I heard this week that an old boss of mine, Daniel, died of cancer. He was only in his early fifties and left behind a wife and three young daughters. Hearing the news really upset me for days, way more than just thinking "That's a shame/Cancer's cruel/Poor family/etc" that one normally thinks on such occasions. And I wasn't upset because I was close to Daniel. I hadn't spoken to him since '97 - hell, I hadn't thought of him for a long time. I was upset because Daniel was one of those people who made an impact on everyone he met, good and bad, and for however long you were in in his world, it became everything. So I mourned the too-soon death of a husband and father, a former boss, a creative talent but I also mourned a time long gone, when I was young and care-free, when everything seemed possible, and when every day was an adventure.
I first met him back in 1996, when I worked for a toy company called Planet Time in Hong Kong that made black light reactive gizmos for American ravers. Daniel was the boss, who's previous claim to fame was inventing the pink neon telephone in the 80's.
At my interview, in this dark room in the bowls of a factory in Quarry Bay, I had the first indications that he wasn't your normal employer when he asked me if I knew anyone he could buy drugs from. Maybe it was my long hair that made him think I'd know the answer to that one! But the work they were doing was cool and I hated the job I was at and Daniel's gig paid well so I took it. He couldn't wait for me to work notice so for one month I did two jobs - my 9-5 day job, then headed over to his work shop and worked there until 2 or 3 in the morning. It was a killer schedule but I got paid double for one month and the gig was fun. He also had a weird assortment of creative types working with him from product designers, artists, set builders - hell, he even had his own DJ.
When I went full-time officially, I discovered the hours didn't change much. Daniel wouldn't turn up until 2 or 3 in the afternoon and liked working the night shift, often sitting alone in the dark, dreaming up new crazy stuff. What I also discovered was my day depended on what drugs he'd taken earlier. I started coming in earlier to get what needed doing done as the rest of the day after Daniel appeared was a write-off.
But despite the madness, or maybe because of it, the fun never stopped. The gang he gathered around him was exactly that - a gang and we bonded in the ways all gangs do. Life long friendships were built in those days. And we made stuff. Lots of stuff. Crazy stuff. Rewriting the rules as we went along, nicking what we needed from where ever we found it. It was a remix culture at full pelt. Everything was done at 100 miles an hour if not faster, mistakes quickly discarded, wins celebrated in epic style. Make, create, move on.
We once went to Reno to do a trade show for his biggest distributor. Daniel treated it like a rock n roll concert. He took us to a Hong Kong sex shop and kitted us out in leather and rubber and declared we were his slaves of trend. We had a photographer and a film crew follow us around from the moment we got off the plane and everywhere we went. Posters were put up of us posing like a band (and in true Planet Time style no one spotted the massive typo in the headline). Other companies had displays - we had show times.
I did more in my six months in Planet Time than I'd done in years at previous jobs and that's the way Daniel lived life. So while he may have died young, he didn't waste a single second he was on this earth. And while he may have appeared mad to most, perhaps it was because he had so many ideas in his head that he didn't have time for ordinary things. Maybe he needed the drugs to quieten the voices in his head. We'll never know but he was certainly one of a kind.
Daniel on the left, Marnie, Ted The Space Cowboy, me and Nick - The Planet Time gang.
I love this shot of me - not because I'm skinny and wearing rubber - but it sums up how I remember all those days - a little bit off-the-wall but fun. Great days that still make me smile. Planet Time was the perfect name for his company because that's what you did - you got to spend planet time with Daniel, a world of his own making.
Thanks for that Daniel. Hope you are showing God what he should make next.
“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars.”
― Jack Kerouac, On the Road