I didn’t know him personally, but I’m not exaggerating when I say that the guy completely opened up a whole new world to me musically.
Jason Noble lived art. His drive to create came not from self-importance, but from a need to share the beauty of the world he saw with others. He knew and knows that our time on Earth is limited and, through art, you can live on. He gave selflessly to others, whether it be helping young bands or through his political involvement. Of all his accomplishments, he was greatest at being a friend. I will never forget him.
Amber Estes Thieneman:
I’ve been trying to think of one specific memory I have of Jason, but I continue to be overwhelmed with the memory of him as a whole. Every time I was around Jason — whether it be in the recording studio, over a meal, or just in transit — I always found myself leaving our time together wanting to be a better person. His excitement and passion for music, for art, and for people seemed infinite. Jason was certainly the most compassionate, encouraging, and inspiring person I have ever met. The world needed more time with him in it.
What most inspires me about Jason is not the fact that he was in some of the most legendary and influential bands in Louisville history. (Playing in bands doesn’t make you great, even if the bands are.) No, the way he inspired me was the supremely honorable manner in which he faced his illness and lived, despite it. He met the disease head on with grace, poise, bravery, humor, strength, kindness and positivity — a feat I think most of us would do well to pull off on our best days. It is in this way that Jason beat cancer, not the other way around.
I was fortunate enough to briefly go on tour with The Rachel’s in the fall of 2003, and I vividly remember getting out of the van the night we pulled up to where we were staying in Minneapolis. I was young, tired, and still a little starstruck about being on the road with all of these amazing people whose music I had worshipped since I was 13. And there Jason was, in the middle of the street, busting some moves that would make Michael Jackson jealous. When he saw me watching, he said "Man, sometimes, you just have to dance under a streetlight."
We laughed. But he didn’t stop dancing. MC Diogenes, DJ Castle Grayskull, J-Sonic: your indestructible soul lives on in all of the beautiful things you made that still fill us with joy.
I got to know Jason when my band (Seluah) was fortunate enough to tour, at separate times, with both Shipping News and Rachel’s. (Jason was instrumental in making this happen for us.) I have many fond memories of sharing various stages, diner booths, van benches, and dirty green room furniture with him. His smile was epic and I loved that we could segue from a discussion of Knut Hamsun right into a dissection of James Hetfield’s invention of the verb "roff", as in "roff to never-never-land." It was always a treat to visit Jason’s home and studio on Woodbine; each time I left inspired. Now that he is gone, I continue to be inspired by his accomplishments and artistic dedication and I swear to be a more productive and caring human being. He was, without question, one of the finest of my generation and he is sorely missed.
I worked at ear X-tacy with Jason during my peak years as hip-hop mixtape DJ Bill Jones the Barber. Shift change happened at 4 p.m. each day, but I never showed up before 5. One day, as I strolled in to the store well after he and my co-workers had arrived, he greeted me with his best professor imitation. With his hands together in a bowing motion, he announced my arrival to the crew, "Aah haaa! The devil’s DJ, everyone!," the whole time smiling his ass off. After that, I did a mix called "The Devil’s DJ"; Dick Starr drew up a logo for it and it’s on my t-shirts and stuff. Jason gets the credit. I used to tell Jason he held the title for "nicest motherfucker ever." I’d address him that way instead of his name sometimes. I’m pretty sure it annoyed him even though he never mentioned it.
When someone I know and love dies, my heart caves in. A deep, sunken feeling of despair. I saw Jason right before he left for his treatments in Maryland, and he was in his usual high spirits, smiling and nodding with enthusiasm. He looked like he had been through a lot. I gave him and his wife Kristin a hug, and wished them the best. Several days later, in the same place I ran into him, I learned of his passing. Jason was a hero for several reasons. He had created an alliance with so many musicians and artists, it was an ongoing collective cultural movement. He was talented, energetic, and extremely proactive. Above all, he was kind and approachable, always encouraging: ”Advanced Idea Mechanics” for the good guys. When my heart finally stops caving in, it will open back up again, much bigger and wider than before. I will stop mourning, and start celebrating the life that Jason lived and shared with everyone around him. I will be a better person for this, and I will not be alone. This hero has made his mark.
Mat Herron, Karate Body Records:
The truth is, they could’ve gone anywhere. Any label would’ve been lucky to have them. Shipping News paid their dues several times over, and now they had an amazing album in One Less Heartless To Fear, made right in their hometown.
But over several conversations, Jason kept repeating, "We just want to work with friends." We will remember the ensuing months of production forever. What an education and an inspiration. How lucky we were to witness it.
Understand: Jason, Jeff, Todd and Kyle did not need anyone to tell them how to put out a record. Watching the band work — a true self-sustaining entity, with all four members firing on all cylinders, weighing in on every detail, every proof, every typo — that is what making records is all about.
Pre-Shipping News, we thought we knew how to release and promote a record. Post-Shipping News, we walked away with a multifaceted understanding of how to make a lasting, living document. Jason guided us through that experience in a way that will inform how we release music forever.
His passing is a challenge for people like us to live life creatively, without fear.
I’ve been looking through all my old emails with Jason and I’ve been struck by all the plans — plans for benefit shows for the Americana Community Center, for Hurricane Katrina victims, for Raptor Rehabilitation, plans for art shows, for comic art projects, and articles to work on for LEO. I know there must be a million messages, letters, and emails floating around out there with all these great ideas and plans he had with so many of us.
I remember when all of the troubles with his health emerged, how uncomfortable Jason must have been to receive attention for his illness rather than for his art or music. When the music community held benefit shows for him, I know in his heart he was probably much more interested in finding ways of giving back to others who he presumed needed it even more than he did.
Jason’s death has made me do some serious soul searching. I want to honor his memory by taking the time to do more things for other people. I want to work harder to see the good in people, because beyond all of the beautiful music, the incredible art, and the thoughtful writing that Jason has left behind, his example of how a person can be a powerful force for good in this world is what sticks with me the most.
I have many wonderful memories of Jason, and Kristin. I want to write you about one in particular.
Jason Noble was a regular at the Third Avenue Cafe for a couple of years, and often came to eat with his mom. Myself, along with the other servers, always thought that was a very noble thing for a son to do! One day he brought in a girl with him. She had long, auburn hair and a gentle demeanor, very much like his. We were thrilled, frankly, to see him on a date, with a girl other than his (awesomely sweet) Mom. They ate by the window, and, by the time they were leaving, it had started to rain. He and she stood at the door as a silhouette for a moment before leaving, and he lifted up the inside of his blue jean jacket to hold over her head, as she leaned into his side, to block the rain as they trotted over to their car, her hair long, wavy flowing behind her. We all watched this, and as soon as they disappeared out of sight we all let out a collective sigh. We had all witnessed something that was beyond this world in its earliest stages. This young woman’s name was Kristin, and as we all know, they became man and wife a couple of years later.
I am so honored to have witnessed their beginnings.
With tears, heart break, and sadness,
I think a book could be written on why Jason was such a special human being. I just know that, to me, I’ve never heard him say a bad word about anyone. I’ve admired his music and art since I was a teenager. Since then, he was nothing but a kind and gentle soul to me. His eyes were always smiling. He was a bright light.
I lived vicariously through the love he and Kristin had for one another. I remember, I saw them the night before he was going to propose to her. It was my birthday, and Kristin’s was the day after. I was at the North End (Café) and (Joe) Manning was pouring the drinks, so I was a bit buzzed. I sat down with them and immediately asked, "So when are you all getting married, already?" Jason kinda gave me a look and Kristin smiled. I think he said, "I don’t know," with big, wide eyes and a small grin. About ten minutes later, she went to the restroom and he told me he was going to propose to her the next day! I just remember thinking how I almost fucked that surprise up! Oh, goodness. I was kicking myself! But thinking about it now just takes me right back to that moment — that night … seems like yesterday. I just feel so honored that I even knew Jason. I will miss him very much and will always, always celebrate him.
I met Jason Noble in 1985 in Manual high school; he was a freshman and I was a sophomore. We shared a love of horror movies, comic books, and jokes most other people didn’t get. One of the first things Jason taught me was the difference between people who “do art” (like me) and artists, like Jason. I think if someone had tied Jason up, Hannibal Lecter-style, in a padded cell, and left him alone for an hour, when they returned they would have found a mural covering one wall and a seven-minute guitar solo burned to disc.
The thing is, Jason and I hung out quite a bit at Manual (in class and out) but went very different directions after high school, and only crossed paths once or twice early on. In fact, I am now one of those conservative, Evangelical Christians whose views typically drive most LEO readers crazy. But Jason’s death — shocking despite the three-year battle that led to it — has me remembering all that we had in common. Jason was one of those rare people who got it, even in high school: The most important thing in life is not how you vote or where you live or what music you listen to (okay, that one might be up for debate). Even in high school, Jason knew that the most important thing in life is relationships.
I’m thinking about that a lot these days. And I’m praying for his wife and family, who surely deserved to keep him around for just a few more decades.
I first met Jason when we started working together at ear X-tacy quite some time ago. I was immediately drawn to his sense of humor and openness. I believe one of the very first things he ever said to me was "So, you like boy bands, huh? I can respect that. I’m in a boy band, you know." From that very moment, we became instant friends.
I knew then that we’d be close, but I never imagined the friendship that blossomed over the last 10 years.?He became one of my very best friends. He was someone I could always depend on, no matter what I needed. We spent many nights working on ear-X projects that made us want to pull our hair out, yet we’d always have fun in the end. We joked that everyone thought we just listened to music all day and did nothing else, when little did they know we’d be up at four in the morning (drinking our fifth cup of coffee or Diet Coke and petting Miles), going over the Gift Guide for the 4 millionth time. It never felt like work, though, because I was with Jason.
His endless banter about nothing, his wonderfully horrible jokes (that were never the same twice in a row), and his amazing stories made every experience with him one you’d never forget.?I vividly remember sitting in the breakroom, day after day, listening to him talking about wedding plans with Kristin. He seemed to get more and more excited by the day. Nothing made him happier than knowing he would soon become her husband.
It was one of the most beautiful weddings I have ever attended, for one of the most beautiful couples. Just a few years later, my husband Andy and I started planning our wedding as well. When we first got together, I don’t think anyone was more excited than Jason. (He and Andy could go on forever with crazy bad jokes, nerdy movie discussions, books they had read, music they wanted to play or listen to … It was a match made in heaven). He had always joked that if we ended up getting together, he’d be the one to marry us. Needless to say, in between cancer treatments and other projects, Jason got ordained and performed our wedding ceremony.
Anyone that attended will tell you how great it was, because he made it everything we wanted and more. It was so very sincere and beautiful with simple touches of his astounding wit and charm.
There is no way to sum up how much I loved him or how much he meant to me. We will all miss him terribly, but have been blessed with so many wonderful stories and priceless memories. He was my hero and Andy’s idol, but most importantly he was our friend.
I was just shy of my 19th birthday when I started working at ear X-tacy years ago. I was the youngest of the bunch and had a lot to learn about a lot of things. One of the things I loved about working there was the fact that all of the staff really took my innocence as an opportunity to open my eyes to music that my young ears hadn’t necessarily been exposed to yet.
One person in particular who was always recommending things to me, whether it be books, movies, comics, or music, was Jason Noble. I remember him coming in to work one morning and, after discovering I had never listened to the band Talk Talk, he insisted that I purchase the used copy of Laughing Stock we had just brought in. I didn’t hesitate or question it, and I immediately grabbed the CD with the intent to purchase it, and went on with my day.
After an hour or so I guess he was feeling guilty that I was spending money on something that (for all he knew) I might not even enjoy. (After all, us lowly record store clerks didn’t make a lot of money). So he tried to give me a few dollars to pay for it. I was adamant that I wouldn’t have any of his money, and for the next few hours we played a game where he’d give me a dollar and I would give it back. I’d walk away from the cash register, where I was stationed for the duration of my shift, and come back to a single dollar bill resting against the computer screen. I took a break for lunch and found a dollar in my lunch bag in the refrigerator. And after returning the dollar again, I found it another time in my mailbox in the back room. After a while he gave up and I paid for the CD and went on my merry way, pleased that I had won the battle of the dollar bill.
Upon arriving home to put the CD in my stereo, I was surprised by the fact that inside the CD case was a single dollar bill folded up inside. I was dumbfounded. Here I was, believing that I had won, when really I had been duped. Jason had won the war. To this day the dollar is still folded up inside the CD case, and whenever I find the occasion to listen to Laughing Stock I smile and think about how much it meant to him that I have this CD.
This simple act of selfless kindness was just one of many over our years of working together, but for some reason it’s the one that resonates with me the most now. Of our almost seven years of friendship, there were many other simple moments: moments of brotherly advice given, books and music traded, long, drawn-out jokes told, and countless discussions of the Batman. All of those simple moments come together and form this complete picture in my mind of the essence of Jason, one of the most incredible human beings I’ve ever known.
Of the many fond memories involving Jason, there are several that stand out among the rest. First was in 1994, when the band I was in at the time, Plunge, miraculously got placed on a bill with Jason’s band Rodan for a show at the Machine. Much like Crain’s Speed and Slint’s Spiderland, Rodan’s album Rusty is one that both challenged my perception of what music is and can be; encouraging me to toss out any and all preconceived notions of how I would henceforth listen to, absorb, perform, and appreciate music as art. It was one of those “star-struck” moments, watching Jason and the others high atop the stage, the very one we had just performed on.
Fast-forward about 10 years, and I was once again face to face with Jason: this time he was being introduced to me as the latest hire at ear X-tacy Records. I remember the first shift that we worked together, and being incredibly nervous just knowing I was in the presence of such a luminary, someone that I had looked up to for over the past decade. He never was anything other than modest, and was incredible humble, especially when making reference to any of the many projects he had worked on throughout the years. Jason had an innate ability to make everyone that he came in contact with feel as though they had been friends with him for years.
Months later, we shared a moment that I think back to often: singing karaoke for the first time ever in my life, with Jason accompanying me on Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer” at the ear X-tacy holiday party. He taught me everything I needed to know about running in-store performances at the record shop, and acted as mentor all along the way. The first in-store he had me run on my own was for his band Shipping News, as they performed a special Kentucky Primary Election show on Tuesday, May 20, 2008. Per Jason’s signature whimsy, in between songs the band hosted a “Freedom Quiz,” asking those in attendance political trivia questions, and awarding those who answered correctly with any number of prizes they had brought with them. It was another one of those surreal moments that I feel fortunate to have witnessed, and to have been a small part of.
One would’ve never guessed that seeing them in 2009 at Skull Alley’s anniversary show would be the last opportunity … it was just two months later that Jason was diagnosed with cancer. Jason was always encouraging me to expand my musical horizons, recommending such artists as Dirty Three, Bastro, Tangerine Dream, High on Fire, R. Kelly, Arthur Russell, Arvo Pärt, Public Enemy, Four Tet, and Philip Glass, to name a few.
I am forever grateful for the life that he lived, and the positive impact and influence that will continue to live on. Jason inspired so many of us across the globe with his musical and artistic talents, his grace, his comedic ways, his love, his perseverance, his strength, and his kindness. Peace and love to Kristin, the entire Furnish/Noble family, and to the countless lives touched by Jason’s presence and talents. Eternal love to you, Diogenes.
He’s a tough man to memorialize … the sky wouldn’t be a big enough canvas to fit all the words. I just can’t believe it happened so suddenly, and none of us were prepared for the shock and loss as the cold reality has sunk in this week. Jason did such an amazing job of decorating everyone’s lives with gifts, notes, cards, things he’d lent you, thoughtful and always playful emails in our inboxes and millions of the best of memories … so, I think everywhere we all turn, there is some sort of reminder of his generous and ENORMOUS spirit.
Not many people can inspire you on so many levels as Jason did. For me, what brought me into his world was the beauty and courage of his musical output, which has forever left me with a stamp that I couldn’t shed if I wanted to … but as I was lucky enough to become his friend, what moved and inspired me the most was his positive outlook on life, and how he treated everything and everyone around him — purely altruistic. Jason had no ethos, but he embodied the most positive aspects of what the world’s religions attempt to teach. Everything was sacred to him.
And one of my favorite, of his many amazing attributes, was that he was such a cheerleader for anyone doing anything creative, no matter what his internal thoughts may have been on their work. He championed people making things out of nothing, and absolutely never did I hear him pass judgment on what others were doing. He was always offering positive encouragement to everyone. And for a guy whose output was at the highest level, he never thought of himself as above anyone or anything … he was just so in love with the creative spirit, it didn’t matter what people were doing as long as they were doing something … and if your creative juices were running dry, he was always there to do nothing but offer positive encouragement, and in the most humble of ways.
I will never forget working in the studio with him; if there was something happening that he wasn’t jiving with, he would always tell you what he liked about an idea before he told you why he thought differently about it. And every time we parted, I always felt better and more energized, always. He made EVERYONE feel like that: the guy bagging his groceries, the postman, fans that would come up to him he didn’t know … the list is endless … he always made you feel better just being around him in such an effortless way.
Nothing in his life was forced, yet his diligence, vision and passion were just massive. Through all of the pain of his loss and the massive emptiness that it has created, more than anything I am just so thankful and grateful that he ever lived — that the world ever got to receive him. The world is a better place for him being here, even though we are left wanting more. And his time here will forever shine a light on how to be good people to one another and do what we love better … what more could we ever ask for? My heart will forever thump a little harder and expand greater just thinking of him.
Well … it’s truly been a trance-like week, as it certainly feels Jason is still here. Such beautiful testaments to Jason’s talents, character and attitude have been voiced on Facebook alone, and I’m sure that’s given all of us pause to reflect on our own personal odyssey we had with Jason. My mind is afloat with memories of Jason’s stage banter, and our time in Rachel’s together, and talks on film, music and how Victor Von Doom was such an underappreciated badass.
I met Jason at The Rocket House eons ago, around 1991, when I was visiting Jon Cook. Two hyper guys peered around the door, introduced themselves as Jeff and Jason, said “hi” and were gone in a flash. A few years later, (my sister) Rachel joined Rachel’s and began a very eclectic creative partnership with Jason and Christian. They were soon in need of someone to play drums on tour after making Handwriting and, luckily, Rachel pitched me as a possibility (and I wasn’t playing in a band at the time). I literally had one practice, two at most, to learn the material and didn’t even meet Eve or play with her ‘til our first show together! It was evident very quickly that Jason and I were cut from a similar cloth musically, both being self-taught primarily, and were able to communicate very easily — maybe because of that, I’m not sure.
Once that tour began, time really traveled quickly. I was astounded by Jason’s energy, and practically brought to tears by his sense of humor. I was wary as to how many interests and aesthetics we would share in common; turns out it was quite a lot. By the time we met in Rachel’s, we were both disciples of Michael Nyman and Angelo Badalamenti and were both happy to have diverse tastes (although where Jason leaned Big Black, I leaned Black Sabbath).
Whether on tour or recording or back in Louisville, Jason as a person was always gracious and treated people with great respect, and bands and friends were always welcomed at his home like family. This sense of community was very, very central to him. And when we stayed with people on the road, no one was more grateful or generous with that host than Jason, engaging them and really trying to connect with them, even if there was little time to do so.
Halfway into my run with Rachel’s, I began playing with Seluah in 2002. Jason was so huge in his support of our EP coming out. He helped me with the layout for the artwork, and we really had a blast doing that. Thanks to my sister Rachel and Jason primarily, Seluah was able to go out on the road with Rachel’s in 2003, I think. That was a dream come true for me; so much fun playing two sets and hanging out with all my favorite people.
Seluah broke up in 2004 but returned in 2010 after a long break. It was not long after finding out about Jason’s baffling diagnosis. This time around, he was still so extremely supportive to me as a friend, and offered any help he could with our record. When we got back together, I remember being very much inspired by the live album One Less Heartless to Fear by The Shipping News, which just came out so well. It was relentless and aggressive, a great guitar record, a testament of Jason’s last performance with the band, and I feel that imparted a sense of confidence about Seluah going for a more guitar-driven, heavier sound. When we got back together, that record didn’t leave my car stereo for two months.
I am still reeling from the reality he is gone, and know it won’t truly hit me until I see everyone and share with them tributes of a great friend and brother. It is so eerie to know this guy with truly great karma — who didn’t do drugs, hardly ever drank even a beer, smoked seldomly, and was a vegetarian — could get that kind of diagnosis at age 37.
I have to tell ya, it’s pretty difficult to put into words, let alone narrow it down to one single thing to write about, regarding Jason …
So much has already been said about Jason Noble: his artistic talents, his love of life, and love of all those he came to know. These tributes will continue to keep flooding us all with his memory, and they bring me comfort, although the loss has not quite fully sunken in. I have to keep focusing on all the creativity, love, and kindness he’s left us with. Tears of sadness and tears of joy are with me as I write this simple story of a very kind and generous human being.
One late night, while filming one of his film projects (in addition to working on all of the other artistic ideas he was pursuing), a stray cat, injured somehow (perhaps in a fight with another cat or dog), came wandering up the dark alleyway to where Jason and crew were filming. It seems that Jason had always been a magnet for homeless and wayward creatures, and naturally, the cat found Mr. Noble.
Jason befriended the injured feline, and took her home. Not that Jason and Kristin needed anymore creatures in their home, they most likely had enough already, but Jason’s caring nature brought the cat to a safe place. After a trip to the vet for medical repairs, they brought the cat home, and named her "Olive" … most likely because of her green, olive-colored eyes.
After Jason was diagnosed with his cancer, he and Kristin decided that they would be traveling to MD Anderson in Houston quite frequently. It was decided they would have to have someone care for all of their pets. Jason and Kristin asked my wife Denise and I if we would mind taking care of one of their cats during his treatments. They both felt that Olive would be best suited for us, as we no longer had any pets (our last cat, Spike, had passed the year before) and Olive liked being on her own. Even though Denise is highly allergic to cats, she and I both readily agreed to bring Olive into our lives, if just for a while.
Denise, with her allergies and all, insisted that "Olive needs to stay downstairs" in the house. I agreed that there were plenty of rooms and windows for her to explore and enjoy, as well as all of the cat toys my prior three cats had accumulated over the years, not to mention that the litter box that was downstairs as well. Fine.
After a couple of days, Olive learned how to maneuver over the baby-gate barrier we had installed at the top of the stairs. She now had full access to the upstairs area. Fine again. Denise then said, "As long as she doesn’t come into the bedroom, it’s OK". You can see where this is going?
It was probably a day of so before Olive learned to push the bedroom door open, and make the bedroom and our bed, her bed. Despite her initial objections, Denise came to love the fact that Olive was not only sharing our bed, but sleeping.
It wasn’t very long until Denise and I realized that we couldn’t imagine how hard it was going be for us to send Olive back to her home with Jason and Kristin. She had won our hearts, despite the allergies and all. We totally fell in love with her.
As Jason continued his treatments and travels, it became apparent that perhaps he and Kristin might find caring for the pets at home increasingly difficult. Denise and I were overjoyed when they asked us if we might like to care for Olive permanently. While we were certainly relieved that Olive would not be leaving us, I could not help feeling guilty that Jason and Kristin were entrusting us with the care of something they truly loved. We couldn’t say no, but we still felt that we were depriving them of Olive’s unconditional love.
We constantly thank Olive for letting us sleep in our own bed. She sleeps with us every night, sometimes ON us. She hogs the bed actually, and we let her. You see, Olive is not just a "cat", she is the sweetest cat that people have ever met. She’s a totally social being; a true "people person" cat. She greets everyone when they come to the house, and wins them over with her "cat love".
So, what does this really have to do with Jason Noble as a person? Olive is a daily reminder to us of Jason and Kristin: the sweetest people we have ever met. Creative? How does a cat go from "downstairs only" to being "all over your world"? Jason: creative in more ways than we will ever know. He is known and loved all over the world. Unconditional love? I’ve never met a more loving, caring, generous human being in my life … a true inspiration to me, and all who knew him. It’s a bit ironic that Olive is one of the sweetest gifts we’ve ever received (typical Jason). Jason Noble, you have given us all so many tremendous gifts in your all-too-brief 40 years with us!
Olive? "All Love" — to me, that’s Jason Noble in two words.
Thank you for all the gifts and inspiration you brought to this world, my friend!
“Au Revoir, Pee-wee”
In the mid-1990’s, Jason Noble and I were sharing a house at 1207 East Broadway. The whole time we lived there, some type of sewage backup – or something – was causing a painfully putrid odor to emanate from inside the mid-century steel cabinets under the kitchen sink.
THE BLUE HOUSE ON THE RIGHT
The house is just a few blocks from where Broadway begins in the Highlands. On summer days it was cooled by a monstrous, hideous, 100+ pound, industrial-strength air conditioner we received as a gift from Hilary Newton’s family. At night, when the windows were opened, the fresh air that came in was accompanied by the sounds of Dem Reggae Bon, or whatever band was on the patio stage at Phoenix Hill Tavern, “conveniently” located about 30 yards from the back door.
This little, blue, shotgun rental house quickly became a factory for creative projects, the side effect of which was laughing until we couldn’t stand up. But by the time we moved in, Jason had already had me in stitches for five or six years.
Jason and I had been in each other’s orbits in the late ’80s, but it wasn’t until early 1990 that we began to actually become friends.
When we started hanging out, he recalled later, “my only claim to fame was a few ’zines, the fact I had once vomited on a typewriter, and a 90-minute rap opus called Snug – thankfully unavailable to all music lovers.”
Snug was the first cassette tape that he and his fellow teenaged, white, suburban rappers produced under the name King G and the J Krew. As a side business for my record label, Slamdek, I ran a cassette duplication service. When the J Krew employed me to make their tapes, it was my first real exposure to working with Jason on a regular basis. It was trial by fire.
I had never really met people like him and Jeff Mueller before. Honestly, they were kind of difficult to tell apart in the early days of knowing them.
Jason and Jeff were the type of kids who adults would describe as “bouncing off the walls.” The proper number of cups of coffee versus the number of times one should bathe seemed to be reversed for them.
The way they joked with each other was so quick that you couldn’t tell if it just wasn’t funny or if you simply weren’t fast enough to get what they were talking about. It took quite a while before my stock thoughts of “what the…?” turned into an embrace of their madness.
Soon enough, Jason was off to art school in Baltimore and my doses of him began arriving in the form of hilarious and elaborately illustrated letters.
It was a comparatively slow, analog world we were living in then. Obviously before the future turned communication, art and music into drag-and-drop bits. Telephones were connected to the walls with wires, a mix tape took hours to assemble, and you had to wisely choose your long distance company because calling outside your city was expensive.
It was certainly long before I could type this on a train in Stockholm, Sweden, on a cassette-sized computer that can instantly play every song Jason and I ever recorded, which is also a telephone that’s connected to countless libraries of information, videos, news and commentary on any subject imaginable. At once it seems like a lifetime ago, yet as warm as last week.
Around the time Jason was coming back from college, my sister Greta shared an apartment in Deer Park with Robin Wallace. They had been high school classmates and had recently graduated into making music together in the bands Your Face and, later, Sister Shannon.
Greta and Robin were dating Joey Mudd and Jason Noble respectively. We were all friends in the same small circles. Joey was an alumnus of Cerebellum and soon a part of Crain. Jason was still bouncing off the walls.
It was on one night in this small apartment, packed with too many people, too much enthusiasm and too much caffeine that Joey berated Jason for being “about 110% loud.” This is quote I’ll never forget when I think of Jason.
Nothing in Jason’s life ever seemed to be done with an ordinary, reasonable level of energy. Jason Noble was always at full tilt in the direction of whatever it was he was doing.
When he drew something he used way too much ink. When he laughed at a picture of a monkey dressed up as a person – like the vintage calendar of them he had hanging on the kitchen wall – he visited every ridiculous detail in the photo. When he basked in the water glass scene from Jurassic Park, his enthusiasm betrayed the fact that he could see the big picture of the entire symphony of choreography that was taking place on screen. When he finally bought a house, it was a “compound.”
Most people know Jason for his music and it was also pushed to 110%.
When he had ideas for an important song, it would become an eleven-minute episodic journey. Most songs annoy or bore me within the first minute, but Jason and his collaborators could build the kind of song that, even if you had heard it a hundred times and you were late for work, you would still sit in your car out in the parking lot to hear it until the end. (Unless, of course, you were working at ear X-tacy – as Jason and I both did for several years – in that case you could put the record on in the store.)
Louisville musicians are infamous for their loud/quiet dynamics and the precision with which they switched between the two volumes. Jason’s bands explored this relentlessly, developing it with an organic personality that humanized it from its mechanical beginnings.
Whether bombastically with Rodan, elegantly with the Rachel’s or subtly with Per Mission – when he was loud you’d wonder how one person could make so much noise and when he was quiet you’d have to strain to hear him. Regardless, Jason’s bands always made the kind of music that you wanted to hug.
By the mid-’90s, when the two of us were looking for a house together, we had actually lived together before. In a house on Bardstown Road, shared with friends and lovers, we were just shouting distance from Zetti’s and the cheese loaf they regularly sold to dirty punk rockers.
However, the new new place we were seeking would grow to be our own 24-hour canvas.
I was excited about the prospect of living with someone who understood that creativity doesn’t follow regular business hours and that working on the same few details of a project for a week is not an absurd way to live. In fact, it’s the only way to live.
Before we found the blue house on Broadway, we looked at a number of other locations. I remember looking at an apartment one cool morning in Old Louisville. When leaving and shaking hands with the real estate agent, Jason said to him, “Okay, then. I just gotta run this by my parole officer and we’ll be in touch.” Exactly what the old guy wanted to hear.
Finding a freestanding house instead of an apartment was also important because it would offer a higher limit on the noise level.
The blue house turned out to be just what we were looking for. The other rental properties we looked at didn’t have the same rustic charm (“shitty disrepair”) of the Broadway house. That was important because it was inevitable that we’d make a mess.
Within weeks of moving in, our new nest was already stretched in a web of sound cables, amplifiers, Tascam multi-track recorders, guitars, beige Macintosh computers, Zip drives and scanners with SCSI interfaces, paper samples, Pantone books, tape, staples, notebooks and Sharpies. Name a mid-’90s tool for the production of music, Super 8 film editing or graphic design and you could probably trip over it in our house.
Seemingly overnight, the first album by Jason’s new band The Shipping News, Save Everything, was being recorded in that house, as was the Generation Rx album by my band, The Metroschifter.
The Broadway house was where Jason painstakingly perfected the ink and paper combinations for the Rachel’s magical album The Sea and the Bells. Revision after revision. That’s when he introduced me to Deepdene, his go-to typeface at the time. I still think of him every time I set words into it.
Jason began work on the first Per Mission record there, while I was interviewing people for K Composite Magazine and a short film about field hockey. A second house, two doors down at 1203, eventually became the home of Initial Records, a workshop in its own right where countless other projects were launched, including a split CD by both of our bands, Metroschifter and Shipping News, and their unique aluminum covers engraved with the band names by Chris Reinstatler. Our little blue house even played a cameo role in a 1999 episode of “This American Life”.
AND KNITTING AND KNITTING AND KNITTING
I feel like a great deal of the energy and creativity that was born and cultivated in those four rooms was fueled from an unlikely source (no, not the full tank of unleaded that I dispensed into my girlfriend Julie’s diesel Rabbit and then had to siphon out with Jason’s help).
If Jason and I had been sent a bill for each time we viewed or quoted a movie in the house, our tab for Pee-wee’s Big Adventure would have been through the roof. All our house guests were aware that there was no basement at the Alamo, that every night was a night “just like tonight… ten years ago,” and that every movie was “Great so far! Action-packed!”
Did we have any dreams? “Yeah, I’m all alone, rolling a big donut, and this snake wearing a vest…”
That movie infected our lives, our thought processes and humor.
One day while using the restroom in our house, I burst into laughter when I unexpectedly saw some of Jason’s artwork on the toilet paper package.
The package had a typical illustration of an “adorable” baby giggling atop clouds of soft, cottony toilet tissue. Jason had scrawled in Sharpie next to the baby’s face, “I’m so happy I could just shit!”
The whole time all of this fun stuff was happening in the house, that same nasty smell was coming out of the cabinets under the kitchen sink. So after multiple attempts over a number of months to locate the source and to disinfect and deodorize this perpetual spring of stank, Jason and I ultimately determined that the best solution was containment.
Equipped with plastic packing tape, we set forth to hermetically seal the steel cabinets in an attempt to prevent any further unpleasant wafting. Our operation was successful and the scented monster was subdued.
We always feared that we had only applied a temporary solution to a permanent problem and, in fact, perhaps the cabinets could explode at some point. It was always possible that the stench could seep through again. Jason was a huge fan of Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park), so we never forgot his words, “Nature finds a way.”
Perhaps, by the day of this writing, the seal on the cabinets has been cracked. Perhaps the cabinets have even been removed completely. If either of those days has come to pass, a new homeowner or contractor has found more than just an unbearable odor inside. They found a time capsule. A very smelly time capsule.
Before sealing that reek away for someone else, Jason and I wrote a note to the next person who would breathe in its sweet goodness. We scrawled something to the effect of: sorry you had to find this, but this is what we did, and why, and the date, and our signatures. Further, we posed for a Polaroid of the operation which we also sealed inside the steel box for a later day.
Unfortunately, the last time I saw Jason was more than a year ago. I was in Louisville visiting from Sweden where I moved in 2009. We met for coffee in the sunshine of the patio at the Heine Brothers’ on Bardstown Road at Eastern Parkway. It was a crisp, bright, breezy day.
I remember him looking stronger than when I had seen him before. I remember thinking that if it were me in his place, my attitude and demeanor wouldn’t be anywhere near as positive and warm as his. But I imagine that part of Jason is what connected him to the character of Dr. Ian Malcolm, who observed in protest, “Life will not be contained. Life breaks free, expands to new territories and crashes through barriers. Painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, well… There it is.”
When you live far away from Louisville, it’s easy to believe that everything in Kentucky will be the same when you come back. It’s easy to think at least that everything will be okay.
The friends you’ve always had will always be there and the important people who make you who you are won’t disappear. You always leave everyone when you leave thinking “you will be safe.” When something dreadful does happen, you truly realize how much you’ve been missing.
Jason helped shape my ideals and my personality. In sadness, when I am tempted to think a part of me is now gone, I’m reminded of how much of myself I owe to my time with him. As long as I am here, his contributions to me will not be gone and my memories of him will be as embraceable as his music is in my ears right now.
Of course, Jason taught me about functional things that I use every day – printer’s plates, electronic pre-press, and techniques for massaging notes and silences into special little places.
But what crushes me the most are the things he showed me just by being himself. Sincerity, humility, generosity, and whatever the opposite of personal ambition is. These are things I really needed to learn. These are things you can learn only by seeing them exhibited by someone you admire and trust.
If you are as talented and recognized as Jason, it could be so easy to believe that you deserve the good fortune and opportunity that comes with that. You could expect it, take it for granted, or use it as a source of pride or validation. I never saw any hint that he entertained any of those things.
He was always excited about the opportunities and accomplishments his bands and projects were able to achieve, and he was gracious, but he seemed disinterested or even amused by recognition. He ways seemed like he wanted to just keep making music and share as much of that experience as possible with friends.
What’s the point in making wonderful things if you’re not sharing the experience with people you love? What’s the point in doing something serious and intense if you don’t have a common laughter in your heart with your collaborators? What’s the point in doing anything if you don’t push it as far as you possibly can to make it as wonderful and complete, as meaningful and memorable and as it can possibly be?