JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 22: This Ain’t Goodbye: Edward “Creagan” Charles McConnell 1958-2015. Podcasts can be in-the-moment reflections. But there are some things that will probably take me the rest of my life to grasp. My friendship with Creagan McConnell will probably be one of those things..
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- music: Social Blindness – 22K by Smart Sound Music
- All images and screen grabs by Joe Bustillos ©2014 and ©2019
- image: Post-Laughlin Weekend with Creagan on Guitar by Jennifer Bispo, August 1994
- image: Bird Cage NYE Revelers, January 1995
- image: Joe and Creagan at Josie & Ben’s 50th Anniversary by Matt Bustillos, November 1999
JBB’s Final Thoughts, episode 22: This Ain’t Goodbye: Edward “Creagan” Charles McConnell 1958-2015
Joe Bustillos, here.
I began this podcast almost a year ago based on the notion I got from my favorite sci-fi shows where, at the end of a busy day saving the universe, the hero would leave either a video or voice journal. I loved the notion of just switching on the camera on my iPad and giving an in-the-moment reflection. Truth be told, I tend to really think things through for long periods before I’m willing to post my thoughts. And the deeper the subject the longer it takes for me to deliberate. So much for in-the-moment reflections… And then there are some things that will probably take me the rest of my life to grasp. My friendship with Creagan McConnell will probably be one of those things.
We became friends in the third-grade in 1966, at first because I recognized that this blonde kid on my bus was also in my class. Great stories often start with similar unassuming beginnings. Who knew that just saying, “I know you” would result in a friendship that would span the following 49-years. Well, it wasn’t a solid 49-years. There were more than a few gaps when we lost touch, but when we reconnected, we’d grab a beer and just pick-up where we left off.
Cub scouts, altar-boys, boy scouts, GI Joes, football, high school, and discovering girls… we went through it all together. My mom used to say that Creagan was the older brother that I always wanted. I don’t know that I wanted an older brother (especially considering how we continually teased my younger brother), but it was so much better to have someone to talk to when going through it all. Even when we managed to like the same girl, somehow it turned into another connection in our friendship instead of turning into an ugly competition. You stay friends long enough and things can get a tad complicated but I guess we were just a bit weird that way.
After high school I went away to university and Ed changed his name to Creagan and explored his artistic side, taking drawing and design classes at Saddleback College. There was a ten-year gap but we reconnected after the ten-year reunion. I was going through a divorce and he took it upon himself to get me out of my apartment for many a “happy hour” that tended to last long into the early morning. During one of these “Rescue Joe” sessions, we ended up at a bar in Irvine and while standing near the dance floor we noticed that there was a bridal shower happening across the way and that one of the older participants looked like she was taking it upon herself to pair up the girls for dancing with the single guys scattered around the room. Out of the corner of my eye I saw that she was heading in our direction, but didn’t have time to warn Creagan when I quickly excused myself to the bathroom and selfishly escaped the would-be matchmaker. Creagan was matched with a young woman who wasn’t even part of the bridal party but was visiting from Thousand Oaks. It turned out that the young woman, Tami, recognized me because she had gone to school with both of us in Mission Viejo (but her family moved before graduation). After that random encounter, we all hit it off and I briefly dated Tami’s friend, Diane. Some time after Creagan’s marriage fell apart Tami went from being our friend to being his girlfriend.
Creagan bought a condo next to the Mission Viejo golf course and some time later began DJ-ing for KSBR, the Saddleback college radio station where he became much more conversant in blues and jazz. His place became Party-Central and we killed more brain cells than I care to admit to. The rest of Orange County or Mission Viejo might have rolled up its streets at sunset, but that’s not how things went where ever Creagan happened to be. Those were fun times. But they weren’t always great for the relationships we were in. Sorry Tami.
In 1994 Creagan decided to move to Arizona, initially to help his folks build their home. Alas, the home-building project fell through, but he decided to stay in Arizona and made Prescott his home. And he really seemed to be at home there, making new friends and continuing his woodwork and art.
From the first few years he was in Prescott, I have very fond memories of a few New Years Eves at the Bird Cage on Whiskey Row and drunk dialing our New Year’s cheers to a certain brunette we’ve known since Junior High. It’s kind’a amazing that we didn’t get into more trouble than we did. Lots of rock and roll, beer and tequila. But it wouldn’t be entirely honest to not acknowledge that the distance and sometimes inconsistent communication put a strain on the friendship. Such is life when you have two very stubborn people who’ve known each other their whole lives and don’t always see things the same way.
But as stubborn as Creagan could be he was also always there when I needed help. In the mid-80s to mid-90s he was always there with his pickup and amazing packing skills when I needed help moving, which I seemed to do quite a bit during that era. Even after he moved, whenever he was back in town working on a job, we’d end up at the Blue Cafe on Fridays and enjoy some amazing blues. But overall we just didn’t see nearly as much of each other over the last 20 years. But when I needed someone to talk to, he was always there. And I didn’t make it particularly easy on him, in as much as I stubbornly stayed on the path that was causing the need to talk to someone in the late hours of the night. I know it was hard on him, but I wasn’t ready to hear what he had to say.
Then he had an accident and fell off a ladder that resulted in a serious leg break that resulted in the loss of that leg and the health issues that followed him the rest of his life. I had my own medical challenges in 2012-2013. Whatever had transpired before, we reconnected and bonded over coming back from having our mobility and independence taken from us. I remember telling him, after retiring my cane and walker that we’d both been given a second chance and a little preview of what it’s like should we be lucky enough to live to a ripe old age and that the challenge was to delay returning to the cane and walker as long as possible. The last long conversation we had was when I was flying back to Florida and was stuck in Atlanta for New Year’s Eve. We reminisced about those tequila-filled New Year’s Eves at the Bird Cage. He told me that the Bird Cage had burned down. Those were fun times, but those places no longer existed and the fun times were now just shared memories and a hard to explain grin. I never imagined that after just a handful of months of having that conversation that he would no longer be there to share the silly conspiratorial grin.
Speaking of conspiratorial grins… one evening in 1987, Creagan came over to my apartment and noticed that I’d set up my mic, guitar and drum-machine to a small 4-track mixer/recorder and we proceeded to make up songs about the bikini girls from the Sports Illustrated calendar hanging on my wall, and about my studio apartment and even a meditative tune called Southwest Desert Rising Sun. At some point I pressed the record button. Yeah, I’m glad that I recorded what would later become known as the “Creagan and the Cryers Sessions,” but it’s not something that many can listen to for more than a few minutes. I played guitar and Creagan selected the drum tracks and riffed whatever came to mind. Creagan was admittedly not gifted in terms of vocal talent or rhythm, but he chose to have fun anyway and goof around with a friend who needed more frivolous music in his life. He was a strong, caring man who continually gave, even the gift of mostly unbearable music. He was one of a kind and I could always count on him to see things differently and challenge whatever I might have believed in. I know that I’m most fortunate to have had this life-long friend. I just wish it would have gone on for more than 49-years.
The following two tracks are from the “Creagan and the Cryers Sessions,” April-Coffee-Coffee and Southwest Desert Rising Sun. Thank you for spending this time with me at JBB’s Final Thoughts, please check out my website at joebustillos.com (spell out)… for more of my musings and thoughts. And don’t forget to hug those you have in your life and tell them that you love them…