Contributing writer Jason Harris pays tribute to Las Vegas indie rock artist and beloved friend
Blair Dewane died September 14. The morning after, I was driving on the 215 as dreary clouds filled the sky. I hoped rain would break out, as I often do. Instead, from behind the dull cloud formation, rays of light began to poke through, creating a mesmerizing pattern. I thought to myself, “Blair, is that you?”
Then, the next moment, I thought how Blair would likely sarcastically respond, had he known I was asking if he was creating the fractal beams in the sky. “Yes, Jason. Once I died, I figured I should hide behind these clouds just so I could create some weird pattern in the sky. Just for you.”
A week later, I’m still figuring out just how immense this loss is. Facebook post after Facebook post has brought comfort to friends, family and fans showing just how much Blair meant to so many of us.
Again, knowing Blair’s wicked sense of humor, I believe he would have appreciated the sentiments, but probably would comment in return, “This is nice and all, but you guys know I kind of screwed the pooch on this one, right?” He would have called the way he died “sadly predictable” or “obvious in the most lame way” or something else delightfully dark and self-deprecating.
I knew Blair first in a professional setting, writing about his music for years. He had already established himself as a downtown party king with his initial band on the scene, The Skooners. By the time I started writing about him, he had transitioned to his next band, Rusty Maples, whose indie rock sound still brings me back to exact times and places.
I can see packed audiences at The Bunkhouse singing along to the call and response break in “Renee, Mrs. Madero, Jesus and The Mountain Tops.” I can see Blair doing his floppy jog hop-along as he breaks into the opening riff of “Pockets.” I can see fans bop up and down to “Runner” in a sweaty Beauty Bar. I can see a crowd surrounding me in the back room of The Griffin where Rusty Maples gave me the opportunity to open for them, allowing me to become the first comedian to perform at the venue.
At that time, there were no chairs in The Griffin. The backroom wasn’t as pristine as it would become in later years. The crowd semi-circled around me and I remember the first thing I said was, “I feel like I’m in Fight Club and I have to joke my way out.”
This might not seem like much, but you gotta remember that time, that place, and what we were trying to do.
Back then, as Fremont East was just developing as ground zero for the Las Vegas indie arts scene, it didn’t matter where any of us played or if the settings were properly equipped. We were all just trying to be heard and get our voices out there. We were expressing ourselves in ways that we didn’t know would work or not, but the risk was part of the reward. We were creating something on our own and creating something together.
Blair created so much good art. So much good music. After The Killers, Imagine Dragons and Panic At The Disco!, it seemed only a matter of time before another Vegas band broke big. Rusty Maples were one of three I would have bet on, but what separated them from the others was the live show. The energy was palpable and pulsated throughout the community. The groundswell of support they received, they earned. They packed houses based on merit and the promise of rock ’n’ roll.
They played all the festivals out here. They toured. They played SXSW (South By Southwest). They opened for some major acts. And then, like that entire rock scene, they just kind of slipped away.
Blair shared other music with me after that. I loved an electronic project he was working on that I think he performed only once or twice. He was excited about what he was experimenting with in the past few years and I would have gladly bet on him again to break through in one way or another. He was too talented for me not to be a believer.
He was also the funniest karaoke host I’ve ever seen, just not giving any f**ks about offending his patrons. If he thought the singer sucked, he’d hilariously rip the sh*t out of them. He was the reason to go to “Blair-aoke.”
In that way, we were simpatico. He recommended my trivia night to the venue he worked at on the Strip, partially I think because he liked the fact that I, too, eviscerate those who support my nights, if they get out of pocket.
He DJ’d for me once at The Trivia Party and while he did fine spinning music, his bigger value was on the mic, just crushing participants and making me laugh about the questions I asked.
Blair supported my art and I supported his art. In a publication I was writing for a decade ago, I conceived a cool format to spotlight local musicians. It was called Supergroup. I’d ask one of Vegas’s best musical artists to put together a hypothetical band of other local talents to cover a famous song. He was a natural pick for me to be a test subject for this format.
Years later, as I was going through a custody battle, I wrote a very dark, comedic web series. Blair, and his wife Randi, let me shoot the bulk of the series at their house. Why? Because we wanted each other to keep pushing, to keep expressing ourselves, to get there somehow. Art made us feel good: feel good about ourselves, about each other, and about a dark outlook on the world at large.
It’s hard to measure this loss because of those intertwining elements—art and friendship, friendship and art. I wanted to see how he would pivot and push his talents going forward. Maybe he would have been that “ponytail guy” who hung out at wine bars and played original tunes as he got fatter and older and grayer. Maybe he would have written songs for other artists and struck it rich. Maybe he would have caught us all by surprise and done something else completely. I would have bet on him there, too.
In a screenplay I co-wrote last year, the main character owns a pool cleaning business (as Blair once did). I wrote a character named Blair who worked for the company. He wears big, over-ear headphones and never speaks. He shows up at the city trivia championship in a three-piece suit. I told Blair I gave him one line in the movie. He was happy about that and didn’t want any more.
The last time I saw Blair was at a BBQ he threw at his house. The day after he died, I had lunch with a mutual friend of ours who recounted the story of the BBQ, according to Blair. He made a bunch of chicken sandwiches (true) that my kiddo and I crushed (debatable). Then, as we were leaving, he pulled a giant ribeye off the grill (true). Even though I knew it needed to rest, I cut a bit off the edge, just to try it (true). Then, I went back and cut it down the middle to get more for me and my kid (laughably false!), even though we had already crushed those chicken sandwiches (still debatable). Also, I should mention, according to Blair, he was making the steak for his brother as a birthday present. Mind you, there was no brother at this BBQ, no mention of him or his birthday.
I think Blair was happy I cut that edge off the steak. It gave the beginning of a story—a story he could tell his way that would make me look like an a**hole.
A lot of people said Blair Dewane was an a**hole, but a likable a**hole. That’s the kind of a**hole he was. But, to me, he wasn’t an a**hole at all. He was just full of a**hole-ish-ness. You know, the best kind of a**hole.