Johnny Rotten’s ears, haha)

It really meant a lot to me, not only to have him in my life as a friend, but also that he complimented and encouraged me constantly with my DIY Punk Majesty clothing line. To have someone who was there for the original beginnings of what inspired me, support my work was very flattering. At the weekender, he said he wanted to have me make him a jacket (that said BOLLOCKS), and I was looking forward to doing so. Shortly after that, he was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and had an extremely difficult struggle. I asked a friend of mine (Johnny Hawkins) to make this logo I conceptualized for him, which I sent to him, and it made its rounds on the Internet…bollocks-copy

I made sure to check in with him often and let him know he was thought of and cared about. He Facetime called me, the first time I had ever done that with anyone. He actually taught me how to do a free Facetime call on Facebook, a technology that I had never used. I’ll never forget Craig was the first to get me to do that thing I was resistant to.

 

 

 

img_3379I went to New Orleans (where he lived) for a wedding in November 2015, and he said he was too ill to let me come see him. I really wanted to see him and bring him food and gifts, but he wasn’t up for it. He suggested I go see his sister though, so I went to her Chihuahua clothing boutique in the French Quarter to meet her and talk with her. We took a photo and sent it to him, and she encouraged me to keep communicating and trying to keep his spirits up, which I did to the best of my ability until the end of his life. He confided in me about the pain and realities of the cancer and the chemo and what the hardships were like in reality. It was hard to hear and it broke my heart and I thought of him all the time. He sent me a lot of frank messages about it and sent photos and wrote from the hospital chemo treatments.

I know that if he had not fallen ill and died, I would have made a point to visit him in NOLA regularly. He said one thing that touched me very much and I’ll never forget it. He was the first person ever to tell me that I “inspired” him. In looking back through my messages, he said it to me several times. He said the chemo caused neuropathy and that he couldn’t feel his fingers or feet. He was encouraged by doctors to do things to work on it. He said that my punk clothing line inspired him to do something he hadn’t done in forever (I’m guessing since the 80s)—he started making a punk vest and told me I’d inspired him to do it. It touched me deeply that I had had any effect on helping him cope with what he was going though. He seemed excited by it and sent me several photos of his progress.

Our very last communications still make me cry every time I think about them. He knew I was working very hard to produce my very first runway show for my clothing line, in front of 900 people. I was stressed and way out of my comfort zone, and felt there wasn’t enough time in the day to do everything I needed to do. I was working myself to the point of being sick. I’d lost a good amount of weight from stress, had lost my appetite and was having a hard time with a few health issues, but not anything like the hard time that he was having, which was a fight for his life. My problems were total bullshit compared to his. I was so busy that I had little time to stay in touch, but I made the effort when I could, which was usually the 10 minutes a day I soaked in the bathtub. I’d remember to check on him, and I’m glad I did.

img_3323I thought about him every day as I worked, and he was thinking of me. I can’t tell you how much it meant to me that he reached out and sent me messages of encouragement and asked about me and supported me while he was sitting at home sick and dying of Cancer. That’s the kind of man he was…. sick and dying, and sending me support. He didn’t really let on to me that he might not win the fight for his life. I think that myself, and many of his friends simply refused to believe he wouldn’t make it.

img_3322Our last communication, I sent him a message wishing him happy birthday and I told him I wanted to make his jacket and that he should have his sister mail me one of his. Then I followed up a day later. He said the chemo had made him so sick that he couldn’t even respond to all the birthday wishes. The last message he sent on Weds. 11/2/16, was thanking me for it and saying he would sort sending that out. I got inspired to make a new jacket for myself that I thought he’d like, and I was thinking of him the whole time I worked on it. I was getting ready to send him a photo of the finished product to share with him, and I looked on Facebook and saw that someone posted he had passed away on Friday 11/4/16. I lost my shit. I was about to text him, and he was gone. I still can’t believe it. He was a very special person, and I think we both inspired each other. I am so grateful for the little time I had to know him. I am so glad he is not in pain anymore. I know he affected so many people. RIP ENGLISH CRAIG—You were one in a million. –Alisha Amnesia

(Above right: our last message two days before he passed.)

If any of Craig’s friends want to reach out and be “pen pals,” I’m open to it. I’d like to keep him alive in my life in any way I can. I miss him very much, and cried the whole time I was writing this. I hope this blog might inspire others to write their stories of Craig and share them. He was special and I’d love to hear other stories of his friendships to keep his memory alive. Hugs to all who lost their friend English Craig.

(Below: Craig in the documentary Punk Brittania, which he told me to watch and look for him.)

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16 comments

  1. Wow that is so wonderful, i have tears rolling down my face reading it…we must keep in touch and if you are ever in New Orleans you have to come and see me again. ..i haven’t stopped crying since nov 4th i miss him so much xxx

  2. Omg the tears 😭 r falling after reading this wonderful blog about my cousin , thank u so much for ur kind words I’m so glad u became such good friends xx

  3. Super sweet sentiment… It still hasn’t quite hit me yet. I keep going to share thoughts, and silly things with him on Facebook or in private messaging as we have done every week, and now it’s strange not to be able to do that anymore. Oh just wanted to point out an important correction it’s “Freaky Tiki Tattoo”

  4. Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story which will go a long way to keeping him alive in all of our memories. My first ever tattoo was at his shop 15 years ago. When people are ill they take comfort knowing that they will be remembered.

  5. Any friend of Craig’s has a friend here too. Beautiful memories, encouraging words for all of those with a void in our hearts.

  6. I am so sorry to hear about this just today. I have been very ill and in and out of the hospital myself. I will miss him immensely. He was not just my tattoo artist, he was a friend.

  7. Great story! I met English Craig right around when he got sick. A buddy of mine told me to see English Craig at Friki Tiki tattoos that he does great work. So I made an appointment to go over which tattoo I wanted. When I arrived at the shop EC met me at the door and apologized that he had a bad cold and not feeling well. EC asked me what I wanted to finish my Celtic sleeve on my left arm. He showed me some pictures and he wanted to design something that would fit with the rest of my tattoos. So I agreed. I returned back the following week to start the work on my arm, and we agreed to do the tattoo in two sessions due to the length of time, because I had to work that night. I was laying down waiting for him to get started and he cranked up some Billy Idol. I asked English Craig if that was recently recorded and that’s where our three hour journey of story telling began. English Craig started his story on where he grew up in England to the time he ended up in New York. After about an hour and a half he took a break and pulled out his photo book and showed me his punk rock era pictures. One story that I will never forget is when he and a friend were invited by Billy Idol to a MTV party on New Years Eve. English stated that they were so wasted and they saw PeeWee Herman and decided to go mess with him and pour liquor on his head, but he stated that Billy Idol to him not to because they would get kicked out. Lol! We talked for the next two hours until he finished like old friends. I made my appointment to have the tattoo filled in for the following week. I texted English Craig and got no response until two weeks later he finally contacted me and told me about his condition. English Craig told me that the other artist at Friki Tiki would finish my work. That’s the last time that I heard from him. English Craig left an impression of how someone can party so hard and become clean and an awesome all around person. To this day I never got my tattoo finished. For some reason it was his design and he should have been the person to finish the work. You don’t meet too many people in this world that are good people.

    • That’s true, he sure could make an impression. I kid you not, I cried about him today out of the blue. You should have his former apprentice Jamie Ruth do it. See my Safety Pin tattoo story, posted after this one for her info. She learned from him and now owns her own shop. I bet he would be so proud of her.

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