Troy Cook was a friend.

There was the night seventeen years ago that he pulled me into the old Freshies, in the Northern, to read some poetry. He knew the last time I read in public was when I was teaching at the Beargrass Workshop in Trout Lake a few weeks after my folks were killed in a pedestrian/car accident. Both of them. It had been five years of silence on my part. I guess he thought I should read again.

A couple months later he said, “We’re doing a little spoken word at the Arts Station, a Wee Fest. Will you read?”

I said sure. Of course. It was Troy asking.

After he asked, I headed down to the States for a couple weeks and returned to find Fernie plastered with Wee Fest posters, my name at the top, in inch-and-a-half high letters. I was appalled. And scared shitless.

The night of the Fest, Troy and I got together backstage. I read a few lines of each poem I planned on reading. He riffed on his guitar to the first lines. I said yes or no. If it was no, I read more of the poem and he settled into the words and found the riff that worked. He captured the poem, the essence of each on his guitar.

Going on stage, with Troy at my back, I felt confident for the first time since I’d stopped reading after the Beargrass Conference. I was back. Sort of. After a fashion.

We spent two Labor Day weekends at Pierre’s house in the Slocan writing for the Three Day Novel Contest. Nic Milligan, Kevin McIsaac, Troy and myself. Deb cooked for us. What a weekend. Great food (Deb is just the best). Great words. The weekends were ones of sharing, of fine food and more than a little fine scotch. We all produced great words. Some now published. Some still working their way through the morass of the editorial process.

And then there was the time he got pissed at me during an Arts Station Board meeting and stood up, leaning over the table, shaking his finger at me, telling me he was going to, “Take me down.”

He didn’t. We moved on.

We remained friends.

There were nights in the Green Room downstairs before Arts Station concerts. And after-concert winddowns. There were evenings (long) of beers at the Brickhouse. There were days setting up Wapiti. And days taking down Wapiti.

All through, Troy was a friend. Stable. Happy to be with you. Pissed at you. Happy to be with you. But still a friend.

Since he passed, people talk more about his art. That is only a public persona. The music. The zombies. The crazy costumes for the Rock Opera (With that on his CV, Steve was still elected Mayor of Elkford. Go figure).

Troy and Deb spent a summer painting Joe and Sadie’s house next to the Raging Elk. Half hidden, behind bushes, it remains a testament of their work together. Homes across Fernie have samples of Troy’s art on their walls. I have a four-foot by four-foot piece on plywood. It’s brilliant with an elephant in the middle.

My first office in Fernie was in his old haunted studio on the second floor of the Ingram Building. We had a raft of his paintings scattered across the walls upstairs. They informed our work up there.

In many ways, Troy was my entry into Fernie. His art. His pushing me to read, to get out in public. To stand behind me (or in front) as I moved into the Fernie art scene.

But above all, he was a friend. Through thick and thin. Through disagreements and through joint projects. Troy was a friend.

Troy made my life richer. He pushed me. He made me vulnerable in my writing and my living. Troy made me a better person. A better artist. A better writer.

I’m going to miss the shit out of him.

Keith Liggett has a writing career with one foot in the literary and the other seeking a different angle within traditional journalism. Read more from Keith here.

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