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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