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, geographyand 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).
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
James specializes in portraits, fashion, erotica and narrative imagery and has shown in national and international juried exhibitions. His first monograph, "Some of This is True" is out on Luxxus Press. He is also featured in the Taschen book, "The New Erotic Photography" (first and second editions). Working as a filmmaker over the last twenty years, his current practice is primarily in still photography. He is from Raleigh, North Carolina and lives in Brooklyn, New York.