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Joseph Dierker

Joseph Dierker, a musician and web developer, died on Tuesday, March 12, at his home in Seattle just seven weeks after a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer. He was 56. 

Joseph was born on February 9, 1968, at Naval Air Station Millington outside Memphis, TN, to Alice Margaret (Wear) Dierker and Henry Allen Dierker, a Marine Corps officer. Joe spent his childhood all over the country as his father was transferred from station to station, including stops in Los Angeles, CA (where Joe started school), Carthage, IL, and Havelock, NC. The family’s final move was to Dale City, VA, a suburb of Washington D.C. There, Joe attended Gar-Field Sr. High School, where he met lifelong friend Tim Donovan, with whom he would later form the musical duo 310. 

Joseph was a member of the Boy Scouts of America in middle and high school. He achieved the rank of Eagle Scout and earned the Vigil Honor, the highest honor that the Order of the Arrow can bestow upon its members. Joe achieved local, regional, and national recognition as part of the Ceremonies team for the Prince William Chapter of Amangamek Wipit Lodge of the Order of the Arrow. In 1984, he was a member of a Mountain Man trek at Philmont Scout Ranch in Cimarron, NM, and the following summer, he completed the rigorous Rayado hiking program there.

Joseph was involved with music from a young age, learning to play guitar and bass. He was comfortable picking up any instrument and turned many ordinary objects into percussion instruments. His collection of over a thousand vinyl records illustrates the breadth of his musical interests, from African and Indian to hip-hop, rock, jazz, ambient, and classical. Joe followed the Grateful Dead and other bands with friends, made cross-country trips with his brother Mark, and hiked the Appalachian Trail. He learned to swim in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and loved all sorts of water activities.

Joseph followed his older brother, Mark, to Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA, where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Literature. He owned a Mac before anyone else had a computer and let friends use it to write papers. In the early days of web development, Joe put together the English department’s newsletter, a skill he would expand and would later serve his professional career. 

In Blacksburg and Richmond, VA, he was “Flat Joe” and was known for turning people on to new music, playing the guitar, and rollerskating (sometimes all at once). Joe was a savant with the 4-track, making loops, sampling, and recording music. He played with many bands in Virginia, usually on bass, including The Lobotomies, LID, Specific Gravity, Uncle Barium, the Art Monks, and Facts About Israel. They recorded and released their music, played a few shows, and then scattered to their post-grad lives. 
Joseph moved to New York to join his high school friend, Tim. He used his tech skills to get a job at a digital agency and was part of the team that built early websites for GE and iVillage. 

In 1998, Joe moved cross-country with a friend, Jim, whose brother was opening the Elysian Brewery in Seattle. Despite never visiting the Pacific Northwest before, Joe had found his forever home. He fell in with friends around Capitol Hill who found it easy to mesh art, poetry, and music with their day jobs, throwing a frisbee, hanging in dive bars, and relaxing in parks. Joe loved the Seattle Supersonics, the Seahawks, and the Mariners (despite their record and mismanagement). 

Joe and Tim continued their music collaboration as 310 even after Joe moved to Seattle. Initially, they collaborated by mailing tapes across the country and later uploaded files to shared servers or emailed and texted ideas. Each brought their own style to the project with beats, loops, parts of songs, and sampled recordings. 310 joined The Leaf Label based in London, England. With Leaf, they played cafés in England, festivals in Spain, and clubs in New York, including the Knitting Factory and Brownies. 310 released ten albums, multiple EPs, a live album, and a retrospective DVD. Their newest album, Lighten the Load, came out just two days before Joe passed away.

In Seattle, Joe found work at a small internet agency, then known as Peak Internet (later Peak Systems and UpTop). The team worked out of an old TV studio and bomb shelter in the dark, quirky third basement of Bell Plaza, where they built websites for the telecommunications industry, Olympic Winter Games, Sotheby’s Real Estate, and many others. In 2010, Joe was part of the team at Peak that built and launched the first iPhone photo collaging app, Diptic. The work mattered less than the relationships he developed while doing it. He met and made many lifelong friends at work, including his partner, Rhia Bucklin. 

Joe and Rhia never had an official anniversary date but were together for over twenty years. They traveled to Italy, Iceland, Mexico, Sweden, and Denmark, collecting art, books, and records, driving to offbeat attractions, and taking hundreds of photos. They took many trips to Hawaii and celebrated Joe’s 40th and 50th birthdays on Maui and the Big Island. Joe was devastated when Lahaina, Maui, was destroyed by wildfires in August 2023. So many of the places he and Rhia loved together there were gone. 

Joe and Rhia bought their house in Seattle in 2015 and adopted their dog, Griffey, three years later. At home, they loved cooking and built their days around what they would make next. They filled their home with an eclectic collection of art and other beautiful things, reminding them of their travels, memories, and friendships. Their roof deck hosted an annual tomato garden, an expansive faux lawn, and a wading pool that Joe loved relaxing in on the hottest summer days. When the pandemic caused life to slow down, they secretly loved the opportunity to spend more time at home, reading The New York Times, baking, cooking, doing projects, and taking walks with Griffey. For the last ten years, they spent every Thanksgiving with their chosen family in Palm Springs, CA.

When Rhia was diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2023, Joe stopped doing most of everything else to take care of her. What devastated him most about his own diagnosis was the thought that he’d be unable to take care of her as she completed treatment. 

Joseph is survived by his partner, Rhia, and their dog Griffey. In addition to his father, Henry, he is survived by his brother, Mark, five aunts, two uncles, and countless cousins and friends all over the country. His mother, Alice, passed away in 2023. 

In remembrance of Joe, consider a donation to the Lahaina Restoration Foundation (lahainarestoration.org), Saving Great Animals (savinggreatanimals.org), or Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center (fredhutch.org). A memorial celebration for friends and family will be held in Seattle on April 13, 2024. Contact Rhia, Mark, Tim, Jane, or Dan for more information.


Comments

Love to everyone who is missing and grieving our sweet friend Joe D.

Amy R Shea


What a treasure this wonderful man must've been to the many friends he created during his extraordinary life. Although I only got to know him briefly and under the worst of circumstances in the last weeks of his life, I was deeply impressed by his courage, his stoicism, and the radiant warmth of his care for Rhia, placing her well being first. I am so sorry for the tragic loss of this remarkable person from all of your lives. He won't be forgotten.

Clark Coler


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