“I dig the wrench, I dig the ride. Friendship’s where it’s at.” — John Joslin
I was sitting on my Russian sidecar motorcycle on a side street in Portland when I first met John Joslin. He didn’t know me but he walked over to talk to me because I was on a bike. He asked me if I wanted to ride to Harrison for lunch with the crew from Treefort Cycleshop. I said yes and I’m glad I did.
That day, I met a whole raft of creative, vintage-bike-loving people. His friends were all filmmakers, tattoo artists, comedians, guitar slingers and raconteurs. I’ve come to admire them all. John’s unassuming friendliness led me to those folks and I’ll always be grateful.
That’s why the news of his death on April 10, at the age of 51, felt like such a punch in the guts. He was too young and too interesting to leave us so soon.
John was a graphic designer, painter, musician and motorcycle tinkerer. Vintage BMW’s and Triumphs were his thing. He liked guns and old military stuff, too. Most of all, he loved his cat, Buddy, short glasses of bourbon and his fiancee, Aran.
He represented everything I hold dear about Portland. He was vintage cool, creative, loved what he loved and didn’t pretend to be anything other than himself. He hung out at Treefort Cycleshop in East Bayside long before it became fashionable. As gentrification gobbles up whole neighborhoods, his passing can’t help but feel like a punctuation mark at the end of golden time for this city.
The official obituary states John died after a short illness. It goes on to say he was born in Dover, Delaware and grew up in Oil City, Pennsylvania. He served in the Air Force for a while and got an art education degree from Edinboro University.
On Sunday, a bunch of his friends got together to take a short motorcycle ride in his memory. It ended at Geno’s Rock Club on Congress Street. More friends gathered there to hear John’s favorite local bands play all afternoon. King Memphis, Murcialago, Sean Mencher and Riverton Diesel played, along with John’s own band, Peepshow.
I didn’t know John as well as most people there. Here’s some of the things they had to say about him.
“If you walked into a party and you didn’t know anyone there, John would go over and welcome you and introduce you to everybody.” — Aran Meara, his fiance
“He was willing to give his own time to make somebody’s week better, life better, ride better, whatever it was.” — friend Neil Collins
“We’d go to a machine-gun shoot up in Dover-Foxcroft and then one day, it stopped. And he goes, ‘You know, Jimmy, it was like they took away Christmas.'” — Jim White, Peepshow bandmate
“You could sit down and while away an afternoon (with him) watching old war movies, listening to big bands and Devo, putting a few back. I will miss him.” — Jeffrey Day, Treefort Cycleshop
“He had a lot of effect on a lot of people’s lives and it was a life worth living. Unfortunately, it ends when it ends. The moral to the story is: if there’s something that you’re planing on doing, stop planning on it and do it, because there may be less time than you think.” — John White, Peepshow bandmate
The afternoon was full of hugs and shoutouts to John from the stage. There were a few tears, but not many that I saw. People were mostly thinking about his life, not his death. The bands rocked on into the early evening. One-by-one, the bikes parked out front melted away into the dusk, down Congress Street.
His fiance’s mother, Nancy Meara, told me, “His heart was as big as Portland, at the least.”
That’s a lot to live up to. Not for John, for Portland.
Note: All the good pictures of John here, and in the video, are by Matthew Robbins. He kindly gave me permission to use them here.