Helen Letkiewicz, R. I. P.
El Vato here, going unmasked for a moment to take this time to express with great sadness that THE DARK VAULT OF PUBLIC DOMAIN has lost a good friend and family member.
This past Tuesday evening, Helen Letkiewicz, wife, mother, sister, and friend quietly succumbed to her medical condition after an incredibly valiant and noble fight.
It was just three weeks ago that I was talking to her, catching up since I spend a good portion of the year performing with my band and doing music video work for other bands in mainland China. One constant of my return trips to America had been her warm chats and at this moment I am cherishing those times while trying to avoid thinking much about the inevitable future, when landing back in America will be less welcoming. Now there is a light that won’t be there to break up some of the darkness and monotony on my annual returns. A friendlier person I have yet to meet.
Her son, “Uncle” Pete has been my friend for over a quarter century, a radio comrade (still broadcasting when he can; I retired from radio about 21 years ago), and he is my partner in crime on the television program we produce together, THE DARK VAULT OF PUBLIC DOMAIN. One of the things that has been a constant in our friendship has been movies and music. In fact, it was Pete’s time on the radio in the early 80s when I first became acquainted with the crazy cat I call mi amigo.
I was a troubled teen living in the hinterlands of Broome County, dealing with conservative cretins in two school districts, and a serious lack of anything to do in a notoriously crappy part of town. Italian filone, Japanese kaiju-eiga, martial arts films, NIGHT FLIGHT and punk rock were my interests and helped to keep the drudgery of my rather unhappy life at bay. It was a time when our local FM radio wasn’t complete crap and I spent good chunks of my time in divided between school, watching movies and television, and listening to WHRW. There was no internet. Binghamton had no fanzines. If you wanted to listen to good music that wasn’t created on some major record label’s assembly line: the alternatives a BC teen had were NIGHT FLIGHT or WRHW (MTV was crap, even back then). The programs I’d catch with regularity were Jeff of The Future’s show, the Peter Post Solid Gold Spectacular and Request Show, and THE UNCLE PETE SHOW.
Back then, one thing you were guaranteed to hear on EVERY edition of Pete’s radio program was a healthy dose of music by the Ramones. Being a fan of the Ramones I thought being able to hear them on the only station in town with the spine to play ’em was nothing short of awesome. Being a teen with no income, THE UNCLE PETE SHOW was also my gateway to cool, new music that you wouldn’t hear anywhere else. So, a good chunk of my punk rock education was enhanced and improved upon while listening to Pete’s weekly program.
Of course, punk was merely a good chunk of the audiophonic feast. Pete would slip into sets of garage, psychedelica, blues, jazz, and even left field lounge music well before my time.
Mark my words: there’s a HUGE chunk of old school Broome punks that NEVER would have heard of Link Wray if it wasn’t for the half-a-dozen cuts Pete would pepper throughout his programs and in his signature sign off, “Rumble,” and NONE of us would have been exposed to Perez Prado in any other way, shape, or form.
That diversity in music was – and remains – an affectation of some of the influence and the impact that Ms. Letkiewicz had on her son’s life, and by proxy, regular listeners of THE UNCLE PETE SHOW.
Here’s a bit of trivia for loyal listeners of THE UNCLE PETE SHOW: each and every broadcast Pete has sent out a song to his, “longest running listener.” It was pretty much a staple of Pete’s radio programs, and if you are indeed a loyal listener I bet you probably wondered to yourself, “just who is his longest running listener???”
Well, if you were to meet Pete and ask him, he’d tell you. However, not everyone out there has met Pete, so allow me to inform you that those songs dedications were for his mother, Helen.
THAT is how influential Ms. Letkiewicz has been in Pete’s life, and in his work…
So, back to some history: it wasn’t until I was about to split high school that I got to meet UNCLE PETE. It was 1986 and I was attending a WHRW production meeting, preparing to start my long and winding road towards apprenticeship, receiving my FCC licence and hosting my own weekly radio program at the station (until 1992, when I moved to Pittsburgh and attended film school). Flash forward a couple of decades and tens of thousands of miles and we started up THE DARK VAULT OF PUBLIC DOMAIN (The story of how the show was born is best saved for another time).
Over the last decade I’d gotten to know Ms. Letkiewicz rather well. She’d been a loyal supporter of THE DVOPD, and for a good number of our episodes she would be chill-axin’ within an earshot of our onscreen mischief making. I know that when we produce future episodes her presence on the set is going to be missed. Oxnard the dog, Pete, Ms. Letkiewicz: THE DVOPD is kind of a small family, and frankly speaking I’m going to miss Mrs. Letkiewicz.
I’m going to miss our conversations. Our talks about her life in Yonkers, and about my life in China brought us closer together. I’ve been living in Asia full time since the 1990s, and as a result I often experience inverse culture shock. One constant in my my annual holidays in America had been our chats, and at this time I can’t help but smile as I reflect upon them. I will continue to cherish those times while trying to avoid thinking much about the inevitable future when landing back in America will be less welcoming.
It was only three weeks ago that I was engaged in warm conversation with her, and now she is gone. In an instant, and just a few days shy of her 93rd birthday.
I am not a particularly spiritual person, but I do believe people live on in spirit by virtue of the influence they have upon another person’s life. I can proudly reflect upon the immensely positive influence my acquaintanceship with Mrs. Letkiewicz has left me.
I want to wish my television companero, Pete, and his brother my deepest, most heartfelt condolences at this time of loss. I can only begin to imagine what they must be feeling right now. My heart goes out to them, and a very warm smile goes out in memory of their wonderful mother, Helen.
If you would like to pay your respects to UNCLE PETE you can send e-mail to: darkvaultpd and add “@gmail.com” to the end of it (I fear that if I type out the e-mail address in its entirety we’ll get bombed with spam). There will be a funeral service for Mrs. Letkiewicz at the Holy Trinity Church on Prospect St. this Saturday, February 2nd, at 10am. If you attend, please be respectful, okay?