July 1, 2007

A Wider Web of Intrigue


Last week’s column concerned the complex chain of connections which revealed itself when I attempted to track down some twenty-five year old tapes containing an unpublished interview with a musician friend of mine. He was idly curious about what happened to the tapes, so I of course obsessively set about trying to find them.

      Unfortunately the interview had been conducted by a man named Lou Stathis, who died in 1997. Lou and I hardly knew each other, but we did know an awful lot of people in common. I thought I’d talked to most all of them over the course of my futile search, that the web I uncovered was really something, but I was dead wrong. It seems I’d barely scratched the surface. Two days after the story ran, I received an email from my friend Don Kennison.

      Now, I’ve known Don for many years. In a strange, coincidental turn, he’d even been a neighbor of mine here in Brooklyn for a few years before he left the city. At present, Don and I are working on a project together, so receiving an email from him was no big deal—until I opened it.

      (Certain explanatory notes have been inserted as needed.)

Yep I do believe everydamnthing is connected, and so should most of us who care to see. I knew Lou Stathis too you may recall (he was my editor and colleague and new friend at Reflex mag when I was doing short reviews. He just called me outta the blue one day . . . ).

      Reflex magazine was one of my favorite underground music magazines back in the eighties. Each issue came with a flexi disc of an unreleased song by some interesting group or another—like Tangerine Dream performing “House of the Rising Sun.” Only in later years did I learn that it had been founded by a man named Rich Shupe, whom I first met around 1990. Back in the early and mid-eighties, Rich, as it happens, had also  been the tour manager for my musician friend’s band. Until now, I had no idea that Don had written for the magazine.

I dug Lou, his great energy and enthusiasm and opinionmaking. That’s how I met Judy McGuire. (I remember Ann and I accompanying you to a b’day party in Brooklyn for Judy’s sis.)

      Judy McGuire was Lou’s girlfriend at the time. “Judy’s sis” here is Sue McGuire, who was one of my fellow security guards at the Guggenheim. It was through Sue that I met Judy, who would later write a column for the New York Press. I remember that party, and remember not being clear on what connection, exactly, Don and his wife Ann had with Judy or Sue. But I was pretty drunk at the time, and my shoes were untied.

I introduced ur-Beat Herbert Huncke to Judy, and she helped produce a brief-running column in High Times conceived by Herb and moi. I’d just helped edit two books of Huncke’s, one published by Hanuman Books, run by longtime friend Raymond Foye. Paul worked with Foye, and I introduced Lou and Paul and Judy, too, and we covered Hanuman in Reflex I believe.

      I’m not sure I ever knew Raymond Foye (though I may have). Paul I knew mostly as a used and rare book dealer who set up a table in the East Village. I sold him a lot of books, and he found some impossibly rare titles for me in the years before Internet searches. Don’t know how he did it. He and Don once inadvertently got me into a heap of trouble, but that’s not worth getting into. It was a long time ago, and in the end it was just funny.

Meanwhile, my old girlfriend ended up working with Lou at DC comics. They didn’t get along.

      Backtracking, Lou helped produce one of Re/Search publications’ early titles, High Priest of California, by the great Charles Willeford. That’s where I first encountered his name. So when he called me up one day I knew who he was. The Re/Search folks were rivals of Swezey and Parfrey at Amok Books.

      Adam Parfrey became quite a major figure in underground publishing, both with Amok and later with Feral House. Ken Swezey and Laura Lindgren were the very first people I knew in New York—I was introduced to them by the great (and sorely missed) Gretchen Worden, director of Philadelphia’s Mütter Medical Museum—and they remain dear friends to this day. After Amok disbanded, Ken and Laura formed another small publishing company called Blast Books.

I met Ken and Laura in the course of their introducing Amok in New York, and was freelancing for Laura when she was at Grove Press, and helped them conceive of revamped Blast Books after the break with Adam. Lou wanted to do a book with Blast but we couldn’t come up with anything. I wanted to do a book of uncollected writings of Huncke with Blast but then he died and an editor at Morrow kinda stole it out from under me. Then Lou died . . . Strausbaugh did a neat article about my relationship with Huncke for New York Press.

      Ken and Laura introduced me to John Strausbaugh, then-editor of the New York Press, who (eventually) picked up my column.

John Strausbaugh and I coedited The Drug User for Blast Books to some little infamy. Lou and Judy dug that book and one a them reviewed it in either Reflex or High Times. And I think that’s how Lou Stathis got my name in order to cold call and ask me if I wanted to work for him.

      As it happens, in 1993 I went to a reading/signing for The Drug User at the old Tower Books on Lafayette, which is where I met Don for the first time.

I often wonder what woulda happened to the course of me career had (1) Reflex not folded, cuz Lou and I and buncha others on ed board had some big ideas or (2) I got that gig at the Press. O well.

      That’s always the question, isn’t it? What would’ve happened if? And “O well” seems to be the only appropriate and rational answer. Besides, with everything being connected, maybe it just doesn’t matter at all.

      Even as I was reading Don’s note for the first time, not only was I surprised by some of the connections I didn’t know about—I was also reminded of many, many more that aren’t mentioned here. It just rolls on and on and on.

      Weird thing about all this though, something I can’t quite shake, is the fact that the one figure who seems to snake through most of it—in this case Lou Stathis—was a man I barely met.


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