(Photo by Fred Burkhart)
I remember an old car I had, the trunk was filled to the brim, I can’t remember much what was in it, but I remember there was a huge stack of pages that Lee Groban had given me. Light purple and white pages. Typed text — typed on a typewriter. Lee was a poet, best known for his work “A Cure for Insomnia,” coined as the longest poem ever written, which totaled over 5,000 pages. (You can see Lee reading from his “A Cure From Insomnia” and also listen to an audio recording here.)
He was an artist, always working on experimental videos, traveling often to NYC to take advantage of the gritty grafittied landscape. He would write me long postcards from there, or San Francisco, or wherever he seemed to end up. And he would walk around with a tote overflowing with papers and drawings and sometimes DVDs that he would slip me, and ask me to watch, and ask for my feedback. I included some samples here, below. They were unlike anything I’d ever seen, and regret now that I didn’t write more about them at the time.
Lee was that tall looming figure you’d always see at gallery openings — or places like the Burkhart Underground, hosted by another iconic Chicago artist Fred Burkhart. Lee added color, he was a symbol of true art, attempting to put a vision or perspective or movement out there in the world that was truly his, haunting and beautiful. And funny too sometimes, see video below.
I remember sitting with him at a cafe in Evanston, where he lived, when I was editor at a fledgling community newspaper (where I published a shorter piece of his), and he told me that he studied library science, and all the bizarre regions of the world mentioned in “A Cure for Insomnia” and the ancient lords and empires, had all existed at one point in history. It sounds unbelievable, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Lee’s mind was a deep and vast one.
The epic poem was turned into an experimental film that ran over 87 hours (or 3 days and 15 hours), it’s basically Lee reading the poem, spliced with heavy metal and porn vids. It played at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, from January 31 to February 3, 1987. It was never released to the public, but had it been made available on DVD, it would’ve been about 22 discs.
In the vids below, Lee stands there sometimes, blending into the background, becoming part of it, adding to the color and dimension — or else he’s dancing and weaving through it, as he did through life. You could always count on him to start or join a dance party. Lee was a work of art himself.
A memorial service for Lee Groban is scheduled for today, Sunday Dec. 18 from 1-4 p.m. at Packer Schopf Gallery (942 W. Lake St.) in Chicago. Visit his website here. I’ll miss you Lee, thanks for the inspiration.