For you, Stewy
Ryan Summerlin February 7, 2014
Stewart was an amazing person he had so many quirky “Stewartisms.” He was one of those people that I was always excited to see at work. He had a smile that would make me feel like everything was ok. Before we got close over the years I always wanted to know him because he just seemed to have it all going for him. I often said he had the best job in Aspen. He lived life the way he wanted to, free and full of music. He was never going to conform to other peoples ways he was just Stewart. He loved his daughter Olivia and was always so proud of what she was up to, sharing all their stories with such enthusiasm often with a blue table snack in his mouth. There are many of us that make The Aspen Times what it is but Stewart was part of the eclectic mold that made it what it was and has been for 130 years. It is so hard to imagine he is gone, I had so much more I wanted to learn and know from him. I admired his ability to recall stories and events. I almost feel like our friendship had just begun. Stewart I hope you find peace, and I hope to see your smile on the other side. Until then keep trucking, like the do-dah man.
— Gunilla Asher, Aspen Times publisher
I will remember his laugh.
I will remember his generosity, charisma and boundless passion — for his craft, for people and for life.
I will remember his colorful personality and his creativity; he was the true epitome of his adopted hometown, which unconditionally embraced and adored him.
I will remember his illuminating insights, his stories, and our conversations about sports, movies, music and his beloved Olivia.
I will remember delighting in and drawing great inspiration from his words.
I will remember pedaling through the aspens and lounging on the grass at Telluride’s Town Park while soaking up the scenery, the jazz and our good fortune.
I will remember our Hickory House lunches.
I will remember strolling into the Belly Up and instinctively glancing toward the stage in the hopes of catching a glimpse of his unmistakable dark locks or the flash of his camera in the front row.
I will remember his stirring father-daughter rendition of the Beatles’ “Let It Be” at Olivia’s bat mitzvah.
I will remember conquering newsroom monotony by reciting lines from “The Big Lebowski” and “Arrested Development,” and retreating to the ally behind the old Aspen Times building to toss the baseball.
I will remember the affable man who made Aspen feel like home for a timid 22-year-old fresh out of Syracuse University and venturing into the unknown.
I will remember one of the final days we were together, and those tranquil few moments spent watching him strum his guitar and belt out Brett Dennen tunes as the brilliant early-morning sunshine filtered through the drapes and crept across his apartment floor.
I will never forget that feeling of contentment.
I will never forget Stewart.
He was one of a kind. He was a treasure. He was family.
Thanks for the memories, my dear friend. Though we have experienced such a profound loss, we will take solace in knowing just how much we have truly gained.
— Jon Maletz, former Aspen Times sports editor
Last summer I went to a talk at the Woody Creek Community Center that Stewy was giving, at Stewy’s invitation. It was a very small gathering, and the organizer wanted to start with going around the room and each person saying why he or she was there. Of course, this threw the panic switch in me as I had no idea what to say, but as my time to speak got ever closer, I trusted that the first thing out of my mouth would be the right thing. My turn came and I popped out with “Because Stewart is my muse.” And that was dead-on true. Ever since I got to know him at the end of 2005, one of my first thoughts when considering a booking for the Wheeler has been, “What would Stewy think of this artist?” His rarely failing ear for performers and this community helped me steer the Wheeler ship for eight years. Now it almost feels like we are without a rudder, except I know I can still ask the question and Stewy will tell me.
— Gram Slaton, executive director, Wheeler Opera House
He was my first friend in Aspen.
I was 26, and overwhelmed with my responsibilities on the night desk at The Aspen Times, the history of the place and my inexperience.
Our bonding over rather obscure references involving “The Simpsons,” The Dude and “Fargo” led to Hickory House and New York Pizza lunches, back-alley barbecues and Zane’s hot wings.
Many minutiae were discussed, and I miss those times fiercely.
Stewart’s befriending of me made my life so much easier and work so much more enjoyable: As busy as he was, I could usually sit down for a few minutes and shoot the shit with him and his beloved, flatulent dog, Tony.
In August 2001, he took me to the best concert of my life: Bob Dylan in Vail. On the way back, we stopped for Mexican food in the hamlet of Red Cliff. Despite paying for the tickets, he wouldn’t let me buy dinner.
Breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks: Food was never far from his mind, and boy did he occasionally fall gleefully into gluttony. His descriptions of meals, many by some of the town’s best chefs, were always full of succulent adjectives.
Having never visited the East Coast — something the New Jersey native found appalling — I was astonished by his parents’ Carnegie Deli care packages, which came with more than enough food for what would now be considered a gigantic staff.
I say Stewart made my life easier. It’s now I realize he made my life better. I’ll miss his additions to my musical library, about half of which he introduced to me. I’ll miss his opinions on the Nuggets, literature, the latest Coen brothers movie and Dylan album and New Yorker article, what exotic food he’d sampled.
I’ll miss Stewart. Judging from the reaction his death has caused, in this community and others, I’m far from alone.
— Chad Abraham, former Aspen Times night editor/reporter
The story I want to share is about the day I met Stewart.
I met Stewart about 15 years ago. I remember that day just like it was yesterday. Like a lot of people in town, I knew of Stewy before I actually knew him. I would read his articles in the Aspen Times, especially when they were about music. Sometimes I would agree with his opinions, sometimes I would not. But I always wanted to read what he had to say. And though I didn’t know him, I would often see him walking around town, wearing those goofy striped or plaid pajama bottoms that only he could get away with. He wore those things everywhere and I couldn’t imagine what he was thinking when he got dressed in the morning. Somehow, I wanted to find out.
The day we met was a Friday. We all know that on Fridays Stewy would write a major article for the arts section, and very often that article was about the Grateful Dead. That was the case that day. He had written an article about a show that had just been released, a show from April of 1971. Since it was a Dead show he found some redeeming things about it, but essentially his point was that this was not one of the great periods of the Dead and there were already too many shows released from that era. Well, having gone to quite a few shows from that very month I disagreed and I decided that if I got the chance I would talk to him about it. As fate would have it, there was an après ski show featuring Jeff Pevar at a hotel downtown. So I went out after work and there at another table sat Candace and Stewart. During the first break I went up to him and introduced myself and proceeded to explain to him why he had no idea what he was writing about. But instead of him sending that stranger packing (which was probably what I deserved for being so full of myself), he listened to me and we debated. We analyzed the Dead as only two Jews who were fervent Deadheads could, evaluating Jerry’s guitar leads, comparing how they played during the well documented tours from April of ’71 to the Fall of ’73 and the Spring of ’77, and on and on. And from that simple beginning, a friendship was born that blossomed into the best friend I’ve had here in Aspen. But that was the way it always was with Stewy. He always had room in his heart to add another kindred spirit to the patchwork quilt of his life.
I was privileged to be a part of Stewart’s circle of friends for these last 15 years and for that I feel blessed. Now it’s up to all of his friends to keep him in our hearts so the circle will be unbroken. If we all remember the Stewart that we have loved so dearly, he will remain right in the center of that circle. Stewart, my brother, my friend, may your soul rest in peace and be blessed by eternal light.
— Alan Richman
The six-plus years I spent working at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, spending countless hours at my desk in the Red Brick Center for the Arts office space, there was always one thing I could count on: a visit from Stewart. Often times I wondered if he would just make visits to all the arts organizations in the building everyday, going down the hallway, popping in each door to ask what’s new and chat about the upcoming events we were all most definitely planning. The best part was, that no matter what deadline I faced, I knew that if I made time to talk with Stewart, I’d be left thinking hard about what we had discussed, whether it was a novel he just finished or last night’s show at the Belly Up (where we frequently saw each other, him with camera on the floor at stage right, me, nearby, listening and waving hello). Our conversations constantly piqued an intellectual curiosity that I believe brought us closer together than I would have ever imagined.
Stewart was a constant in the arts community of our town, somewhere in the vicinity at every art opening, show, film, or reading and talk. It will be very difficult for me not to see him at the next Winter Words or even zooming through town, small backpack carry books and right pants leg rolled up. I can only hope that his curiosity and love of art continues, wherever he is, and be thankful that his spirit will be ever-present the next time I find myself at at a show, looking for his familiar face.
— Natalie Lacy Travers
I have been making art in the RFV for over 40 years and I have seen a lot of reporters come and go and many of them have tried to cover the arts community. But no one has ever come close to devoting the time the energy and enthusiasm to that job than Stewy. He may have started out a bit rough but he eventually got it and he really dug in. He was constantly improving and gaining knowledge.
For me personally I will miss the jokes we shared about our common backgrounds of escaping New Jersey alive and then surviving our alma mater Villanova.
Stewart was very supportive of my work and he covered more openings and art events of mine than I can count. Always splashing my stuff across multiple pages in the times and writing intelligently about the work. Most of all it was always great when he would come by the studio to do an interview or see what I was up to to sit an jaw about what was really on our minds and that was the music. That was his true love and I shared an awful lot of the same musical interests. (Sorry about the Dead tho Stew … just could never go there.) I saw him at just about every musical event I have attended over the past years …and I do a lot of music … He must have had a room at Belly Up.
I hope someone will put together a show of his photographs … shit, he must have thousands of images and it would be awesome to see his experiences thru his lens. I personally once asked him to do his own personal fashion show … think about it!
Going to miss his personality and his importance to the whole local cultural scene. It will take a platoon of writers to cover what that dude covered.
My thoughts and best wishes go out to his family. It’s really a rough deal … he will be missed.
— Dick Carter, artist
I saw Stewart on Saturday night Feb. 1 at the Wheeler Opera House right before the Ralph Stanley show. He said a brief “hello” to me in the lobby as he walked by and I felt at the time that it was odd that he didn’t stop to chat about the upcoming show as he was always so enthusiastic about good music. Over the years we had many occasions to meet in his little office in the back of the Times building on Main Street and I enjoyed looking at his amazing photos and all the memorabilia that covered the walls. His interviews with me were always engaging and his questions were always thought provoking. He was a fair and knowledgable reviewer and a big supporter of our local Aspen music scene. Without his endorsement I’m not sure that the Aspen Songwriters Festival would have been so well received, for that alone I will always be eternally grateful. We will all miss his editorial and personal presence … sending love and harmony to his family and friends everywhere.
— John Oates, musician
Stewart’s passion for music in its many varied forms was breathtaking. He truly loved music and musicians. Whenever we tried to get an Artist playing JAS to agree to being interviewed by The Aspen Times, we always described him as “the incredibly knowledgeable arts editor of The Aspen Times who is a big fan of the artist in question.” And he was. His interviews were an effortless mix of interesting and relevant background and personal homespun perspective that combined into a great read.
Stewart was incredibly knowledgeable about music. We tangled more than once with divergent opinions about a particular artist, but with Stewart I knew I was dealing with someone whose passion was unquestioned and thus mutual respect carried the day. We agreed to disagree and a handshake or hug was usually the conclusion. His absence is a hole in our collective soul.
I can see his face with a satisfied grin as he turned to walk from the stage draped in cameras and odd clothing combinations …. “That was an UN-BE-LEIVABLE SHOW, WHOA!”
Thank you Stewy for including JAS in both the list of Top Ten Best and Top Ten Worst shows of all time in the valley, you were right probably. (Stewy pulled no punches.) If you don’t know whom he singled out for this special acknowledgment … sorry !
Who’s going to give JAS crap now about our program this year like Stewy could and did? He could really dish with the best!
— Jim Horowitz, Jazz Aspen Snowmass
We didn’t always agree, but we always spoke the same language, the language of music. And did he sure have passion for it. Especially if it was the music that he loved.
Over nine years Stewart’s musical taste expanded to the point where he would even listen to an electronic show if we told him it would be good, begrudging, but always with an open mind. He counseled us and let us counsel him on musical direction, on taste. A perfect partnership to bring music to this community. We will greatly miss that partnership, his continual support and our friend.
— Michael Goldberg and The Belly Up Team
I delight in describing Stewart to people who don’t know him, because he will always be such a fascinating character to me. His wardrobe, his appetite and his easygoing nature all spoke to me loud and clear, but less obvious at first was the way casual conversations with Stewart could become surprisingly meaningful, and I’d find myself hovering in his office doorway for way longer than intended. He was generous, honest and the guy you’d turn to when you wanted to discuss just about anything. Newsrooms are chatty places, and Stewart was always ready to weigh in.
When I left The Aspen Times and casually pursued an interest in community theater, it became clear to me just how much the local arts organizations adored our Stewy, and for good reason. His love of the arts was apparent in everything he wrote. I don’t think there will be another performance that I’m in that won’t make me think about Stewart, and how he managed to turn the spotlight on others so effortlessly, while remaining someone so worthy of a spotlight himself.
— Naomi Havlen, former Aspen Times reporter/community editor
Stewart was the kind of person that when he talked you listened. He had a wealth of knowledge unlike any other and I always felt very special when he would come by my desk and speak to me because I am not going to lie it made me feel good to know that he wanted to know my insight about a subject. Every time I saw a band live, read a book or saw a new movie, I always just had to walk over to his desk to see his input on the subject. I would sometimes just walk by and wait to catch him at a moment when he wasn’t researching or typing away on his computer. Now in the office I truly have no idea who to bug about my excitement for music, movies and books. But I can always know that Stewart will be watching down and listening and will just wonder what input he would have.
Stewart in short was a great man with a huge heart and an even bigger love for arts and entertainment. You will be missed by your family here at The Aspen Times and all of the people you touched around the world through the words you wrote.
— William Gross, Aspen Times ad rep
The “amazing” Stewart Oksenhorn:
Stewy told me long after I started working at The Aspen Times that he didn’t like me when we first became colleagues but that his first impression had passed and he did, in fact, like me.
I’m so glad he did, because I always had liked him. For years as competing journalists when I was at the Aspen Daily News in the 1990s, I admired him from afar for his writing abilities and multiple talents, including his intelligence, quick wit and sense of humor. I also really appreciated his weirdness, which became such an endearing quality, especially when the shit started hitting the fan in the Times’ newsroom.
Perhaps it was my secret weapon that won him over — a mac and cheese recipe that kept him asking for more. We shared an affinity for mac and cheese, although he had an affinity for just about any food item that was put in front of him. We collaborated together and wrote dueling reviews of the city’s Mac & Cheese Festival when I was back at the Daily News. We hit that festival hard, comparing notes and generally stuffing our faces.
When I was working in the Times’ newsroom my desk was across from his office. He was the first person to ask me how I was when I walked in. I always appreciated that.
He’d also share his leads on where the good free eats were: the hot dog stand at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the cookies at whatever picnic. I remember stashing desserts and other epicurean delights in napkins and shoving them in my purse from whatever event I was at and giving them to Stewy.
And he would come back from wherever he was and I’d ask him, “how was it?” And if it was to his liking, the classic Stewy response would come: “Amazing,” he’d say with a shit-eating grin as he threw his head back, shook it and closed his eyes.
And that’s what I will do now when I think of him as a friend, a father and a writer. I hope you have found more amazing things wherever you are Stewy. Love you.
— Carolyn Sackariason, former Aspen Times reporter and current Aspen Daily News editor
Bassist Edgar Meyer was a hero of his and this photo meant a lot to him. Stewy made a point of interviewing Edgar almost every summer (Edgar is an artist faculty member here at the Aspen Music Festival and School), and he always called me whenever he ran into Edgar at the Tent or around Aspen because Edgar was so open to talking about music and anything else. He’d sound like kid at the circus. I loved his excitement whenever he became friends with people he respected.
I’m not sure how I’ll navigate through the 2014 Aspen Music Festival and School summer without Stewy. His excitement about the Festival was contagious and we’d talk most mornings about the concert he’d seen the night before. He’d always say that THAT concert was one of the best he’d ever attended. He was never ambivalent. He enjoyed it all! Working with Stewy was without a doubt one of the best parts of my job. He became a beloved friend and I will miss him terribly.
— Janice Szabo, public relations manager, Aspen Music Festival and School
Every now and then Stewart would call me up to give me a random writing assignment with an almost immediate deadline. They were usually along the lines of “I’m doing a blues story. Give me a list of your top 3 favorite songs with authentic blues harmonica solos, with a short paragraph for each. And funny. By tomorrow, please.” or “What do you think are the 10 most defining Monty Python sketches. By this afternoon. Thanks.” He kept these assignments well inside my wheelhouse.
Now, they weren’t technically “assignments,” because I didn’t actually have to comply (and I didn’t get paid.) It was more of a “request that you can’t refuse.” And why would I want to refuse? I always leapt at the chance to be involved in anything Stewart was working on, because it’s good to keep company with people who are more talented than you are. And I was always really, really hoping that he’d like what I delivered. Stewart was not one to blow smoke, so if he said he liked something, you didn’t have to second guess him.
While my other writer friends and I would spend time pondering how to be more productive and efficient and why can’t I get more creative work done and blah blah blah, Stewart was just doing it. And doing it well. And consistently. And for a long time. This is no small thing. We were talking about this last summer during a trip to Telluride we took together. I asked him how he manages to stay so inspired and prolific after all these years, and after all those words. He said, without hesitation, “I just really love my job.” He went on to explain how he constantly strives to give all of his subjects his best effort, so that they’ll feel like they were given the best representation possible.
“I almost never just phone it in,” he said. Not boastfully, just very matter-of-fact. I wish I could make such a claim.
And now I have this one final Stewart assignment, to write this little blurb about him, his life, our friendship. And this is a Stewart assignment that I do not like one bit. Because the reality that I won’t get to exchange silly emails with him during the week, or go to the Hickory House together to eat huge piles of BBQ pork, or go see Dweezil Zappa with him next week (as we’d been planning to do for months) — it’s just so painful.
I am so going to miss my brilliant, inspiring, supportive, funny, kind, irreplaceable and profoundly unique friend.
— Barry Smith, Aspen Times columnist
When we first met Stewart some 20 years ago, he had never seen a contemporary dance performance. He arrived for the interview on his bicycle and scribbled furiously on his yellow legal pad, asking all the right questions and brimming with an intense curiosity. Over the years he became a great dance fan, attending performances and writing countless stories, sharing his enthusiasm with our community. Like everyone who knew him, we felt he was part of our family. We are grateful to Stewart for documenting our history, sharing his enthusiasm for all things artistic and caring so deeply about our community. We will miss his inquisitive nature, his gentle heart, and his tattered note pad.
— Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, directors, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
A few words about Stewart from a Hanukkah long past:
Stewart made latkes for us one Hanukkah. The traditional offering combines grated potatoes with egg, matzoh meal and onions. It is shallow-fried, then topped with apple sauce or sour cream. Somehow, he made them better than my grandmother.
He used whole potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated by hand. He patted the mixture into thick round cakes, about 4-inches across, making sure they stuck together nicely. He tossed in, uncommonly, cinnamon and sugar and olive oil. He used a cast iron pan and flipped them often, until brown and crispy, about three at a time. He served them classically, in bare feet, ponytail and Zubaz, sitting on the floor, listening to the Dead.
He made them more an entree than a side. Delicious and unique. Just like Stewart.
— Steve Skadron, mayor of Aspen
I think that Stewart would have been astounded — dumbfounded — at the outpouring of love and sadness following his death.
— Su Lum, Aspen Times columnist
I met Stewy about the first week he was the A&E editor. I was on the Aspen Arts Council at the time, and there had been an energetic conversation about the need for an experienced arts editor to cover Aspen’s exploding contemporary art scene. So, in walked our new editor: grey socks tucked into his Birkenstocks, baggy plaid shorts (I think it was snowing) topped off with a Dead Head T-shirt and toothy grin under crooked glasses and that marvelously disheveled ponytail. “Oh, no — a hippie throw back! Where is the contemporary in that?” I wondered. To make matters worse, he informed me that he knew absolutely nothing about the visual arts and could he ask me a few “educational” questions? I almost fainted but the questions he asked were the right questions, the honest questions. God, he was smart. We became friends immediately.
I loved that he was his own man and unafraid of being a beginner. The truth was that he wasn’t really a beginner. His longtime love of music opened an understanding and curiosity about artists I seldom encounter. I felt safe to give him “full access” in interviews about my process and the inner workings of my art. This “full access” could go wrong occasionally, as it did about 2 years ago in a story about a big commission I had received. Stewy often looked for a provocative hook to draw the reader into a story. This story was called “Art Made With Hate, Then Love.” Uh-oh. There were deeper provocations about the wealthy class of collector who had hired me! Feathers flew! When we talked it through, he simply mopped up the mess and called my clients. Done. I understood what he had attempted to do in the article, which felt similar to being an artist. He stepped out and took the creative risks to find insight instead of the prescriptive “when, where and how” that can deaden arts writing. I respected that, even if this time it went off the rails a bit! I always felt better having been with him because of his search for meaning, understanding, or truth. I had a kindred spirit and it felt so damned good. I loved him. Learning to live without him now will be hell.
— Nancy Lovendahl, artist
Normally I might think twice about a tribute piece like this, but anyone who knew Stewy knows reminiscing wouldn’t be complete without talking about his flatulence.
Stewy was nearly as prodigious producing methane as he was producing arts and entertainment articles for The Aspen Times.
One day I was conducting a phone interview in my office a short distance from Stew’s. We had worked together for a few years, so I’m guessing it was 1996 or 1997. Anyway, Stew came in, pointed his canon my way, let loose a mighty blast and departed.
I, naturally, took the incident way too seriously and got steamed. I sprinted into his office after I was off the phone and started scolding him for being unprofessional. Stewy got his trademark grin on his face — not the kind that indicated he was laughing at me, but that he found the incident amusing. “Really, you didn’t find that funny?” he asked.
He completely disarmed me. I think I probably tried to hide a chuckle as I retreated to my office.
I’ll try to remember Stew’s lesson not to take life so seriously. I wish he had remembered.
— Scott Condon, Aspen Times reporter
I’ve decided that instead of wallowing in the “whys” and “what ifs” of this incredible loss, I’m going to try and be a better person in any way possible. Whether it’s in the little things we can all do to make each day better … a smile, a wee bit of help doing anything, a silly joke, but more so than anything, just being a better person to my neighbors at home and at work. Seems like a good way to honor Stewart, and I pray I don’t forget that sly smile he would almost always wear.
— Michael McLaughlin, Aspen Times reporter
You left us with a final mystery. Submission seems the only response — to accept that you are gone, and to ask the universe to allow that acceptance to soothe our pain. But it’s difficult.
I am grateful for every moment I spent with you, Stewy. Every single moment. What an amazing thing to be able to say about a man.
— Eben Harrell, former Aspen Times reporter
Stewart was a vital voice for the performing arts in Aspen: a keen judge of content and quality with an inspired, probing intellect and the skill to express his thoughts powerfully yet accessibly. We will miss reading him, and especially talking with him about music, musicians, and our beloved Aspen Music Festival and School. We hope his legacy will be honored at The Aspen Times through a successor who can bring Stewart’s deep knowledge and passionate commitment to his position. Stewart’s shoes will be extremely difficult to fill, but we are sure he would have hoped to see the tradition of quality in arts journalism that he built in Aspen continue at the high level he left it. Like the many festival musicians around the world who were privileged to know Stewart, we share the Aspen community’s deep sorrow and send our strongest wishes of strength and healing to his friends and family.
— David Finckel and Wu Han, musicians
I knew Stewart (and I more often called him that, never liked Stewy — too gooey) in a way different from others who live here. I was an Assignment.
He must have interviewed me a dozen times. And it’s not the best way to get to know someone. You’re there to answer questions. To hustle an event. To promote a movie. To be a standup comedian.
I was always a bit reluctant. False modesty. And going to his office (simply finding it) was a bewilderment. All the shit on the walls. Thumbtacked. Scotch-taped. Records, movie screeners, posters, fliers strewn everywhere. It was hard to make out who HE was. At least at the beginning. He seemed to like everything. I often discussed that he had a prerogative, an obligation really, to dislike things. (Not my stuff, but everyone else’s.) It wasn’t his nature. He was too generous to be a critic. He was profoundly positive.
More recently, (I may not have the facts right here) the paper had to cut costs and he took on the extra duties of photographer. He’d clear a chair off, I’d sit down, but behind him on one of many screens there was a slide show going on. Rock acts at the Belly Up. Jazz Fest. I’d say it’s kind of hard to talk with that right behind his head. He’d apologize. No, I said — please leave it on! The photos were extraordinary. He had become really good.
Of course we knew each other in the streets. Our kids were in the same class. I shopped for dinner with Candice. We were both Nuggets freaks. (On this subject he ceased to be so generous.) It’s a small town and we saw each other all the time, me on the way to Carl’s, or dropping handouts at the Times desk. And now we had become friends.
Jesus, Stewart, your shoelace is entangled in the bike chain. That shirt, The Dead? maybe a quick rinse. He would take umbrage. Actually look down to see what was my objection. Then he’d bike off. I’d yell after him Einstein dressed better than he did. Once I showed him a picture of Einstein wearing womens’ shoes. He’d poke fun at my hat, especially the Rasta one. We near cried at the mention of our kids. In the past two weeks he was out to the house a dozen times. Our hours were different, sometime there was just a note in the mudroom.
I loved Stewart. He will be not be diminished by his suicide. He may have to trim himself to get by the pearly gates. But then again he had an “All Access” pass.
— Bob Rafelson, filmmaker
One of my favorite memories of working at the Aspen Times for six years is that of singing show tunes with Stewart. Stewart loved to sing, but as anyone can attest, he couldn’t sing on key, nor even come close. But that never stopped him. We would jump into “Some Enchanted Evening” with gusto and in order to keep myself on key I would sing louder than him and of course he would then increased his volume, much to the delight of the entire staff. When I told him I was quitting he was almost mad at me, “So who am I going to sing show tunes with?” I already miss him.
— Hilary Burgess, former Aspen Times business manager
In 1994 my friend Michael Jude and I drove my station wagon across the country from New York City to play at “The Mustang Café” for two weeks in Aspen. We kept getting hired to play another week, then another, and the band “Little Blue” was born. This turned into 10 years of a magical time playing music and making lifelong friends. And although keyboardist Peter Adams and I migrated to Los Angeles, Michael and Little Blue drummer John Michel are still making great music out of Aspen today, 20 years from that first trip.
We stayed not just because there were gigs to be had, but because of the immediate support we got from the community, from local legendary musicians like Bobby Mason, and in particular from a promoter named Josh Behrman, and from his best friend, Stewart Oksenhorn, who was writing for The Aspen Times. We had working relationships with all of them, but more importantly, they became our extended family.
In his unassuming way, Stewart was our champion, like he was with so many artists. He wrote about our projects and helped to spread the word and to promote our shows and CDs. Just a few months ago he interviewed John and Michael, still caring, still loving music, art, and his incredible gallery of photographs (of which I am sure I am only one of many who encouraged him to get published).
I once asked Stewart why he essentially never wrote bad reviews. He said that when he didn’t like something, that was just a reflection of his personal taste and opinion; he still respected the artist and the work that went into making the art, and he did not see the point in tearing it down. In 2001 Stewart wrote a cover story about me for the weekend edition of the Times. He titled it “A Rock Star With Roots.” Calling me a Rock Star is at best quite a stretch, but Stewart Oksenhorn was generous that way.
He was a treasure, and he will be missed. But the next time you go to a concert, I’ll bet if you look very carefully you will see him there, tapping his foot and taking pictures. Please tell him hello and thank him for me.
— Steve Postell
Nineteen years ago, the nicest, most unkempt man I’ve ever met offered me a shy greeting, sent me off on my first assignment for The Aspen Times and proceeded to play obscure CD after CD on a small boombox situated just behind my left ear. No one was happier than I when Stewy got his own office, though the photo-plastered door was almost always open.
The Aspen Times in those days embodied the spirit of Aspen’s messy vitality and Stew was its poster child, plunking his bike in the alley of our old Main Street digs and bounding up the stairs in pajama pants and ragged T-shirt, his dog Tony by his side. He was the most easygoing of all my officemates. The closest he ever came to raising his voice was poking his head out of his office door and barking “4:20” on many an afternoon.
A prolific writer, he dazzled me with his grasp of everything from fine art to theater and literature, but movies and, even more so, music, were his true forte.
In that pre-digital age, he was bombarded with movie stills, photographs from films that often illustrated his reviews. Some of the photos were of buxom, scantily-clad women, and those he dutifully added to the Wall of Shame — an I-beam that ran the length of the editorial office ceiling. We labored under an expanding collection of soft-core porn. The image I remember most vividly, because its subjects stared down at me, depicted a muscular black man, naked from the waist up, with his arms wrapped around a topless, white woman standing in front of him. He hands cupped her breasts like a bra.
Decorum was not in the company handbook in those days (actually, there was no handbook) and I thought little of the display until an older, conservative gentleman, running for the state Legislature I think, stopped by hoping to bend the ear of a reporter. While the candidate made his pitch in John Colson’s office, his wife — Aunt Bea with a 90s makeover — invariably noticed the Wall of Shame, her horror intensifying when she lit upon the aforementioned picture. Did I mention someone had written a caption on the black-and-white glossy with a Sharpie? It read, “The Klusmire Bra: Smelly but Effective.” Copy editor Jon Klusmire considered it a compliment. Stew simply grinned when I told him his photography exhibit had made an impression.
Stew’s access to music in those pre-Internet days also came via the mail, in the form of free CDs that were piled daily on his desk like Christmas presents. If he thought I might like one, it simply appeared on my desk. He chided my musical tastes in one breath, but then sheepishly asked to borrow anything I might own by bands bound for Aspen, but with which he was unfamiliar, in the next. He introduced me to matzo ball soup (not a band) and the Jayhawks; I gave Stew his first listens to the Violent Femmes and Crowded House.
In roughly two decades with the Times, Stew was easily the Aspen music scene’s single, most influential contributor, influencing music buyers and concertgoers alike while he produced a body of work that can never be matched. I sought out his advice even after I left the paper some eight months ago. We conferred on the band playing at the Wheeler on the evening before his death — Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys — in what was billed, ironically, as the elder Stanley’s farewell tour. I saw Stew there, in the auditorium, but I was in the balcony and did not encounter him in the crowded lobby at intermission. I saw him depart as the second set was about to start. He appeared distracted, in a hurry to leave, it seemed to me. I had hoped to chat with him about the stellar music after the show, but it was not to be.
Stanley’s band played bluegrass and gospel standards, many about death and heaven, but it’s a Jayhawks song, “Will I See You in Heaven,” on a CD from Stew, that has played in my head these past few days:
“Well, faith is the answer
Can you spare some to help guide me through
Swim across the ocean for a sign
Though you’re gone,
You’re always going to be a friend of mine
Will I see you in heaven
Shine your light from above
With your love I am never alone
Won’t you carry me, won’t you carry me home.”
— Janet Urquhart, former Aspen Times reporter
My wife Carol and I are stunned at the loss of Stewart Oksenhorn. As the guy who has been writing reviews of the music festival’s classical concerts for him and the Aspen Times over the past 15 years, I marveled at the breadth of music he loved and his voracious appetite for live performance. I’ve never seen anyone enjoy a concert with so much of his body and soul evident, amazingly so for someone who had to write about it for a living. At concerts he always sought me out to chew over the music.
I heard about his death checking my Facebook feed at intermission of a concert in San Francisco Sunday night. After the concert finished with a particularly impassioned performance of a work by an obscure Russian composer, Carol and I look at each other and said, almost simultaneously, “Stewy would have loved that.”
Stewy was the hardest-working arts editor and writer in the business. Every summer we spent in Aspen the consistently high quality and astonishing quantity of his insightful interviews and cogent reviews in the Times always impressed me.
More importantly, he was a human being to treasure, and I was proud to call him a friend. He even wore a suit and tie to our 40th wedding anniversary party, the only time I ever saw him in summer in anything other than shorts and a colorful T-shirt.
Our hearts go out all his family and friends, especially his daughter Olivia, whom we know he loved so much.
— Harvey and Carol Steiman (Harvey Steiman has been writing about Aspen Music Festival concerts in The Aspen Times for 15 years)
Stew had the uncanny ability to immediately know if there was ANY food in the old AT building (a talent possibly only surpassed by the late Bil Dunaway). It needn’t even be aromatic. He could “track” Su Lum’s salsa and chips from ad rep village, through the cavernous building, up the stairs and around the corner.
One of my all-time favorite memories of Stewart is SO bittersweet. We lost Christine Maggi, a beloved member of the Aspen Times family and ardent Bob Marley fan, to cancer in 2007. The Aspen Times was/is a very tight group. We were devastated. Her memorial service was held at the top of Smuggler, a favorite spot of Christine’s. Friends shared stories and memories, some heartwarming, some funny, some sad. We laughed and cried. Towards the end of the memorial Stewart sang his rendition of Bob Marley’s “Three Little Birds” to honor Christine and her love of Bob Marley. Stew was completely oblivious that he was WAY off key. He sang with enthusiasm, love and vigor. Christine was the type of person that would get tickled and start giggling — almost daily, for any number of reasons. Referring to Stew’s pitch (or lack thereof) someone in the back of the crowd said “If Christine were here she would crack up.” The comment started a wave of suppressed laughter that spread through the fringes of the crowd and escalated with each verse. At one point I looked at one of my Aspen Times cohorts (who shall remain nameless — Gunilla Asher). She was ducking behind people trying to disguise her laughter as crying. It was such a SWEET, REAL moment from Stew’s heart that helped all of us through laughter and tears in mourning one of our own. He wasn’t singing to impress the crowd, he was singing as his way of showing love to Christine. The world is missing a sweet, caring soul.
— Julie Carruth, former Aspen Times ad rep
At the end of last summer’s music festival, Stewart and I came up with a great idea. We were going to do a Frank Zappa tribute concert celebrating the 20th year since the death of FZ. Stewart was going to play FZ, dialogue and all… and I was going to supply the musicians and music. We had spent several hours over cocktails at Jimmy’s joyfully arguing over the FZ repertoire that we would play along with selected FZ missives and readings that Stewart would be charged with. He didn’t think he looked much like Zappa except for the pony tail, but I assured him, we could do a nice rendition if we worked on his nose and he could grow a mustache and goatee, much like our shared hero. (It was going to somewhat like Hal Holbrook does Mark Twain, on Broadway) When we parted company, hoping that the winter would pass quickly I knew Stewart was ramped up to make the collaboration work so some preliminary phone calls were made. I just got the news about Stewart. He would have said to me, knowing now what I now know … “that really sucks.” I played two records in his memory, because I thought, that is what he would have wanted me to do. I listened to Zappa’s “You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. 2” and then I followed it with … Blind Faith’s, “Had to Cry Today.” If I get to do this concert sometime in the future, please know, Stewart, you will be there with me, always.
— Jonathan Haas, musician
Aspen Community Theatre is saddened to learn of the loss of our friend Stewart Oksenhorn. We will remember his contributions to the cultural and musical life of Aspen, and to the community. He will be missed. Thanks Stewart for all your efforts to support the local talent at ACT.
— Carol Bayley, board member, Aspen Community Theatre
This past November Stewart was feted at a party to celebrate his 50th birthday. As I was unable to attend I wrote the following as an ode. The day it ran I received the following from Stewart:
“OK, you have won the prize for my best, closest, most observant reader. What a great, perceptive article you wrote. And so kind. One of the great compliments I get from time to time is that I wrote something the subject understand themselves better, see themselves more clearly, and that was certainly the case here. The party was great. Wish you could have been there. Enjoy Boston.
Here is my original column:
Happy Birthday to Ya.
So the word came yesterday that a local icon was about to celebrate a momentous birthday. That’s right, Stewart Oksenhorn, the “Arts Editor” at The Aspen Times, will wrap his first half-century come Thanksgiving Day.
Yes, less than a week after the assassination of JFK, the world began to heal and a baby was born in New Jersey. Little Stewy came into the world and the future of The Aspen Times would be forever changed. Stewart will reach his 50th on the 28th but there will be a bash in his honor tonight, Friday, November 22nd, at 5 p.m. at the Red Brick Center for the Arts. You don’t suppose the Dead Kennedys will headline?
I don’t know if he meant it when he said invite all of your friends. But he said it, so I am. His exact words were “Also, invite whoever else you’d like to be there, whether I know them or not. Making new friends would be a great way to celebrate my birthday.” Consider this your own personal ‘come-on-down.’ Just be sure to bring beer.
Stewart came to Aspen following his acquisition of a law degree earned at Villanova and he put it to…well, actually he put it in a drawer and turned to writing about the local music scene. Over the years he has seen countless bands and written what I would suppose to be millions upon millions of words about them. He also prolifically pens stories on writers, chefs, winemakers, artists and others. In fact, he’ll write about just about anyone if there is a check involved.
A typical Stewart story begins with a witty lead that is a riff on either a conversation he has had with a given band’s bass player, or his take on the obscure lyrics on track eight of the band’s third self-released CD. This is followed by three jump pages on said bass player’s personal musical journey from a 3rd grade piano lesson through the nine bands he/she played in before ultimately ending up on the phone with Stewart from the bus that is making its way to Belly Up for a gig. It works great if the bass player is Sting. Not so much when he toils for say, the Butt Hole Surfers.
No stone remains unturned and no tale remains untold in a Stewy story. And the newspaper articles become the ultimate validation for those who have been profiled. Any band that has been immortalized in The Times, no doubt, cuts the clippings and places them in their guitar cases, only to be rediscovered, yellowed and decayed, decades later after the musician has become an insurance salesman because the band thing “kinda’ petered out.” But the stories were proof that the player was actually once a player.
Yes, the history of not just Aspen’s music-filled nights, but the history of the last twenty years of music, resides in the recesses of Stewart’s hard drives.
And the thing is, these are great stories. Stewart genuinely loves music and cares about the artists he covers. As the technology has evolved from CDs to MP3s to ITunes and beyond, the constant in Aspen has been that Stewart is there to listen, amplify and clarify the changing music scene.
Happy Birthday Stewart. Long live Rock and Roll.
— Paul E. Anna
When Monkey Train was first starting out, and before that our band — Road Side Attraction, we were not very good. We were young musicians just trying to figure it out. Stuart was so kind to us, helping us gain momentum and a fan base in the local clubs. He only focused on the good in the band and the vibe that we were trying to deliver. In my seven years living in Aspen, I was and I still am proud to call Stuart my friend. His love of music was undeniable. We loved all of the same bands and would talk Jerry, Dylan or whatever the next great show was. I used to drop in on him at the office and just hang out. I was very proud when he, Paul, Greg & the guys started gigging and really growing as musicians. You could see how happy he was to be performing. Every now and then, he would stop by our house and sing us some Dylan song he figured out, in a way that was pure Stewart. Just thinking about it makes me smile. He had so much love and joy in heart. Rest in peace. “Let there be songs to fill the air”
— Adam Fells, musician
“It sucks having to write this. Hearing of the news my heart sank, my knees became weak, and my head began spinning. It couldn’t be true.
Stewy, the man who always smiled, the one who loved life, the man who trailed his daughter Olivia around on his bike day after day, the man who could eat a Johnny McGuire’s and then got to New York Pizza for more, has died.
He was a good friend I had the pleasure of getting to know while working at The Aspen Times for over seven years. He was a nuique individual with a lot of character. A lot.
He was such a gentle soul. He cared deeply for arts and music so much that it shined through in his writing, his photography, and his dealings with musical artists big and small. Music was his life.
When I first met Stew, he was wearing his usual work attire: pajama bottoms and a T-shirt. I don’t recall what was on his T-shirt, but that was it. He was unshaven, hair in a ponytail, and wearing sandals that look like they came from the ’60s. My first thought was “who is this scruffy looking man?” I was introduced to him by then editor Mike Hagen.
But as was usual for those who met him for the first time, he just became instantly likable. His charm overtook any first impressions you may have had.
One of the first assignments I had working with him was an article on Rolling Stone photographer Lynn Goldsmith. She moved to the area and opened a gallery in Basalt. It was fun and very educational watching the master work his magic to his subjects. He made everyone feel at ease instantly.
As I got to know Stewy better, I’d watch him while we photographed bands and singers during Jazz Aspen or at venues in the area. In my early days at the Times, I watched once as he’d danced in front of the stage listening to the band play rather than take photos. I wondered how he could do that. He’s going to miss moments and not get anything good. Then he’d lift his camera up to take some photos. Go back to dancing a little more while watching, then pause to take a few more. He always came back with something good.
Then it hit me why. He let the music flow over him in order to capture those fleeting moments that defined the musicians and their music. He was in tune with the band. A lesson I learned while working with him. A lesson I carry to this day.
He not only had a love for music, but for those he worked with saw well. For his birthday, his parents would send him a feast from his favorite New York deli. He unselfishly shared this with his coworkers. He was very giving.
If you had an interest in something and wanted to write about it, design it, or photograph it, he would step aside and let you. He knew passion was an art and sometimes you have to let the art flow.
His honesty was raw, yet pure. He spoke his mind and let others take it from there. He just said what needed to be said. Sometimes when it was needed most.
Stewart, you will be missed.
My condolences to Candace and Olivia. To current and former staff of The Aspen Times, my heart is with you.
— Paul Conrad, former Aspen Times photographer
To experience our community through the eloquent filter of Stewart’s words and photos was an uncommon blessing. For creative people, he made all the difference. On countless occasions, his insights — to say nothing of sheer word count — moved me. Who does this? Amazingly, selflessly, Stewart did “this” for everyone, world-class musician and emerging moviemaker alike. His interests and tastes were boundless, adventuresome … and always an invitation to come play. Ever-thoughtful, astonishingly generous, Stewart honored artists’ voices and distilled their intent with a singular purity of spirit and purpose. In a world often populated with self-importance, he definitely biked in a different gear. For him, it was always about the art, never the politics. Never a phoner, always in person, interviews with Stewart were a real treat, an enthusiastic meeting of the minds. I see his hand, clutching a ballpoint and flying across the pages of a spiral notebook in a focused frenzy. What obviously took effort he made seem effortless. Story after prolific story. Stewart’s office voice mail message used made me smile, as he gently urged to his eager caller to “leave a message … (beat) … a brief message.” Stewart, our time together was much, much too brief. I miss you more than I know. Thank you, dear friend, you enriched my world immeasurably. You are cherished, deeply, always.
— Laura Thielen, co-director, Aspen Film
Stewy was a kind, good, wise, fun, profoundly decent man who loved music immeasurably. You could always count on him. An interview with Stewy was like a great conversation with a wonderful friend: funny and serious by turns, challenging, reassuring, uplifting, completely interesting. Stewy loved music and art and movies and great food, but what shone through most was his caring for people and interest in them. He was one of the great Aspen originals; no one was like him.
— Alan Fletcher, director, Aspen Music Festival and School
I loved that Stewy loved so many things. That was one of his most charming qualities: that he found so much joy in so much of life. Over the 17 years he and I interfaced about the Aspen Music Festival, his love of classical music blossomed. It delightfully surprised both him and us, I think.
When I first met Stewy in the 1990s, classical was not in his comfort zone, but he dutifully came to concerts and in time, he came to the music in a deeper way. Over the past two seasons he seemed to fully dive in the deep end and he grew positively giddy about it. It was great fun to watch.
Stewy approached the music with an informed ear, a sharp mind, but most of all, with an open heart. He straddled the line between fan and journalist at times, but his utter authenticity in doing so made his writing and his perspectives irresistible.
When the Festival hired a new CEO in the early 2000s, Stewy set up an interview with him shortly after he arrived. That CEO, from a large metropolitan area, asked that I, as the festival’s PR person, sit with them through the interview, a practice common with big-city critics and journalists. I met up with them both — Stewy in full Stewy regalia including bandanna, ponytail, and sandals — and after about one minute that CEO told me I could go. Between Stewy’s easy manner, thoughtful-but-gentle questions, and, of course, the pajama pants, he set everyone at ease. Everyone loved being interviewed by Stewy.
It will be one of the cold, dark ironies in the lives of us who knew Stewy that being around him was so uplifting. We’d go to lunch and he’d love the food, and a friend would come by and he’d love that friend, and we’d talk about the music and he’d love the music, and always Olivia, the crazy-wonderful love he always had for Olivia. Being around him always made me feel good about life.
I just wish he had felt the same.
As you would say, Stewy, peace, my friend.
— Laura Smith, marketing director, Aspen Music Festival and School
All I can say is, what a tremendous loss to our community and all humanity.
Stewart always had a smile on his face.
He was soft spoken, yet knew just what to say and how to say it.
My only hope is, he did not suffer. May he be free of all pain and resting peacefully.
May the cold pain off his loss, quickly be overcome by the wealth of warm memories he left us to treasure.
Thank you for sharing yourself with us Stewart, you will be forever missed.
I have NO doubt where ever you are, you an angel now!
— Mike Milota
Just wanted to share what an tremendous impact, in so many ways, Stewart made on both my life and me making a life here in the valley. Stewart turned not only me, but every young actor who has ever participated in a JGP production, into a STAR!! I could never have thanked him enough for all of the endless support and creativity and care he brought to whatever I was directing. It was always one of my favorite weeks as we neared opening night to meet with Stewart and reflect on the process, my process, growth, goals, intentions, and how we could best share all of that with our community. Stewart’s opinion of my work always mattered most – and not because of what he would write, but because I so cared what he thought. It was an honor to have him in the audience and to share our work and passions with one another. It was an honor to celebrate his most recent birthday, to connect deeply with him and to call such a wonderful and beautiful man my friend. I am so so saddened and will miss him very deeply for a long long time!!! My heart is full of love and compassion for all that he must of been going through, but I am trying my hardest to celebrate one of my great friends and colleagues. Damn I miss that man!!!!! Those of us who knew him, may we all do our best to keep his loving and quirky and creative spirit very much alive within each of us!!
With endless love and tons and tons of humble gratitude for everything,
— Jayne Gottlieb, theater director
Stewart made such a difference in so many artist’s lives in this valley and I feel so fortunate to be one of them. He lifted me up, taught me, kept me entertained and informed through his writing. He didn’t care about what was trendy. He cared about what was meaningful.
I knew him to be always fair, objective and sincere. He was not a fair-weather friend, but the real thing. Someone who stood by you through mistakes and adversity. His kindness and compassion will always be with me. He was a rare presence that touches the world and makes a lasting mark on it. I feel the world is better because he was in it.
As a writer he had the uncommon combination of competence and humility, that made working with him so pleasant and easy. It was a process of easy discovery. He made you reveal things to yourself. And the results were always good.
My peak experience with Stewart was when he commissioned me to do a painting to celebrate the upcoming birth of his daughter Olivia. I was so touched and inspired by his deep love and devotion to his wife Candice and his unborn daughter Olivia that the piece painted itself. It was one of the most effortless paintings I have made and it was because of them.
I feel so privileged to have known him. He made a big difference in my life and I can’t imagine this community without him. We all need to heal now and I so wish we could have healed him.
— Dasa Bausova, artist
Stewy, as I always knew him, was a bright light in my Aspen world. His intellect, wit and casual welcoming warmth made Aspen a community — a big family — and a place that I will always return to for a piece of home. Stewy was at the heart of what is good about Aspen, and I struggle to imagine the place without him.
He embraced the beating heart of Aspen, and made it all the more real and meaningful to us through his writing. I consider myself so very lucky to have counted him as a friend, and even though I feel he left us all too soon, he remains with each one of us who loved him — he challenges us all to appreciate the wonderful things that surround us — the landscape, the arts, sports, music, and most importantly, each other. Stewy, you are so truly loved, and you will be so deeply missed.
— Alexandra Hammond
I first met Stewart Oksenhorn in the early 1990s in the most unlikely of places. He was sitting at our dining room table talking to my mom about an upcoming show at the Wheeler. He was wearing a Jerry Garcia Band tshirt, baggie shorts, tie dye socks with Birkenstocks and he had his long black hair in a ponytail. My first though was: who is this clown, and how is he possibly carrying on a conversation, let alone conducting business with my mom — a card carrying hater of all things Grateful Dead?! That was a real testament to his character. After a few years I finally had the courage to ask him how to pronounce his last name.
Stewart was one of the few people in town I could talk to about music — really break down the nitty-gritty details of the band lineup, the sound, the lyrics, the different eras and phases of a band. We often did this over the Dead, and our discussions usually evolved into arguments about which era was better. Having grown up in the ’80s, that was my favorite, and Stuart being a measly four years older than me and from the east coast, he always stuck up for his favorite era the ’70s. Stewart could never wrap his mind around the fact that I liked the Grateful Dead and also bands like Motley Crue and Ratt, having worked in the music business for heavy metal bands — a genre he despised, and in true music critic form he took his jabs whenever he had the chance.
Stewart was a permanent fixture in the crowd on the floor of the Double Diamond, and then the Belly Up. He had this funny way of ending up right in front of me with his camera. One night, in an offhanded attempt to get him to move, I asked him if it was a pain in the ass to bring that huge camera to a show and take pictures the whole time. Stewart enthusiastically informed me that he just loved taking pictures of live bands and he could do it all night, which he then proceeded to do. I’ll never forget the Joe Walsh show when Joe played the song by the Band “I shall be released.” It was one of Stewarts favorites and he showed me so by singing every single lyric, borderline caterwauling, at the top of his lungs, basically right into my ear.
I got great pleasure form watching Stewart carelessly flying through stop signs in town on his bike. I thought for sure that would be the way he died, under the tires of a Range Rover, with hair band heavy metal cranking out of the stereo speakers …
— Lo Semple, Aspen Daily News columnist
In the nine years that I wrangled PR for the Aspen Writers’ Foundation, I was endlessly foisting review copies on Stewart in the hopes that he would profile one of the organization’s upcoming authors in his memorable and influential stories. (Getting him to take on books wasn’t the hard part; Stewart was as voracious a reader as he was discriminating a reviewer.)
Knowing that other arts organizations employed this strategy, I had a hunch that he could be of help when later I was prescribed bed rest during the final weeks of my second pregnancy. Did he have any DVDs he could loan a couch-bound, pregnant colleague? Without a moment’s hesitation, this devoted father sent me over a stack of what I’m sure were meant-for-his-eyes-only screeners from AspenFilm. As I would come to learn, Stewart’s journalistic ethics went hand in hand with his empathy.
Later, baby delivered and films returned, I sent him a handwritten thank you note, which I considered something of a coup, given that I now had a newborn to go with our 3-year-old.
Stewart acknowledged my note in an email and — apparently without a moment’s hesitation — pointed out a classic grammatical error that I had made in my letter.
Only Stewart could so spontaneously embody charm and schoolmarm. It’s just who he was, and you couldn’t help but admire him for it.
Thanks, bud. You are unforgettable, and not just for your grasp of the proper setting for an apostrophe.
— Lara Whitley
Stewart and I were still in the honeymoon stage of our burgeoning friendship. He befriended me almost from my first day of work at the Aspen Writers’ Foundation back in the early summer of last year. I shared a car ride with him from an event from Summer Words to discover we had much in common: cherished teenage daughters, fans of the Nuggets, kinship in our appreciation of the arts — music, literature, theatre. We were only a few months apart in age and shared a similar cultural history and perspective. In our too few months together, we had some meals, went to Food and Wine, took some long hikes and shorter walks, and attended several readings and concerts in each other’s company. I felt I had discovered one of those rare true friends that you only get a few of in this life — at least in my life — Stewart had so many true friends.
But, oh, how I grieve for not becoming the old friends we seemed destined to become. And, how I shudder when I ponder how much greater the loss for Stewart’s innumerable old friends and family. How will we ever fill the whole in our hearts or replace his prodigious and brilliant advocacy for the arts and artists we cherish?
— Mo LaMee, Aspen Writers’ Foundation
Each morning after the Denver Nuggets played, Stewy would test me on the game. “You catch the Nuggs last night?” Tuesday night, I tuned into the Nuggets with when there was just a few seconds to play. I couldn’t keep Stewy out of mind, just knowing that he would have been glued to the TV. The Nuggs were trailing 115-113, and with time running out, and whatever play that had designed was imploding in front of everybody’s eyes. Then the little-known Randy Foye hoisted a prayer, well beyond the three-point arc. Swish! The Nuggets won, 116-115. As for Foye, he was raised in New Jersey, Stewy’s homestate, and attended Villanova, where Stewy earned his law degree. I have to believe this wasn’t a coincidence, and I cried after that buzzer-beater, but only because I knew Stewy was smiling.
— Rick Carroll, Aspen Times editor
Something that has always stood out about Stewart is his love for music and when I first started here it was impossible to miss that he had one of the broadest appreciations for music of all facets than anyone I’ve ever and likely will ever meet.
His generosity with it — sharing knowledge and quirky insider tidbits on bands he knew we all liked and also passing along music he thought or knew you would be into was always a big thing to him. Helping to perpetuate others love of music seemed to be a big part of his mission.
He would bring me CDs. Actually he would leave them on my desk with no note or anything usually and I would come in to work and find little treats for my ears.
Anything from random Irish tribute bands from across the States singing songs I’d grown up with to obscure and rare singles from beloved Irish artists that he’s had in his office for donkey’s years.
These gifts helped perk me up when I was feeling home sick and have been some of the tunes to which Hayleigh learns Irish dancing! Many a snowy afternoon Ceili Dance party at my house and the rip roaring laughter that goes with it happens to the back drop of music Stewart gave me over the years.
I always told him after I’d listened to what he’d left for me and we’d have chats about the merits, accuracy and ridiculousness of most of these bands … (it’s a hard genre to nail down without sounding angry or drunk!).
I only hope he knows how much joy these have and will continue to bring to me and my family.
Rest in peace Stewart. I hope your heaven is filled with musicians you’ve longed to meet and all the rich gout causing food you’ve been denying yourself! xx
— Louise Walker, Aspen Times ad rep
I will remember you exactly as you were: a genuine, brilliant man who made everyone around himself better. Goodbye, friend. You helped me more than you will ever know.
— Karl Herchenroeder, Aspen Times reporter
My all-time favorite Stewy memory: Watching him attempt to snap photos of the Wu-Tang Clan while wading through a sweaty mosh pit at the Belly Up. At one point, Method Man literally walked on top of the crowd while rapping, stepping on shoulders, outstretched hands, heads, and Stewy, giving him an excellent, extreme closeup. Beer was flying, you couldn’t hear yourself talk, and in the middle of that mob i caught Stewart’s eyes for a second and mouthed over the din: “What do you think?”
His response: “(Bleeping) AMAZING!”
That was Stewart: Always in the middle of something — usually something fantastic.
Every day at work I’d wonder into his now-legendary office at the old, purple Aspen Times building to find him jamming away to new music while churning out one of his masterpieces. Or he’d be in there, door closed, on the phone interviewing some brilliant talent like Perry Ferrell, Phil Lesh, Harrison Ford (worst interview ever, he said) the Reverend Al Green or Chuck D.
He had a gift for finding a connection with anyone, from local gallery owners, restaurateurs and musicians to the two young sports guys (Jon Maletz and I) who started working at the Times in 2005.
Hell, it’s hard to find anyone who didn’t love Stewy.
Kevin Costner invited him over to hang with his band after an interview. He hit it off easily with volatile ex-Nuggets star Kenyon Martin and famously moody Dwight Howard. He got more freebies — concert tickets, Nuggets tickets, dinners, swag — than anyone I’ve ever known, all under the pretense of his serious work as a journalist, but mostly because he never needed for much past some quality company, tasty tunes and good eating, and people were more than happy to share.
For all the famous artists he’d interviewed, though, or all the great shows he’d seen, he was the least pretentious guy I’ve ever known. And the smartest.
Really, Stewart could’ve done anything. We all just happened to get lucky that he ditched the stiff lawyer’s suit back east and bolted to Aspen, working the back register at Carl’s before finding his calling as the valley’s arts and entertainment extraordinaire.
He was easily the most prolific writer I’ve ever known, not to mention the most original dresser in a town full of forgettable high-end fashion. Stewy kept Aspen weird, which is how it should be.
And he kept life at the Times interesting and fun, even through brutal layoffs, pay cuts and inept corporate directives.
My last job at the Times was night editor, and editing Stewart’s work was the easiest gig in the whole building. You didn’t have to do anything much more than write the headline — sort of like picking out a nice frame for a Picasso.
Stewart absolutely dominated a plate of hot wings, or pork tacos, or a full rack from the Hickory House, and he remains the best lunch partner I’ve ever had, but him not ever putting on an ounce of extra weight wasn’t even close to the most amazing about him.
No, it was how truly excellent he was as a father to Olivia, his greatest love. The last time I saw him, he and Olivia were visiting Stewy’s folks in Boca Raton. We had dinner at a great Mexican place — Stewy, Liv, his folks, his sister, and me, my wife and baby daughter, Grace — and I secretly took notes on fathering from a master pro.
My greatest hope is that I can be half the dad to my dauther that he was to Olivia. There was no denying how much he adored her, encouraged her, and bonded with her over basketball, books and bad TV.
I already miss you so bad it hurts, Stew, and I’ll never understand why you chose to leave us way too soon. I’m so saddened that you hid your pain so well from all of us. But I’m also forever grateful to have known you, and to have called you one of my best friends.
— Nate Peterson, former Aspen Times sports editor
I met Stewart in my art gallery in Aspen about 20 years ago. I remember he rode up to the gallery on a beater of a bicycle, with a five day growth of beard, wearing his writer’s uniform of T-shirt and sandals. He unslung his worn-out messenger-bag and put his hand out to me: “Hi, I’m Stewart Oksenhorn.”
I live in a world of art, artists, beauty, creativity and sometimes pretense and façade. Stewart was real, 100 percent authentic, no bullshit. He wore what he wanted to, believed in real things, human things, environmentalism, art, music and his family.
He reviewed dozens of art shows for my gallery, wrote about my wife’s art, about me, about my gallery. I got to know him as an art lover, got to speak to him about writing, about his own taste in art, about being a photographer himself, about his ultimate love — music. And in every conversation he always found a way to speak of his daughter, Olivia.
There was a shadow on his soul that I see in all artists, like a hand from beyond pushing the creative to emerge. When this force is benign we call it the Muse, when it drives us to destruction we call it a demon or dark passenger. But it is really us, our greater self, coming through this tiny vessel we call life. In Stewart it must be immense.
— Jay Magidson, art gallery owner
I worked with Stewy in the mid-’90s under Andy Stone when the newsroom was a tangle of eccentric characters and their dogs. Stewy was one of the central characters without any major character flaws: sweet, fun-loving and hardworking. As all Aspen Times alumni do, I checked in over the years to see who remained, and it was a comfort to know that Stewy was still there, caring about Aspen and holding up the tattered flag of small-town journalism. Thank you, Stewy, and Godspeed.
— Mary Lou Bendrick, former Aspen Times writer
I first met Stewart when I was a young pup (marketing coordinator) at Aspen Film. I mistakenly called him “Steve” only a few minutes after we had been introduced. He was quick to correct me, then we became fast friends. Stewart operated on a different level (obvious from all that tie-dye), and I dug that about him. He instilled trust with every word, and he did it all so effortlessly. I’m glad I could work closely with him again over the holidays. And, thankful I could wish him well on his hat trick: Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and his 50th birthday all on the same day. I miss him greatly. To this day, I leave shorter voice mail messages because of Stewart. He made me better in many ways, large and small, and I will always be grateful.
Stewart, I hope you have found peace. Always your friend,
— Jennifer Slaughter
A few things I will remember about Stewart Oksenhorn;
Gunilla complimenting Stewart for wearing jeans since it was the middle of December and he has just decided to quit wearing shorts for the year, I remember he just strutted by to his office like he wears jeans every day.
Seeing Olivia and Stewy sitting at his desk as if the two of them were sharing a secret the rest of world didn’t know about, and all they really were doing was listening to music and just being themselves in the amazing father daughter bond that they had. He told me that he thought Olivia had great taste in music and he was proud of that.
Talking to Stewart about his favorite musicians after he attended Telluride Blues and Brews or Janus Jazz Aspen and thinking to myself I’m getting the dirt on the musicians from the dude, the guru, the Siskel and Ebert of live music, and he is wearing a Dead or WSP T-shirt from 25 years ago and this shirt might disintegrate right before my very eyes if I stare at it too long, but he’s attended more concerts than I could in 10 lifetimes so I would take note of every word he had to say. There was definitely more holes than material in this one concert T-shirt I remember him wearing.
Stewart would genuinely ask you if you were okay or how you were doing, off to the side when no one else was around and when he knew something had happened to you, if it was a bum knee, a loss of a family member, or just because, he cared about everyone that he worked with. A person always felt better after talking to him.
Today I keep looking up from my desk to look at the front door of The Aspen Times office thinking Stewart is walking in, but it is not him and it won’t be.
Stewart; I wish you knew how much you will be missed and I wish I would have genuinely asked you how you were doing these last few weeks, like you would ask me. You were the shit and I thought you were the one in town that had this thing called working figured out because you were doing what you loved.
— Maria Wimmer, Aspen Times circulation manager
Losing a great friend like Stewart Oksenhorn hurts extra badly because Stewart was not only a friend — his life highlighted and punctuated an amazing era in my Aspen history.
I moved to Aspen before the wonderful winter of ’92/’93. That season, I made new friends, worked at Mezzaluna and the now defunct Italian Caviar, learned to ski under the tutelage of Bryan Gonzalez, Sean Sheahy and friends and met my future partners in The Howling Wolf — Steve Leavitt, Danielle Burns and Tonya Noble. Around this time, young business people were making their mark around town — Earl and Kevin at NY Pizza, Karen and Suzanne at Funky Mountain Threads, Chris at Alternative Edge, Terrence and John at Johnny McGuire’s, Herbie at Cafe Inc, Derrick at D & E snowboards and many others. Also during this season, Stewart Oksenhorn starting writing about music and the arts for The Aspen Times.
We opened The Howling Wolf during the winter of ’94/’95. Many of you will recall the Wolf as a restaurant, bar and music club. Early on in our planning for The Howling Wolf, I went to Stewart to discuss our concept and to get his feedback. From this interaction, Stewart and I sprouted a special friendship, one that far exceeded the relationship a writer and club owner might normally enjoy. Stewart’s ideas helped shape the Wolf and over the years his support and criticism helped keep us looking forward and trying to improve. Stewart played in several bands that played the Wolf. Few will forget the Wild Spirit parking lot party with The Hatters and Stewy’s band Basic Food Group. Stewart and Co. played the now infamous late night Howling Wolf Halloween bash at the soon to be demolished Grand Aspen Hotel when the support beams sagged due to over-capacity to the point that guests were truly in danger. Stewart led an all night tribute at The Howling Wolf to Jerry Garcia on the day he died, helping dozens of heartbroken fans mourn a historic loss. Stewart’s support and advice helped us launch The Aspen Harmony Festival in 1997. One of the great days in Howling Wolf history, and an enormous honor to me and our team, surely was hosting Stewart and Candice’s wedding. Stewart was Howling Wolf family.
Since leaving Aspen in 2000, I’ve probably spoken on the phone to Stewart once or twice a year to catch up. I have visited Aspen perhaps six or seven times during these years and my first or second stop in town was always a visit to The Aspen Times and a catch up with Stewart. Over the years, many things have changed in Aspen but one of the only things I could count on year to year was Stewart Oksenhorn brilliantly covering music and the arts, helping teach and enrich a community.
Thank you for all you gave Stewart. Much love to you, Candice and Olivia.
— Paul Levine
I moved to Aspen to join the Times staff in January 2001. I was fresh out of college and beyond terrified. I don’t know what I would have done without Stewart Oksenhorn and his love for “The Simpsons” — hell, his love for life in general. While I remember him most for the days he had half the office singing the “Stop the Planet of the Apes, I Want to Get Off” catalog, Stewy’s joy for the job was just as infectious. I think he shook me out of my bare-bones “5 Ws” phase with his work, a seemingly bottomless well that could be called on at a moment’s notice to save our bacon on slow news days. What always astounded me about those stories — these 2,000-word features he churned out with so little effort that he could trade a Homer quote or two as he typed — was that you actually wanted to read them. They weren’t space-fillers. They were extensions of Stewart, these passionate, winding missives covering his varied tastes in music, sports and, sure, a few “Simpsons” references might’ve slipped in here and there. That made him an inspiration both in and out of the newsroom, his expertise on the arts and entertainment beat making him the most in-demand guy at every event. To further twist the already confusing words of “Simpsons” hero (and occasional pirate) Jebediah Springfield: Stewy, your noble spirit embiggened even the smallest men. That’s how you’ll be remembered.
— Jen Davoren, former Aspen Times reporter
I first met Stewart through his words. I met him in person when I started working as a fill-in editor at The Aspen Times. I sat right outside Stewart’s office, at a time when he was still bringing his dog, Tony, to work (until one day Tony up and decided he didn’t want to come into the office anymore and “retired”). In later years, I connected with Stewart when I handled PR for Aspen Film; he was an amazing supporter of all of the festivals, interviewing countless filmmakers and previewing multiple films. The other night I felt like going through my emails with Stewart (I’m a relentless archiver) and came across the following eerily resonant exchange … Me: “Read your piece on (a local who ended his own life, also at age 50) this a.m., very sad story. I didn’t know him, just knew who he was, but it’s always painful to read about someone who just felt like he couldn’t make it work anymore.” Stewart: “He was a really good guy, unique, big-hearted and also tormented. Strange and sad.” Yes, so strange and sad, indeed. Rest in peace, Stewart.
— Cindy Hirschfeld, Aspen Times Weekly contributor
My first social outing with Stewart was kind of forced on him. He was inviting Jon Maletz to go see the Buena Vista Social Club play at the high school. Jon told him to give his extra ticket to me; I was new so Jon was always trying to give me opportunities to do things in town.
“I can’t take a girl,” was Stewart’s response, whispered but audible across the room.
We ended up going, and I drove Stewart in my car. I thought my driving was going to give him a panic attack.
Stewart was interesting to me that way: He wasn’t such a rebel that he wanted to break the speed limit, but he certainly didn’t follow the norm. You couldn’t typecast Stewy. You can’t describe him by placing him into a category.
He was a category all his own, and it saddens me that he didn’t see the beauty in that near the end. He might not have been successful by some people’s terms, but he had a generosity of spirit that he could find something in common with anyone and would go out of his way to talk to someone, to offer them a piece of candy or to lend a helping hand. He was never “too busy,” even though he was constantly on the move.
I admire that greatly and recently had made a mental note to try to make time for others more, particularly Stewy, who I saw was hurting and yet still made an effort to chat with me. I wish I had done that more, not because I think it would have made a difference for him, but because it might have for me. Here’s to you, Stewy. I can only hope I’ve learned at least something from you.
— Jill Beathard, editor, Snomwass Sun
Hearing of Stewart Oksenhorn’s death was an emotional body blow of the sort we all hope we never have to endure, and it sent my mind scurrying back in time to the pleasure and fun that Stewart brought to any and every event and circumstance.
We met not too long after he had moved to Aspen from the East Coast, while he was working at the back cash register at Carl’s Pharmacy right next door to The Aspen Times. I had recently worked at Carl’s for a year, as well, and after returning to The Aspen Times to become an editor I still used the back door off the alley to get into the small grocery section of the store and buy snacks.
That was where Stewy and I first became friends, chatting about the local music scene, his conversion from East Coast lawyer to ragamuffin Aspen gadabout, politics, snow, you name it, we discussed it in depth. Among the topics we dove into was his desire to work for The Aspen Times as an arts and entertainment reporter/writer/photographer, a desire that he so masterfully and uniquely fulfilled for nearly two decades.
His unquenchable enthusiasm, his warmth and concern for others, and his dogged determination to look and live according to his own lights were a marvel for all who knew him.
I remember him at the Gondola Plaza one day, being interviewed on the Today Show and giving viewers nationwide a glimpse of the vagabond lifestyle that still was a hallmark of Aspen in better days, before the glitz and the wealth overtook the town’s streetscape and its collective behavior.
We grew apart after I left the Times to work at other papers in the valley, and I always will regret that my own need to focus on my work meant we saw each other infrequently.
Stewart was a strong-willed individual dedicated to his individualitwy, his family, and his art. His articles about the musicians, artists, comics and other creative types who drifted through Aspen over the years were not only gems of insight and intelligence. They also were his declaration of independence from having to live a drab, conformist life.
He was a bright example to us all, and his contribution to our world will be remembered as much as they will be missed.
— John Colson, former Aspen Times reporter/Aspen Times Weekly columnist
I was tremendously heartbroken yesterday to hear the news of his passing. I had the pleasure of meeting with Stewart last April during the festival, and recall vividly our conversations together. We spoke at length not only about film and storytelling, but also about growing up on the East Coast, and music and basketball. It was one of those conversations that moved quickly past the professional into a refreshingly personal and candid exchange of ideas and thoughts about life. I was so touched by what he wrote about my film, and was (and still am) very moved by his generosity and the depth of what he shared with me both in print and in person. I am really grateful to have had the opportunity to connect with such an amazing soul. Reading over the many tributes to him, it’s clear that my feelings were shared by many in the Aspen community, and I’m sure that his moving on is felt deeply.
Sending warmest thoughts to you and everyone in Aspen during this time.
— Durier Ryan, filmmaker
Stewart was a champion for the arts nonprofits in Aspen. His constant support through attendance and promotion was his way of showing a heartfelt appreciation for our missions in the community. Along with some very large, and most likely unfillable shoes, Stewart leaves behind a void that each of our organizations will be feeling for some time to come. And yet, we can remember him with admiration through the legacy he has left with all he has done for the arts in our community. I know The Red Brick is better for it, as is everyone who was fortunate to know Stewart.
— Angie Callen, executive director, Red Brick Council for the Arts
In my 13 years at the Aspen Times, there were many personalities that came through those doors. None were like Stewy. When he first showed up, a few of us were taken aback as all of the sudden our “freebies” to all of the Aspen arts and entertainment events were starting to get hogged by this new guy in pajamas. We were pissed off to say the least. He had upset the perfect little apple cart that we had gotten used to.
In almost no time at all, he ingratiated himself into our little group and we would all go together to those Aspen events. We would hang out in one of our houses endlessly talking about music, especially the Grateful Dead, and we would grow to support Stewy, his bandmates and their burgeoning music careers at whatever Aspen hotspot they would be playing. I especially remember the gigs at Schwanee’s at Highlands.
We had some great afternoons into evenings there at the bottom of Aspen Highlands in our ski boots drinking and dancing to Stewy and his band. I can only hope that the crop of youngsters that has taken over the Aspen party scene is doing it up as well as we did back then. I miss those times, and I will miss you, too, Stewart.
— Bryan Gonzales, former Aspen Times production manager
Intentionally or not, Stewart Oksenhorn set the tone at The Aspen Times. He was a hard worker, but he did it in his pajama bottoms with a smile on his face. Over time, he became somewhat symbolic.
One day in 2004, Stew even spent a chunk of the morning with no shirt on. He and photographer Paul Conrad needed a picture to illustrate an article called “Stewy’s Back.” Stewart was reintroducing some kind of story vehicle — maybe a “Best of” list or some way to express his artistic opinions — but whatever the topic, the plan was to illustrate it with a photo, literally, of Stewy’s back.
So, in the middle of the main floor, Stewart faced the wall with no shirt on, and Paul (laughing wildly) clicked away with his camera, getting close-ups of Stewart’s pale and hairy back.
At this exact moment, Publisher Jenna Weatherred came walking through the office with a candidate for the editor’s job, which was vacant at the time. Clad in a coat and tie, this unsuspecting fellow gawked in disbelief as the cackling photographer and the half-naked hippie went about their business. I can’t remember how Jenna attempted to explain the scene, but eventually she decided the candidate wasn’t “the right fit” for The Aspen Times. In my mind, this was a hilarious victory.
Last Monday I walked across the Tiehack bridge where Stewart took his last step, trying unsuccessfully to understand. I kept wishing he had reached out somehow, given us a chance to help — to give him a hug, lend a sympathetic ear or buy him a plate of ribs.
I doubt Stew truly understood how much we all loved him, how his warmth, humor and independent spirit buoyed us every day. I’ll never return that enormous favor.
— Bob Ward, former Aspen Times editor
Stewart Oksenhorn was unique — and that’s such a trite term that I have to spend a moment nailing it down. Stewart deserves that.
Stewart wasn’t almost unique. He wasn’t nearly unique. He wasn’t merely rare. He was unique in the absolute true sense of the word.
Stewart Oksenhorn was one of a kind.
You all know the expression “After they made him they broke the mold.”
Well, when they made Stewart, there just wasn’t any “mold” involved. He was strictly one-off, handmade. Slapped together from mismatched parts that somehow blended into a perfect whole.
He wasn’t unusual. He was flat impossible: a mixture of weird and goofy and deadly serious and dangerously smart. Happy-go-lucky and fearsomely intense.
Certainly we have to be sad. But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised that a compound so strange just flew apart.
There must be tears that he’s gone, of course.
But let’s not focus on the fact that he’s gone.
Let’s remember the joy that we had him at all.
For some reason, the memory of Stewart that has been in my mind these last few days is an odd one.
It was at the Times office years ago. The editorial department was half a story above the rest of the building, through a double door and up a very short flight of stairs.
My office was at the top of those stairs and one day I heard a bit of a crash, nothing major, and then Stewart saying, quietly, mildly, “Uh-oh.” As if he’d spilled some soup on his shoe — or something equally trivial.
I stuck my head out of my office and there was Stewart, standing at the bottom of the stairs with a hand to his forehead and blood running down his face.
In an excess of enthusiasm, he had leaped off the top step and, misjudging the distance, slammed his head on the frame of the doors.
There was no scream of pain. No curse of anger. Just that mild, quiet, slightly puzzled “Uh-oh.” It doesn’t even get an exclamation point.
We washed the blood off his face, slapped a band-aid on the cut and Stewart went back to work.
Maybe that’s why I remember it so well: no drama in a moment when a little drama would have been entirely understandable.
For most of us.
But Stewart — I think I mentioned this — was unique.
And we were lucky.
— Andy Stone, former Aspen Times editor