Bill Holm is a Minnesota writer. A poet mostly, but also a musician it seems. Bill Holm was Minnesota through and through, except for the Icelandic part of him. Bill Holm was someone I only learned about in the last year.
Bill Holm’s memorial was held last night at the Fitzgerald in downtown St. Paul, and a good time was had by all. The evening was also a fundraiser for the Bill Holm Memorial Fund.
By all accounts, you couldn’t meet the man and not be amazed at something. Someone made a remark how spending five minutes with Bill always made him feel as if his hair might catch on fire. Apparently Bill was explosive, excitable and full of life. He was often referred to as large and “pink”, or if he was particularly excited, “red.”
There were writers, poets, musicians, singers, old friends, new friends and the literati elite. The whole evening began with a special toast of Bill’s favorite drink: ice-cold Icelandic vodka. 700 shots at once . Skol! Then there were readings, stories, songs and recordings of Bill himself.
There were two things…no, make that three things, that stood out from that evening.
First was Bill’s long-time friend, Robert Bly. Who would’ve thought that an 82-year-old, hippie, beat poet would become the highlight of the evening. Flanked by a guitar player on his right and bongo-like musician on his left, he read pieces honoring his friend, including an original piece he wrote just for the occasion. His hands swaying to the rhythm of the piece and the music, encouraging the drummer to “Come on! Give it to me now!” his words flowed out with energy and humor and love. Everyone in attendance realized we were witnessing a truly unique performance.
Then there was Bill’s friend who told us of their last visit and conversations. Last year Bill had won a major award, which included a hefty check. We heard how just a month before he died, Bill, who had spent a lifetime as a teacher, was exclaiming how excited he was to finally devote himself full time to his writing. I gasped. I moaned. All that time, working to that point, and the door closes.
Finally, there was the New Orleans funeral band. Out they come, taking their place on stage, playing a somber dirge. They wind down off the stage, the house lights rise, they fill the aisle of the historic theater. Bill’s face appears on a large screen, filling the stage, giving the audience a smirky smile out of the corner of his eyes. The song ends. A moment of silence, a smattering of applause and off they go! Jazzing it up, they kick the music up and they wind their way out of the house, out the lobby and the audience follows. By the time we make it there, the crowd has overflowed from the sidewalk and fills most of the street, blocking traffic. The cool spring evening is warmed by the excitement and energy of the friends of Bill, who gathered on and danced and remembered.
I wish I had met the man earlier, more often. He seemed to be bigger than life.
The whole evening will be aired MPR.