Today, the Lakes Area community said goodbye to John Senn. The local musician, Kiwanis Citizen of the Years, Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Music Association founder and guitar teacher passed away Thursday. Personally, I last spoke with John the week before the Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame had its grand opening. It was the second time I'd been welcomed into John and Naomi's home. The first had been to interview him for his Kiwanis recognition. My publisher had once said the best interviews are the ones over a kitchen table with a coffee pot slowly being emptied. I turned down the coffee that time, but it was true. John certainly was one of the friendliest interviews I'd ever had. When I stepped through his door earlier this year, we stayed in the living room to talk – he in his arm chair and me next to him. His health issues had begun to show, but his spirit was exactly the same, and he maintained the best part about his time with the IRMMA was seeing people reunited with one another. People were always John's focus it seemed.
Once I'd put my pen down and switched off my recorder, the conversation turned to me. John was very interested in learning about me, where I was from, where I went to school, how long we'd lived in Spirit Lake and how my wife's business was doing. I'm sure doctors had given him a prognosis at that point, which makes it all the more admirable and all the more telling of John's character that he was most interested in other people.
In short folks, every single one of the nice things people have said about John Senn is absolutely true. He'll be missed.
I began work on this cartoon after the paper got word Friday he had passed. I knew exactly where to find reference photos for John. He'd been in enough features over the years I knew we had vintage group shots of Dee Jay & the Runaways (the band which had the 1960s hit "Peter Rabbit") as well as some more recent shots of John – always in his baseball cap. For whatever reason, young John was difficult to capture at first. I never trace for these things, so what you'll notice in the animation below is a sort of lurch between frames as I altered his features until I saw a face I recognized. From there, I actually used one of my own photos of John for reference. The first time I met John was actually at the 2017 Iowa Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony. I got a shot of him rounding the flag pole outside the former rock 'n' roll museum near the Roof Garden in Arnolds Park. I tweaked the arm positioning as I sketched John and his guitar. I also went and found some online footage of him playing said guitar to be sure he would play such a model (not that I got it 100 percent accurate). The final step was the color. I wasn't sure of the jacket's color because I had been using a black and white photo from his days with Dee Jay and the Runaways for most of the reference imagery. So, being as our seasonal staff writer Doris Welle is a long-time friend of John and is involved in the IRMMA, I asked her if she knew just which color it should be. She was fairly certain the band's jackets were royal blue satin (if she's incorrect, rest assured I will change the color, but being as it will run in black and white on page 4 of tomorrow's edition, the print version will remain as correct as it can be). I had considered adding "He'll be hoppin' along" to the frame, as those were the final lyrics of "Peter Rabbit's" chorus, but I was concerned it might detract from the mood of the piece. I settled on using the lyrics for the title of the digital version.
I would estimate this cartoon took me around six hours to complete over the course of Friday and Monday. When capturing a particular person, and especially one whose face is so important to the community, that's not unreasonable in my opinion. If I hadn't corrected the proportions, it wouldn't have been as recognizable and therefore wouldn't have been much of a tribute.
Thanks for reading, and thanks for the legacy, John.