Monday, March 28, 2011

my soul is broken... | Leon Lanzbom, RIP

He was born October 28, 1954 and left the planet Friday, March 25, 2011.  He was my best friend and almost-brother, would-be brother, now gone brother.

I will never be the same.

Leon Lanzbom played the guitar better than Clapton and was the closest friend I ever had in San Diego, California--a beautiful city, to be sure, but not always filled with the friendliest folks.

We spent a lot of time together the last decade hanging out at Monty's/Louie's at SDSU, at Ponce's on Adams Avenue, at his apartment by the shore in La Jolla, and his condo on Torrey Pines of late. I was his friend and his chef, his friend and his gardener, his friend and his nemesis--we fought almost all the time and all the time loved each other deeply.  He was my neo-"Mexican" friend to me; I was the would-be "Jewish" friend from Jersey that just happened to grow up in South Texas.

I learned so much about music and writing and friendship from him.

My heart hurts so much now that I think I cannot stand it.

In the end, it was his big heart that let him down--a damned piece of salvaged plumbing that could not take it any more.  His physical heart.

But know this: his real heart was huge, his soul enormous.

He saved my life one day--did I tell him?  Did he know?

Some will say "he's in a better place" and other such nonsense (the words we use to cope with unspeakable, irretrievable loss).  But he is not. And we are not.

Back in the day, Leon and I collaborated a lot--here's the class he designed that I webmastered; here is the class we taught together.

Here's some of his writing from his Word Rogues site:

Who Are We?

Words -- so innocent and powerless as they are, 

as standing in a dictionary, 

how potent for good and evil they become 

in the hands 

of one who knows how to combine them.
                              --Nathaniel Hawthorne
My favorite Jersey Shore memory was playing in the shore break with my friends.  We'd cautiously slide as close to the edge of the continent as possible and play a game called "Let Go."  The idea: relax and let the water take us wherever it flowed, staying, and here's the key, as flexible as possible.  By the time the shore-break was done with us, we might have landed thirty feet down the beach or have been stranded like seals in a pile of shells.

Years later, I would play a different form of "Let Go."  I would test my flexibility in real life. 

I ran a fairly large chiropractic practice on Cape Cod, seeing anyone who needed care.  The "discipline": to give for the sake of giving, my doors were open to anyone who needed care, regardless of financial condition.  Patients came from as far as Providence, Rhode Island.  Some would even fly in from Nantucket.  But, after fifteen years, and thousands of treatments, I began to break down.  After a severe bought of bronchitis, I decided to play "Let Go" of my chiropractic life.  Against the advice of my accountant, I sold my practice and moved to San Diego.  I dug out my old surfboard and got back into the ocean.  Just sitting there with no schedule set for tomorrow--feeling the kelp brush my legs, watching the tide lift and lower all things, hearing the drum-beat of water on the bottom of my board--was like meditation.  My big question: should I play it safe and open another office or start my life over, studying a great passion, writing and literature.

Always one to choose pathos over ethos, I "Let Go."  I went back to school, starting from the beginning--San Diego Mesa College--and moved on to a BA in American literature, an MA in children's literature, and an MFA in poetry at SDSU.  Along the way, I  observed and absorbed the techniques of my most dedicated professors. What made them different?  I noticed that the best were able to take even the most boring subjects and offer them in a way that was uniquely theirs--same subject, same words, different retelling.

So here I am, welcoming you, attempting to bring grammar, writing, poetry, and literature into your life.  I'm trying to retell the same story--giving for the sake of giving--trying to make every class myfirst class.  And you, whether you're a student, an aspiring writer, or a published poet, I hope you feel that unquenchable thirst for the music of words--spoken, written, and visualized,--and I hope this site helps you find your way through the common problems of writing. 

Look around.  You'll find several researched resources on writing, grammar, and critical thinking. Feel free to check on some of my live English classes.  But most of all, if words are your love, I hope this inspires you to "Let Go."  --Leon Lanzbom

Goodnight, Leon; I look forward to hanging with you again on the other side--you can have the shrimp burrito and I'll have the carne asada torta.  Old times. Glory days.

Me and Leon Lanzbom, performing at GALOKA
near Bird Rock, California (La Jolla) in the Fall of 2004.....
Leon Lanzbom, Ponce's Restaurant, 2008


I just posted a collection of Lanzbom-laced snapshots here.


  1. I loved that man-both of you. You both believed in me so much. He would ask me constantly about the bar and I was anxious to send him an email and tell him when I passed! (I still don't know if I did). His words of wisdom will never be forgotten. My heart heart hurts to hear this news. I will find a way to honor him. He was truly fabulous.

  2. This is the saddest I've been in many years. Playing at the shore as kids, then losing touch for years, only to find that kind generous soul again in San Diego.
    His stories and memories of times both recent and long forgotten made our all too short time back together pass in the blink of an eye. I was looking forward to a return trip this spring, buy must now say my final farewell on Tuesday.
    Good night my friend.

  3. Lovely post, William. Thank you for sharing "Word Rogues" with those of us who missed the chance to meet Leon. My deep condolences to his extended family and friends....I have to say, I have already learned so much about him in just the last couple of days -- by reading his words and hearing about him from all of you...Clearly, this was a remarkable person, to have affected so many, so deeply. Clearly, Leon lives.

  4. I first met Leon when he was a student in my English 101 class at Mesa College. He went on to take my English 249 (creative writing--where he wanted to write fiction but began to discover he had the soul of a poet) and one or two other classes. He went on to SDSU, earning a BA, MA, and MFA, and then we became colleagues, as he taught classes at Mesa.

    What a joy to see a student become a teacher. But that joy was all the sweeter because long before he became a colleague, we became friends. We spent more time chatting on the phone than in person. Indeed, my only regret is not having been able to spend more time in person (lesson to us all: make more time).

    To hear students talk about Leon is to hear them talk about a true teacher--one who guides the way for those wishing to walk the path. Leon was always a teacher. He tried to teach his chiropractic patients how to take better care of themselves. When he became an English prof, he simply changed venues, continuing to teach people how to take care, to improve, to pursue the path.

    We will all miss Leon, each in our own way. Farewell, sweet prince, whose poetic heart and soul touched so many so deeply, so profoundly.

    See you on the other side, my friend--
    Ron Israel
    (San Diego Mesa College)

  5. From Leon's friend and colleague @ SDSU, Professor Alida Allison:

    Leon Lanzbom was a delight to know, always curious, always active, always generous with his time, talents, and creativity. He was a presence in the English/CompLit Dept. for many years and in many roles-- MA student in Children's Literature, grad assistant, MFA student, and teacher as well. He was a friend to many of us and a special friend for me as we shared cultural roots, i.e. food and jokes.

    I will miss him and his big beautiful smile.

    Alida Allison, Professor
    Dept. of English and Comparative
    San Diego State University

  6. Just read your tribute to Leon on the blog--really well put; the sweetness and the sadness shine through. Good stuff.

    I have been thinking about him a lot since we talked on Saturday. He was such a sweet guy and so genuine, always getting excited about things; even the smallest things could set him off on one of his inspired disquisitions. The last time I saw him was when I came down for the Steinbeck conference. The Friday after the gig, you, Leon & I went to lunch at the Waterfront downtown. It was a Friday and I ordered clam chowder. Neither you nor Leon ordered the soup. Now at the Waterfront, they serve their chowder with a little shot of cream sherry to float on the top of the soup. When the waitress brought my soup, Leon saw this, immediately ordered the chowder (with an extra side car) and then spent twenty minutes talking about how good the soup was and thinking aloud about how more things ought to include cream sherry. Toward the end of our lunch, I downed a draft (as is my special ability) and Leon told me that I "drank beer like an athlete." Not a time has gone by since then that I don't hear that in my head when I slug a beer.

    I also remember a late night guitar jam with him at your house after one of your Christmas parties. We played for a while and then, as the party dwindled, it was you, Lila, Staci, me and Leon sitting around your dining table until about five AM. The whole time, Leon was strumming his guitar and holding forth on topics that I don't remember now, but I do remember laughing my ass off.

    It's so sad that Leon has left the building, and I'm really sorry for you, Billy—I know what a great friend Leon was to you. But I think that I'm really sorry for us all—his was a sweet soul and the world is a little bit dimmer because he's not around anymore.



  7. Bill, thank you so much for sharing your words and images of Leon. I am broken hearted but glad he had a friend like you.

  8. Dr. Lanzbom once wanted to read a piece of my writing in front of the class. I begged him to not, and he wouldn't hear of it. I convinced him to keep it anonymous, my own stupid shame at having created something worthwhile. But to say I was proud that he liked it that much, found it to be worthy of sharing with my peers, would be a vast understatement.

  9. Hey Jimmy, thanks for the note. You know what's funny and cool--in 2002, when Leon was an undergraduate in my Comparative Literature class, I did the same thing to him. He wrote something trippy/cosmic about life, the oceans, and the stars. It was beautiful, like him, and I read it to the class.

  10. Remembering Leon:

    A baby grand piano has fallen on my head today in a grand blazing glory of dissonant mangled chords, and F sharp has lodged itself into my heart.

    The faint tinny note echoes deep, repeating itself over and over again.
    And the lyrics are terrible.

    “A mutual friend of ours, Leon Lanzbom passed this Friday.”
    “A mutual friend of ours, Leon Lanzbom passed this Friday.”
    “A mutual friend of ours, Leon Lanzbom passed this Friday.”
    “A mutual friend of ours, Leon Lanzbom passed this Friday.”

    It won't stop. Worse than the worse song you've ever heard repeating in your brain, it won't stop. And please ignore the strange, strangled, muffled percussion track, it just me sniffling and crying in the background.

    At first the words didn't register. Then I thought it was some sick joke. Then I just didn't know what to do. I was on the phone, and my words halted mid sentence. They just abandoned me. The words on my computer screen blurred, and I was able to get out something about a friend passing, and having to go, cause there was no way I could carry on a normal conversation.

    I suppose it's fitting that I find out about Leon's death via Facebook. We often talked online since miles distanced us, though we didn't talk as much as I would have liked. Our conversations always seemed brief and halted, and he would often sign off abruptly before I had a chance to respond.

    And there goes F sharp again, resonating through my head, deep and sad, and tainted with guilt. Why didn't we ever pick up a phone?

    I still don't know the particulars of his passing. All I can do is guess. I knew he was in the hospital for a while, but he never mentioned anything other than that he was in the hospital, and he was fine. So I believed him. I JUST talked to him ten days ago. But of course it was very brief, as all our conversations of late have been. Were. Present past tense is failing me right now.

    I still don't completely believe it. Almost all of my memories of Leon are of him smiling, and so full of life and love and encouragement. And his delightfully twisted Jersey sense of humor, oh don't let it fool you, he had such a big heart. We were driving to lunch one day, the sun was shinning in San Diego, and he was telling me a story about some guys in high school that tried to run over stray cats, you know, just for funsies. He was the passenger in a car with such a guy once (let's call him Bob), and he literally made him stop, told him how sick it was to try and purposely run over a cat, and got out of the car. Decided to walk the rest of the way. Years later, Bob ran into Leon, and he thanked him for that day, because after that day he never tried to run over another cat.

  11. (Remembering Leon continued)

    I had the honor of tutoring with Leon at the Mesa writing center. He was an amazingly patient and creative teacher. The kind of teacher that comes around once in a life time. The kind that everybody wants. The kind that truly, genuinely gives a shit. He was what every movie about every great teacher has been. He was Robin Williams in Dead Poet's Society, Julia Roberts in Mona Lisa Smile, hell, he was fucking Arnold Schwarzenegger in Kindergarten Cop, super bad ass, and always willing to go an extra mile to help you out.

    I don't think I would have graduated from UC Berkeley without Leon's help. I don't think there's a single paper I turned in that he didn't look over for me and return with suggestions. He helped me improve in my writing far more than any of my professors or TA's did. And I will always remember the conversation where he told me how proud he was to see my writing develop and strengthen. He was proud of me, but I hope he was also proud of himself because he helped me evolve as a writer.

    And then when I stopped writing and turned to music, he was there too, always supportive. Leon was a brilliant musician, and one day I asked him, “Why don't you have a band?” His answer was simple and painfully truthful to his character, “Because it's my music, it's for me, and not anyone else.” Being the attention whore that I am, I never fully understood his statement, I still don't, I don't think I ever will, but I fully respect it and honor it, and am extremely appreciative that he's shared his music with me.

    Leon has touched so many lives, and will be missed by them all. I know I will miss him very much—I will miss internet conversations, grabbing food at diners and drinks at dive bars. I will miss his talent, his writing, his support and his amazing slightly demented sense of humor. My heart goes out to his family and those who knew him better than I did, for their loss is even greater.

    Words can't fully do him justice, but they're all I have, and I find it quite fitting as Leon helped me become the writer I am today. I am forever grateful to have had his friendship. I am still in shock, and probably will be for a while, just staring at the jumbled piano pieces scattered around me, F sharp never quite leaving my head.

  12. Also, thank you for this blog.

  13. you are welcome--what else am i to do with myself in these days of memory, angst, sadness, and, oddly, laughter; Leon was one funny guy!

  14. After reading Jimmy and Bill's comments about reading in class, I'm prompted to share that I still use one of the poem's Leon wrote for my Intro Creative Writing course. It's called "The Fowl Wars"; I present it along with Sherwood Anderson's "The Egg." We just laughed about it a few weeks ago. And so, more sadness, more laughter, and yes, Bill, Leon possessed a singular humor.
    And I echo Amanda's comment: thanks for putting up this blog.
    --Ron Israel
    Here's the poem if it's ok to post:

    By Leon E Lanzbom

    I’m being chased
    by damned chickens.
    They throw their eggs at me,
    pullets, mediums, jumbos,
    but I toss them back,
    like hot hand grenades ready to blow.
    These chickens are relentless,
    they force the baby chicks to the front lines,
    chirping little yellow balls,
    with beaks set on kill--
    but I’m not ready to surrender,
    I’ve got a little surprise for these hens!
    From out the bushes, I tug my salvation,
    a Weber-domed BBQ.
    One look and the chickens run--
    little stick-legged bastards,
    back to the coops,
    back to the warmth of the candlers,
    back to the safety of their nests,
    to plan and plot their next assault.

  15. I love that poem--you know he used to work for his grandfather on their old chicken farm back east; he knew from chickens. His father was a builder and he knew his way around hammers and the like--he put down roofs in Jersey..... serious working-man kind of things.... and he was a poet, and a writer, and a musician, and a daddy, and.... he was so many things.......

    "He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?"
    Marlene Dietrich as "Tanya" | Touch of Evil (1958, d. Orson Welles)

  16. Thanks for posting that poem Ron. I hadn't read it before. It made me smile. :)

  17. Thank you for posting these tributes to an amazing man, whom I've never met, except through your beautiful tributes to him. I was an English major back in the day and imagine I would have loved knowing him. He is indeed an inspiration to me. Thinking I will start writing again. I love the chicken poem, I see what a talent he is. As a fellow member of the tribe,I believe we will all be together again someday. Looking forward to making his acquaintance. May his memory be for a blessing.

  18. I really enjoyed Professor Leon's carefree teaching style. He was good guy and I was just getting to know him in my English class at Mesa.I will never forget him and he will truly be missed.

  19. Thanks Alec--please have your peers drop a line here; spread the word!

  20. Here's a comment from Professor June Cummins, Children's Literature and Grad Director, SDSU:

    I was shocked to hear of Leon's death. I miss him terribly. He was one of the sweetest men I've ever known. He was a student in the first graduate seminar I ever taught, and his quiet, understated wit and warm smile helped me through the insecurity and anxiety of teaching a grad class for the first time. I didn't know him as well as some of you; I didn't hang out with him that much, didn't know much about his musical and literary talents, didn't even realize he was ill. But I always felt close to him, and my understanding of what a good, decent man he was only deepened over the years. We are all shortchanged by his untimely death, by losing him so early. We love you, Leon, and we will never forget you.

    Thank you, Bill.


  21. Anonymous has left a new comment on your post "my soul is broken... | Leon Lanzbom, RIP":

    Such a great teacher he was!he put his soul and heart into every lecture we had, and the site he created for us students is a piece of art. it's hard to believe Professor Leon is gone now.
    He will never be forgotten...
    K. K.

  22. I cannot believe that this kindest, sweetest, most generous man is not here. Leon was a great deal more than a student, he was one of few souls with a rare gift to be larger than life in a quiet way. He always gave others laughter, he loved his students. He wrote a gorgeous and hillarious sequence of poems about animals and his poems about childhood were both heartbreaking and lyrical and filled with laughter. Last time I saw him he was telling me how he bought 30 books of poems and read them all in a week! I was meaning to email him about a new book by Anna Swir, a poet he loved. But I am late. And I will miss him. What a beautiful soul.

  23. The anonymous posting above is by Ilya Kaminsky--one of Leon's poet mentors and someone Lanzbom loved, absolutely loved. Thanks, Ilya!

  24. I meet Leon in the summer of 2009 at Cuyamaca when I took his English 110 class. I never felt so encouraged and inspired as I did taking his class... not to mention that I loved his dog. We had adopted our chihuahuas from the same agency and he was the sweetest man with that puppy! I will always love him for the outstanding teacher and mentor that he was and I will miss him dearly.