Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Chris Jensen, 1956-2023

Rest in Peace

(July 15, 2023) - Saddened and shocked to hear the news that Christopher Jensen has died. A true Baltimore character, Chris was a multi-talented guy - a working class hero and craftsman beloved by arty bohemians and blue-collar tradesmen alike. (Be sure to check out The Tradesmen, the documentary by his filmmaker cousin Richard Yeagley that features Chris hard at work plying his trade!)

He was essential OG crew for early Atomic TV (along with Kelly Conway, Melissa Darwin and Todd Stachowski) – a guy who not only could hold the camera while Scott Huffines and I made asses of ourselves, but actually keep it in focus. He was a total pro and (like Adolf Kowalski and Dave Wilcox), a big, charismatic personality, the likes of which we'll never see again. He was very self-deprecating, as reflected in his humor. One needed only to see the Jensen Plumbing van pull up on the street with its Tom Chalkley-designed cartoon of a wrench-clutching plumber bending over to show off his butt crack with the slogan "Your Poop Is My Bread and Butter" to realize that this was not your dad's Roto-Rooter Man! All Jensen Plumbing memorabilia - the business cards, the refrigerator magnets, the t-shirts (I wish I still had my "Your Poop Is My Bread and Butter" shirt!) were and are collector's items, especially the Christmas cards he had specially made by his artist pal Tom Chalkley.

The Jensen Plumbing Man (art by Tom Chalkley)

Everything I know about camerawork I learned from the self-trained Chris, and I used to edit titles in his basement where he had a very effective, old school analog setup (two Panasonic S-VHS AG-1970s! I gave him one of mine when his died, as Chris was an avid fan of "cuts-only" editing, even when he upgraded to fancy digital software), the same setup he used to edit Laure Drogoul's 14Karat Cabaret TV show with her (he also did camerawork for her because he loved crazy Art and Music of any sort!).

Good lord the man loved his art. Every time he did a plumbing job for me, he was willing to trade his time for art – he especially craved the framed R. Crumb “Tommy Toilet” poster I had hanging in the Porcelain Palace and the Yellow Submarine Toilet Seat an obsessive library fan gave me when I got married. I wish I had given them to him now.

He also helped me clean up the clutter in my old Townhouse Shabby in Rodgers Forge. “Tommy, I deal in shit & grime every day, so when a plumber tells you that you need to clean up your act, heed the advice!” Of course, he was the Felix Unger of plumbers, a neatnik who always obsessively cleaned up his work afterwards, just as he obsessively cleaned up the litter around his block in Charles Village.

He was one of a kind, the Joker Wild in the card deck, a loveable nut and loyal friend. I wish we had kept up more. The last time we saw Chris was December 2018 at Joe Squared, where he was out to support a show featuring The Jennifers and ex-Slickee Boy Marshall Keith. He had a cane (years of hard labor had taken their toll on his back and knees), but despite losing a step or two, he was as gregarious and energetic as usual. Time will not flush away memories of what a treat it was to know Chris Jensen.

Be sure to check out Scott’s Huffines’ wonderful appreciation of Chris Jensen on the Baltimoreorless site, which is full of great photos of Chris. Baltimore IS less without Chris. 

As Scott says:

How do you describe Chris Jensen? He was a community organizer and community activist, art collector and artist, plumber and model, unofficial mayor of Charles Village, Atomic TV cameraman… he was a pro and an essential part of what made our little-watched public access program Atomic TV so great and we'll miss him. The last time I saw him (pre-rona) he brought me a case of Bud and I drank it like it was the 1990s at Memory Lane. The thing that impressed me most about Chris was how engaged he was with the community. Baltimore is losing too many cool people too soon – at least the memories survive.

Chris Jensen perched on his throne (photo by Chris Myers)

Related links:

"Chris Jensen, Rest in Peace" (Baltimoreorless)
"Chris the Plumber Turns 50" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
"Close Encounters of the Turd Kind" (Accelerated Decrepitude)
"Everyman Art Collector" (Baltimoreorless)
"Underdog Lady Encounters the Negativity Scene" (YouTube)
"Jensen Plumbing commercial for Atomic TV" (YouTube)

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Thursday, July 13, 2023

Tom & Amy Remember Adolf Kowalski

He called himself The Living Legend," but since his family didn't publish an obituary (it's, um, complicated), it's up to his friends, lovers and bandmates to insure that he is remembered and that his legacy (good and/or bad, depending on one's point of view) lives on in some form. There's the music, of course; he may be only cremains but the tunes remain...but more than that are the memories gathered here, there and everywhere on social media. Ross Haupt/"Adolf Kowalski" touched many, many lives in Baltimore and across the globe. He certainly touched the lives of me and my wife Amy and was always, without fail, nice to us. Following are our thoughts about his untimely passing from renal failure on March 21, 2023. He was 63 years old.


Tom Warner (aka "Tommy Gunn," friend and co-founding bandmate in Thee Katatonix)

 March 21, 2023: I heard the news today, oh boy...the King is dead.

Ross Haupt, aka "Adolf Kowalski"

45 years ago, Katie Glancy and I met the young Ross Haupt in the Towson State University Glen, where Katie and he concocted a plan to start a rock and roll band. I came in as part of a package deal with Katie (kind of like a multiplayer MLB trade) because I wanted to go out with her and lied and said I could play drums because, well, how hard could it be in a punk band? (I hadn't yet heard Rat Scabies - dummy me!). Who knew then that Katie & the Katatonix, the fledgling group soon to be rechristened Thee Katatonix, would blossom and grow (like a fungus) and that Ross - soon to be rechristened Adolf Kowalski - would soldier on through the decades and additional bands (All About Suzie, Blunt Force Trauma, etc), never abandoning his career and lifestyle aspirations of being a rock star and Living Legend. Well, he is no longer living but the legend lives on - warts (there were plenty) and all.

The Heroic Trio? Thee Original Katatonix, 1979 (illustration by David Wilcox)

Katie Katatonic, Tommy Gunn  & Adolf Kowalski

Adolf was always fronting the image, but beneath the hubris there was a guy who would do anything for those he loved. He was my confidant in those early band days, the keeper of secrets I'll take to my grave (and vice versa). He once confided, "The old days were best, man"...They were, but they weren't made to last, not at the pace he set. A charmer, a harmer, a lover, a hater, a changer and a re-arranger -  Ross/Adolf was a complex character who found Better Living Thru Chemistry, even when his body disagreed. RIP, old friend. I know you'll be pissed at missing Svengoolie each weekend, but what the hell ya gonna do? Indeed, that was the question when you became financially independent and stopped working: what the hell ya gonna do? There was dope and booze, of course, but given your creative spirit, that wasn't enough. So you poured your energies into some "venture capital" projects, like releasing Katatonix CDs, recording other artists you liked, financing the ill-fated Coffin Cuties magazine and clothing line, going to lots of concerts, and so on. And supporting any friends that needed a helping hand. That's why Robyn Webb once quipped that, while "Adolf Kowalski" could be one of the biggest a-holes on earth, Ross Haupt was the best friend anyone who experienced that side of him could ask for.

The old days were best, man!

Ah, more memories of those good old days...The early Kats did everything together and saw a lot of shows en masse: Blondie/Rockpile at Merriweather, Elvis Costello at Georgetown, The Ramones everywhere. One of the best was Devo at Painter's Mill, December 29, 1978 - when Mark Mothersbaugh came into the audience playing a wireless guitar, Adolf grabbed his ass and tore this piece off his yellow jumpsuit. I treasured it and had it laminated, apparently using a TSU photo laminator!

Mark Mothersbaugh's Devo suit

When the Cramps played the Marble Bar, we all went and I recall Lux Interior leaning over the stage to swipe Adolf's sunglasses (worn, as the song goes, after dark) and put them on his head. Adolf was touched. 

I'll never forget Adolf picking us up at my parent's house to go to the Preakness in May 1980. He showed up in a full-length blue polka-dot raincoat with a cowboy hat and dark sunglasses and announced that he had just dropped acid for the occasion. ("You gonna be alright with him driving?" my sister Nancy asked. "Sure, what could go wrong?" I naively replied.) We sat in the kitchen watching John Lydon and PiL wreaking havoc on Dick Clark's American Bandstand. It set the tone for the day.

Then there were the infamous shows in D.C. At Madam's Organ in Adam's Morgan we debuted "I Hate D.C." to a less than receptive audience (go figure!) in a shitshow of a performance that found us all suffering from Montezuma's Revenge after our suspect pre-show dinner; we couldn't wait to get off the stage and back to the grimy bathroom. And our show at Scandals caused a riot that shut the place down. But trouble was already brewing before the gig when Adolf - driving Katie, me and new recruit Steevie Squeegee (Mike Milstein) - around Georgetown, sarcastically complimented some Marines on their crewcuts - the irate grunts chased us around for blocks. Not done with antagonizing the Armed Services, on the same trip Adolf also drove by a midnight screening of The Empire Strikes Back and, seeing a line of people waiting to get in, shouted out his spoiler "Darth Vader is Luke's father!" Again, the audience was less than receptive. But that was Adolf. No matter where you were, you had to be ready for an adventure.

Front Page Story: Adolf's "Boogie Nights" profile (City Paper, 1981)

Of all the achievements in his tragically short life - founding Towson's first (and Baltimore's 2nd) punk band, backing Edith Massey, touring SanFran and the UK, playing the Mudd Club, running for Guv'nor, releasing a cult LP (DIVINE MISSION) that goes for hundreds of bucks in Europe, winning those Battle of the Bands contests, the media accolades (who can forget Pam Purdy's "Boogie Nights" profile for the Baltimore City Paper?) - I think Adolf may have been most proud of winning the Dundalk Eagle's "Best Chili in Dundalk" award last year on “21222 Day.” (Dundalk celebrated a once-in-a-century date that Saturday, when the date, abbreviated as 2/12/22, matched Dundalk’s main ZIP code, 21222.) Of course, we “rocked” the vote (much as years ago we got “Katie Katatonic” elected “Homecoming Queen” by canvasing the Towson State campus with “Vote for the Punk” flyers!) It made the front page with the accompanying photo. Too bad he cannot defend his title.

Flanked by event organizers Peggy Sue Oliphant (left) and Will Feur (right), Adolf Kowalski takes home the cash prize for winning the “21222 Day” Dundalk chili cook-off (Dundalk Eagle photo by Dan Belson)

Kathleen Glancy Milstein (nee Katie Katatonic) just reminded me of another Adolf Kowalski achievement in his CV: He won the 1977 "Best Punk Costume" prize at the Iggy Pop/Ramones/Crack the Sky show at the Civic Center. This was before either of us had yet met him! But even then he was "in it to win it."

Best Punk Costume winner, 1977

His look changed constantly over the years from that initial bad boy punk style, but the attitude always remained the same. 

Adolf, hair-bent for leather

Adolf, "philosopher king and the boy most likely to" (City Paper photo by Jennifer Bishop)

I particularly liked his Prince Valiant look when the Kats went into their psychedelic flower-power phase.

Before he was King...Adolf as Prince Valiant, at a 1980s New Year's Eve Party…

Adolf, you left us too soon and took away all those great memories of "the good old days." I will miss your anecdotes, your wit, and your sense of humor. But hey, you went out on your terms, living the high life and going for the gusto. Living fast and, well, dying young. It’s kinda cliche, but it’s  “The Rock ‘n’ Roll Way.”


Amy Warner (nee Davis, nee Linthicum; friend and former Dundalk High schoolmate)

Ross Haupt before the transformation…into Adolf Kowalski

Way back in the Dark Ages when I was in high school, I was friends with this guy Ross. He was likeable, kinda pudgy, quite smart. We liked the same music. That's how you bonded with people in those days. He took me to my first rock concert (Kiss), and my second (Queen). Then I went off to college in southern Maryland and we lost touch. Then either through a chance encounter or a phone call, I forget which, we were communicating again. He told me he was now calling himself Adolf Kowalski and fronting a band, Thee Katatonix, and he invited me to see them at the Marble Bar. I didn't drive back then, and I actually took public transportation to go and check them out. But alas, something happened and they didn't play that night. That was my first visit to the Marble. I did see them play soon enough, and was amazed at the transformation of Ross into this gaunt, theatrical and somewhat threatening persona. Adolf was always pissing people off, and would say and do things that would make me cringe. He could be quite rude. Yet he was always so generous to me, and to Tom. I remember a few years ago he plucked us out of the crowd at The Damned show, and put us where he was, with the unobstructed view. He offered to send us on a honeymoon... I wouldn't have met Tom Warner (Kats' drummer), or my first husband [Mark Linthicum, aka “Mark Harp” or “Harpo”], or any of my Marble friends if I didn't know I will miss Adolf; I will miss Ross. R.I.P. my friend.

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