James Cruickshank, 1962-2015

 

I wanted to write a few lines about my dear friend James Cruickshank, who sadly passed away this week, much too soon. I first met James here in Berlin in 2013, we got talking about lap steel and hit it off, and once we'd heard each others' music and started playing some shows together, a bond of music and friendship was formed that was like no other I have experienced. It was just so natural, so easy and such fun, to hang out with and to play with James. To “fly the bird of music”, as he used to say. “Let's try to get the bird in the air”. We very rarely talked about what or how to play. When it came to playing, the means of communication with James was simply music. Having James playing on your song was like having this great wizard sitting there, with all his senses switched on, molding this living, moving lump of aural clay into something very special, with sparks of magic flying off here and there as the music moved along. It was all very much happening in the now. He was never on “auto pilot”. It was a joy.

And there was his attitude towards the “why do I even bother” thing I think most people working with artistic pursuits feel from time to time. His “we have to make some honest music, as a counterweight to all the bullshit” attitude. James' outlook and the things he said were and will always be a huge motivator and inspiration to me. I never met anyone else with the same level of enthusiasm and the same ability to focus on what the core or what making music really is, or should be. James would play a huge stage or a tiny bar and it really didn't seem to make any difference to him. At least not as far as the music was concerned.

One fond memory of James the motivator is from a show we played in Berlin last autumn, which I think was the last show we played together. There were some issues with the sound, some buzzing or other, and I looked over to my left and saw James smiling at me as he played his keys. Sort of saying “never mind, Fredrik, let's just do this now”. A smile that made me feel, “we're in this boat together, and let's now sail it to way over there and have a great time doing so, never mind the weather”.

“Flying the bird of music”.

And I remember James phoning me one day, to tell me that I had his support, that he was with me, making sure that I knew this.

“Let's keep playing music until we're really old”, James said one night, as we were drinking beers in a Neukölln bar. That feels very sad to think about today, that that wasn't in the cards for James, who had so much left to give. But I am glad he is not in pain anymore. And that he could simply fall asleep, surrounded by people who loved him. That is a comfort. And that his wit and sense of humour weren't defeated by the illness. When we were in touch by e-mail, just last month, when James had returned to Australia from his last trip over here, he wrote about his condition with typical tongue in cheek: “It's all a game between being in agony or being stupefied with drugs..... I'm in the music business so I should manage...”

Yes, his sense of humour. When he had been diagnosed with cancer and was in hospital here in Berlin last winter, laughter was echoing down the cancer ward corridors when James was holding court for visitors from his hospital bed. He told me that a patient in another room had complained about the noise to a nurse, and how the nurse told James: “Laugh as much as you want. There isn't enough of that here.”

Indeed, there isn't enough in this world of all the good things James contributed. A very special man he was.

I will miss you very much James. And I am very thankful that our paths crossed, and for all the good times we had together. The wise words you shared, the music you played and all the things you could say simply by smiling that handsome smile of yours - they will stay with me until I stop breathing too. Farewell, JC.

Your friend, FK.