Last week Frank Cook died. He was a stepfather of sorts. A stepfather of sorts because he and my mum weren’t ever married, so I guess he was more of a defacto stepfather, or something. He had been the partner of mum’s since around 1995 and their relationship was nothing short of exceptional, inspiring and occasionally confounding to me.
Frank was a fiercely intelligent individual who read constantly and wrote poetry, stories, polemic, ripostes and countless letters over the years. He joined political organisations, ran an Anarchist bookstore, dodged the draft, assumed pseudonyms and personas and built two of his own houses. He is the biological father of four children – Sean, to his first wife; and later Conan, Adric and Karna-Mia to his second wife. When he and my mum first met, he was recently widowed and iving in his second house on Kemiss Hill (outside of Yankalilla). Being a young teenager whose parents had recently broken up I was initially intimidated by this man – handsome, charming, erudite, educated, intelligent and dangerously upfront. My notion of human relationships had already been upended by mum and dad’s acrimonious split and the last thing I needed was this guy courting my mum. These were confusing times.
I eventually got to know Frank over the next couple of years and discovered we shared common interests in music (Dylan, Leonard Cohen), politics and a bit of literature. He was always supportive of my early creative endeavours (mainly songwriting) and was always constructive and thoughtful in his observations of my work. In recent years, he and mum regularly had attended electro-acoustic performances and art installations of mine and I always found Frank thoroughly engaged and enthusiastic about what I was currently doing with my art practice.
Aside from their shared interests, Frank and mum ran a business during the late 90’s – The Piranha Republic Salvage Yard, out of the former Myponga Cheese Factory and later the former Myponga Bank. These were great times. I often visited on weekends away from uni in the city – hanging out, working in the store and perusing the goods – including an ancient NASA computer module that I could never get to work. I didn’t see Frank or mum very much between 2001 to 2007 when they moved from Normanville to Lismore, in upper New South Wales. During this period they ran a series of secondhand bookstores (The Book Box) around the town and when I would occasionally visit I would often find the house festooned with walls of books and had a great time hanging out with Frank drinking coffee and dissing John Howard/Dubya in the store. Later in 2008, they moved back to South Australia to look after Frank’s ailing mother and during this time set up the final (physical) incarnation of The Book Box in Semaphore. It did as well as the other incarnations, but in early 2011 they decided to migrate the store online and head north to the South Australian regional town of Peterborough.
In mid-2011 Frank was diagnosed with lung cancer and life wasn’t quite the same after this. This was the first time for me that the reality of a parental generation dying was made real and I didn’t quite know what to make of it. Shortly after I received the news from mum, I took a bus south to Normanville with a hiking bag and camped for three nights in Normanville Caravan Park, during the middle of a freezing winter. Upon reflection, the only real method to this apparent madness was an overbearing sense of nostalgia that this news had triggered and a desire to reconnect with the region that I spent most of my life growing up in. Looking back now though, it resembles a fairly misanthropic reconnection – a ‘crisis mission’ to make field recordings, listen to Dylan on an iPod and get drunk in my tent.
Now following Frank’s death, I don’t necessarily feel inclined to repeat the same trajectory though the notion has crossed my mind a couple of times over the past week. When Frank was given notice nearly two years ago it hurt like hell and my initial instinct was to counter the feelings of confusion and dread with a dramatic escapist retreat to where my identity and a considerable sum of my memories reside. Now in the wake of his death, it’s hurt even more and there’s a sizable void that no solo sojourn is going to fill anytime soon. Instead, I’m trying to tend to my incredibly stoic mother and get on with my life.
I loved this man. He was remarkable, inspiring, thoughtful and I’m incredibly sad he’s gone.