Remembering Doug Cravens
March 8, 1947 – June 15, 2015
“What’re you reading?” The bartender nodded at the anthology on the bar.
I told her about the collection of stories and songs by Nashville artists I had with me, and that led to talk about short fiction and a local writer whose work she enjoyed. Then she mentioned she really liked Kurt Vonnegut. When I told her I was a fan as well, she showed me three arm tattoos based on Vonnegut drawings: Kilgore Trout, the infamous asterisk, and a tombstone with the epitaph “Life is no way to treat an animal.” I told her how I had recently chalked “Everything was beautiful, and nothing hurt” on a midnight sidewalk.
After a few minutes, our conversation fragmented as the bar grew more frenetic. The room heated up as it filled to capacity with drinkers and diners looking for a seat. A college student in a summer dress sang “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys” behind the chatter of food and drink orders. As the scene around me ramped up to a dinner hour dance of customers and staff, I reflected on the day.
A few hours earlier I had learned Doug Cravens—the father of my longtime friend and brother, Brian—had passed away the day before. Doug was more than just a friend’s father; he was family to me. Many of my best memories from the last two decades are scenes with the extended family I came to know through Brian, and Doug is right there in every single one. He always welcomed me, along with the rest of the family, into his life and home with open arms, a top shelf drink, and conversation.
Those conversations are some of my favorite memories. No time or place was wrong for digging into a topic. There was the night in Las Vegas, during Brian’s bachelor party, when Doug and I discussed the interior design of a club while dancers in various states of undress swayed and grinded on retro-cushy chairs around us. At any party, in the middle of the room or off to the side, he could engage you in an exchange that made you forget you needed to refill your drink. Any topic was fair game, but I had favorites.
I loved Doug’s passion for mixology, which he shared with Brian. On more than one occasion I survived the hell-breath of Mesa in summer only because pretty, delicious drinks were floated to me as I submerged everything but my desert-broiled face and head into the refuge of pool water. Doug and Brian collaborated and concocted those drinks with the focus and drive of alchemists. A variation on Hemingway’s mojito, a parade of rum and coconut drinks I can’t name now—they all came to me like nectar from heaven on a blue serving floatie set adrift from the shallow end.
Doug also loved to talk music, especially Brian’s. I saw the promoter, advocate, fan, and voice of reason and enthusiasm he was when it came to all of Brian’s creative pursuits. It was powerful and inspiring to behold, especially as someone who has never known a father. I’ve had the good fortune to be a part of Brian’s music, and to share mine in that realm, and Doug extended his passion and support to my efforts as well.
Another popular topic was literature. An avid reader, Doug was always ready to talk authors and recommend favorite works. He even made a reading list for me. It only takes one walk into his library to realize the love he had for the written word. It’s a room with walls made of books—a beautiful thing. Doug didn’t only read famous authors. He took the time to read some of my work and was always encouraging, up to the last time I saw him. He made me feel like I had something to say.
But I associate one author with Doug more than others. Some of the first book conversations we had years ago were about Kurt Vonnegut. Remembering other exchanges through the years, I don’t think Doug remained as much a fan as I have. But those early discussions aligned with a moment in time and space when my soul and mind were ready for a Vonnegut phase. Those conversations made me want to read more of Vonnegut’s work. And they made me want to write.
Sometimes it takes a while for me to catch up to the messages the universe drops for me here and there, the moments that align symbolically and significantly. I suppose I’m unstuck in time at times. But the Vonnegut tattoo bar moment came together for me before my first bite of hot chicken that night.
It was a nod from the ether, an opportunity for quiet reflection at a noisy restaurant bar. A fleeting, literary memorial for a man who lived life as passionately as any character in the novels lining his library walls. It was a cosmic pool drink floated to me from the other side, where I’m certain books hang from trees which hum with the music of all our scenes, past and future.