William Joel Nutttall
July 12, 1955 - January 9, 2023
You once told me you thought me closer to Deb than you. It was not so then, still not. You both found your entry into my heart and soul from the very start, and remain so now you're gone. I write from this aching heart, as YOU inspired me. It's how I have written many a blog, story and book ever since. You BOTH have guided me through the worst and best of times, and even now my eyes are shut by the tears which flood my cheeks.
I opened my eyes now, only to see that yes, I typed that entire previous paragraph without mistake. It was due to pure love, through the most intense grief. My fingers poured down my respect, despite this immense sadness, due to a man whose art was sacrosanct, just a notch below the love for his wife and children. Best man at our wedding, my Beloved Stacey and I celebrated your life as we both shed tears.
A simple man, musician, artist and loving soul fraught with self-imposed guilt for faults others forced upon him, which he fought to dispel through his lifelong kindness and devotion.
So quick to forgive, no matter the sins he mistakenly took upon himself. He simply loved us all so tenderly, Joel just cruised. He drummed. He jammed to his tunes. He loved, he forgave, he forgot as best he could. And those tender natures he so blindly exhibited endeared many to adore him.
* * * * *
Deb and I came to work at JM Typography within two weeks of another. We found Joel a lost soul. An incredible artist, drummer and wonderful man who was drowning and in need of kinship from any direction possible. Yesterday at about 12:45 pm, he left this world with more than he had ever dreamed. We are left befuddled and grief-stricken by this incredible loss. I share this horror with his wife (my fellow best friend and Joel's confidante/beloved) Debbie, and their children, both together and shared. Artie, Jodi, Matthew and Jennifer, know that your dad held great value to many more than you can count.
He left us all beyond despair. His sweet love of almost 40 years, his children, and one man who loved him more than he could have ever dreamed "back then".
Sorry. It took a minute for me to clear my tears after writing his name. One that should never be lost to time. One I have claimed so close to my soul since we first met. Joel taught me not only the intense craft of typography, an art which was lost to the dawn of Personal Computers, but also how the love of art became one with how people communicate with one another.
I was 23 when I met my best friend. I didn't know then we would become so close. Given his gentle nature and nurturing soul, it was bound to be.
My wife (then) and I had moved to Tucson in early 1983 after spending a year in Phoenix and quickly tiring of the sprawling mess it had become since my family landed there in late December 1967. After a short stint in a group home with severely-handicapped souls, I could not bear the deep sadness which invaded the hearts of those who do such intense work. Having been the sole typesetter for a design firm in Phoenix after moving there from Boulder, CO where I was a typesetter for a publisher, I sought work in Tucson with a private firm called "JM Typography".
The interview with Joel was magical. He and I related instantly. Surrounded by an entirely-female staff, he yearned for another male who loved typography as he did. At that point, I knew only "typesetting", for nobody had taught me more than the basics. Joel saw in me a student eager to learn, and he was oh so happy to teach. And so, he did. In earnest.
* * * * *
|Joel with baby Jennifer, and a young Artie at their side.
Joel's customers were a mix of print shops, graphic designers and small publishers. As word of his artistry spread, he became Tucson's premier typographer in the 1980s. At that time, few realized the distinction between "typesetting" and "typography" except those who had been in the biz a long time. Joel's philosophy was simple: "In order for words to sound good, they must LOOK great".
I was quickly entranced by Joel's artistry. He could take a scribbled piece of paper, meant to become the business card of some new entrepeneur into a work of art, just by choosing the perfect font, size and spacing of those few words simply given the name/address/phone number of said customer. While his competitors may have simply set in type what as instructed, Joel jumped it several steps into the ethereal realm of artistry. Down to the 1/72nd of an inch, he spaced letters with a superior flourish, tying simple code on a monitor into an orchestrated weave of perfection nobody else could match.
Joel was the BEAST of typographical art in Tucson, Arizona, and possibly the entire Southwest back then. As word spread, his business grew. Meanwhile, Debbie and I propelled his art through our dedication to this one man, whose artistic flair whether through his drums or that gifted artist's pen drove many to see the art that was his alone. As many hold many an artist to greatness from that time, it is here I must trumpet Joel's intense typographical artistry now, some 40 years later.
Typography was an art then; it has now passed into the lack of grace that has become the technological impasse into which we have all since fallen.
I grew to admire this man as he came to love the lass who also became one of my closest friends ever. They fell in love as I watched them interact from the beginning. Joel and Debbie became ONE as I fondly watched. Now, my tears fall more heavily for Deb's loss than my own.
Our most endearing terms for each other were borne by the time Debbie, as Joel's new Production Manager, brought galleys to be corrected into the Typography Den and found us deep in fun conversation.
Deb was never one to be reckoned with. Given her temperament as a no-nonsense individual with a flair for orneriness, she stopped short as she interrupted our reparté.
"Get to work, Fuckers!" she exclaimed.
Joel and I looked at each other with matched surprise. Then, we laughed as Debbie did, she perhaps in relief at being so abrupt and not being immediately fired. Until then, we both thought Joel was too straightlaced to even consider such a jest. Joel and I were instantaneously bonded to this straight-talking, bold and extremely cofidently-competent Production Manager.
From there on, we came to call each other "Fucker". It became an instant term of endearment which lasts to this day. Some of my son Zakary's first words were calling his dad "fooker" to my dismay and Deb/Joel's great hilarity.
* * * * *
Joel taught me how lowercase letters necessitated the gentle coaxing of the uppercase T, Y, W and V over the protective wings of their accompanying vowels. I had never appreciated type as an art form before meeting WJN. At that point, I never thought typing words into a computer, using subtle yet powerful commands to tweak a simple letter, existed as an art form. Yet, that's how Joel lived it. This was not just a job to him, it was the formulation of decades-long dedication to art. He was accomplished not only as a drummer, but could draw images which touched the toughest of souls.
Joel instantly taught me how the presentation of words defined their power. I began to see a piece of paper submitted as a challenge, rather than a simple type job. Our task was to make our customers look good to their own. As I grew into the art, I corrected spelling errors and introduced subtle tweaks the customer hadn't called for. These artistic discoveries led to my quest to spread my wings as a typographical artist. When my parents expressed an interest in opening a family type shop, Joel surprised me by not only encouraging me, but giving me pointers as to how to avoid the pitfalls he encountered opening his shop anew. I could not have split from him without such an expression of love and support as he offered me.
At that point, I was about to become a father for the first time. Joel and Debbie had found themselves desperately in love with each other. They married as my business began. Our friendship not only continued, but flourished. We had agreed to support each other and not court mutual customers. Both our businesses grew and blossomed, and my daughter became their adopted nephew/niece amidst it all.
Back then, we all came together. No matter our political affiliation or religious beliefs. We were close, bonded by life's struggles and beliefs that the harder we worked, the better for all of us. Celebrations melded into friendships, losses brought us even closer together. While sometimes life's twists were often searing, it was more often an incredible moment in time where we shared our losses while celebrating successes. That type of bond is rarely appreciated today, let alone found. It was this brief moment where Joel, Deb and I found ourselves woven together in a mixture of extreme love and mutual respect. We fed each other when times were tough and diapers became even more expensive. One of us found a way to afford either beer or beef, but we always found a way to eat and have fun.
First, my daughter Anna was born. Shortly thereafter, I was suddenly divorced and all on my own for the first time. Then, Joel and Deb welcomed their son Matthew to this world. We reveled in our babies as life unfolded, often cruelly, amidst our lives. They helped guide me through the deepest of my darkest times having lost she who I believed was the ONE love of my life, and further through her horrible attempts to paint me extremely opposite of who I have always been. Their shoulders absorbed gallons of my tears, their support guided me through the closure of the family business I left them for and welcomed me back to their own.
We changed diapers of each others' kids. I babysat for Matthew, and then their new addition, the apple of Joel's eye baby Jennifer. They watched Anna too. She taught their son to read. I read baby stories to each as they nodded to sleep as their daddy drummed magic with bands whose music I loved too. We partied together, sometimes but not often argued but never split via harsh words. We listened to one another's woes, shared family sins and basically rolled right through the worst of times. Why? Just because those, as we knew, were the best of times. We had each others' backs. We were the Tres Amigos, Fuckers Forever.
Finally, I met the lass who would save me from the darkest suffering I feared would never end. She was so much younger than I was, Deb was extremely skeptical Stacey was much more than a passing fancy. As we became quickly close, Deb and Joel embraced her no matter any misgivings. When we married a year later with baby Zakary soon to follow, Joel was my immediate choice as Best Man. And so he has remained, ever since.
* * * * *
Today I suffered mostly for Deb's sake. And Matthew with his sister Jennifer. His kids Artie and Jodie from his first marriage. Their kids, who will no longer feel their grandfather's intense love. I've known and loved and suffered with this family since 1982. I knew and came to love Debbie before she and Joel found the love they shared 40 years. We have been as tight a friendship threesome as anyone could ever dream. When we moved to Oregon in 2002, it was nearly as agonizing leaving them as I felt watching my daughter Anna and Stacey's parents waving farewell through mutual tears.
So yeah, Joel. I saw you last when I raced to Arizona last May in hopes of catching a few hours with you one last, wonderful time. You showed me your "man cave", where several mementos of our time as compadres at JM Typography and Intertype graced those walls. You cranked up the tunes out there of several of our mutually-favorite tunes as we quietly relived our favorite times together. I barely maintained my composure, knowing it was the last time I'd see you alive. I wanted to hug you closer than I did when we parted, because it was vital you know how much I have loved you since we first met. All we endured together and as a tres-amigo unit assail me now as I write this, tears streaming down my face.
Joel's loss is closely equal to that of losing both parents and my baby brother. He has been so closely-intwined with my adult life as anyone could. Where your parents leave off, friends take the lead helping us grow wiser. Joel not only helped, but he nurtured me along a young man's roughest roads, and was there where I emerged.
Thank you, Nuttallski. You taught me more than your endearingly-modest self could ever admit. I owe you more than my artfully-wandering self could ever know. You grounded me, guiding me through the darkest moments of my life. When I considered ending it all in my deepest despair, you reminded me my Anna Bear needed me more than any horror awaiting my self-demise. You held me up when I couldn't do it myself. Now you're gone, it's up to me to pay back, to take up where you left off.
Thanks to you, Joel, I'm up to the task. I've lost both parents and my baby brother, but it's you who have taught me the strength necessary to show love where your own need it now. I'm here for you, where you cannot, from here on. Deb, Matthew, and Jennifer, lean on me now. Your husband/dad has passed his loving torch to his surviving "Fucker". And damnit, I promised him. I'm here, guys. And I love you, too... 40 years worth.
RIP, Nuttall. Thanks for being you throughout it all. I'll honor that until my time here is done. Love you, buddy.