Said pedal has no effect on time (me writing the obvious). I am among many many colleagues and friends who have been fortunate to have known, collaborated with, presented with, learned from, played music with or just have had a meaningful conversation with Irwin Devries.
His last guitar chord hopefully still rings on in some far reaches of the solar system. I knew this year was a hard one on his health. So I was joyed after I reached out in late December by email to catch up, maybe finish a not so great song I had worked with him on in 2015 when we hung out in Kamloops, he suggested trying in January.
My path crossing with Irwin goes back to November 2014 – March 2015 when I was set up with a full time Open Learning Fellowship at Thompson Rivers University engineered by Brian Lamb. This was enabled by the support and signing off of by Brian’s boss, then Associate VP of Open Learning at TRU, Irwin Devries.
I’d be hard pressed to detail all the things that came from that experience (the portfolio tells much). We ran a faculty development flavor of DS106 called The You Show (one episode with Tannis Morgan played out later being invited to be part of the UDG Agora), we started a TRU hosted blogging service Trubox that is no only still going, but mammothly massive, it was the birth of SPLOTs. An almost accidental foray into the Wikimedia Wiki Shoot Me tool led me to discover tour the campus CFBX radio station (Irwin may have joined me) and even get a training session on the sound board.
Those are things that used to happen when leaders like Irwin gave support to people and ideas, but stepped back to let them run with it.
All of this pales against the people there who welcomed to Western Canada a straggler from Arizona, that the experience was more than tech and work. I’ve had good aka cordial relationships with colleagues and directors in other contexts, but it’s even more “true” (or TRU) when they become friends.
I’d known through Brian that his boss Irwin was also a very accomplished musician, a fantastic guitar player. For one of our YouShow episodes, on request for some loud electric guitar Irwin recorded what he titled Green Screen of Death. I’m not sure there are many work situations where you can ask (and get) that request of your unit organizational leader.
Now I forgot how it started, but we began a weekly hangout at Irwin’s basement suite, talking and playing songs, riffs on our acoustic guitars. I was, and still am, not nearly in the same league as Irwin. That is what’s special about many musicians that they do not look down on people with lesser skills but welcome and encourage hacks like me.
One of Irwin’s many inspirational characteristics was that technically he commuted to Kamloops during the week, driving back home to Vancouver on weekends to be with his wife. This effort is elevated much much more once I heard his stories of that route on the ‘Coq’ or ‘Coquihalla highway‘ which as I learned, in the winter is considered one of the most dangerous roads (or worse), the inspiration for a TV show called Highway to Hell. I drove it on my way to Kamloops in late October, and it was a white knuckle ride; Irwin went back and forth through the winter.
All of this to say is Irwin had coached me to try song writing (I’m more than happy doing my takes of rewriting lyrica as cover songs). So over a few sessions I wrote one not based on his drives on the Coq, but that idea of a truck driver driving west and being “Halfway to Burnaby”. I rummaged to find the (not so good) lyrics as a Google Doc and my rough recording, perhaps recorded in his apartment (the file date reads February 19, 2015)
I will cringe here.
This is the roundabout way to say that when I reached out to Irwin in late December, I suggested that we perhaps do some remote recording to “finish” the song. I know there’s lots of collaboration tools out there, and had just heard on a podcast about BandLab (I had good intentions, it’s newly added on my phone).
We had a few back and forth emails in late December agreeing to try after the holidays. What a treat it was to get this email from Irwin on January 16:
Hiya! My son Justin was over and we turned the song loose in the studio and this is what we came up with. Hoping it doesn’t suck too bad! Can always change, add, subtract, replace any tracks.
All the best, pardneremail from Irwin Devries, 4:42PM January 16, 2024
Woah. Justin is a professional drummer who I remember joined one of our “Sanctuary” jams in Vancouver. I’m humbled to have this gift from Irwin and Justin that layers harmonica, electric guitar and organ atop my crude song.
But this cringe is even bigger. I did not get around to replying, thinking I had time. Then Tuesday, the 23rd, I got word that Irwin had passed away.
That he dies a week after he sent me that song.
I delayed a reply.
Here is the other layer of my story. The summer after my time at TRU, while traveling to Los Angeles, I asked my friend MIkhail who lived there to take me to a good music store. I came home with a new Fender Telecaster, and most likely shared photos in social media.
Without any mentioning of it, Irwin ordered and mailed to my home, an out of the blue gift of a Donner Yellow Fall Delay effect pedal (on the left side in this photo).
There was more exchange than just guitars, we talked much of our work, research, teaching technology, we had crossed paths a few times in the last years at online conferences. I’m just honored to have known such a generous and caring person who operated a the management water levels of this field.
Ahhh, bear with me for one more rabbit hole tale. On hearing the news of Irwin’s passing, I dove into my timelining habit of flickr. That one photo of Irwin used on the left side my featured image was a day we went for a walk and talk along the river east of town. As a playful act that was him photobombing my attempt of a panoramic photo. He was mischievous fun (more evidence).
Amongst the other photos I found searching my flickr past was of some lyrics on a laptop and glasses of the Irish Whiskey we sipped on.
Again, to the effort of writing even a cryptic caption, I have a clue:
An evening playing music and enjoying beverages with Irwin D– we wrote maybe the worst song in the universe. On purpose.https://www.flickr.com/photos/cogdog/16473453526/
That is vaguely familiar, we had some fun the week before the recording of Halfway There to Burnaby, trying to write a song with the most sappy, cliche lyrics possible. But I have no more information, I can’t find any relevant of docs on my laptop, blog posts, and my twitter archive has nothing.
On a whim I zoom on the lyrics in the photo above and see the line “stuck on a tractor beam”. I then take a wild stab and search on “tractor beam” in my gmail. Bingo! I find an email from Irwin with a link to our terrible lyrics for “just a Day” and as well, a recording of it on SoundCloud (featuring said photo).
It’s still shreds of experiences and memories, but it kindles a bit more of a connection to these times. And on the web, the side rabbit holes open up. That deliberately bad song is on Irwin’s SoundCloud account with more of his music, including ones as recent as a year ago– Otessa Country as a fun foot stomping promo for the Open/Technology in Education, Society, and Scholarship Association. And hah, he deployed the same riffs for the Royal Roads University LRNT 526 course he taught a year ago.
Well, I have taken this post much farther than even intended, as the writing happens and my brain cracks open. I’m crushed that I did not reply to Irwin’s last email to me, but that takes nothing from the experiences of time with him. My heart goes out to his family and likely the countless number of other people Irwin influenced.
Working through these memories as I end up doing here is in the vein of an old lesson, that our human body’s end on this earth is not the end of our lived life, and the more we retell the stories of people we knew, the longer the live in us.
I now have to dust off that Telecaster, plug in in the yellow pedal, and stomp on the delay effect to make my own sounds of humble appreciation. Thanks for all, Irwin.
Post Blog Notes
I did get confirmation that the date Irwin left us was last Tuesday, January 23, 2024, indeed, 7 days after the last email he sent me.
Also, and more importantly, Thompson Rivers University has set up a donation channel for a TRU scholarship fund under Irwin’s name. They have a goal to raise $25,000. Help them out by using the general TRU Donation page at https://www.tru.ca/giving/give-now.html. It m,ay not be clear at first, but find the fund under Direct Donation at the bottom, click Specific Fund, and type in Irwin DeVries, which should autocomplete:
And continue from there (I just did this).
And you can find more collections of music from Irwin’s Bandcamp site one album as recent as July, 2023.
More keeps building to add here, why not keep the good thoughts rolling. Please, please, please the heartfelt pos, for many more photos, recordings, but mostly that insight into Irwin writing only in the way Brian Lamb does uniquely. Come for the memories and stay for the long comment thread.
As serendipity goes, on a drive to an appointment today I dipped into the latest episode of This American Life, number 822 “The Words to Say It”. The prologue just spoke to this kind of memory of a last message not sent to someone dying who did not want others to dwell on it.
Sometimes we don’t want to say what’s going on because putting it into words would make it real. At other times, words don’t seem to capture the weight of what we want to say. Susanna Fogel talks about her friend Margaret Riley, who died earlier this week
“I think what’s interesting is when I think about what I would have said in a final text message to her, I probably would have said, I don’t even have words. I don’t think I would have been able to compose a text message that felt like it covered the depth of my love for her. Or the words would have failed, or they wouldn’t have been enough or something.”TAL Episode 822 Prologue
Featured Image: A composite of two of my photos, I’m Photobombing Yer Panorama flickr photo by cogdogblog shared into the public domain using Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication (CC0) and a new one od the pedal Irwin gave me, not yet on flickr, but soon will be as CC0.