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Originally published Thursday, June 7, 2012 at 3:38 PM

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Cafe Racer: creativity and diversity will endure in Roosevelt's living room

The brutal murders at Cafe Racer are no reason to live in fear, writes Seattle musician and cafe regular Andrew J. Swanson. If we forget why the victims were there in the first place, we would be doing a tremendous injustice to those killed on that terrible day.

Special to The Times

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The artistic community at Cafe Racer is a rare and fine gemstone; an object of endless beauty and complexity.

The cafe is a constellation of characters — glassy-eyed university students, scooter enthusiasts, curious out-of-towners, salty ultra-regulars, friendly neighbors and other hyphenated demographics. I relocated to the neighborhood just to be near it. It's Roosevelt's living room.

Last Wednesday, a disturbed man named Ian Stawicki entered that living room and mercilessly executed our friends where they sat and stood.

This brutality could be reason for us Seattleites to live in fear. But if we trembled now at every turn, forgetting why the victims were there in the first place, we would be doing a tremendous injustice to the five killed on that terrible day.

They, and all of us, were drawn to Cafe Racer for the openness of its environment and the character of its constituents. Amid its collection of terrible paintings and billows of bacon-scented air, I've found some of the finest human treasure Seattle has to offer. It was there that I met an affable sword swallower named Drew Keriakedes, better known as circus performer and musician Shmootzi The Clod.

A man with a heart of solid gold and a nigh-bottomless arsenal of dirty jokes, Drew built up the music scene at Cafe Racer. He was at the bar nearly every day, and for a time booked night after night of live music while receiving no pay for it (except for maybe a pint here and there). He held his own weekly gig there with God's Favorite Beefcake on Thursdays.

Under the care of Drew, owner Kurt Geissel and longtime manager Ben Dean, Cafe Racer emerged as a hotbed for creativity and musical eclecticism. Their eagerness to facilitate and promote a variety of shows spanning the full gamut of musical expression — however weird — is unmatched in our city. Drew, whose raspy, cuss-laden cheers could frequently be heard in the audience at the cafe, died in the shootings last week.

The record label I am a part of, Table & Chairs, started Racer Sessions at the cafe more than two years ago. An offshoot of the University Of Washington's music department, we worked on composition and free improvisation at the sessions.

The Racer staff encouraged us at every turn. We are one of many organizations centered here; this place is the nucleus of a vast, intricate network of artists, and has always been synonymous with inclusivity and compassion.

It is the spirit of inclusivity and compassion at Cafe Racer that attracts its patrons and keeps the regulars coming back. My exposure to such a diversity of people at the cafe has been extremely beneficial to my development.

I encourage everyone to get out and engage in the vibrant artistic community we have here in Seattle, wherever you may find it. Throw one back with the oddballs and see what happens.

The friendly oddballs at Cafe Racer reached out to Ian Stawicki, even inviting him into their homes. I saw Ian there just two weeks ago. I immediately picked up on his aggressiveness.

Nobody, however, could have predicted this violence, even given Stawicki's repeated displays of unpalatable behavior in the days preceding the attack. They showed him kindness, and he killed them.

I ask this of everyone: Please, do not waver in the face of this tragedy. Don't waste a moment thinking that it could have been you on that bar stool. Cafe Racer will reopen.

Develop your talents, be they coding or calligraphy, and proceed with conviction and compassion. You are alive, and you should act accordingly.

Take to heart one of Drew's most inspiring lyrics: Follow your dreams, and don't be discouraged.

Andrew J. Swanson is a Seattle musician and co-organizer of Racer Sessions. He is a member of Heatwarmer, Wand, Speak and other musical projects.

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