Greetings, many friends,
It is now almost two weeks since I rather hurriedly fled Los Angeles for Northern California. I am back and can say, rather archly, that there was no feeling of homesickness or any thrill upon seeing Downtown again from the Cahuenga Pass. Whatever jokes I make about my love/hate relationship with LA, I have certainly lost my sense of humor about the place.
First, two housekeeping notes...if you are interested in attending a wake for Jason Rhoades, since only a few of us were invited to his "official" funeral in Newcastle last Tuesday, there is some discussion about having a wake in the next few weeks. Please send me an e-mail and I will make sure you are "on the list" as we obnoxious Los Angelenos say too often.
Second, under the circumstances, I am probably going to cancel the Peg Entwistle Memorial Equinoxe Party for this year. This is because 1) I was going to hold it either at Jason's cabin in the desert or his studio on Beverly Boulevard, neither of which are now available to me; 2) only two people showed up last year anyway; and 3) I am not really in the mood to throw a party.
For those who would like to read a more formal obituary of Jason, and if you didn't know him I'd like you to, there is the naturally name-dropping LA Weekly version here:
and the icy LA Times version here:
I'm not going to repeat this information, as my connection to Jason was mostly personal. Rather than expound on how I knew Jason through the Art Scene or what became of him, or relate anecdotes of time we spent together that is shared with a few of you, I would like to meditate on the impermanence of our memory, something that has been much on my mind lately. Although I only knew Jason about six years, I've recently seen friends that I've had for over twenty, and my goddaughter Malin, sprouted from a jumping toddler to a lovely woman with her own special smirk and a sports car to match. These feelings go beyond the plaintive "we're getting old". We've been getting old, and getting dead, for too long now. More is coming, and to grieve I have to meditate.
As a tangent, let me offer you one of my superstitions, to never cross out or erase my dead friends from my life. In my old address books, now on my e-mail and my "skype", etc., I see more and more names where there will no answer at the other end, no more forthcoming messages. I have plenty of cross-outs in my address books...people who moved to better and worse places, or to my discredit triggered an evil hatefulness in me, but my grandparents, Chris, Noah, Jerry, too many, now Jason, they remain alive at their last address. I see them in flipping through, sometimes in a hurry, and it slows me just a bit. It isn't painful after a while...it's rather enriching, to keep them with you. That name is our physical attachment to them, along with the photos, and buildings on the streets of our city where we all lived together.
I've always harbored a deep regret over the loss of any kind of memory, whether a dream I forgot to write down or a friend who disappeared or a beautiful vista that I had no camera to document. You all know my mantra, documentation, documentation. Part of my motivation as a writer is to preserve the voices that form in my imagination; as a librarian, to preserve the voices of others, strangers and friends alike. I've read a proverb that the death of one person is like an entire library burning down. I think this is giving a library too much credit. A great library is quite a sight on the inside, new books flowing in, the old ones disintegrating or moving deeper and deeper into the oblivion of the deep stacks. My own collection of movies and music and art and books gives a good sample of my tastes and the rare jewels I desire to preserve and pass along to my friends. Yet it represents only a thin surface of my life, my "excellent adventure". The library of my friend Una's father Harald is a physical manifestation of his genius which will far outlast the curator, but cannot express the humor and passion I sensed in Harald upon only one meeting. This is also true of Jason Rhoades' Black Pussy and the performances I photographed and recorded there, absolutely the pinnacle of his legacy but certainly not the whole person, the "web of being" he was a center of, and in his case only a tiny reserve against the terrible loss of all that he would have done in the future.
I first became conscious of a "web of being" at Barrington Hall, a defunct student cooperative of nearly 200 people which exists now only in a few photos, 8mm films, several songs, lurid newspaper clippings, a similarly defunct website and in the memories of the people who survived. It began (sorry, Mom) when I observed, during a performance at a "wine dinner" (hey, we did have wine), that I could not only see three women I'd had "intimate relations" with at a single glance, but also several people they'd had similar relations with, and so on. We were a little too friendly, perhaps, although 20 years on we persist. Of course this makes mathematic sense, just like the concept that all of us humans, at some distant past juncture, are directly related, but to actually see the concept before you makes it real. The physical carapace of Barrington Hall enclosed such a large milieu that it still shocks me to see it die away, like the blackened cinder of some supernova, lost in form and time.
Perhaps I (probably too much) associate physical objects with emotional properties. A chain from Nancy Levy's locket hanging from my car mirror, or the bell that I rang at Luther Thie's wedding zap me with experience like a magical wall socket. When I cross over to the "other side", all of these associations will vanish. Only in the web of being, my friends and your friends and the places we touched in common, the books we both read or the movie we saw, do we persevere. The Grapevine is a singular example, an old, dear friend I visited again last Wednesday. Also known as the Tejon Pass, I must have crossed this northern entrance to Los Angeles almost a hundred times. On the slide down, headed north to the Bay Area, it's usually morning or afternoon, and I'm on my way to see my oldest friends. The long empty stretch of Interstate Five, the backbone of California, runs straight ahead of me, and except for one memorable time, is obscured by haze. The excitement of racing downhill and towards adventure is part of my experince of this place, one I share with many strangers. On the way south to home, it's night, except for once when I approached on a winter's dawn. Soon beyond Bakersfield, the string of white and red lights, arrow-straight for hours, begins to switchback up the steep pass. Here my feelings are more confused; I'm tired after hours on the road, ready to return home. The grade is a car-killer, and on many occasions I've chanted to prepare my tender automobile for the steep climb, sandwiched between slow trucks and speeding sports cars. "C'mon, baby, c'mon..." You should never curse your car. At the top of the Grapevine, it's all downhill to Los Angeles, a rollercoaster into a red hellish glow on the horizon. Behind me are my friends; ahead of me are my friends. Like Altamont Pass, where the first windmills celebrate a successful return to or escape from the Bay Area, the Grapevine marks the transition of a journey completed and begun, a strip of asphalt ten lanes wide imbued with the anxieties of millions.
Wednesday midnight the Grapevine was sublime, the air unusually clear, the full moon outlining the ridge of the mountains. The lights of the oil fields move by on the right, and the 99 intersects from the left. Every trip over the Grapevine is the same and yet different; the passage of time here is slow but constant. The Country House, a Christian coffee shop where John Rudoff once talked about the Manson Family and scared the waitresses, has been gone for years. Huge warehouses sprang up, but they are dwarfed by the mountains and the flat valley, which the San Andreas dragged here over millions of years. Halfway up the pass Andy Clay turned on the heater of his VW bus after six hours of freezing winter driving, creating the punch line to a joke I never tire of retelling. Just north another friend accidentally threw out his entire stash in a crumpled pack of cigarettes. I've never broken down at the Grapevine, but with so many trips across it, I wouldn't even mind at this point. How many strange companionships were formed and subsequently broken on that hill? Like a dear friend, I can't imagine saying a final goodbye to the Grapevine.
Most places in Los Angeles are beaten to death in my memory, seen and experienced over and over, torn down and rebuilt so often that they take on the quality of a movie set's facade, just as righteous New Yawkers and Europeans have been complaining for decades. A few places are set aside for romantic moments, the hidden bridge over the 110, the Watts Towers, the abandoned groin jutting into the sea at Dockweiler, the balustrades of the Griffith Observatory, just lonely and unrepeated enough to remain salient in my mind. Waiting for that one clear day. Like the tender moments that we share with some people, never to see or touch again, perhaps one hour in the thousands of our life that stick out. Jason Rhoades was good at creating these moments, and so I will remember him all the more, not just for his presence, but the large amount of web-spinning he did around me. He gave us something to hang onto, another reason for me to chant your names like a mantra, the web of being that surrounds us all and makes us, if only in a microscopic fashion, immortal. In the long run, I suppose, it does not matter if we are full of each other and sick to death, ready to hang up the phone out of boredom, or if we are so infatuated that even after an absence of years we are ready to fling ourselves into a sea of nostalgia at a glimpse of each other in the crowd. We are all part of this mess, and there is no turning back. There is leaving, moving along...the Goddess knows I have talked about that enough. With Jason dead, I feel that LA has made yet another transition in my esteem...not even merely hateful, as I've thought for years now, but perhaps essentially evil...a place that for all its beauty is somehow destructive of life itself. Maybe this is the fate of all great, large cities, to consume and destroy and use the web of our beings for energy. Or maybe LA is special, as I like to smirk, a professional soul killer, a legend in its own mind. Hopefully I'll never know the awful truth.
Anyway, let me cure nostalgia with more nostalgia...that's a great way to grieve, friends...so far I've watched a DVD of "Nashville" (remember "I'm Easy", when Keith was the sexy Carradine?) and I found a comp tape at the back of the drawer, you know? I recommend the healing properties of an old comp tape...if you still have a cassette player.
In parting again, I wish I could sing a praise to all of you, make that web of our lives so golden we could all love like we did love at our best moment, but I can no more do that than bring Jason and all my other friends and relatives back from the other side. Whatever is in store for us, the reality of this world is certain and ice-cold, if you are willing to look with open eyes. With that knowledge we must all hang together, friends, or like Ben Franklin so ably noted, we shall all hang separately. That's the end of my meditation to my friend Jason.
13 August 2006
Greetings, many friends,