Derek at his Hallowe'en party, circa 1991/92, presumably shot by either Frank S. or Kenton A.
Apologies in advance for the hasty sloppiness, but I write this with a heavy heart, trying to process and make some sort of sense from this past Easter weekend.
I just lost a close friend and mentor.
Derek Weiler was the Editor in Chief at Quill & Quire, a publication considered by many to be the "bible" of the Canadian publishing and literary trade. It was a position he'd held for the past five years. Ordinarily I wouldn't want to share stories. I prefer to keep my grieving personal, dignified and quiet, and I'd bend over backwards to avoid mawkishness, which Derek despised.
Yet I've been reading an assortment of news obituaries and blog commentaries, most expressing shock – he passed away much too young – and underlining his brilliance, sensitivity and talent, and thinking that, true, he was all that. But IMO they're missing something.
See, to me, and I suspect most of Derek's closest friends, it was no secret that as smart and curious as he was, he was also bone-achingly funny, he loved exchanging stories about the absurdities of life and slapping his thigh in uncontrollable fits of laughter.
Derek and I became quick friends about 18 years ago, and continued our friendship ever since, getting together annually for Blue Jay games with Frank S. and Karen M. where we'd shoot the shit about ye olde Imprint Waterloo mafia and whatever else was on our minds.
I first met Derek in 1991. I came to the Imprint office, where he was Arts Editor, and handed off a photograph of George Clinton at the Concert Hall. Derek called me a couple hours later, close to deadline, telling me he loved the photo, and that he'd reserved the top half of the arts section front page for the feature - but that he didn't have a story to accompany it.
"Can you write?" he asked me.
Front of the arts section... seriously?
I'd never written an arts article in my life. I just wanna take pictures, I think I told him, but I'll give it a try. I can't recall if it ever did make the front, but I remember that he published it with very few edits and asked me to contribute more.
From that time forward, Derek and I became fast friends. He respected my opinion and we often partnered-up for rock 'n roll gigs, with me providing photos for his articles, reviews and interviews. Sometimes he'd make me look smarter than I actually was by sharing a byline on several features (top o' my head would be those longish interviews we did with Dean Wareham, Martin Phillipps and Jonathan Donahue, etc. - then again, I was exclusively responsible for asking the really dumb questions), plus a crazy piece we threw together with Chris Waters when the three of us hit an indie-rock burnout weekend in Chapel Hill, NC for the Merge 5th anniversary bash in 1994. (Merge Records turns Twenty this summer, and only last week I'd been wonderin' whether Derek might consider a trip down south for the party, where we might catch some Superchunk and Yo La Tengo side-projects again.)
If you can't stand my writing, blame Derek! He was the person forever encouraging me to write and ginning-up my confidence. For that I will always be thankful and shall never forget.
I never fancied myself as a writer, whereas I thought he could write like a song. So his encouragement had a massive influence on my self-belief. He was forever complimenting and nurturing me. At the point he recommended me to the editor of the local daily newspaper where he was working, I think I actually started believing him. Moreover, if there's anybody to blame for the genesis of my Fillerzine, again, blame him, he was the principle antagonist insisting I had to publish the thing "by any means necessary." Better yet his contributions raised the profile of the rag, and I was always happy to publish anything-and-everything he submitted for free when he could have just as easily turned around and sold them for real currency to real publishers.
Derek at the San Francisco Wave Organ, Feb. 1996, shot by me.
I have so many fond memories of Derek. One I can never forget is a trippy February weekend in 1996 when we visited San Francisco. We hit a hip indie record store in Haight-Ashbury, where Barbara Manning (SF Seals) was working. Now, several obits have mentioned that Derek was shy, but that wasn't always the case. Derek asked Ms. Manning about some of her rare 45s that he couldn't buy back home in Canada.
We were perfect strangers, but Barbara gave us her home address and directions for the bus route. A couple hours later I was astonished to find the three of us sitting in her bedroom, with our legs folded - on her bed! - watching music videos. She was busy giving Derek records – he looked like a kid on Christmas morning – and Ms. Manning tossed me a baggie of Humboldt County's finest, telling me to start rolling. I twisted about a dozen fatties – I rolled a couple, and every time I stopped Barbara challenged me to keep twisting. Derek wore the angel wings in our friendship, so he didn't indulge. After a few hours talking about Red Krayola and baseball, we departed Barbara's place ("Did that really happen?" Derek asked me in a daze) and she took the remaining seven joints and placed them into my shirt pocket and told us to check out the Church of John Coltrane, then the harbourfront Wave Organ the next day, which we did.
Afterward, getting dark, with less than an hour to check out of the hotel and fly back to T.O., it dawned on me that I still had four fatties in my shirt pocket, and not being prone to dispose of free weed or walk stupidly through airport security and customs carrying contraband, I felt obliged to consume her gift (from the Gods, so to speak), so we wandered up to the Coit Tower. Derek had no interest whatsoever participating in what I had in mind, but he didn't object either. Derek waited patiently for me, allowing me time to do what I had to do. He inspected the brilliant art deco murals inside the tower, while I ran below into a hiding place in the bushes to single the remaining four fatties by myself, one after the other. I spun and staggered back up the hill to the tower worse for wear but relieved that the lengthy last-minute inconvenience didn't seem to bother him. I did some dumbass things in his presence, but if he was ever judgmental or pissed at me, he certainly never made me feel it.
So while I knew Derek as an Editor, that's not how I'll remember him. To me, he was a close friend and confidante who never failed to make me laugh, who accepted me for who I was, and who saw something in my abilities that I never even saw in myself.
We need more people like him in our lifetimes.
Gone much too soon, good buddy. You were a blast. It was an honour to call you my friend.
Rest In Peace.