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For those of you who may not have heard, [livejournal.com profile] elementa (Carrie) died last week. Even though I hadn’t communicated with her for at least a year, it’s a sad, sad thing.

I originally met her in [livejournal.com profile] postqueer. I actually met a lot of you on that community back in its early days. We got along well online, in fact she was one of the few people I IM’d with before I realized it was ruining my arms.

I never knew her well but we hung out in Portland a couple of times when I visited. Once she was house/petsitting in some modernist mansion in a gated community up in the hills in West Portland that I didn’t even know existed. For the only time in my life I watched “Sex in the City” (which was the best thing the owners had on dvd) and enjoyed it, mostly because we mocked the same parts. It was a nice memory, sitting on expensive couches in a fancier place than we’d ever live in. It felt like we’d broken in while the owners were away and were eating their food and watching their state of the art home entertainment system.

We hadn’t spoken since a public online argument she was having (with someone else) led to her escalating the situation in a way that I couldn’t ignore or condone. My lack of support led to her dropping me from her friendslist so I didn’t really know how she was doing for the last year of her life.

It’s all a shame. It’s a shame that Carrie hard a hard time so much of the time. It’s a shame that she often pushed people away. It’s a shame things couldn’t have been easier. There were a lot of demons in her head, and I can’t claim to know what they all were or exactly where they came from. It’s just sad that she couldn’t keep them at bay. It’s a tragedy even if, as [livejournal.com profile] goodbadgirl wrote the other day, it's not a particularly uncommon one.

Bye Carrie.

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So, obviously I haven't been on LJ much for a couple weeks. I agreed to do the zine for Lance Hahn's memorial. That, combined with my thanksgiving cheese buying responsibilities, left me really no time for anything else.

The zine included about 20 submissions of art or writing, childhood pictures sent by his sister, some writing of Lance's that his partner found while cleaning up his desk, a couple of things from the surviving Epicenter logbooks, and a million pictures and J Church/Cringer graphics scanned from our personal collections.

I mentioned this in the intro I wrote, but it was really hard to put this together. I thought it would be easier for me because, while we were friends, I was not as close to him as some other people were. After spending this week receiving nothing but Lance memorial news, submissions and stories in my e-mail box, I'm glad that I could help spare Lance's closest friends this task.

It was overwhelming. I wasn't able to get Lance's voice out of my head but I also couldn't stop listening to his music. Obviously I also had to keep reading the submissions and e-mail questions. I started and ended many of these days crying. The outpouring of love for Lance is remarkable and speaks to what a special person he was.

Two old Epicenter friends came over on Friday and we spent 8PM – 3 AM eating food, drinking beer and putting the 40 page zine together. We did it old school, cut and paste, gluestick, 8.5 x 14-folded in half-style. I spent most of the next day printing 250 copies.

The memorial was last night and really a special, if often too-crowded, event. Lance's sister brought home movies. There were videos of J Church. The room was covered with pictures, graphics, album covers, and flyers. I don't know how many people were there over the course of the night but it was a lot, especially when you consider that Lance hadn't lived here for 7 years. It was part memorial, part Epicenter reunion, and part punk show (without bands). Punks aren't great about showing their emotions, but people did their best. Old grudges were even overlooked for the night, maybe even forever, who knows?

It was really good to see a lot of the people there. It made me miss Lance, miss a lot of those people and even miss the old days a little even if I don't want to go back. The '90s Mission punk scene was a special time even if it sucked a lot too. I think many of us were mourning that loss and the loss of our own youth as well as mourning Lance.

I may have extra copies of the zine after I mail out the ones that were requested by out of town submitters. Let me know if you are interested.

*My original Lance Hahn obit is here in case you missed it the first time.
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I don't want to be maudlin or go for an easy emotional cliché. But my 40th birthday party will always be linked to Lance's death. I don't think that's awful (though Lance's death is certainly awful)… life and death intertwined… a milestone birthday and confrontation with mortality… It's so fucking poetic that it would seem contrived if you tried to use it for a short story or something.

Lance died at 40 and I was celebrating my 40th. Most of the people there were in a good party mood, part of the party was somber. Some folks had fun despite themselves and then felt guilty. Mourning is a tricky thing filled with the potential for self-hate.

As I mentioned, I got the news as I was shutting down the computer as I left my house for the party. In the car ride over, I got a call and a text. I freaked out a little asking how I should deal. Should I bring it up? What if I knew they didn't know? Should I turn my party into a memorial?

I got good advice from my people. Try to have a fun party. Don't bring it up but talk to people if they do. Let party guests tell each other and do what they need to do. We have the rest of our lives to mourn.

Many of the people there who knew Lance hung out with each other, but they probably would have done that anyway. I couldn't tell if they were mourning or just having a mini Epicenter reunion. Occasionally someone would come up to me and I could see they were teary and red-eyed. We'd acknowledge the obvious, and try to smile. We'd show some muted and socially awkward signs that we were glad the other person was alive and in our lives. Then we'd move on.

I felt bad the next day when I found out a few people, that I assumed knew, didn't. I have many different social scenes in my life and they have different styles of mourning.. Some would have been loud and aggressive, trying to make the world stop with their outward pain. The old Epicenter crowd is quieter, more stoic, less likely to call attention to themselves. I'm sure many people at the party had no idea that others there had just gotten very bad news.

The advice I got was good even if it didn't stop my own mixed feelings from creeping in. We do have the rest of our lives to mourn our dead. A San Francisco memorial for Lance is being organized and that will be a better place to remember him. Weirdly though, it was kind of an honor to share my 40th with Lance's memory.

I'm not sure I did him exactly right by him. Should I have said something from the stage? Had a moment of silence? But he was taking space in the hearts of all of us who knew him, publicly acknowledged or not. I'm glad I was around those folks. Even if my focus was elsewhere, it was comforting to look around and see other folks with their own internal struggles of mourning vs. celebrating written lightly on their faces, decipherable only to the other people who shared the pain.
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I never really understood Lance's songwriting until I listened to radio in Hawai'i. Island reggae, Hawai'ian pop, and other Hawai'ian songs have a sense of history. There are lots of elements that, out-of-context, I might find sappy or overly nostalgic. But they not only work with those songs, they are crucial elements to the genre.

Lance's songs, especially the Cringer and early J Church ones, had that same element. I'm nostalgic and sappy by nature, mind you, so they always appealed to me. But there was no real punk genre for it. His bands mirrored his personality more than most songwriters I know. Both Cringer and J Church were intellectual but friendly, political but approachable, fun but taking themselves seriously. Unlike many of the bands Lance (and I) admired, his lyrics were never preachy. He always sang as one of us, not to us.

"Sometimes I wanna go back
Sometimes to the beginning
Sometimes I wouldn't change a thing.
Sometimes the things I've done, It seems like martyrdom
Sometimes it doesn't mean a thing
Don't wanna,
Won't be sad
Like the sailors
Of Petrograd

Lance was a sweetheart. Everyone who's written about his death so far has called him "one of the good ones". He could get away with writing lyrics like those, which could easily be read as pretentious on paper, because his personality came through in his singing. He wasn't comparing himself to the theory of the Great Revolutionary, he was connecting through history to the emotions of the people he admired and wanted to relate to. Ones who died anonymously in service to their beliefs but who were just ordinary working folks doing what they felt was right..

He'd also just probably read an Alexander Berkman book and wanted to write a song about it. He was always reading.

Lance was an auto-didact, a student of history, especially anarchist history. I mean geez, he even put Leon Czolgosz, unlabeled, on a J Church shirt. He was also sweet, kind, thoughtful, and quietly funny. He knew how to make people feel good but more than that, he cared about making people feel good. He carried a million details in his brain, surprising you with something you said offhand at some show or some party months before. He was a special, special man.

Lance lived above me on Valencia St, half a block from Epicenter Zone. Lance's apartment was referred to as jokingly "The Crash Pad" after an SF Weekly reporter dubbed it that in an article.* Our apartment was already name "House of Failure" because our phone number was 552-FAIL. Oh, those early '90s…

Here's Lance on our back stairs watching some illegal punk show we put on in our backyard when the 1st floor tenants went out of business. 1993
failure stairs071

It seems symbolic that many of his songs remind me of our shared neighborhood. Early J Church is so time and place for me: all songs about the Mission in the early '90s., While traveling out of the Bay Area for an extended period, and leaving from my apartment on Mission St , "November" made me cry while riding a train through Eastern Europe. I had made a Mission District bands cassette and as soon as he mentioned rain on Mission St, I started bawling.

"As the rain falls hard, it fills the cracks on Mission St…"
"No matter who you are, you feel the same when you're wet, cold and alone…"
"We only dream to float downstream, reminded by the rain,
Tied to a tree, cannot break free, reminded by the rain"

It's a sad song about rain making people feel alone, but it does the typical Lance thing. He empathizes with strangers and tries to find a human truth. This un-self-conscious sappiness is a unifying force in Lance's songs. Even the punks have to admit their fuzzy feelings sometimes. It kept his lyrics, no matter how political, from being as dogmatic and alienating as a lot of the other anarcho-punks.

I think my favorite thing about Lance was just running into him in the street. I can think of hours spent on Market/14th, at 16th/Valencia, in front of Lost Weekend, just gossiping, talking about bands, demonstrations and friends. He made this city a better place by just being around, having time to hang out. He also rarely missed a demonstration. He had good priorities even if rather than being in front with a bullhorn he's be bringing up the rear, poking fun at the sectarians and trying-too-hard anarchist kids. I think he'd appreciate that my favorite picture of him was from the San Francisco Rodney King riots. Hip-hoppers and punks were unified in their desire to liberate electronics to facilitate their communication with a hostile world. Somewhere, maybe his room, I saw a picture of Lance coming out of an electronics store with his hands full and his eyes blacked out, like any punk wouldn't recognize his long hair, his slouch and his band t-shirt. Or maybe I just made up that picture in my head.

Lance still seems like a San Francisco icon 7 years after moving to Texas.

My oddest Lance moment was probably seeing him play guitar for Beck at Slim's. It was near the height of Beck's post-"Loser" glory. If I remember correctly, he knew Beck from playing at some German squat show together back in the day, but I could have jumbled up that memory. Anyways, he put me on the guest list, possibly because no one else we knew wanted to see Beck cuz he was like, all popular and stuff. It was so odd seeing Lance play and not be the central feature of the band. The first thing it made me realize that Lance could actually really play guitar. The second was that in another scene Lance's non-traditional singing voice might have forced him into a lesser role if he wanted to be in a band. What a loss that would have been.

The third thing was seeing him walk across the club without kids coming up to talk to him. He was probably the most approachable band guy I've ever met, constantly talking to kids who came to SF hoping to see him working his shift at Epicenter or at some of the bars, taquerias, and cafes he mentioning in his songs, if not his shows. Occasionally he'd have to hide from a creepy one, but that was rare. Usually he'd hang out, talk about their hometown (which he probably had played), and generally treat them as a new friend. There were times he really represented all that the punk scene should have been.

I hadn't seen Lance in awhile when I got the word he went into a coma.. My heart goes out to his partner and his friends there. To many of us in San Francisco, or maybe just to me, his bad health was a little hard to fathom. My memory of Lance is full of mellow energy, happy to see you, happy to chat, always looking for new bands and new fun. I imagine that the last couple of years, being on dialysis, not being able to go to every show, was incredibly hard for him. But I always thought I'd just run into him in the Mission or at a show one day. That he would have beaten his bad organs, that he'd be the same old Lance.

Old Epicenter workers crashing the Epicenter closing party 1999. I believe this was right after Lance's first brush with hospitalization. (Thanks Jeff Heermann!)
goodbye epicenter

In one of his best known songs, Lance wrote:
So where's my sense of humor?
My life is a disaster,
No one has a future,
So let's all get there faster

But it was a cautionary tale. He wasn't a No Future Drunk Punk.. He was writing about going to the local bar and looking at what he might become if he let himself. He didn't want to get ground down like other working class people around him there: unhappy, overworked, underpaid. The narrator in the song reacts to those thoughts by deciding to blow off work the next day and take time doing something important for himself.

Lance organized his life to be a writer and artist. He recorded what… 300 songs? His bands put out albums faster than the Minutemen in their prime. He wrote for MRR and was trying to document the obscure bands of the '80s Peace Punk scene. Bands that meant a lot to people like us even if almost no one has ever heard of them. He was one of the people who make all these alternative scenes and obscure political movements possible. People in every city with a punk scene, or that once had a punk scene, are mourning him

He worked his whole life for it, never getting famous or rich, but doing it anyway. It's something a lot of people promised when they were 18 but few actually did. He meant it, ya know? All of it.

Bye Lance. You are missed already.

* So funny I had to link. Filling a booth near the Photo Area, Edgar, Wells, and Hahn share a laugh over the crash pad half a block from Epicenter This was also the apartment referred to as "My home, my tomb" in "My Favorite Place".

** If anyone's interested, my favorite Lance albums are Cringer "I Take My Desires for Reality… Because I Believe in the Reality of My Desires." And the J Church early singles collection " Camels, Spilled Corona and the Sound of Mariachi Bands". The "Nostalgic for Nothing" comp is pretty good too. If you want to find one song to download, I'd say "My Favorite Place", "Nostalgic for Nothing" or "Bomb" (J Church) or "Petrograd" "Despair Ends" or "(If I had your) Pen" (Cringer)

*** Other Lance stories from at the same time, Commander cranky, and at a blog set up for Lance stories here. Someone also set up a Flickr Photo pool (which I also LJ syndicated)
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Proving how much [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso and I think alike about certain things, we discovered at work on Saturday that, independently, we had both volunteered to help set up El Rio for Heather MacAllister's memorial yesterday.*

I mentioned previously here that Heather and I weren't friends. We certainly weren't enemies though. Our paths crossed often but neither of us made an effort to hang out beyond that. I'm pretty sure I told a mutual friend that I thought she was hot once. Soon after, Heather came to the cheese counter and checked me out. That's the way I remember it at least. She might have just wanted cheese. Either way, we didn't spark. She soon fixated on a co-worker anyway.

I mention this because even though it was never my plan, examination of grief is one of the themes of this journal. Oddly, I feel closer to Heather in death . Partly because I can see how much she touched close friends of mine. Partly because her memorial was a lot how I would like mine to be someday. Hopefully a long time from now. I don't mean the things that people said, though there was an outpouring of love and respect that was overwhelming at times. I mean the format. Gathering at a public park, street procession, memorial at a bar.

My parents had few friends and my family is small and all on the East Coast except for us. I never went to a funeral until I was 17 or 18. It was for my coach, who I also worked for some summers doing manual labor. He was an old Scottish guy and his funeral was the first time besides that one AC/DC song that I heard bagpipes.

When I hear bagpipes playing "Amazing Grace" I cry. I seriously was pondering whether it was some kind of innate cultural memory** before I remembered that funeral. Following bagpipes through city streets is an act that demands respect. Residents came to their stoops and looked at their windows. No one mocked or heckled the march full of queer, mourning, fat radicals. Even when we crossed Mission St.*** people waited patiently for us to pass.

I've gone to one other funeral with a street march to a bar. A few years ago my co-worker's son committed suicide. She was an old hippie and all the other old hippies, no matter what they looked like 30 years later, came out to the event. Walking from the houseboats through the nearly empty industrial streets by the bay, it was a reaffirmation of community. There were people who had put on the events that made people flock to San Francisco in the '60s and people the mother had worked with for a month. It's fleeting, to be sure. The mourning reappears and buries the bits of joy one finds along with the pain at funerals. But marching in the street is a physical act of togetherness to look back upon. It's collective action that, to me, is more meaningful than prayer.

That Heather is being mourned by organized memorials in San Francisco, Portland, Boston and New York shows how many folks she touched. She was a symbol. An activist. A diva. A force of nature. Someone who died too young. A sister, lover, and/or friend for many people there too.

Since I mostly knew her from over the cheese counter and from being in groups waiting on her to put her fabulous outfit together so would could go wherever we were going, I felt uncomfortable even mentioning her death in my journal last week. I disabled comments and made sure people knew I wasn't claiming a share of the mourning. It seemed like the only respectable things to do.

But I realized at the memorial, or maybe re-realized because it is not a lesson that has sunk in but neither does it seem brand new, that it is ok to mourn people you don't know well, even people you could have been friends with but didn't, for whatever reasons. I knew Heather mostly as a symbol, an activist and as someone who meant a lot to people that I love. I appreciated her force-of-nature-ness even if, like most forces of nature, I was a little scared of getting too close.

Recently at work, we had a series of meetings to decide how to honor Cesar Chavez Day. I'm not saying the situations are identical, but it was a reminder that we have to honor our people, the ones that fight for the things we believe in. We have to remember them and talk about them. No one else will.

While Heather was sick a large group of folks took turns taking care of her, both in the Bay Area and in Portland. I was not one of them, something else that makes me hesitate to write about Heather. It was an amazing thing, truly an example of a community coming together to take care of someone without the resources to get through the fighting of , and eventually dying from, ovarian cancer. But no one has those resources on their own. (In fact, [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso just wrote about this as I am typing this out.) Life-threatening illness is usually handled by family, but some folks don't have that option or feel closer to their friends or chosen family.

Heather's friends/chosen family did an amazing job through her entire illness. It was an incredible and inspirational thing to witness. There were too many folks at the memorial to mention all of them, but [livejournal.com profile] amarama**** and [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso you both made me laugh and cry. It's why I love you guys.

If anyone else out there has written a public entry about Heather or her memorials, please feel free to link below. Most of what I have read on LJ has been locked. The more voices that talk about what Heather meant to them the better

*I really think this obit means well despite some questionable word choices. At least "heavy" was a better choice than Gavin's Heather MacAllister Day Proclamation for the City of San Francisco that used "overweight" instead of "fat".
**If you knew all three of my real names, they would amaze you with their cumulative Scottishness.
***If you don't live in SF, you should know that Mission is one of the city's big main streets even if we were crossing at a relatively quiet point.
****who also read something from [livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper so London was represented

Detroit Free Press Obituary

SF Chronicle article on yesterday's memorial
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Outside of San Francisco, the face of punk was probably Jello Biafra or maybe Penelope Houston. But inside San Francisco, it was Dirk Dirksen, the guy who promoted the shows at the Mabuhay Garden and the On Broadway. He MC’d the night of my first punk show ever, held on the night Dan White was released from prison and billed as a "Welcome Home Dan" party. He was mean, sarcastic , and funny just like I like my performers. He insulted everyone in the venues: bands, audience, scary skinheads… he feared no one.

In fact my biggest disconnect with more "positive" political punk was the lack of insults and heckling. That’s the way I learned punk and, while Dirk was certainly more performative and extreme, it was also what I knew at home. It felt comfortable. I immediately recognized the insults as his way of showing love.

He sometimes got beat up for things he said onstage. I have a foggy memory of him getting attacked at some show . I don’t really remember, it may have been the Toy Dolls because that was the most violent show I ever attended, but it could have been some other time. He heckled some skins and they went after him. Other folks jumped up to protect him starting a bar brawl. That he got bac k on stage later that night was no surprise, that he immediately started heckling the other skins was scary. Everyone braced for another fight but he had judged it right and the skins were beaten by words.

No show was complete until Dirk began saying ,"Go home, animals". I used to stay til the bitter end, long after the bands were done, so as not to miss anything good.

Dirk died monday night in his sleep at age 69. Goodbye Dirk. Thanks for everything.
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There’s lots of death in San Francisco these days and I’m not talking about the Afghani-American-who’s-arranged-marriage-caused-him-to-go-crazy-ala-"Deathrace 2000"*. Though don’t get me wrong, that’s pretty bad too.

Did people even notice the five people shot in one night in Bayview a few days ago? I saw the article in the paper. But I admit it was too depressing to read closely. Murders are way up this year all over the Bay Area, but, as per usual, they are confined mostly to the areas populated by poor Blacks and Latinos.

It’s what makes it so hard to talk about "The City" and not be full of shit. Large parts of it is rich by any standards you want to use. Even though it’s a city, many areas are nearly as safe as any gated community. But then there’s Bayview/HP, One side of Potrero Hill, a few parts of the Mission. Everyone knows it but those areas are either ignored by people who don’t live there or called upon to justify some political argument of another.

I know that’s hardly a new statement, don’t worry. But it does pain me that, even as I think of myself as political and well-informed, I forget it sometimes too. I saw that five people murdered in the Bayview headline and, while it made me sad, I went about my day thinking about it in only abstract terms of race, class, drugs and ghettos.

When I went to work today, I called in my orders as usual. When I called a certain cheese distributor, everyone seemed agitated in a way I couldn’t name. I was treated everything like normal, but the reactions I was getting weren’t. They were fuzzy, confused, distracted…

It turns out that one of the folks murdered that night was a woman I’ve talked to almost every week for the last decade. I’m not trying to claim a deeper connection than we had. She was the sweet voice on the phone. We’d joke about the boss, nasty cheese and occasionally our weekend plans. We never met, and that’s not really unusual, though we joked about that too.

I don’t know the details and folks weren’t in a state where I could ask. Seems like a wrong place/wrong time thing which is what we politely say when it’s really more accurately wrong class/wrong color.

A real life friend has an LJ where pretty much every Potrero Hill death gets recognized. The victims are always someone’s parent/sibling/child who has a connection to her workplace. I don’t claim to know what it would feel like to live, non-slumming, in one of those neighborhoods. But sometimes I would think it must feel like those folks (multi-racial and mutli-class from the pics I saw) over on California Street yesterday. Potentially lethal craziness coming from nowhere and back again as you try to let it pass you by.

But really, I don’t know shit about it. Except that if these murders were evenly dispersed demographically through the population it would be seen as an epidemic.

*I would have linked to this part of SF Gate which reads "The driver suspected in Tuesday's SF rampage is Omeed Aziz Popal. Family members say Popal has a history of mental illness and that his recent arranged marriage in his native Afghanistan may have triggered the deadly spree". but they change that page daily.
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Though my market research has shown that my music writing is the least interesting thing to most people who read this journal, I’m afraid I am compelled to make another punk entry. Sadly, this one is to mourn another fallen comrade.

Most of the time I worked at Epicenter, I lived less than a block away. Our House quickly became known as the "House of Failure" because our Pac Bell given phone number was 552-FAIL. Soon, we got friend to rent the other apartment in the building and 7/8 of us were Epicenter workers. We even got mentioned in the SF Weekly as a punk crash pad, giving the above apartment its own nickname. Aaron Probe, who did NOT live there, provided drama by breaking down the front door in some kind of drunken rage. We even starred in a J Church song:

My house, my tomb,
I can't even write a song about sitting in my room,
There's no room to sit,
I just wait in apprehensive gloom

Most memorably though, the three Epicenter workers in our apartment put on a lot of shows over the course of those years. Some of the best bands of that time either slept there on tour or used the house as a dressing room because it was so close to the store. Though he paid no rent, one member of the household did more than any of us to make those shows go smoothly. It would have been impossible without him.

Bikini Kill, Nation of Ulysses, The Ex, Tribe 8, Slant 6, Team Dresch, Fifth Column, Tattle Tale, Stay Prest, Pansy Division, Kicking Giant, Los Crudos, Born Against, Taste Freeway, even reunion shows with Frightwig and Social Unrest… All relied on our fallen friend.

I went into my room yesterday and knew something was wrong. My clock wasn’t working but there was no power outage. I investigated. There he lay, lifeless. I tried to resuscitate him but it was no use. The House of Failure Power Strip was dead.

I think the only reason he lasted so long as that people were afraid to steal him because "Failure" was literally written all over him. The individuals who made up the House of Failure have all moved on. The phone number was changed years ago when the drug-addled riot kids accused us of being racy, classy, and sexy and kept crank calling. Epicenter closed its doors for good in 1998.

failure death fronte016
1993-2006 Rest in Peace, friend. You were my last tangible link to those times.*

*Well, except for all those promos I took at the closing party.
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It’s been an odd week. I guess weeks with death in them tend to be weird. I guess I’d like to keep it that way too, come to think of it. I spent my week working, drinking, baking kugels for two sets of mourning Jews and, ironically or non-ironically (I can’t tell anymore), watching a DVD of "Dead Like Me" episodes.

One thing about the aftermath of death that I find particularly tricky is the hierarchy of mourning. Unless its one’s lover, parent or child who dies, it seems there is always someone closer, someone hurting more. Because I am fairly sensitive to issues like that I tend to defer.

Certainly with Jonny’s death I was not a first tier mourner. I was part of the larger mutual aid network, but not someone who was a caretaker and intimate. I was sad and upset. I do feel the loss and miss my meanly funny Jewish holiday buddy. I would have bawled at the memorial if it hadn’t been run by his distant family and almost bereft of the Jonny I knew. I am a bawler.

For a man who found family in his friends it was odd that the family was so central in his memorial. That reflected their world-view not his. I don’t know if it’s traditional, but there was a receiving line upon the conclusion of the memorial. To leave the synagogue one went and greeted the family. It was so wrong. Distant relations who vaguely knew their "bohemian artist" relative were star mourners while people who did his laundry, cleaned his house, fed him, and sustained him for nearly two years were treated as guests.*

Last week people sent me sympathy for all the death and memorials I’ve had recently. While appreciated, I feel it’s somewhat misplaced. Besides the obvious fact that others have dealt with a lot more death in their lives (certainly folks in West Oakland who I do co-op stuff with. Re-scheduling a meeting due to a memorial is, while not common, also not surprising.) most of my deaths haven’t been in my smaller circle of intimates.

Leslie in 1989 was a part of our political collectives when she died in a car wreck in Arizona. I was hurt but not close enough to be devastated and immobilized like many of my friends. Plus I had a car, so I did the errands: picked up food and a memorial tree, shuttled people back and forth, and drove down some state highway with friends to find relief in a way that only Americans can, by driving way too fast.

Jamaal was [livejournal.com profile] jactitation’s death but I felt it in support and learned how fucked up family can be in times of grief.

I almost got into my only fight as an adult after Chris’s death. My co-workers and I were at Zeitgeist and semi-dressed up from a memorial. Some drunk started giving us shit for being yuppies and I stepped up and explained to him very clearly that we were at a bike messenger bar, mourning a bike messenger who got killed while riding his bike after another bike messenger’s funeral. Then I told him to shut the fuck up. I was ready to go too, in a way that I never have been before or since. He backed down and bought us a couple of pitchers to admit he was wrong. It was not a role I’ve ever played before, but I could in this case so I did. Some friends of Chris still bring it up in appreciation.

Ron I consciously kept distance with because, honestly, he always scared me a little no matter how much I liked him. His memorial was a reunion of Novato punk rockers. We stood amidst the iron workers and family members and remembered how much we love each other even if we are in different cities and don’t see each other much. It was then I realized that certain ties won’t break. Those days bonded us forever.

At Rachael’s death I was a first tier mourner to the only person I cared about there, [livejournal.com profile] comicbookgrrrl. But I was stealth. Rachael had stopped communicating with her parents, if they even cared, by the time we became close. CBG and I sat in the back of the yoga center and bawled for the friend we hadn’t seen in years. Then we went to the grave and bawled. Then we went to the bar and bawled. But my only responsibility, besides to Rachael’s memory, was to CBG. No one knew me enough to include me in the family memorial decisions which I am incredibly thankful for because I didn’t want to deal with them.

The problem with this perception of a hierarchy of mourning is that we all feel things differently. We mourn for different aspects of the same person, we mourn for different friends/family/lovers at the funeral of another, we mourn ourselves and what we’ve lost both specifically and of our own hopes and dreams. It can’t be cleanly placed. Death can bring out some really ugly things in the people left behind, but I think the concept of competitive mourning is really harmful. I might think it was just me who felt it, but I have talked to enough people over the years to realize that almost no one, beyond the aforementioned lover/parent/child category, knows where to fit in at times like these.

A sense of the feelings of others is important because it’s a basic building block of community. Accepting of a diversity of mourning is equally important because while some people may have material and emotional needs, mourning alone is one of the saddest things in the world. Obviously there can be real differences in the depth of despair and loss. Acknowledge that and move on with the task of taking care of each other and remembering the one no longer with us.

* I did appreciate that, in honor of Jonny’s sense of humor they made the rabbi get up and tell a "A rabbi walks into a bar…" joke. Oddly, the rabbi was just getting over a flu and sounded exactly like the therapist in "The Sopranos".
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Johnny Kaplan died Friday morning. It was not totally unexpected, though it did come fast in the end. He had been battling cancer for awhile.

I met Johnny through a co-worker. They were part of a pack of SUNY Buffalo anarchist artist types who all moved to San Francisco in the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. Almost all were Jews and [livejournal.com profile] jactitation and I spent pretty much every Jewish holiday with their crowd after we realized we liked each other and there wasn’t much g-d mixed into their Jewishness. I loved being a part of it even if some years I had to ask the stupid questions during Passover (when [livejournal.com profile] anarqueso or the occasional child wasn't there). At least it made me feel young.

Johnny’s art is amazing, I just wish there was more of it. I wish I could find something online to link because it defies description. Intricate tableaus built inside common objects. Amazing detail and depth. Things you could look at for hours, sturdy on the outside precise and fragile inside, sometimes with moving parts. I can only imagine what he could have created in a society that supports artists and if he didn’t have to work stupid jobs to survive, especially as this city got more and more crazy expensive.

I last saw him about three weeks ago in the Geary/Divis doctor district. I was going to see my doctor about my tendonitis, he was leaving his doctor’s office. We hugged. He felt frail in his puffy jacket. We talked about what movies we would watch together and made plans for the following week. Unfortunately, when I called to confirm he wasn’t up to visitors.

At the informal gathering yesterday, I got to see pictures of Johnny in a headless panda suit from around Thanksgiving. They totally captured his sense of humor: Johnny the Panda "hiding" in a potted bamboo plant, Johnny the Panda playing baseball, Johnny the Panda cooking food, Johnny the Panda fake pooping. Thankfully the gathering also reflected his humor, being filled with New York atheist Jews who, in my anecdotal dealings with death so far, are my favorite mourners. If a story is funny enough, they don’t mind laughing on the day of a friend’s death, at least in these circumstances where we all knew it was coming.

Johnny and I were never close. If we had managed to hang out in the last few weeks it probably would have been the first time we socialized without other people, but he was a part of my community of people and it already feels smaller without him. And it was his community that cared for him in the end, making sure his rent was paid, that he had company when he wanted it, that he got regular massages, that he had food in the house. No one wanted to see him disappear in his sickness, something fairly easy to do in this society if you don’t have a partner or close family.

Over the years, unfortunately, I’ve had the opportunity to write about the death of friends. Many of you have told me you were especially moved by some of those pieces. I understand that partly that is the subject matter alone and another part of it is the impulse that any decent person has to comfort the afflicted. Still, I do think that the hyper-nostalgic way I deal with the world makes me well suited for obituary writing, though I don’t find these entries to be any great work of art. I do feel like it’s my duty to publicly remember my people.

In this case though, if you know [livejournal.com profile] jactitation,understand that she and Johnny were much closer than Johnny and I were. You might wanna send your kind words her way instead of mine.

Also, another member of my extended community, though more of an acquaintance to me than Johnny was, is also battling cancer. It seems appropriate to mention that there is a benefit for Heather McCallister of the Big Bottom Revue coming up on 1/14. Details can be found here.
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I probably wouldn’t reminisce about my dead high school friend Rachael so much if her grave wasn’t in a cemetery on the road to the Russian River. I realized that with [livejournal.com profile] dairryiere moving in, [livejournal.com profile] obliviot and [livejournal.com profile] psoup in Pennsylvania, and Niki and Scott somewhere further north, there’s more death than life in Sonoma County for me. At least with my oldest friends. It seems like every time I drive through Sonoma, and as you can see I have less and less reason to, I pass Rachael’s grave or the stupid golf course where Ron’s memorial was held.

I know the body is empty of life and decomposing peacefully into the earth. And I know that I didn’t see her alive for the last years of her life. But it still seems rude to pass by her grave without stopping. I mean, it’s not like she can visit me.

I had forgotten that I would be passing the cemetery until I turned onto it following the weird but good directions I got from yahoo maps. I looked down at the map and sighed. Oh yeah, Graton Road. I tried to think about what I could leave as an offering. I had a cheese button and a Gang of Four button on but I knew Rachael pre-cheese and she never liked the English bands. I had some food but she sailed off to Valhalla years ago. I only had CDs, no tapes that we would have shared. None of the rubber iguanas that I buy in her memory to leave when I pass by.

Luckily I looked in the rearview mirror and saw the reflection of an X promo poster that I had gotten at a garage sale the last weekend along with a book on Chinchilla care. I bought it for someone else, but it seemed like fate. Or at least good enough for the spur of the moment. Rachael and I had shared some quality X moments together, back in the day.

The river was wonderful, by the way. Sun enough to burn me, water cold enough to cool me down, Lagunitas Pils, gin and tonics, Boggle , [livejournal.com profile] jactitation, and [livejournal.com profile] confabulator. A perfect day away from the city.

(backstory for those interested can be found on my memories page under "obituaries")
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It was incredibly sad to come back to LJ after my stay I the hospital and find out that [livejournal.com profile] andypop had died from the hit and run accident he had been in a week ago. I never met Andy, but he seemed to have all the right friends.

It’s odd, but even before a mutual real life friend said something to me, I felt kinship with him. I know it’s projection and death can make projection feel meaningful instead of self-indulgent, but I felt like as soon as we met we’d become fast friends. We seemed to work the same angles in our individual punk scenes 8000 miles away. Older guy punks who embraced riot grrrl and queer punk as more fun, political and interesting than any other punk of its day. Identifying with that scene and fighting for it in a million stupid scene battles that can’t be explained to outsiders because they’re just too embarrassing to discuss.

There were so many things I wanted to talk about when we finally met. He seemed like an incredible person. I’m sorry I never had the chance and I’m sorry for those people who mourn him in real life.

He left a daughter, hundreds of friends, and a million projects. Details at [livejournal.com profile] jinty.

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Now that she’s dead, there seems to be more engaged and thoughtful writing on Andrea Dworkin than ever before. It’s interesting. It’s not exactly that she can only be forgiven in death, but that her death reminded people of their hard feelings and ideological differences. Then they realized those feelings and politics (mostly) weren’t so hardened anymore.

Not, by any means, that the writers are reversing their opinions. Just that the ‘80s are a long time ago. It’s a reminder that political engagement over important issues can still be crucial and formative. During the heat of the moment someone like Dworkin can be seen as pure evil. And truly, the forces marshaled by her writing provoked pain in many people, sometimes re-opening wounds originally caused by more traditionally patriarchal forces. But it’s easier to look at the bigger historical picture now, without ceding ground.

It seems that a lot of memorializing around her death is also mourning of the memory of so many people, mostly women certainly, mobilized, rightly or wrongly, over politics related to the basic issues surrounding the oppression of women. That period’s politics often a very naïve-looking concept of the universality of the term "women" to be sure. But that’s just one of the reasons it’s almost impossible to imagine that moment happening again. Maybe some of the memorializing and contextualizing is part nostalgia, (something I fall into easily so beware my analysis), because those were the political battles of our political coming of age.

The lack of acknowledgement by the press "of record" of her importance, whichever side you were on, is a reminder of that. Especially after their week-long, corpse-fetish coverage of the pope and their non-consensual voyeurism of Terri Schiavo. It was a reminder that those political arguments, which were literally life-altering for so many of our peers weren’t really seen as "real" issues for a very long time. Those arguments were held at anarchist gatherings, war chest tours, No Business as Usual actions, college classes, collective meetings, pot lucks, bars, and editorial sessions of our crappy cut and pasted publications. They were probably held even more at places I couldn’t go like peace camps, Take Back the Night rallies, and women’s centers.

Me? I never read Dworkin, actually. That may not surprise some of you out there, but the fact is I read pretty much every important, and a lot of unimportant, Western feminist writers of that time period. Hell, I even read Stoltenberg when I was training to do intakes of male batterers for a pro-feminist, anti-violence, group counseling program. But, by the time I started, the late ‘80s, Dworkin was already more or less the enemy in my political community. People read her, but pretty much only to trash her. The lesbian sex wars were over from a military standpoint, even if that was not necessarily clear to the participants still fighting.

Here is some of the good writing going around:

(If you’re coming in late, this is the Susie Bright obituary which started a lot of this discussion in the first place.)

[livejournal.com profile] slit: "17 Seconds"

[livejournal.com profile] mslashes: "Dworkin and the effect on sm dykes in the uk" (now unlocked!)

[livejournal.com profile] susanstinson: "Andrea Dworkin"

[livejournal.com profile] fattest: "My context for Andrea Dworkin"

[livejournal.com profile] charlottecooper: "Dworkin"

[livejournal.com profile] felicks: "More Andrea"

[livejournal.com profile] chitinous Andrea Dworkin

[livejournal.com profile] maeve66 "On Socialist feminism, sort of"

I can't keep up. see the comments for more links.

RIP Hunter

Feb. 21st, 2005 07:57 am
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The only thing I really want to say about Hunter Thompson right now is that the book "The Great Shark Hunt" made me want to write. If people haven't read him, and like powerfully written journalism, that's the place I'd recommend starting.
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Most of you know already, but it would feel wrong not to mention it. [livejournal.com profile] wouldprefernot2 died last night. He was one of the first people I didn’t know in real life to read my journal. He was also one of the few people I found here who was actually my own age, which helped me justify my LJ fetish. Details are here. A very fitting tribute is here.
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Well since I just learned how to post pictures and since I just got back from playing poker, it seems like a good time to remember Ron Apple.


He died a year ago this month. He was almost exactly my age and I realized during his memorial that we must have played pee-wee football against each other back when we were both pre-teens.* Hey [livejournal.com profile] obliviot or [livejournal.com profile] psoup, is this from that infamous Fourth of July where our Victorianly red-haired friend pulled the gun on her drunk hubby as a "joke"?

Some of you can read this too.

So long Ron. We miss you.

*My team, the San Rafael Rangers, avenged an earlier loss to his Novato Hornets in the league championship game. In the earlier loss, I got knocked out of a game for the only time ever in my four year pee-wee football career. It was on my birthday. Some little guy hit me low and hard, harder than anyone ever had before. I know it’s revisionist and probably not really true, but I bet that little fucker was Ron.
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The cheese phone rang. I picked it up and heard giggling and excited conversation. All of a sudden my old anarchist pal from Olympia starts singing:

"Ding dong, Reagan's dead, Reagan's dead, Reagan's dead . . ."

I tell my co-workers while trying to control my laughter. Freedomcine,who has an English boyfriend said, "This could only be better news if Thatcher had gone with him."

Brace yourselves for the onslaught of "Reagan: America's Greatest President".

Where's the street party?
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Gloria Anzaldúa died last weekend. There’s a mini obituary floating around that gives the basics if you don’t know who she was. Personally, her writing and anthologies provoked me into thinking a lot about my place in the world at a time when I was first becoming politically active. I owe her a debt for that and for the inspiration her work gave me.

I never met her, but my thoughts also go out to those who are mourning her personally as well as intellectually.

R.I.P. Gloria Anzaldúa. You will be missed.
gordonzola: (making cheese)
(This was written for a zine that never came out so I'm posting it here on the ten year anniversary of the death of Marlon Riggs and Kurt Cobain. The topic? It was [livejournal.com profile] mala106's idea and I still think it's a good one. "Each person will write an essay about a person who is more punk rock than the average punk rock scenester. It can be anyone you want, living or dead. For example, Toby is going to do 'my GRANDMA is more punk rock than you.' I am going to do 'harriet tubman is more punk rock than you'll ever be.'")

I was still working at one of punk rock’s big institutions that week in 1994 when Marlon Riggs and Kurt Cobain both died. For once, the myopic indie label "politics" of punk worked in my favor. Because Nirvana had "sold out" by signing to a major label, public Kurt Cobain-mourning wasn’t OK there. So when I put up a memorial to Marlon Riggs at the punk store it was, ironically, one of the few places in the country where Riggs’s death wasn’t completely overshadowed by Cobain’s. I’ve been waiting for a chance to write this article ever since.

Marlon Riggs was a Black, gay, political, pro-feminist documentary filmmaker. In his far-too-short career he produced only four films, Ethnic Notions, Tongues Untied, Color Adjustment and Black Is, Black Ain’t . When I first saw his films I was in my late teens/early twenties and searching for models of how to be a political, pro-feminist man. With each film, and despite our obvious differences in background, Riggs provided some of these examples by showing the world in nuanced, complicated ways, rejecting easy political models and pushing for more.

If one thinks of punk as an underground art form, they should try finding copies of Riggs’s films today. Even though they were made for PBS, they’re very hard to find unless you want to buy your own copies. Not having seen any of his films since they came out, I decided watch them again while preparing to write this article. Unfortunately I could only find two of the four and if it wasn’t for the Gay Collection at the Castro branch of the San Francisco Public Library it would only have been one.

Tongues Untied is probably Riggs’s punkest film in terms of attitude, reflecting a sarcastic, political and angry subculture and not prettying it up for the public. Tongues is also activist, arty, and poetic. Surveying American Black, gay culture, Riggs tried to show the love, creativity, humor and resistance skills that dwell there through poetry, and dance as well as more standard narratives. He also tried not to ignore the confusion and ugliness engendered by struggles to survive in a society that wants to kill, use, or ignore Black men, especially Black, gay men. The film seemed to be an attempt to actually create dialogue and community out of the people and testimony it was portraying, rather than seeking to be just a viewing experience.

Riggs said of the film, "Frankly, with Tongues Untied if white heterosexuals don't understand the reasons why black people are angry and just consider this piece militant, then so be it. I'm not going to take time to justify this for people for whom this experience is totally alien. Tongues Untied is an affirmation of the feelings and experiences of black gay men, made for them by a black gay man, or actually by black gay men because the piece has a number of voices. If others understand, fine, but making sure everyone understands was not my prerequisite in making this." (Jump Cut: A Review of Contemporary Media #36, 1991) As a white man watching this film, one of my points of entry was precisely this. Prettied up or assimilationist may have appealed to some audiences, but the honesty with which Tongues was created made it accessible to me with the cultural criticism I grew up on. And even if the final product was more Last Poets (without the homophobia) than The Clash.

When Tongues came out, the Christian right targeted Riggs, using selective images of gay, Black men from the film to help scare U.S. legislators into cutting public funding for the arts. Riggs spoke out against this. "(The Christian Right says) Bring back the melting pot. Restore ‘traditional values.’ Re-institute prayer in schools. Preserve the primacy of Western civilization (the only one that matters anyway). And not least, protect that critical bedrock of American greatness: ‘the American family’ Such pronouncements reveal an intense, even pathological desire to perpetuate a thoroughly obsolete myth of America, and through this, a repressively orthodox system of sociocultural entitlement."

There is some poetry and dance in Black is, Black Ain’t, but it’s a more standard form of documentary with heavy hitters from the left Black intellectual and arts communities (including bell hooks, Essex Hemphill, Angela Davis, Cornel West, Barbara Smith and Bill T. Jones) weighing in on the construction of Black identity. It’s epic and ambitious for an 86 minute film, discussing, the origins of Black as an identity, the Black Church, language and dialect, hair, Creole identity, Black Power, Black feminism, afrocentricity, and the meaning of "unity" (impossible, in Riggs’s thought, until Black people "start talking about the way we hurt each other".)

Riggs also has a crucial part, narrating and talking from his hospital bed as he lay dying of AIDS-related illnesses. At one incredibly funny and sad scene, realizing he won’t live to finish the film, he gives advice to his co-producer about a scene of him naked in the woods." It’s of critical metaphoric importance. I’m confined and lost in the woods as the community is confined by its own limited notions of identity." While metaphor usually plays better when not explained, watching Riggs trying to get his message out as he sits, nauseous, in a hospital bed with little time left had me mourning his death all over again.

Whatever view one takes of Cobain and his death, it was heart-wrenching to watch one artist trying to create his political art and build community and audience with his last breaths at age 37, while another offs himself at 27, at the height of his popularity, leaving behind a kid and millions of people who wanted to listen to what he wanted to say.

When I first saw these films, parts of San Francisco felt like a ghost town due to AIDS. I lived on the Castro edge of the Mission back then, and watching men much younger than they looked, and many younger than I am now, limp and roll by my apartment on Dolores Park was just part of the environment. This landscape also included dementia in public, funerals at the mortuary down the block a few times a week and pages of Obituaries in the back of the gay press. Beyond the merit of the films themselves, Black Is and Tongues Untied are also opportunities to remind oneself of that time and mourn the people lost in that era. Even though his last movie was completed ten years ago, Riggs’s films are also opportunities to find our own voice and strength and figure out ways to prevent the generation-killings that are, or are about to be, carried out today.

And how punk is that?


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