Shannon Michael Cane (1974–2017)

Shannon Michael Cane, 2017. Photo: Matt Connors

THE IRONIC THING about me talking about Shannon is that one of the things that made him one of my best and most cherished friends was that, while I’m almost constantly shy and embarrassed, he absolutely was never either of those things. I depended on him to prod me, to bring me out, to take me out. I depended on him to be proud of me.

One of my most vivid and enduring images of Shannon will be of that crazy proud look on his face, an expression that I think can only really be described as CHUFFED. I remember initially being very annoyed at this face (my Catholic upbringing, pride averse, bristled), but I soon came to understand that what Shannon was most often so proud of were the accomplishments of his friends, the things he had discovered, the people he had connected, the art, the objects, the books, the relationships, and collaborations that he had delivered to the world. He was proud of the hand he so often had in manifesting situations that could make other people proud. To me, this is an amazing thing. It is so incredibly rare.

Another reason that we bonded so quickly was that Shannon and I both spent our youths working at suburban record stores, and it was there that I’m sure we would both locate our earliest and most important access to art and culture, rather than at galleries or museums. The record-store counter was a kind of model that Shannon maintained and the one that he so deftly reinvigorated for all of us. He had a dedicated belief in the joy that comes from emphatically sharing tastes and loves and discoveries with friends and strangers alike—often by virtue of Shannon’s excitement and generosity, these strangers instantly transformed into friends. It was this model that Shannon brought to his world, and it was another thing that he was proud to maintain and even to defend.

I’ve lived in New York City since 1994. I left town in 2004 (after working a few more record-store jobs), fleeing what felt like the evaporation of any accessible underground (or even fun, really) in the environment of the post-9/11 boom. I remember coming back after the crash in 2008, visiting Shannon at Printed Matter and going dancing with him downtown at Vandam’s. I felt a change in the air. Things felt messy again; things felt fun again. I quickly moved back. It was shortly thereafter that Shannon’s tenure as curator of the Art Book Fairs began, and this spark of energy seemed to actually ignite. I will never, ever forget the feeling at the first few New York and LA Art Book fairs under the leadership of Shannon and his partner in crime, Jordan Nassar. The exuberance and actual joy in the air felt distinctly new, it was almost palpable, almost sexual (well—actually sexual for Shannon). I sensed all of this most acutely in Los Angeles, a cultural landscape that had been so thirsty for exactly this kind of communion—I felt and heard the town actually physically rejoicing for this access to a real-life meeting place where people could meet and exchange ideas.

I feel strongly that this had a very real trickle-down effect, that it expanded the boundaries of what is celebrated in the art world and by culture at large. Models seem to have been nudged to the left of the traditional forms and structures—there are independent bookstores that turn into de facto galleries and then turn back into bookstores. There are new record stores opening. There are once again small, artist-run galleries popping up in unlikely places; there are book fairs literally everywhere. Networks of elective affinities are constantly materializing, offscreen, on the ground, in unlikely, but actual places. This is a city I would not want to leave, one that I want to stay tuned to. Miraculously, this particular iteration of New York and of the world that we are standing in today, despite so much that works against us, has much more room for the types of collaboration, expansion, connection, creation, and love that are not directly tied to big money or the market but that instead lead directly back to that record-store-counter ethos and that enthusiastic guy playing you his favorite new song. 

Another friend of ours died suddenly about a month ago. I remember calling Shannon to tell him the news; it was one of the first times I’d ever had to do such a thing. I remember asking him to sit down before I told him. As we were mourning our friend, I had such a clear visual image in my head, of a group of friends walking through the streets, as Shannon and I often did, and one of them suddenly being held back for some reason, like he was stuck at a turnstile while the other friends had to keep on walking.

When Shannon died, it felt more like time had stopped. What I will try to keep clear in my head is a different moment when time felt like it had stopped, one of my most beautiful memories of being with Shannon, a halting of time that was more about happiness, peace, and connection, and one that stands like a cipher for his whole way of being in the world. Many times over the past ten years, and as recently as the end of last summer, with the help of Shannon’s aforementioned prodding, I found myself alone in the middle of a crowd with him, inside a laser-filled cloud billowing out of a dance-floor smoke machine, tethered together by his brightest of smiles, and tangible love.

Matt Connors is an artist who lives and works in New York.