“I wish, I wish, I wish in vain/That we could sit simply in that room again.”
— “Bob Dylan’s Dream”
On a recent Saturday at the Meridell Park Center, I attended a celebration for the life of Glen Allen. I was not close to Glen, but remembered him from musical jams and his performances of two songs in particular: “Ghost Riders in the Sky” and “Dark as a Dungeon.” For some reason, Glen rarely changed his strings and adamantly refused the gift of new ones. I did know a few details about Glen Allen. He had attended Cornell University, received a commendation from President Lyndon Johnson and lived in what looked like a machine factory south of town filled with antique equipment.
The memorial proved to be an afternoon of epiphanies.
Arriving at Meridell Park, I was struck by how much the place where I had briefly lived in the late 1970s had changed. The old yellow house on the hill was gone, and even the hill looked different, as though it had been moved, somehow. I had so many memories of friends who had lived in that house or surrounding bungalows. We often played live music and had a homemade sauna and a garden on the grounds. Now, only the cottonwood trees that surrounded the house remain. The Owl Club, which remained open on Sundays, collapsed long ago. The friendships have endured on some level, however, though many have scattered elsewhere and a few are gone, forever.
I don’t know if Glen Allen ever visited that “accidental commune,” but he would have been welcome.
Inside the Meridell Park Event Center, photos and a video of Glen Allen were on display. Some friends and acquaintances I hadn’t seen in decades, and many of them had traveled a considerable distance to reach the center. All the guests agreed Glen was unique, yet represented so many different things to so many different people. He was certainly gifted in many ways: construction designer and worker (he built Steve Eaton’s big house on Buckskin Road), mathematician, scientist and all-around brilliant man who chose to stay off the grid rather than pursue a personal fortune. He ran for Idaho governor as a write-in “stealth candidate.” I often consider what Glen would have done if he had won.
There was food, drink and live music, including Steve Eaton playing a set of his familiar songs, i.e., the humorous “I got Kicked Out of My Bluegrass Band When I Became a Democrat.” An old pal from years ago — John Hansen — a superb bluegrass guitar picker, played three songs, including “Me’n Old Joe Brannick,” a touching lament for a late friend. Hansen’s last song, Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” perfectly fit the occasion. Perhaps it was haunting because one day, all of us “shall be released.” The presence of children in the event center reminded everyone that life is renewed and carries on.
Though any memorial carries a bitter-sweet melancholy, Glen Allen’s tribute ultimately carried a positive message. Here is a statement from Glen Allen’s obituary:
“Glen’s family and friends are committed to creating a legacy of Glen’s life. We want to turn the shop buildings on South Fifth into a makerspace, an arts and innovation center where the kind of artists and builders Glen liked to hang out with can practice their crafts. If you are interested in being a part of creating this legacy, please contact Gary Allen at firstname.lastname@example.org.”
Every artist wants to leave behind his or her gift to humanity: a book, a song, a painting or any special work of art. It would serve Glen Allen’s memory to fulfill this special man’s legacy by encouraging future artists and builders.
Michael Corrigan graduated from San Francisco State with an Master of Arts degree in English and creative writing. He was active in theater and attended the American Film Institute. He retired from Idaho State University as an instructor of English and speech communications. He has written several books, including “Confessions of a Shanty Irishman,” “Mulligan” and “These Precious Hours.” NPR broadcast his play for two readers: “Letters from Rebecca.”