Damien performing (looks like Gordon Park)

by Tea Krulos

I first met Damien about ten years ago, when I was tapped by the Riverwest Currents to direct their annual variety show, the Riverwest Follies. Damien volunteered to perform and received an enthusiastic round of applause after he showed off his skills in a solo percussion performance, tapping on his experience from being in his school’s drum corps. Damien would go on the help the Currents again for a couple more Follies shows where he performed with his band Astral/Subastral. At one of those shows (I was the director again) Damien saved the day by volunteering to be soundperson. Damien was beyond generous in supporting his friends and their ideas, whether that was with encouraging words or by volunteering his time and skills. He will sorely be missed. Damien died from complications with pneumonia on February 12.  

Damien performing (looks like Gordon Park)

“I think his best quality was his willingness to get involved in things and the ease with which he met people. He was always checking out new projects and trying to support people in Milwaukee, whether it was in music, arts, podcasts, community organizations,” says Jenn Clark, who was married to Damien and is the mother of their three sons. “He just loved the city and wanted it to thrive culturally. He loved people, too, and I’m hearing a lot of stories now about how he made people feel loved during difficult times, he was there for them when they needed someone, things like that. I am glad he had that kind of impact.”

Jenn first met Damien at Mad Planet and kept running into him at shows and found his AOL profile. They connected, and he moved from Racine to Milwaukee in 2001 to live with her.

“We bounced around Milwaukee for a while—Riverwest for about 7 years—and then to Cudahy. Even when we moved to Cudahy, Damien still loved Riverwest, and stayed involved with a lot of things there,” Jenn says. She adds that he moved back to the neighborhood last fall after the couple separated.

“Not a great love story, but a real one–he was still my best friend and we talked daily and raised our kids together even after realizing our marriage wasn’t going to work,” Jenn says.

Damien had a great passion for music, which shined through in his band Astral/Subastral, a diverse group of musicians that fluctuated in number from five to a dozen depending on what the show called for. Local show promoter Mason Schwab worked with the group several times, collaborating with them on shows like the Random Acts concert series, the Riverwest Sessions, and the Sankofa MKE Music Festival, which celebrated black music and culture. 

“Since the day I met him, he proved himself to be a humble, creative, innovative person who I am proud to have called a friend,” Mason says. “He had an immeasurable positive impact on my life during the time I knew him. Damien was the type of guy who believed in you, even if you didn’t fully believe in yourself. Damien never said ‘no’ when I asked him to be part of a new project I was curating. He was always developing some new idea and eager to be part of other people’s projects.”

It’s at one of Damien’s shows that he met his friend Julius Owens. The two would go on to host a podcast called Podcast of the Century together, a fun show where the two discussed all sorts of unusual topics. 

Currents file from 2004

“I took a chance to see some random local band and I ended up making friends, not just with him but a whole group of creative people,” Julius says. “He changed my life and I’m forever grateful. He was always somebody who wanted to make a difference in the community, always encouraging people to get out there and get involved. That’s my best memory of him. I loved him for that. No matter where you’re at in life, you can make it better.”

So, by now we all know Damien was a great musician and a supporter of the local arts. But I asked Jenn to tell us something about Damien that we might not know.

“Damien was a super fierce musician, into all this horror stuff, ghosts, Krampus, whatever, could kind of look like an imposing presence at times. But! He was totally soft,” Jenn says. “I don’t know if people realized that about him. He loved holding babies — our own and anyone else’s — he loved playing with kids, seeing puppies, all of that kind of stuff. He was a little self-conscious about it, but he was sensitive. Do you remember a really awful movie called What Dreams May Come? Robin Williams as a dad, totally emotionally manipulative family movie. Damien cried when we saw it, which I then teased him about for the next 17 years.”

That brings us to the most important thing Damien was—a loving father to his three sons, Levon, Dexter, and Myles. Jenn says “It’s an obvious thing for me to say as their mom, but they are such good kids. D and I always felt like we were really lucky to get them. They look out for each other, and they’ve looked out for their mama as well this last week.” Jenn broke down some info on their sons and what the world can look forward to seeing from them.

“Levon is the oldest, he’s 17. He spends most of his time with his dog, Duke, and loves the outdoors,” Jenn says. “He is looking to get into a forestry program and is hoping to maybe find work in the parks system. Levon is a very calm presence, introverted, and has an extreme sense of responsibility when it comes to his younger brothers.”
Jenn describes Dexter, 11, as the family “wild child.”

“He’s extremely outgoing—everyone everywhere knows him,” Jenn says. “He plays guitar and drums, music comes very naturally for him. He’s also dedicated to playing football in a junior league in Cudahy. He is friendly to most everyone he meets and extremely energetic.”

And then there’s Myles, 9, who sounds like a smart kid.

“He’s quiet, he likes taekwondo and video games, and he wants to start a YouTube channel when he’s older. He’s also very interested in presidents and American history. In 2016 we took a road trip to Disney World and decided to cut it short and drive up the coast to DC so Myles could see the White House and Smithsonian, and I think he liked that better than Disney.”

Astral/Subastral played a show on February 16 along with Damien’s friends Lauryl Sulfate and Her Ladies of Leisure and Funk Summit Bass Team at Company Brewing. Damien had set up the show as his birthday party. The show went on as a celebration of Damien’s life and music, with door money being donated to his family.

If you would like to make a donation to Damien’s family, there is a GoFundMe campaign here: www.gofundme.com/damienjonesmemorial

I encourage you to do so—as Mason said, Damien was a man that believed in you, even if you didn’t really believe in yourself. Damien gave so much of himself to his friends, family, and community, and was filled with good will, optimistic attitude, and generosity. That’s something we should all try to emulate.