There are eight million artist stories in the city. This is mine. This is “Rockport”.
I can almost hear the ghost of Edward Hopper chuckling softly just behind me. “I lived here. Just down the road. I painted here, painted some of my famous pieces of art. Pieces of art you will come to love and honor and dream about painting. One of these days. Not too far away in fact. But not today.”
It’s true. I lived in Truro, MA for nine months back in 2007/2008. With my son Spenser. While I ran an AIDS/HIV housing program just over there in Provincetown. Edward Hopper lived in Truro too – and painted there – for much of his life. Maybe a mile, maybe a mile and a half away. In time I came to know that. And I came to know his work, and be thrilled by it. Pieces like “Nighthawks” and “The Mansard Roof” and “Chop Suey” and “The Automat” and “The House By the Railroad”, and so many more. I have worn out library books looking at his paintings, and seen some in person in Portland and San Diego. But back then, living in Truro, I was simply oblivious to this painter, to painting – my future path.
It wasn’t the first time. In the fall of 1976 I moved from Salem, MA to Rockport, MA. I did this because I was – how do I say this politely – a drunk, and I knew a bunch of people in Salem and not one single person in Rockport, and back then my strong belief was that the world was unfair and often out to get me, and my friends didn’t really care about me, so later to everyone, I’m gone. This is the very kind of thinking alcoholics practice when they are alone, often at 3 a.m., ruminating about life in the big city. The world is out to get me. And so geographical cures make sense, and cashing in a crummy life for what undoubtably will be a better one. That’s how we think, when left to our own devices. So, as I was working at the time for the Tri-Town Council On Youth and Family Services, Inc. in Topsfield, MA, and since Salem and Rockport were about equi-distant away from Topsfield, I made the move. I found an apartment on Main Street in Rockport through a realty company. And I moved in.
Little did I know, just like I didn’t know 30 years later, that I was moving to a community of great art, of great artists. I would walk down the street and out onto Bearskin Neck because it stuck out a little in the ocean and it was cool to walk out there. I scarely noticed all the galleries and art studios on The Neck. These people had all painted there, many had lived there – Winslow Homer, Cecilia Beaux, Childe Hassam, Mark Rothko, Frank Duveneck, Aldo Hibbard, Emile Gruppe. Some of the most famous painters in our history – this country’s art history – in a place regarded as one of the greatest painting colonies in the United States, maybe even the world.
I did not know. I was more interested in the fact that Rockport was a “dry town”, no alcohol sold in it, and that I needed to stop in Gloucester on the way home to stock up on my Pabst Blue Ribbon and Tango and Tanqueray. My apartment had electric heat. Everyone knew electric heat was expensive. I didn’t make much money. So I took to buying bunches of cut wood, which I would split further in the back yard, and heating the apartment with the fireplace, holding back on the electric heat. When it got too cold to split wood out back I carried the chopping block up to the living room, and for the rest of the winter split wood there. More 3 a.m. thinking.
It should not have come as a suprise when there was a knock on my door in May of 1977. It was a woman I did not know and she asked me to come downstairs with her. We walked into the front of the building – I lived above a row of stores – and into her art gallery. Who knew? There were paintings all over the floor, the glass smashed in most of them from their fall. My apartment – my living room – was directly above. The woman asked me what I could tell her about this. I said I simply didn’t know. Perhaps an earthquake? I left and went back upstairs to my living room and had a beer. Buddy Cushman – destroyer of art.
The funny thing was that I was never charged for the electric heat. Or maybe the funny thing was that I got on a plane and moved to California a month later. Or maybe the funny thing was that eight years later I put down the Pabst Blue Ribbon and the gin and tonics. Perhaps the funniest thing is that 33 years later I began walking down my artist path, having passed through the great works in Rockport and Truro oblivious in one way or another.
Or maybe none of it is funny at all. Just how it was versus how it is. I drank, now I paint. I split wood above an art gallery, now I feel like the way you are supposed to feel in church when I’m in an art gallery. The Doobie Brothers sang this line in one of their songs: “Baby what’s your hurry, to be lonely one more night?” The Dave Clark Five sang this one: “I’m feeling glad all over.” And so it was. And so it is.