Born in Jersey, Made in Detroit
The lessons of David Blair
Published: August 3, 2011
You see I'm not one of those lucky few that learned early on in life what my passion and true calling was. Even after years of education and working in the field that I graduated in, I still felt incomplete. I searched far and wide and tried all sorts of hobbies to stir some kind of hunger and desire to make me feel alive. I found that passion in a spot off Woodward and Mack called Bittersweet coffeehouse. It was there that I met Blair and he was one of the first open mic hosts that I played in front of. Back then I was shy and timid, but Blair went out of his way to make me feel welcome. It was his welcoming nature that made me want to come back. My first show ever was me opening up for him!
There was another Bittersweet coffeehouse open mic host that encouraged me and that was Sean Fitzgerald. Like Blair, Sean passed away too soon a few years ago. Through the years both of them taught me a lot, but of all the things that stuck with me the most was their love and support. Supporting of others, the arts, music and for our little music community that is truly like a family. While I do mourn the loss of a friend, I understand that while they were on this earth, they lived their lives. They did what they loved. They touched other lives and inspired people to find and follow their own passions whether it is music, acting, art, dance, social change, or whatever. I am who I am today because of people like Blair and Sean and I will continue to do the same as them. Encourage. Love. Inspire. Live your life to the fullest and be great. —Emilio Basa
I will always remember the times I got to be with Blair the person. Drinking more beer that I'd like to admit at Cass Cafe or shoving sushi down our throats at Wasabi, sitting on the corner after a night of poetry and whiskey. I consumed him with every sip and chew. I'm happy that I was able to tell one of my favorite people that he was one of my favorites, but he made it easy to love him and express that love. Blair, show me how to grieve for you, show me where pain should be. Teach me the way I should remember you. My tears don't seem right; they seem unworthy of you. My memories can't quite articulate the meaning that your life, your love, your smile, your hugs, your art have to me. I don't know how to grieve because I don't know how to say goodbye. —Kayla Burton
David Blair was the most inspiring, creative and loving person in my life. I'm not really good with words, which is probably what made me gravitate toward Blair in the first place. The first time I heard him perform, I was literally moved to tears. I'm moved to tears now as I think about every amazing moment we spent together. I will cherish forever what Blair gave to me. My first published photo in a magazine was of Blair. I took my portfolio into the magazine and a shot of Blair was pulled right from it and used as a full page. David was the closest thing I've ever had to a muse as I've photographed him for nearly a decade. He had a hole in his smile so when we worked together he was a little reserved about showing me his smile. Those of you who knew Blair know that he was far from shy about smiling when a camera wasn't around. One of the fondest things I will always carry with me was his laugh. He laughed with his whole body and it was absolutely infectious. Blair meant so much to so many creative people. He was a phenomenal teacher and one thing he was great at was knowing when to get you out of your comfort zone as an artist. I remember him telling me it was time to take the photos that were in me, not the ones other people wanted me to take. He trusted me with his image and that played an integral part in my maturity as an artist and more importantly as a person. I cherish the gifts he gave me and the powerful words he spoke. I'll miss you, friend. I love you. —David Lewinski
Through his poetry, music, and friendship, Blair touched so many people in Detroit. He was also our cultural ambassador as he traveled all around the country and the world. While it's impossible to trace it all, I witnessed one of the most powerful demonstrations of his influence at one of the many open mics he hosted some years back.
A young woman showed up with a handwritten poem, and asked Blair if she could read it while he played his song "When I Was a Girl." He, of course, obliged her. Blair could be wickedly funny, but this is one of his deeply serious songs about a suicidal girl who discovers the strength within herself and the will to live. After singing a verse or two, Blair strummed his guitar while the woman read her poem, a passionate and personal account of her own empowerment. It served as tribute to Blair, and I recall her saying that his song helped save her life.
Then hammering home the gravity of the song and the moment with his husky baritone, Blair continued to the song's crescendo: "And it was then I decided: dead was something that I'd never be!"
That's the line stuck in my head for now. You'll always live on, my brother. —Scott Kurashige
I met you 10 years ago. I was a freshman in college. A shy kid who didn't talk much. You introduced yourself, handed me a flier to a show, smiled and said see you around. For the next 10 years, we would work together to get your music and poetry to the masses. We did great things. We laughed. We cried. We fought like brothers ... but that's what brothers do. And now you're gone and I'm left here thumbing through unreleased poems and listening to unreleased songs thinking of the possibility of what could have been. But I will never forget what you were. You were more than just a gifted writer and performer. You were an inspiration. You gave so many people the courage to pick up a guitar, write a poem, write a song, march in a rally, and do the monkey to Beethoven. Most of all, you were a bridge. You introduced and connected so many people of all ages and races. You taught us how to love unconditionally. You taught us how to live life for the experience. And for that, I thank you. You took something from me with your passing. But the memories and lessons that we shared will stay with me forever. So many people are affected by your death, but that is a true sign of how many people were affected by your life. ... You may be gone, but you will never be forgotten. I love you, Blair. —Matthew Wisotsky
I wasn't fortunate enough to know Blair as well as so many others seemed to, but he still had a profound impact on me. I was in 10th grade at Cass Technical High School when I joined Citywide Poets, a branch of the InsideOut organization. Blair and Francine Harris were my instructors and they both inspired the Hell out of me. Blair was kind, but critical, and an excellent instructor. He was among the first to encourage my writing.
The next year I didn't have Blair as an instructor, but whenever we ran into each other at the InsideOut offices or just around Detroit he always had a kind word and a smile. I ran into Blair a few months ago whilst studying at Wayne State's Purdy/Kresge library. Again, he smiled and asked what I was doing with myself these days. I told him that I was working on my thesis, and he seemed impressed and wished me good luck. About a month after that, I saw him while I was working at the Barnes and Noble on Wayne State's campus; I helped him pick out a birthday present for a friend.
What I will remember about Blair is his kindness — he was always so genuine and so interested in the people around him, and life in general, really. He wasn't a teacher out of obligation or necessity, but because he cared about Detroit's youth. I keep seeing people post stories about him on Facebook and I wish that I had been able to be close to him like they were, but I'm honestly just thankful for the passing smiles and small talk we shared.
Blair was kind, Blair was talented, but most of all, Blair was one of a kind. —Elizabeth Van Horn
(After Lucille Clifton, For D. Blair)
May the spirit
you carried guide you now
Like a lamp to a book
or a book to an eye
That now, even closed,
sees some flower of light
Quiet as spaces
Curved inside the gold bell
of your voice
May you moonwalk
where there is no moon
And write poems
on the stars
Sing songs to the great ends
As if they were your children
Send Condolences to the Family of David Blair, 100 Swartswood Rd., Apartment 136, Newton, NJ 07860, and to his Detroit Family at 812 Blaine St., Detroit, MI 48202.
More information, including how to donate to a memorial fund, at dblair.org.
Also see rememberingblair.wordpress.com.
Blair: in his own words
Right after Michael Jackson's death, Blair contacted Metro Times about the possibility of publishing poems from his then four-years-in-the-making book — then conceived as a book-CD package — about the King of Pop. These were from the manuscript that a year later appeared as his book Moonwalking.
Why did I leave earth?
Because it's crazy down there, but not
crazy enough. I dance it all away.
I'm so gone. I walk backwards and still out-move you.
I glide, receding towards innocence.
Back to childhood. I'm a star, suspended,
floating like a god or a king — no
too young to be king — a prince.
I used to be a robot, but robots move too slowly,
too earthbound and I'm unable to be smooth.
I'm soft, like the dust I kick up when I spin.
Dust some color no one's ever seen before.
My dirt is your souvenir. John Merrick's bones.
I build fortresses from Ferris wheels,
climb giant bonsais with chimpanzees
higher than you could
imagine. Into the air
thinner than me. Have you heard
the sounds I make? Out of this world
How many millions does it take to prove, Earthlings
can't move like me. Adults
can't touch me.
I walk backwards on another planet singing
and still leave you in my dust. Climbing,
morphing into a whole other dimension.
One small step for man. One giant step
for me, on my platform, poised
for takeoff. I won't move
until you scream me into motion.
I am one glove. My other hand invisible.
If not for this coat of medals, these rhinestone socks,
shining pants, you would not see me
a ball of light slowly fading.
I can't breathe your air. I'm terrified
of your sun. I can't stop dancing. I don't
understand these laws. I can't
obey these laws.
Have you seen me move?
> Email Travis R. Wright