Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Brendan Boeckelman,1971-2012



The first and last time a really good friend of mine passed away, I was 18 years old. He dove into a swimming pool on July 4th and hit the bottom and broke his neck. A stupid, random accident, a bad decision caused by impaired or just faulty judgment – whatever – he was dead. And it made me angry. Not at George – but at God. I was well on my way to becoming an atheist, but George’s Catholic funeral sealed it for me.

George was a lovable freak, out there, a strange thinker who came up with strange ideas, a person that loved “outside the norm” music, films and experiences. He was probably the first person I met that truly embodied that and I’ve spent my life since aligning and surrounding myself with people just like that.

Thirty years later, yesterday, I lost another really good friend. And I’m just as angry. I met Brendan roughly four and a half years ago after my friends Marko and Chris and I wandered into Fontana’s in search of beer and a pool table one afternoon early in 2008. Well, technically, there was some rockabilly chick there and we liked the place so much we kept coming back on Tuesday on Patrick’s shift. Patrick dug us and when Brendan was hired shortly thereafter, he inherited Patrick’s shift and as Brendan liked to say, “I inherited you assholes, too.”

Fontana’s became my other downtown joint sharing the top spot with Toad Hall. Some nights were just Fontana’s nights and it was easy to bounce into right off the D or B trains at Grand Street. I met everyone at Fontana's through Brendan and count the wonderful owners, the rock 'n' roll staff and the misguided patrons as some of my great friends. Always will.

I was always taken with Brendan’s tough guy attitude – you know the disfigured from fighting hands vs. just how sweet he really was inside. He would absolutely do anything for you if you were a friend (or even a friend of a friend) many times to the detriment of his own happiness. As a bartender, his rapport was world-famous. He could literally talk to you about anything – genuinely and with a depth and knowledge that would oftentimes surprise you. He was deeply learned in literature, film, music, sports, history, geography  and just about any other subject you could come up with. His morning ritual consisted of buying The NY Post and The Daily News and reading every word of both by the time he got downtown to work from Inwood.

As we really became friends and not just bartender and patron, I really began to see his kindness. He turned me onto some of the greatest music I’ve ever heard in my life, which is, at this point, a pretty amazing accomplishment.  And I turned him onto stuff too. He took me to see the very last Giraffes show at Mercury Lounge in February 2011 in a snowstorm. I turned him onto - and made sure that he saw - Mark Lanegan with me. We both saw Guided By Voices, Faith No More and many, many others that we had a mutual appreciation for. And these shows were always events. Big pre-show plans segued into big post-show plans, which usually involved us staying up all night and talking about the show and music and life and stuff. Important stuff. Funny stuff.

I also began to see how vulnerable he was and just how much he wanted to be loved. Which at first struck me as odd, considering just how many friends he had, but over time I started to see behind the public persona. Ultimately, I believe that this was his undoing. To value this idea of “love” above all else, even over his own life.

And that’s the part that makes me angry. He reached out to me and his other close friends a lot. And we were there for him. I’d like to think that we were really there for him. But you cannot change anyone’s mind that is that strong willed. We’d do what we could and then there would be a respite and then there would be another flare-up. And then one day he really didn’t reach out anymore. And now we're here.

When someone goes out like this, in a sense, they win – the noise stops. But the noise just gets louder for the rest of us – and I know that Brendan not only knew that but also would say the same thing. In beating myself up as to whether I could have done more or anything different so that he would still be here I do realize one thing. Ironically, he would have never let this happen to me. He would have stayed with me, slept with me, carried me to get help, yelled at me, screamed at me, etc…We did all of those things, but obviously just not enough. Or maybe enough was not a possibility. I will wonder about that the rest of my life.

Several times I told him, “I don’t ever want to go to another friend’s funeral, ok?” The last thing he said to me was that the feelings he was experiencing were “hard to process.”

Sometimes the noise is stronger than the will, I guess.

I will miss talking to him, spending time with him, sharing music with him, and sitting quietly with him and watching some sports thing I don’t give a fuck about. I will miss introducing my friends to him (to a person, every single one of them not only remembers him but really dug him and remember him fondly).

I will miss him hugging me and telling me that he loved me and then saying “No, I really do, man!” Like I had any doubt...

I will miss our inside jokes - like him saying to people while pointing to me “He knows stuff man” (true) and telling those same people that Justin Timberlake was my roommate at NYU (false).

I will REALLY miss hearing him call me “Jimmy Snapshot.” And the fact that the only choice he has left me with is to tell people finite stories about him rather than sharing stories with him for many years to come.

I love you too, Brendan. I really do, man.


Cover Star: Brendan, the last photo of him that I ever took, 07/21/12. He never saw it
Headlining Band: His beloved Giraffes

16 comments:

Howard Stump said...

Beautifully said, my friend.

D-Generate said...

James...

That was perfect. I felt several times while reading, that you were speaking / writing directly for me. I hope that you know that there was not much more you, or any of his close friends could do to help heal wounds that keep on re-opening. The fact that you cared so much, and tried so hard, reflects volumes about your character.

Thanks so much for being there for someone who I truly considered my brother. We were friends for 30 years - after he saw me playing Pac-Man alone for days in 1981 , and took me into his (amazing) group of friends at age 10. Brendan wasn't the type of dude to see a friendless kid and leave him friendless for long. I'm gonna miss him for so many reasons...

I was going to point out each passage where your words reflected my feelings - but the memories they stir up are screwing with my head tonight. I'm not angry with B... Not angry at all. If anything, I'm just angry that we won't share time together in this world that confounded us both. Thanks for writing a piece that did justice to Brendan's "dualities". You reminded me of just why I'll miss him - I'm so glad that someone out there put into words exactly what I wish I could have. Gonna go drink myself sane in Brendan's honor... and then tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and face "the noise" -- knowing that Brendan finally won't have to.

-- Dave Fitzhugh

D-Generate said...

James...

That was perfect. I felt several times while reading, that you were speaking / writing directly for me. I hope that you know that there was not much more you, or any of his close friends could do to help heal wounds that keep on re-opening. The fact that you cared so much, and tried so hard, reflects volumes about your character.

Thanks so much for being there for someone who I truly considered my brother. We were friends for 30 years - after he saw me playing Pac-Man alone for days in 1981 , and took me into his (amazing) group of friends at age 10. Brendan wasn't the type of dude to see a friendless kid and leave him friendless for long. I'm gonna miss him for so many reasons...

I was going to point out each passage where your words reflected my feelings - but the memories they stir up are screwing with my head tonight. I'm not angry with B... Not angry at all. If anything, I'm just angry that we won't share time together in this world that confounded us both. Thanks for writing a piece that did justice to Brendan's "dualities". You reminded me of just why I'll miss him - I'm so glad that someone out there put into words exactly what I wish I could have. Gonna go drink myself sane in Brendan's honor... and then tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and face "the noise" -- knowing that Brendan finally won't have to.

-- Dave Fitzhugh

Sharmeen said...

What a beautifully written piece. He was very lucky to have a friend like you. I consider myself very lucky for that too. I'm sure he knows how much u truly care about him. My heart goes out to you in such a sad occasion. Just please never blame yourself bc you can never control another persons will to live...unfortunately

stormyheather said...

brendan boeckelman: million dollar man

best,
hjf love (a friend...)

danger mouse said...

I only knew Brendan a little, now I wish I had known him more. Your words are filled with love, thanks for letting me learn more about him. So sad, even though I didn't know him well. Peace.

Unknown said...

That was wonderful, man. Thank you.

Unknown said...

That was wonderful, man. Thank you.

Tat said...

James, like everyone is saying you painted a perfect picture of who Brendan was. Thanks for putting into words what i can't. Dave, i will never forget the many times he took me to see you/Yolk at the Wetlands. He was always the happiest when seeing/listening to live music and hanging around/surrounded by his friends. Thanks to the 8 years i was with i was lucky to meet and become friends with many of you. He was the kind of person always making new friends and they were/are always the most iinteresting characters and the coolest cats that i have ever met. Miss you miss him sending you lots of love

Sarah said...

James,
I have read your words a dozen times now and they have been very helpful to me. Thank you I really appreciate that you took the time to write them and I hope I meet you on Saturday. Sarah Malinowski

Sarah said...

James,
I have read your words a dozen times now and they have been very helpful to me. Thank you I really appreciate that you took the time to write them and I hope I meet you on Saturday. Sarah Malinowski

Sharpster7@gmail.com said...

Jimmy Snapshot should seek a second career as a writer. That was fantabulous.

Sharpster7@gmail.com said...

Jimmy Snapshot should seek a second career as a writer. That was fantabulous.

Adam said...

Nice James.

- Adam Shavulsky

Tat said...

Every time I read your words I am taken over with sadness and happiness all twisted up in a big explosion of emotional whirl winds. one of the greatest gifts I recieved from Brendan was his love for music. due to his love for music i was introduced to many amazing bands. one of his favorite was Yolk, thanks to him and his love for Yolk, Dave Fitzhugh's band, i had the pleasure to see Yolk at the Wetlands many times. one of the happiest moments we shared were at live shows, Phish, Yolk, Spearhead, Ben Harper, Barenaked ladies, Red Hot Chilly Peppers, Rage against the machine, Bella Fleck and the Flecktones, Tom Waits and many more. I loved him for 8 yrs and still love him today. He was my life, my best friend for many years. When i first met him (on Fishers Island) he swept me off my feet we his kind eyes, gentle soul, and his smile. the night he finally decided to make a move was after a long night of hanging out at South Beach (where we had our bonfires and beach parties). We were listening to Phish all night long when the song "Bouncing around the room" started playing. I began to dance around the bonfire, he just stared at me. by the end of the night he walks up to me and says "Hey Tat, do you want to go home with me? I am too fucked up to do anything, but would love to cuddle with you" how could I not say yes. That night we cuddle and talked and decided to start a relationship which lasted 8 yrs. I was very lucky to have known him for so many years. Thank you for being his friend, for this tribute, for reminding me who he was. I am deeply grateful...
--Tathiana Lema

Tat said...

Every time I read your words I am taken over with sadness and happiness all twisted up in a big explosion of emotional whirl winds. one of the greatest gifts I recieved from Brendan was his love for music. due to his love for music i was introduced to many amazing bands. one of his favorite was Yolk, thanks to him and his love for Yolk, Dave Fitzhugh's band, i had the pleasure to see Yolk at the Wetlands many times. one of the happiest moments we shared were at live shows, Phish, Yolk, Spearhead, Ben Harper, Barenaked ladies, Red Hot Chilly Peppers, Rage against the machine, Bella Fleck and the Flecktones, Tom Waits and many more. I loved him for 8 yrs and still love him today. He was my life, my best friend for many years. When i first met him (on Fishers Island) he swept me off my feet we his kind eyes, gentle soul, and his smile. the night he finally decided to make a move was after a long night of hanging out at South Beach (where we had our bonfires and beach parties). We were listening to Phish all night long when the song "Bouncing around the room" started playing. I began to dance around the bonfire, he just stared at me. by the end of the night he walks up to me and says "Hey Tat, do you want to go home with me? I am too fucked up to do anything, but would love to cuddle with you" how could I not say yes. That night we cuddle and talked and decided to start a relationship which lasted 8 yrs. I was very lucky to have known him for so many years. Thank you for being his friend, for this tribute, for reminding me who he was. I am deeply grateful...
--Tathiana Lema