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An Unlikely Friendship Reignites 2 Artists' Ambitions

Brian Peterson, 31, and Matt Faris, 38, in Santa Ana, Calif.
Brian Peterson, 31, and Matt Faris, 38, in Santa Ana, Calif.

Updated at 6:05 p.m. on Friday

Brian Peterson didn't know what he had in common with Matt Faris when he went out of his way to meet his Santa Ana, Calif., neighbor.

Every day, Peterson would pass by Faris, who has been homeless for more than a decade. But it took some guts, Peterson admits, to finally walk up to him.

"It was like butterflies in my stomach," he says. "I introduced myself, and I think I apologized to you. I remember saying, 'I'm sorry for like, driving by you a hundred times and never saying Hi,' 'cause you were always outside my building."

Faris remembers the encounter as a sincere one. "You asked me a lot of questions, like what I want to do with my life," he says. "Things that are important to a person."

He told Peterson he'd moved to California from Kentucky to be a musician, but that "some things didn't work out."

It was during that first conversation that they discovered they shared the pursuit of art. And Peterson, a car designer who hadn't picked up a paintbrush in eight years, found inspiration in Faris.

"Out of nowhere," Peterson says, "I just asked you, 'can I paint your portrait?' "

"You say you're not photogenic," Peterson tells Faris, "but I saw the man who moved from Kentucky, the guy who came out here to pursue a career in music. And I hadn't painted in eight years, but you were the first guy that captured my heart and gave me a subject to paint."

When he asked Faris what he wanted to do with the proceeds from the painting, naturally, Peterson suggested some basics for the homeless man: hotel rooms, clothes, shoes. But, Faris says, "I didn't even have to think about it."

"Well, that sounds nice," he told Peterson, "but I want to record a CD."

And when Faris' answer didn't change, Peterson started looking up recording studios. "In that first recording session, I saw you on the piano, on the guitar, singing — and then I remember you got to the drums. And there was no drum set. We were like, 'well, just use synthesized drums.' "

Faris swatted down that idea. "No way," he said.

"And I thought to myself, 'Man, how many areas in my own life have I just maybe gave in to settling for less?' " Peterson said. "And the fact that you wouldn't was a lesson that I've taken with me from that day."

Faris, who's still homeless, has finished recording an album. While he doesn't know how many ears it will reach, he's grateful for his unlikely friendship with Peterson.

"It's really helped me a lot to meet someone who's really stuck with me," he says. The feelings are mutual.

"I consider you more than a friend," Peterson tells Faris. "You've shown me things may not always be what they seem, and that there's a new way of looking at the world. And everyone deserves to be seen with eyes of love."

Since befriending Matt, Brian started Faces of Santa Ana, a non-profit for which he paints portraits of people in the homeless community and donates the proceeds to his subjects.

Meanwhile, Matt Faris' full album, Polar Scale, will be released on December 4, 2017.

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Liyna Anwar.

StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org .

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.