Ed Loomis, Novelist and Professor


From Dick:

I  am standing on the stage in Campbell Hall in the fall of 1970. There is an enormously bright spotlight on me. I am wearing only a white hospital gown. I cup my hand behind my ear and in my best radio announcer’s voice proclaim:

“Noggin, Crayon, and Dry Paint present A Legal Assembly!”

I turn around to leave center stage, revealing my bare bottom. The audience roars.

Why am I doing this? Because Ed Loomis asked me to.

I first met this remarkable man in the fall of, I think, 1967. It was at the long table in the art-filled home of Frank Goad (whom you will hear from momentarily). Ed, who wrote and published a number of novels over the course of his life, was a professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

He helped me a great deal in my ragged life. When after five years on the East Coast I returned to Santa Barbara, he put me up in his house. He introduced me to Glen Wade in the Department of Engineering, who gave me a part-time job as an editor of research papers, and then he introduced me to Kathryne Cornwell Smith, who provided me with living quarters in return for a nominal amount of help. (It was supposed to be a temporary arrangement but continued for more than 17 years.) When Ed was overtaken by sudden illness in the middle of the night, I drove him to the emergency room at Cottage Hospital. When I had a heart attack, he drove me. Our give and take, take and give, went on for decades.

When Ed wanted to promote some action, he would loudly speak: “All out on the road to Smolensk!” Frank says, “Ed was the only warrior poet I’ve ever known.”

There is so very much to say and so little space to say it. Now, more from Frank:

In 1961, I took a creative writing course at UCSB. The professor was Ed Loomis, an imposing mesomorph with closely cropped hair and a Hitler moustache. He was intimidating because he was forthcoming in his evaluations of students’ writings. It was illuminating, after all the rather hazy crits by my art professors. I began to get serious about writing, just to placate this guy. I wrote a short story with this opening sentence: “The oars opened the green scum over the black water.”

He was reading aloud to the class, looked up, and said directly to me (although the things he read aloud were supposed to be anonymous): “You’ll be lucky to write an opening sentence that good in the next 10 years.” It turns out he was wrong. I never again wrote an opening sentence that good.

He took me and three other students up to Berkeley for a writers’ conference. We arrived late. The other conferees were already seated at a large oak table in a large, sunlit room. Ed immediately took over the alpha position, not an easy thing, considering the conferees, among whom were Christopher Isherwood and other well-known writers. He read aloud my short story that had just been published. It was a very short story, not a very good one, but the best I had. His bass-rumble reading was dramatic and sensitive. It evoked responses from the conferees that astounded me. They actually loved it, and attributed meanings to it that never occurred to me. Of course, I acted as if they were all incredibly prescient, and I took credit for everything. “You’re an artist,” Ed said later. “Take credit for everything you do. Take the blame, too.”

Then I graduated and lost contact with Ed for a few years, until my friend the artist and writer Gerry Haggerty brought Ed up to my studio on Mountain Drive, where I was working on my first solo museum show. Immediately we hit it off again, reestablished contact, and developed a friendship that was less teacher/student than before. In addition to drawing and painting, I was mixing sounds to create what I thought of as audio art, using high-quality tape recorders. Dick Johnston (see above), an audio engineer, lived close by. He helped me learn tape splicing, mixing techniques, equalization, and much more.

Dick, Ed, and I came up with an audio/light-show/musical exhibition/concert called A Legal Assembly. This was just after the bank burning in Isla Vista. Assemblies were illegal, according to the cops.

This was so successful (local notoriety and a rave review in Rolling Stone) that Ed and I continued collaborating for 50 more years. We wrote short stories together, a novel, and more audio symphonies, such as Zendada and Utopia. We had a voluminous correspondence in snail-mail spanning decades. We wrote and published art criticism together, going to see shows in L.A. and then writing about them.

He was first my teacher, then a surrogate father, then a collaborator, best friend, competitor, cohort, coconspirator. But most of all, he was more full of life than anyone I ever knew. And he savored that life. My favorite sentence of his is: “Life is delicious; what else can compare?”


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