California Literary Review

A Toast to Tristan Egolf

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March 26th, 2007 at 3:28 pm

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Tristan Egolf, 1971-2005

[Editor’s Note: Author of Lord of the Barnyard and Skirt & The Fiddle, Tristan Egolf recently completed his third, pending novel, Kornwolf. On May 7, 2005 Tristan died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.]

Stop what you are doing.
Furnish yourself a stiff drink.
(Feel free to use malt liquor if funds are low.)

Raise the spirits in your hand to the sky!
Please share in a nod for our fallen brother
on his journey through the afterlife.

May he live eternally.

Once a statuesque gentleman in a white collared shirt, non-descript trousers and a knit beanie on his head walked into a little independent theater. He met this other guy and they managed to take the theater’s reigns for a summer. (We had great fun!)

Adding prudence to recollection, somewhere between the varying sentiments of our moods we covered many of the bigger questions in life, while conducting the day-to-day operations at the theater. Many whose origins could be found in the films and productions we featured, as well as reflections on the larger, more concrete realms of religion, the economy, and politics.

Only a short time passed before it was clear boxing was one of his greatest passions –his second favorite sport, next to bull fighting. About a week after defining our efforts at the theater as windmills (borrowing from the Don Quixote fable) we began a mission together to jump-start some income for a local boxing club. We organized and executed a rebirth of amateur boxing in the City of Lancaster. The event was an overwhelming success.

The part about how we expected but did not receive any of the proceeds for our efforts ended up defining the windmills mission. Soon after, we decided to embark on a publication and call it Windmills. Our vision was a multi-media event in motion that could be shared with the world. We developed and deliberated over its form, content and purpose –often from the carriage house behind my apartment, where he was tucked away punching out Kornwolf.

Having witnessed the development of Kornwolf was quite enlightening. Most notably, he had attached a collage of brown paper bags to a wall with the entire book sketched out in scribbles and symbols blocked in Chapters. The parchments served as the only decoration in the room, if such could be seen as so. There was some sort of coffee table, a bit too short for his legs, and on it was the monitor and keyboard to an ancient computer –it was basically a typewriter.

You could hear him howl and curse blocks away when he forgot to save his work and his aged Windows95 enabled computer crashed. He hated technology (among other things) so passionately that devices responded to his presence. Cutting edge computers to common tape players, huge soundboards to microphones and cords would go functionally on strike when he needed them most. Numerous technical snafus further defined the Windmills vision. Looking back, it is rather odd that he actually functioned well with a cell phone for his final three or four weeks.

In his studio, he sat on a formal sitting room’s bright pink chair, next to the coffee table. It created an almost surreal juxtaposition to the faded yellow paint slopped on the surrounding drywall. There was a common lamp and fan that pushed around the air during the heavy hot and humid Lancaster summer days. A clear path to the bathroom made from beer bottles, spoiled while paper and debris from local eateries waxed and waned in safe and unobstructed pass-ability. The light in the bathroom burned out early on and went unchanged for his tenure there, making nighttime visits in the dark… literally.

When Kornwolf was all but finished he moved his camp to a cramped hallway in his apartment for the arrival of his daughter, Orla Story. Somehow there was salvation in her. From then on, you never really saw him without her on his back (and his faithful canine, Alice by their side.)

Tristan emerged from Kornwolf in the midst of the recent Presidential race. He would furiously lead anti-war marches weekly on our courthouse steps. He improvised chants and picket lines in key Lancaster spots for maximum visibility. He took on some prominent local fallacies with growing success.

One summer night we pondered suitable greetings for the arrival of our President on a local campaign stop. He executed the pipedream with astonishing success. A bit of “street theater,” as he would prefer, was dubbed by someone as The Smoketown Six, and it stuck. A federal lawsuit aided by the ACLU is still pending. A windmill, indeed.

“Smoketown Six” Under Arrest

He became a pied piper. A certain troop of eclectics and energetics were never far away. He was part mentor, part hero, and part friend –he only felt comfortable with the latter.

Soon he began to organize and conduct clandestine parties with bands and full-on amateur boxing bouts in obscure downtown rooms, rural homes and barns. He posed many local dignitaries against each other brawling with full pads on in the ring (often for his own comic purposes). They were brilliant extravaganzas for the aware.

While grounded in Lancaster, he frequented Philadelphia and found time to get away to Europe and Mexico with his new family. Most of his volleys to and from Philthtown (as he calls it in Kornwolf) were spent developing more of his art through a project called Doomed To Obscurity –a solid continuation of the probably misspelled Kitchchao he abandoned to focus on his writing many years ago. Those familiar to his sonic works might recognize how the themes and characters in his books were often further explored in his songs.

Attempting to summarize my experience of Tristan Egolf in this feeble space with these feeble words leaves much to be desired. The day-to-day discussions about personal issues, mutually supportive and exploratory, gradually took on a warm intimacy. As we grew closer, we allowed each other to express more and more about the demons that both hindered and drove us. Demons that all possess and manage, but only a courageous few attempt to confront.

His life prior to our rather recent and relatively short relationship (just about two years) came from him in bits and pieces –the good and the bad. He would probably say the same if the situation was reversed. Since the tragedy, an overwhelming amount of information came to me that both supported the development of the great man he was and demonstrated his strong effect on those lives he touched all over the world, directly and indirectly through his art.

There are no solid answers to the basic questions. There was a brilliant life that came to an end. If nothing else, the lesson is that life is extremely fragile and that nothing should be taken for granted, even for a moment –especially our loved ones. The windmills theme of daring to take on the impossible (for the dragons were only windmills after all), seemed to permeate throughout his life.

Tristan Egolf was a gem of a man with a heart that beat so strongly that his art poured forth from him in everything he did. His spirit in this world continues through all who knew him, knew of him or shall come to know him through what he left behind. Many will sorely miss him.

Related Links:

A Review of Kornwolf
Embrace Your Madness

  • guildenstern

    ciao tristan, che cazzo però.

  • Rica

    Thank you Michael. I have been searching the net late at night for such phrases as “i miss tristan egolf” or “old friend tristan egolf” and such, looking for some personal recollections. It was great to read what you wrote. I knew Tristan only briefly and many years ago, but he made an indelible impression on me. Everything you said about his ability to really touch people is true. He was one of the most genuine people i’ve ever met. He will never be forgotten.

  • Dan Bloom

    Very nice piece, Michael.

  • Joseph

    Thank you guys for comments etc. on Tristan. I never knew him but I feel as though I did. I’ll never in my life forget reading Lord of the Barnyard and I’ll never forget what it meant to me. The book blew my doors off in every way shape and form and I realized then and now that he was one of the most talented writers alive or possibly ever. He was pure art. I’m paging through Barnyard as I type this and haven’t been this sad in years. A lord at rest…

  • Stephen Dufrechou

    Years ago, when “Lord of the Barnyard” was published, Tristain and I e-mailed each other occasionally. I was friends with one of his creating writing teachers and she passed along his contact information. “Lord of the Barnyard” was and is one of the best novels I have ever read. I was amazed that this brilliant book’s author was such a down-to earth guy. He was very kind to me and offered encoraging words for my own work. Although we lost touch a few years ago, I will never forget the too few e-mails we shared.

  • greg

    I found Lord of the Barnyard at the public library in Chambersburg, PA. I was working at a warehouse after a summer of working on a vegetable farm, and I was enduring a lonely winter. I had never heard of him, I just stumbled across it. I just now finished Skirt&Fiddle, having special ordered it, something I have never done before. I had never been that motivated and interested by fiction. It made me feel actually excited about art. Art that somehow enlivened my life. Now I find out he killed himself, and I’m dumbfounded. I actually just came close to tears for some guy I’ve never met. And I had made fun of people for caring when Hunter Thompson killed himself. I know I understand, but I want to say I just don’t get it. God damn it. There’s so few interesting creative people in the world. Did it not matter to him what he had accomplished? I don’t get it. I do, but damn it. I almost felt like he was writing for me. Now there’s just one less. I don’t know why I care-

  • anonymous

    Michael,

    Thank you for ending this rediculous and emotionally damaging string of selfish articles, interviews, etc. It has been hard enough dealing with the way things happened, and now with all distractions aside, we who were distracted by you and your know-it-all rants can join the rest in the healing process. I speak for many of Tristan’s friends in this statement.

  • de Jesus

    here are old photos of tristan from a fanzine i used to do. the interview i did with him was fucking great. we talked about his book ideas, which were first laid out as lyrics for KITSCHCHAO (“peter stumpe” = kornwolf, etc).
    this was in 1994.
    we hung out a lot in philly.
    its 8PM on november 5th, I just returned from his memorial service in Lancs.
    man, i’m feeling pretty sad…

  • de Jesus

    http://www.easysubculture.8m.com/RPOTS11.htm
    sorry, i forgot to post that URL.
    if anyone wants a reprint of the issue with tristan’s interview let me know.
    ~eric

  • Charles

    I want to say have been avoiding to read KORNWOLF. It’s something I want to treasure a bit longer. Those who have posted here have said extremely kind things. Just be glad that his life and work has touched you and that you in turn have touched someone else’s by sharing with them Tristian Egolf.
    damn.

  • anonymous

    Tristan was an exceptionally talented writer. As much as it sucks he is no longer with us, let’s honor his memory by celebrating the work he left behind.

  • daVies

    By some measure of spirituality, I always seem to find the books I want at the time I want (need) them. From Beckett to Miller, Cendrars, Celine, these works of profound importance have always come to my assistence by simply scanning the shelves of any local bookstore.
    This week, one week before the new year, I have come across Kornwolf stacked amid a sea of books on the new release section. I now have it in my clutches, I’m only halfway through and christ! What a magical treat of elegant prose. Thank you Mr Egolf for tapping out this book when so much fiction today is pure rot! My sincerest condolences to both family and friends.

  • Eric Soyke

    I was kicked solid in the chest last week when I heard Tristan Egolf was dead. By his own hand, no less. It would seem the comparisons to John Kennedy Toole were even more apt than many had guessed, unfortunately. After being blown away by Barnyard shortly after its publishing, I made a point to see what he had put out every year or so. I was glad to see he had released his third, then horribly saddened to see it was his last. I am savoring Kornwolf as deliberately as one would 25 year old scotch.

    From what I’ve learned of him in his writing and the writing of his friends, I can think of no one more alive, even in death. Godspeed, old boy.

    P.S. I added an entry to Wikipedia for Smoketown Six. Anyone with more knowledge please feel free to fill it in, as my info is based on pure Google.

  • Theo

    Tristan Egolf is dead? Damn it, and I just bought Kornwolf because I thought it looked like a great idea and one I could maybe relate to – having grown up in Bedford County, PA, out there with all the Amish. He’s dead? That sucks.

  • de Jesus

    THE ABOVE MENTIONED TRISTAN THING IS NOW HERE:
    http://www.easysubculture.com/RPOTS11.htm
    sorry.
    ~eric

  • anonymous

    “The creative person is both more primitive and more cultivated, more destructive and more constructive, a lot madder and a lot saner, than the average person.”
    Dr. Frank Barron

  • anonymous

    I am soo glad Tristan left to his selfishness abandoned his daughter. Might she land herself with a better life. He is not a hero as you all choose to believe. Good thing there are others for you to follow.

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