RIP Wes Craven, 1939-2015
Like a lot of people my age (I was born in 1979), I grew up alternately seeking out and then trying to look away from snippets of Wes Craven films—posters, previews, surreptitious late-night cable screenings—hell, even Mad Magazine parodies. Nightmare fuel, sometimes glimpsed through webbed fingers. Was it A Nightmare on Elm Street or Swamp Thing I saw first, at 9 or 10, probably on the USA network? I know I didn’t see his cult classics until later, until I was in college—The Last House on the Left and The Hills Have Eyes. By then I’d seen the Nightmare on Elm Street films a few times in their raw VHS glory. My favorite is still Dream Warriors. And of course I saw Scream and its sequels in the theater—we loved it, thought it so clever, so meta! But my favorite Craven film by far is The People Under the Stairs, a 1991 dark fable that summarized Reagan’s eighties. Predatory capitalism as horror. Anyway, dude was a legend and his films will live on, both in and of themselves, but also as the generative material for films yet to come.
RIP E.L. Doctorow, 1931-2015
Ragtime–-what a book. Up there with the best of the metafictionists, if also different, to its credit. I dug The March too, even though historical fiction isn’t my bag. Read “Wakefield,” Doctorow’s recasting of Hawthorne’s classic tale. First paragraph:
People will say that I left my wife and I suppose, as a factual matter, I did, but where was the intentionality? I had no thought of deserting her. It was a series of odd circumstances that put me in the garage attic with all the junk furniture and the raccoon droppings—which is how I began to leave her, all unknowing, of course—whereas I could have walked in the door as I had done every evening after work in the fourteen years and two children of our marriage. Diana would think of her last sight of me, that same morning, when she pulled up to the station and slammed on the brakes, and I got out of the car and, before closing the door, leaned in with a cryptic smile to say goodbye—she would think that I had left her from that moment. In fact, I was ready to let bygones be bygones and, in another fact, I came home the very same evening with every expectation of entering the house that I, we, had bought for the raising of our children. And, to be absolutely honest, I remember I was feeling that kind of blood stir you get in anticipation of sex, because marital arguments had that effect on me.
RIP Ornette Coleman, 1930-2015
RIP Mary Ellen Mark, 1940-2015
I first saw her work in a 1991 issue of Rolling Stone. (I had a subscription then). You can see the same photos I saw in that issue on her site. This photograph, this one above, reminded me of the cover of Dinsoaur Jr.’s album Green Mind. That photograph is by Joseph Szabo though. I remember cutting the pics out of Rolling Stone and pasting them in a collage that afterward hung in my bedroom for years, until I grew up and went to college and threw so much away. The photos were accompanied by an essay by the filmmaker Louis Malle, who wrote of Mark:
It is Mary Ellen Mark’s triumph to combine successfully two different approaches to photography. Like Cartier-Bresson and the best photojournalists, she knows how to find the perfect angle, the exact fraction of a second that will tell the story in one shot. On the other hand, her choice of subjects, her taste for the singular, her visual imagination, make one think of Diane Arbus and other poet-photographers. But what makes Mary Ellen unique is her compassion. She never puts down the people she photographs. She is moved by them; she shares their sufferings, their difficulties, their contradictions. Even when she portrays a Klansman at an Aryan Nations Congress, she does not ridicule him or pass judgment. The setting, the composition, emphasize the pathetic isolation of people who are parochial remnants of the past, left behind by history on this country road, guerrillas of a war long over.
RIP Tanith Lee, 1947-2015
Publisher Tor has reported Tanith Lee’s death. She was the author of nearly 100 books in various genres, including fantasy, sci-fi, and horror. I probably read a dozen of those books between the ages of ten and thirteen, but the one I most remember is her first novel, The Dragon Hoard, which I still have a copy of somewhere, nestled neatly by tattered copies of The Once and Future King, The Halfmen of O, and The Hobbit.
I don’t remember the plot of The Dragon Hoard so much as I remember the kind librarian who suggested it to me (I asked for “Something with dragons”). I also remember my reaction to the author’s first name: “Tanith” sounded like the name of a fantasy character. I know I first read the book viat the library but at some point I must’ve conned my mother into buying it for me. I know I read whatever other book’s our little local library held by her. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t conscious of any of the feminist themes in her work, but I’d like to think they seeped in somehow.
I found the pic for this post–it’s Lee’s PR pic–at an appreciation of Tanith Lee by Alison Flood published at The Guardian. I’m glad that it was published when Lee was alive.
RIP Daevid Allen, 1938-2015
RIP Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015
I was born in 1979 and there was always Star Trek—always Spock. The reruns on local TV (after them, episodes of The Twilight Zone in black and white). Later, The Next Generation—it was the only show we, that is, my family, were permitted to watch while we ate TV. We ate pizza in front of it. Ambassador Spock made an appearance in a two-parter! Leonard Nimoy directed my favorite of the Star Trek films, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home—you know, the one with the whales? The oh-so misunderstood one? Still love it. I remember watching it with my grandmother, she incredulous. Watching it again in college, laughing so hard. What a film. No Star Trek without Spock, no Spock without Nimoy…but he’s always there, his presence confirmed all the more by its absence. Live long &c.
RIP Tommy Ramone, 1952-2014
RIP Walter Dean Myers, 1937-2014
Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in those books? Where are the future white personnel managers going to get their ideas of people of color? Where are the future white loan officers and future white politicians going to get their knowledge of people of color? Where are black children going to get a sense of who they are and what they can be?
–From a March, 2014 piece Myers published in The New York Times entitled “Where Are the People of Color in Children’s Books?”
I taught for seven years in an inner city high school. I cannot overstate how important Myers’s books were to my students. His novel Monster—a classic—was one of the first books I wrote about on Biblioklept. I love the book, and I loved reading it with my students. Monster was an especially effective bridge to others by Myers–Slam!, Hoops, Bad Boy, The Beast—and one of my favorites, Fallen Angels—but I also saw it turn kids who hated reading into voracious readers. I read Myers myself as a young teen (his book Scorpions is especially good), but reading them again with my students revealed a depth and precision I hadn’t detected as a kid. Those books are all true, even the ones that are made up. RIP Walter Dean Myers.
RIP Maya Angelou, 1928-2014
In my time as a teacher, I’ve seen Maya Angelou’s stories and poems—and in particular her memoir I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings—command the attention of students who had previously complained that they hated reading. I’ve seen my classroom library looted of her works; I’ve seen tattered copies of her books passed from hand to hand; I’ve had students ask for More please, more of this, more like this. Angelou’s writing has served as a bridge to life-long reading habits for many young people, and I imagine it will into the future. RIP.
RIP Gordon Willis, 1931-2014