A fantastic, but sadly fake “photo” of David Bowie and Lemmy Kilmister (see the actual photo of Lemmy and his French girlfriend, here)
The clock tower that stands on the grounds of City Hall in the capital of Norway, Oslo, has marked the passing of the hours with musical interludes for many years. Now at six and seven pm respectively, the 49 bells in the tower’s carillon will play “Changes” from David Bowie’s 1971 album Hunky Dory and, the track “Electricity” from what sadly turned out to be the last record Lemmy Kilmister would record with Motörhead, 2015’s, Bad Magic.
The music of Motorhead and David Bowie to play from the clock tower on Oslo City Hall through May 31st
In an interview with Oslo Town Hall’s carillonist, Laura Marie Rueslaatten Olseng, after seeing how many of her fellow Oslo residents were affected by Lemmy’s passing, she felt that the lyrics to “Electricity” reflected “an attitude that fit Oslo very much.” After Bowie’s untimely passing, Olseng said that there was “no discussion” and the choice was made to add “Changes” to the clocks daily musical rotation which also includes music from Kraftwerk, Nine Inch Nails, and John Lennon. The clock tower will play both songs daily until May 31st. You can listen to the bells chiming for Bowie below, and the belfry belting out Motörhead, here.
The clock tower at City Hall in Oslo, Norway chiming to David Bowie’s “Changes.”
(You’ll note that I didn’t end the title with a question mark.)
If you’ve ever toiled at a daily newspaper—I worked at the LA Times for a year once—then you’ll know how many layers—copy editors, photo editors, editor editors, graphic designers—are between what you initially write and what ends up on the printed page. Eventually whatever text the original writer got the ball rolling with, is pounded like a sheet of tin into the official “voice” of the publication by many often very opinionated hammers as it is pushed down the assembly line towards the printing presses. At any point, a concerned party might ask “Are you sure about this?” and then perhaps there would be further debate.
And this is what makes this item—ostensibly a fashion tribute to the late David Bowie taken from the pages of a newspaper in New Zealand—all the more perplexing.
Who along the way looked at this at any stage in its production in the hallowed halls of the Timaru Herald and gave the thumbs up?
Take a moment to absorb the magnificent and dumbfounding stupidity of it all. Imagine any workplace conversations that took place before, during and maybe even after this glorious idiocy saw print. It’s not successful on any level. Not as “fashion” reporting, and certainly not as a tribute to one of the greatest fashion icons in all of history. It’s got no information that’s useful, or even entertaining whatsoever. It’s just ludicrous from top to bottom. Arguably there might be worse Bowie tributes out there, but this one, I think you’ll agree is at least, as my mother might say… “different.” Certainly it’s the worst Bowie tribute that Smash Mouth weren’t involved with.
With the bad news about the death of David Bowie, and the subsequent tsunami of Internet posts about his life and work, the passing of another 70s glam rocker—albeit a much more obscure one—Brett Smiley has gone nearly unreported. Smiley died on January 8th at his home in Brooklyn after a longtime battle with both HIV and hepatitis, at the age of 60.
Brett Smiley is not someone who was necessarily “forgotten” or who was a “has-been” per se, as he was never really known by the public at large in the first place. He occupies the place that’s under Jobriath in the hierarchy of little-known androgynous Bowie-wannabe pretty boys of the glam rock era. He was a cult figure, sure, but it’s a cult consisting of a very few members (I consider myself one of them).
One day I found myself looking for obscure glam rock compilations on Amazon and the “customers who bought this” recommendation led me to an album called Breathlessly Brett, an LP originally recorded in 1974—but not released until 2003—by a then-teenaged performer named Brett Smiley. It seldom left my CD player for the next month. I got really obsessed by this album.
I’d never heard of Brett Smiley before that, but when I did a search on him, an interesting story emerged. A child star who went to junior high school with Michael Jackson (they shared a woodworking class), Smiley once played the title role in the Broadway musical Oliver!. He was just a sixteen-year-old when he was discovered by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham, then keen to take his career down a Phil Spector-type producer/Svengali path and feeling competitive with Jobriath’s manager, Jerry Brandt.
Smiley was given a $200,000 advance and recorded an album produced by Oldham with Steve Marriott from the Small Faces and Humble Pie on guitar. An amazingly raucous single “Va Va Va Voom” was released and heavily hyped with Smiley’s blonde pretty-boy face appearing in ads all over London, and in an extremely over the top performance and interview on the popular Russell Harty Plus TV program.
Disc magazine proclaimed Brett to be “The Most Beautiful Boy In The World.”
“It wasn’t a slipper he slipped to Cinderella…” Brett Smiley as the Prince in the 3-D erotic musical version of ‘Cinderella.’
The insanely catchy single “Va Va Va Voom”
Hard to see how a tune that fucking catchy failed to storm the charts, but the single bombed and the album was shelved. Although Smiley auditioned to replace David Cassidy in The Partridge Family and made film appearances (like 1977’s erotic Cinderella and American Gigolo), he must’ve fallen into some sort of “velvet goldmine” because he wasn’t really heard from again until 2003 when RPM Records acquired the master tapes of his forgotten album. The sad truth was that Brett Smiley wallowed in serious skid-row drug addiction for years. His legend proved mysterious and intriguing for glam rock fans and Johnny Thunders’ biographer Nina Antonina wrote a book, The Prettiest Star: Whatever Happened to Brett Smiley? about how Smiley’s super brief pop supernova moment—just the idea of him—so strongly influenced her teenage years.
The Russell Harty Plus clip below features a young Brett Smiley performing his Ziggy-influenced “Space Ace” (the “Va Va Va Voom” B-side) and it’s pretty incredible if you like this sort of thing. It’s followed by an embarrassing interview.
Clarence Reid, a successful R&B songwriter in his own right, has performed as his alter-ego “Blowfly” since the early ‘70s, releasing over two dozen albums in his 40+ year career. Dangerous Minds’ own Richard Metzger described Blowfly’s funky appearance as a “low-budget combination of a Mexican wrestler, Sun Ra and ‘Dumb Donald.’”
Blowfly, along with fellow contemporary Rudy Ray “Dolemite” Moore, is often credited as a progenitors of rap.
According to the Facebook announcement, Reid has entered hospice care with multiple organ failure. From that update:
Please know that Clarence is being made comfortable and that his sister Virginia has stood tall for him, and taken care of her brother as best as humanly possible. Please say a prayer for her and for Clarence Reid, the Maestro of the Miami Sound who loved being Blowfly - the King of the Freaks.
Cards and letters may be sent to Reid via: Florida Medical Center ATTN: Patient Clarence Reid Room 355, 5000 Oakland Park Boulevard, Lauderdale Lakes, Florida 33133.
Blowfly’s recently completed album, 77 Rusty Trombones is expected to be released in February.
That dirty motherfucker Blowfly, doing his thing live after the jump…
David Bowie playing at Rodney Bingenheimer’s club in Los Angeles, 1970. Courtesy of Getty Images. Buy a print of this photograph at Photos.com.
As—ahem—some of our readers may have noticed over the years, the late David Bowie has always been our patron saint here at Dangerous Minds. You might say he was our spirit animal. Below, three of our writers pay tribute to the Thin White Duke and contemplate a world without David Bowie in it…
Christopher Bickel: Let’s be honest. At Dangerous Minds there are certain subjects that we have covered rather extensively. We’ve taken our share of good-natured ribbing over that fact that we jock Bowie hard and often. It goes without saying that the writers here are going to have something to say on this day when we celebrate the career and legacy of one of the true giants of the rock and roll era.
No celebrity death has emotionally affected me to this degree. We haven’t had a musician pass who was so universally loved for their talent and influence since the assassination of John Lennon. Michael Jackson, maybe, but his legacy was so tainted by the time of his death. Bowie’s life and artistic output remained inspiring up until the very end. Last November when the video for “Blackstar” dropped, I remarked that it was a “masterpiece.” Little did I know, then, that it was Bowie’s “parting gift” to us all. Certainly he knew.
I loved Bowie from the first time I heard him—which was “Rebel Rebel” on the radio. But as a kid, I thought the words I was hearing were “Grandma, Grandma—who tore your dress?” I remember at the time thinking “it’s really rude of this singer to call his grandmother a ‘tramp’”—but also kind of cool. I was wrong about the words I was hearing, but I wasn’t wrong about loving the music. The man never put out a bad record. Sure, there’s varying degrees of quality in his catalog, but I challenge anyone to name a single Bowie record that “flat out sucks.” You can’t.
It’s hard to pin down a favorite. I called it as Low for years, but I’ve eventually settled on Scary Monsters as my top pick. New Wave Bowie is my guy. Bowie knew how to pick a backing band, and Fripp just kills it on that record. Reeves Gabrels later picked up that torch and THIS VIDEO from 2006 of “Scary Monsters” is absolutely scorching—and is as good as any Bowie performance from any point in his career. That’s the thing: Bowie remained relevant and exciting as both a writer and performer all the way until the very end. There will never be another.
Martin Schneider: What is there to say? One mark of an artist’s power is a general inability on the audience’s part to imagine our world in their absence; we’re all experiencing that weird pang right now, big time. No rock star was more forward-looking or incorporated so many different cultural streams; it shouldn’t be surprising that his influence and resonance have only increased over the years. He was a cultural vampire, in the best sense; he took from everybody and he never aged.
As a teen, I found Bowie incredibly intriguing but also a bit chilly (Pink Floyd was easier); it took me a long time to warm up to him. Of course I did, finally—he’s inescapable, after all. As I get older he strikes me as the very best, the most mature and the most complex, that a rock star can realistically be.
So long, Star Man.
Richard Metzger: I first heard of David Bowie when I very first started listening to pop music. My interest in Bowie was probably what got me interested in music to begin with. I was eight and it was early 1974. A local AM radio station played “Space Oddity” at 11pm one night and I happened to be be up late listening and had my young mind totally blown into a million pieces. That song entered my consciousness and exploded there, rearranging my outlook on the world like nothing had before and like nothing has ever since, I can promise you. It was, for me personally, probably the Ur-epiphany of my entire life. But I didn’t catch the name of the singer or the song. The next night, at the exactly same time, the DJ played it again, and then the following night he spun it again. This time I was ready. I taped it with my $30 Sears cassette recorder, the mic held up to the clock radio’s speaker. Soon afterwards I had the 45rpm record and soon after that—a matter of just days—I had the ultra-heavy single only version of “Rebel, Rebel” (a record cut so loud that it threatened to blow out your speakers, as anyone reading this who owned it can attest to). My parents were okay with buying me a 99 cent single from time to time, but an LP (which might’ve cost about $4.98 then) was out of the question and I needed to have everything David Bowie-related. Immediately if not sooner.
So I did yard work and gardening around the neighborhood—weed-pulling to be exact, I was too young for pushing a lawn mower around—to be able to afford first Diamond Dogs, then in fairly rapid succession Aladdin Sane, Pin-Ups, The Man Who Sold the Word, David Live, Young Americans, etc. (Oddly enough, it would be Ziggy Stardust that I acquired last and it remains my least favorite of the pre-ChangesOneBowie catalog.)
And then I saw that they were repeating “The 1980 Floor Show” on The Midnight Special. I don’t think I was ever the same again after I saw that. It was a powerful and visceral lesson in… well… something. I was too young to know exactly what it all meant, but I did know intrinsically what he—David Bowie as an iconic entity—meant. Bowie-fandom was closer to a religion than a hobby. It was a revelation, you might say.
I would scour the TV Guide hoping for a Bowie-sighting and—in lieu of a VCR—I’d tape the audio on my cassette recorder whenever he appeared on things like Soul Train, Dinah!, Cher and the Grammy Awards telecast. I listened to them so many times that 35 years later I would see them again on YouTube and I’d know each and every word. On Dinah! he invited Dr. Thelma Moss on as one of his hand-picked guests, a UCLA professor who was known for investigating the science of Kirlian photography. This was in 1976 and I would have been, at that point ten and in the 5th grade. My Bowie-fanaticism was so ingrained in me by then that I built a rudimentary Kirlian photography device after finding plans for it on microfilm in the local library!
I wrote about this in 2010, on the occasion of the publication of the coffee table book Bowie: Object.
To give you a personal (and very small) example of the multitude of ways David Bowie has influenced little old me, when I was ten years old and Bowie was the guest on Dinah Shore’s afternoon talk/variety show, he was able to invite Dr. Moss on as a guest as well. Moss demonstrated the ability of the Kirlian device—a high voltage electric field “camera”—to basically take snapshots of plant and human “auras.” Because Bowie was fascinated by this wild new science of Kirlian photography, then, hey, so was I and—this is true—I built a homemade version of the Kirlian Photographic device for a grade-school science fair.
It was made with a battery, a wood base, some wire, a metal plate and used 2” by 2” film, which was placed under the plate, and sent a jolt via the battery to expose the film. Now, granted, at that age, I wasn’t testing the “before and after” side-effects of snorting cocaine on my aura (see above) like Bowie was—-I used leaves and my thumbprint—but still, you can see clearly in this stupid example of how I, a little kid at the time, saw David Bowie as this like, larger than life cultural avatar of the newest and coolest things around.
Beyond influencing my 5th grade science fair entry, I’m pretty sure that it was David Bowie that led me directly to my interests in Andy Warhol, Iggy, Lou Reed, the Velvets, George Orwell, and even William Burroughs. My interest in most things artistic and countercultural probably began with David Bowie when I was a kid and simply fanned out from there. I honestly don’t think I would be the same person today, or would have lived the life that I have or that I would even be doing what I do professionally without his influence on not only what I was thinking or feeding my head with when I was very young, but also on the way his life and art demonstrated what was possible to aspire to.
Twelve years ago, when someone working the register at St. Mark’s Books told me that David Bowie had purchased my Disinformation book and DVD—David Bowie knew who I was???—it was one of the proudest moments of my entire life. I simply can’t believe he’s gone.
Below, David Bowie and the Spiders from Mars on the ‘Ziggy’ tour in Dunstable, June 21, 1972 doing “Song for Bob Dylan”:
Like everyone out there, I’m at a loss for words upon hearing of David Bowie’s passing. As Bowie’s brilliant 25th album, Blackstar is a letter of sorts to all of us, I thought sharing some of Bowie’s letters to his fans and friends, as well as a few letters from Bowie’s youngest fans would be a way of helping to celebrate the life of the great man.
David Bowie’s beautiful post-Ziggy letter to his fan Susie Maguire, April of 1974
David Bowie’s handwritten letter to his friend, designer Natasha Korniloff, 1979. It reads: “Love me, say you do. Let me fly away with you, for my love is like the wind; and wild is the wind.”
A higher resolution image of the letter can be seen here
Davie Bowie’s letter from 1970 to Bob Grace of Chrysalis Music, the man who signed the then 24-year-old to a five-year record contract
It had to come, it always does and usually when we least expect it. So, it was this morning when news broke of David Bowie’s untimely demise. Even the presenters on television seemed stunned, slightly disbelieving at the words they mouthed off teleprompters. It was unreal—sitting eating breakfast around seven in the morning, still in dressing gown, the world dark outside, when suddenly I heard the news that someone who had been a constant in my life—like a parent or a friend—was gone.
Odd how someone I never met, never knew, only listened to and watched could cause such a sense of inestimable loss.
The release of his albums The Next Day in 2013 and Blackstar ★ last week was further proof that Bowie was beyond mortal and would somehow continue onwards creating his magical works of brilliance. But perhaps, we should have listened more closely to the words he sang:
Look up here, I’m in heaven.
I’ve got scars that can’t be seen.
I’ve got drama, can’t be stolen,
Everybody knows me now…
Oh I’ll be free.
Just like that bluebird.
Oh I’ll be free.
Ain’t that just like me.
Though he had just celebrated his 69th birthday, “David Bowie” was really born fifty years ago when he changed his surname from Jones to Bowie. The name change allowed the young 20-year-old to become someone else—something far more interesting than just another aspiring singer and musician hungry for fame. He became whatever ever he wanted to be—a kind of “Everyman” as he later described himself:
I’m Pierrot. I’m Everyman. What I’m doing is theatre, and only theatre. What you see on stage isn’t sinister. It’s pure clown. I’m using myself as a canvas and trying to paint the truth of our time
Theater was always important to Bowie. In December his drama Lazarus co-authored with Enda Walsh “a two-hour meditation on grief and lost hope” was being hailed as a “wild, fantastical, eye-popping” masterpiece. This wasn’t Bowie’s first venture into theater and writing a musical score—his first came in 1967, when Bowie collaborated with the maverick performer, choreographer and director Lindsay Kemp.
It was on 28 December 1967 that David Bowie made his theatrical debut at the Oxford New Theater. He was appearing as Cloud in Lindsay Kemp’s mime Pierrot in Turquoise (aka The Looking Glass Murders). Bowie wrote and performed the songs, while Kemp played Pierrot, with Jack Birkett as Harlequin, and Annie Stainer as Columbine.
The production was in rehearsal when it opened at the New Theater—which may explain why the Oxford Mail described the show as “something of a pot-pourri.” The reviewer did however praise Bowie’s musical contribution:
David Bowie has composed some haunting songs, which he sings in a superb, dreamlike voice. But beguilingly as he plays Cloud, and vigorously as Jack Birkett mimes Harlequin, the pantomime isn’t a completely satisfactory framework for some of the items from his repertoire that Mr Kemp, who plays Pierrot, chooses to present….
...No doubt these are shortcomings Mr. Kemp will attend to before he presents Pierrot in Turquoise at the Prague Festival at the invitation of Marceau and Fialka next summer. No mean honour for an English mime troupe.
The production told the story of Pierrot’s fateful attempts to win the love of Columbine. As we know, the path of true love never runs smooth, and Columbine falls for Harlequin, and is then killed by Pierrot.
After a few tweaks Pierrot in Turquoise opened at the Rosehill Theater, Whitehaven, before going on to the Mercury Theater and Intimate Theater London in March 1968.
Bowie’s career throughout the sixties fits Thomas Edison’s adage “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” He worked hard and continually toured the length and breadth of Britain under various guises: The Konrads, The Hookers, Davie Jones and The King Bees, The Manish Boys, the Blues influenced Davie Jones and The Lower Third, Davie Jones and The Buzz, and The Riot Squad, a band described as:
The Complete Musical Entertainers covering Pop, Tableaux, Burlesque and Parody
Even at this early stage Bowie was shedding musical styles quicker than he changed his haircut—from beat thru blues to music hall and pop. With hindsight it is possible to see where his career was going but by 1967 the teenager’s recording career had come to a halt after he released the unsuccessful novelty song “The Laughing Gnome.” Bowie didn’t release a record for another two years.
It was during this time that Bowie fell under the influence of mime artist and performer Lindsay Kemp, who helped Bowie channel his unique talent towards “Space Oddity” and later Ziggy Stardust. As Kemp later told journalist Mick Brown for Crawdaddy in 1974:
“I taught David to free his body,” says Kemp, smiling wickedly.
“Even before meeting, David and I had felt the need to work together. I’d identified myself with his songs, and he’d seen my performances and identified himself with my songs. I was singing the songs of my life with my body; he was singing the songs of his life very fabulously with his voice, and we reckoned that by putting the two together the audience couldn’t help but be enthralled. In other words, one large gin is very nice, but two large gins are even nicer.”
The two large gins became Pierrot in Turquoise, which (thankfully) was filmed by Scottish Television in 1969 and then broadcast in July 1970. How a small regional TV station like STV came to film this wonderful treat is probably a tale in itself—even if one cataloguer described the production as “quite creepy.”
Watch Bowie in ‘Pierrot in Turquoise,’ after the jump….
The path to success can often have many false starts. For Ian Fraser Kilmister—the man, the myth, later known simply as Lemmy—his early success was a useful apprenticeship for his later career.
The first real clue as to what he would do with his life came when Lemmy saw the Beatles at the Cavern Club in 1963. They were thrilling, they were fab, and they were doing something Lemmy knew he would be good at too. But how the fuck do you get started? He’d left school, was working in dead end jobs and playing in bars with local bands for kicks. Seeing the Beatles made him focus on his music career.
After a few misfires, Lemmy joined The Rockin’ Vickers as guitarist in 1965. The group was originally called Reverend Black and The Rocking Vicars—known for their upbeat live act and clerical dog collar outfits. The band came to the attention of American record producer—known for his work with The Who and The Kinks—Shel Talmy and a record deal was signed.
A few singles and tours followed. By the time Lemmy joined, the band had shortened their name to the Rockin’ Vickers—as “Vicars” was thought by some to be “blasphemous.” The Vickers were (allegedly) the first band to play behind the Iron Curtain—Yugoslavia in 1965—and with Lemmy on guitar were hailed as “one of the hardest rocking live bands around.” Lemmy played guitar “with his back to the audience ‘windmilling’ power chords (like Pete Townshend)” but the sound, their sound—well their sound on disc—was just like many other beat combos of the day, which can be heard on their singles “It’s Alright” and—a cover of the Ray Davies’ song—“Dandy.”
‘It’s Alright’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
‘Dandy’—The Rockin’ Vickers.
Lemmy moved to Manchester, but covering songs and playing guitar was soon not enough for the nascent rocker. In 1967, he quit the band and moved to London where he shared a flat with Jimi Hendrix’s bass guitarist Noel Redding. Lemmy—still using the name Ian Willis—briefly worked as a roadie for Hendrix before joining tabla player Sam Gopal and his band (aka Sam Gopal’s Dream).
Sam Gopal’s Dream was a psychedelic rock band that had achieved some success on London’s underground scene in 1967. Following a line-up change in 1968, Gopal brought in Lemmy as lead singer, along with Phil Duke and Roger D’Elia—shortening the band’s name to just Sam Gopal.
‘Escalator’—Sam Gopal (written and sung by Lemmy).
Lemmy started writing songs and the band recorded them for the album Escalator. Released in 1969, it showcased Lemmy’s compositions and vocals.
To get an idea of the kind of psychedelic thing Lemmy and co. were into here he is lip syncing (badly) a number called “The Sky Is Burning” with Sam Gopal on a boat for French TV circa 1969.
John Lennon was just 40 years old when he shot 35 years ago by Mark David Chapman in the archway of The Dakota building on the Upper West Side of New York City on December 8th, 1980. Lennon and Yoko Ono had just returned home that evening from working at the Record Plant when Chapman approached him. The former Beatle sustained four fatal gunshot wounds and was declared dead on arrival at Roosevelt Hospital.
They say people who were around then can always remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that JFK or Martin Luther King had been assassinated. I was 14 when John Lennon was murdered and I first heard about it via the headline in the local paper, the Wheeling News Register and Intelligencer the next morning. I always read my neighbor’s paper every morning while waiting for the school bus. There had been an intense snowfall in my hometown of Wheeling, WV early that morning and I was standing about calf-deep in fresh snow which was falling all around me. Just the night before I had begun “going steady” with my first serious girlfriend and we’d spoken for hours on the phone. I woke up high on life due to this exciting new development in my fledgling teenage love life. I was in an especially great mood.
Then I opened the paper and was smacked in the face with the shocking news that John Lennon was dead.
The world—well American football fans at least—first heard of Lennon’s death when it was announced by Howard Cosell on ABC’s Monday Night Football, a show on which Lennon himself had appeared in the past. He and the famous sportscaster were actually friendly and Lennon had been a guest on Cosell’s radio talk show as well.
“Remember, this is just a football game, no matter who wins or loses. An unspeakable tragedy, confirmed to us by ABC News in New York City: John Lennon, outside of his apartment building on the West Side of New York City, the most famous, perhaps, of all the Beatles, shot twice in the back, rushed to Roosevelt Hospital, dead … on … arrival. Hard to go back to the game after that news flash, which in duty bound, we have to take.”
Stevie Wonder broke the terrible news to an audience at the Oakland Coliseum (flanked by, among others, poet Gil Scott Heron):
Here’s a YouTube comment from a woman named Laura Agigian, who was there that night. Sure enough her memory of the event was as strong as if it had just happened:
I was there. I was at that concert. It was at the Oakland Stadium on December 8, 1980. During the concert, I remember feeling disappointed because Stevie seemed to be “off,” disconnected from the songs he was singing, and just going through the motions. He played many of his songs back to back in a medley, as if to get it over with. At the end of the concert, I knew why.
Even now, in 2014, I remember almost every word of that speech, which left me speechless. I remember getting more and more worried as he started to talk. I remember the collective “gasp” upon hearing the name of the artist who had been shot, and the incredible silence for a few moments afterward. The stadium, filled with thousands of people, was so quiet, you could hear a pin drop.
I was so overwhelmingly shocked, I could not speak. I couldn’t believe that most of the audience were singing along with Stevie after that. I don’t remember if he sang, “Give Peace a Chance” or “Imagine.” I was just crying my eyes out. When I got home, I turned on the radio and they were holding an all night call-in vigil. I called in and told my story of the Stevie Wonder Concert. I stayed up all night with all the other callers, trying to make sense out of it, or even to believe it.
Wow. I never, ever, ever thought I would hear this speech again. I feel like I was there all over again. Wow. And it is almost exactly how I remembered it.
“If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be . . . “
Henry David Thoreau
I knew this day was coming, and now that it’s here, it absolutely sucks as much as I thought it would: It is with great sadness that I report that the great genius artist and thinker Paul Laffoley is dead. He was 75.
A few weeks ago I got an email from my close friend Douglas Walla, Paul’s longtime gallerist letting me know that Paul had a heart attack and was in the hospital in Boston and that I might want to give him a call. Like immediately. I did and we spoke for about an hour, mostly chit-chat about his health and his upcoming book and then we talked about the architecture at the University of Cincinnati’s campus. He coughed like crazy—really, really HARD coughs that rattled his chest, I could practically feel the spittle hitting my eardrum through the telephone. Apparently he’d coughed so hard that he’d given himself a heart attack.
The problem was, this hacking cough was something, that he’d been, as he put it, “working on my entire life.” The cough was a permanent condition, in other words, it wasn’t going to go away. Already in poor health for many years—he had an amputated leg, diabetes and heart problems—the combination of this persistent HARD cough and congestive heart failure was the kind of “Catch 22” that meant he wasn’t going to be long for this world.
I asked him if the nurses were treating him well. He said yes, but I teased him that I wanted to speak to the one who had just entered the room, so that I could explain to her how “important” her charge was. “Oh you don’t have to do that,” he said.
I laughed: “Hey, look what happened to Andy Warhol. It couldn’t hurt!”
Douglas Walla let me know a week or so ago that Paul had entered hospice care. He died quietly today.
The visionary artist and luminary, Paul Laffoley, has died today after a long battle with congestive heart failure. He had an extraordinary grasp of multiple fields of knowledge compulsively pursing interests that often lead him into uncharted territory. His complex theoretical constructs were uniquely presented in highly detailed mandala-like canvases largely scaled to Fibonacci’s golden ratio. While an active participant in numerous speculative organizations including his own Boston Visionary Cell since the early 70s, his work began to attract an increasing following in his late career with shows at the Palais de Tokyo (2009), Hamburger Bahnhof (2011), Hayward Gallery, London, Henry Art Gallery, Seattle, and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (2013). The first book on Laffoley’s oeuvre was The Phenomenology of Revelation published by Kent Fine Art in 1989, followed by several subsequent publications beginning with his first retrospective organized by the Austin Museum of Art (1999).
Forthcoming in March of 2016, the University of Chicago Press will be releasing the long awaited book entitled The Essential Paul Laffoley. He was a kind and generous giant, and he will be sorely missed by all of us.
Today the world lost one of its greatest minds, but it might be a few years before the world realizes this. I am gratified to know that although Paul didn’t live long enough to see the publication of the catalogue raisonné of his work, he did see the galley proofs. Doug Walla worked for decades, really, on this book and it will be an intellectual and cultural EVENT when it’s published next year, mark my words. Many years ago, I can recall discussing Paul with Doug and he told me that what drove him so hard to develop Paul’s career is how tragic it would have been if Paul died in obscurity, and was regarded historically as an “enigma” or as an outsider artist, someone like Henry Darger instead of the Ivy League-educated polymath “Sci-Fi Leonardo” that he truly was. As of today there are several books that have been published about Paul Laffoley, and there will be many more in the future and many doctoral dissertations that will be written about him. I’m sure he died with the satisfaction that his work was not only valued by mankind, but will live on with greater notoriety after his passing.
I don’t have any more words. I lost a friend today, someone I greatly admired and loved. More importantly, the world lost a great genius. The New York Times recently called Paul Laffoley “one of the most unusual creative minds of our time.”
Too true. And now he’s gone.
An overview of Paul Laffoley’s work, courtesy of yours truly…