tho lumpy and inadequate, this is what I read at the gathering in Northampton on 20 Oct. '13...
Despite the fact that R was without question one of the most thoroughly vexing annoying human beings imaginable, who took being a pain in the ass to world-historical dimensions, he also had one of the most extraordinary minds and imaginations I’ve ever encountered.
We were allies in opposition to almost everything, all established practises and recieved opinions – but he was less able to enlist allies in constructing an alternate reality than I’ve been.
he wanted to reframe the world, whereas, after awhile, I was content merely to reframe my own existence
his enthusiasms were wide-spread, incorporating carp-based aquaculture, redesigning the computer interface, fly-wheel cars, alternative energy schemes, rail gun-based anti-missile systems, various Oenida-like rural communitarian set-ups, and finally an idea for electrifying the national hiway system I never completely understood.
He did always hanker after elusive community – perhaps he thought that once his notions of social & global transformations were put into practice in Ecotopea, a lifetime cynosure would be granted him by a grateful humanity as a Hero of the Revolution
but he was a sort of Boddhisattva, not only unwilling to enter paradise ahead of others but hardly looking after his own well-being until the world was reconfigured according to his dreams. ..
was he ‘on the spectrum’, or just nuts? I think that the tide had gone out on any sort of functional ad-hoc counter-culture that might have picked up on him... he was ahead of the curve on computers but was too much the loner mad scientist to join that culture, or to work with others enough to get a start up off the ground, or join one. For him computers seemed to create a cognitive closed loop that made working with others seem unneccesary. In some ways he’s a cautionary tale for the internet age, awash in the informational corucopia but absent true collaborators, he fell prey to self-reinforcing ideas, heeding only those to which he already agreed.
Failing any productive traction he went idea-mad, spitting them out one after another, any one of them potentially valuable and workable, but he never got the R&D lab he deserved to try them out, or after say Farley and the Hampshire County Energy Project in ‘80 never again found any productive social context in which to try them out , and that may be the central tragedy & sadness of his enterprise.
it’s obvious, but bears repeating, that when someone close to you dies, some part of you is hung up forever, like a costume for a party you’ll never have again. Because you can only be that way with that person, and they’ve taken a permanent powder. I’ll never quite again experience the exhileration of conceptual lift-off we got in our verbal improvisations, spiralling off in conceptual jetties opaque to others but perfectly visible to ourselves.
Rich was a complex cat –
i’ll remember his dogged, almost relentless persuit of some practical fix for humanity’s ludicrous fiascos and perilous predicaments
his loyalty to his friends
absolutely fearless in his willingness to reconfigure any and everything for more advantageous result
but contentious, combative, a natural contrarian – who’s attitude toward friendship almost seemed to be ‘if you loved me, you’d fight with me,’ but we who loved him persevered, if often at a safe distance.
here are some tales in my memory locker – they may not particularly speak to character but they do stick in my mind
1. Mayday Medic, 1971 - DC
mayhem and chaos swirled around at the big ’71 Mayday demo in DC, but somehow we surfed it, caught up and weirdly in sync with the whirlwind. I dont remember how it happened, but we were offered a tour of the riot in the back seat of a psych van that was picking up the walking wounded, mostly acid casualties, mostly freaked out young women. We were at the other end of the spectrum, bobbing on the surface, babbling away happily like a couple of illuminated imps – doing a sort of meta-commentary as extended free-jazz/comedy riff – the medics said they enjoyed having us there as a sort of lunatic shield agains negative energy – we kept it up for what seemed hours, effortlesly reeling out the most inspired, far-fetched flights of the imagination, cracking up ourselves, the drivers, and frequently the baffled rescuees. When we got together this summer at Dubois’, Rich recollected this episode to us.
2. Memorial Day 1976 - Northampton
We took a couple classes together @ UMass in the mid 70s when we were both back in school – one was comedy, and we studied the classics. One assignment was to mash up the styles & characters of Moliere and Chekhov in a play. It required internalizing their manners and interlacing them somehow in a non-farcical way. This was almost impossible, a real ball-buster.
and of course we’d both procrastinated horribly and now it was due the next day.
we decided to collaborate.
I had scored some dexedrine from a Smithy I was dating in my mind.
We picked our characters and had at it, spelling each other for hours at the machine in my room.
We started for real around 5 pm. It was fun for a while, but bogged down eventually in its own absurdity, descending eventually to the condition of gibberish. We gamed it out endlessly, but were clearly in over our heads.
around 2 in the morning we began to glaze over.
We ate the speed. We stumbled on for a few more hours, our characters hopelessly lost, wandering in the labyrinths of our desperation. Eventually we realized that although we were technically awake, are brains really weren’t – we were auto-zombified.
we sat vibrating and doomed in the smoke-filled room. Typescript lay everywhere in anguished piles. Across the street a giant memorial day american flag hung from a porch, framed in the bedroom window.
Then Larry entered the room.
Larry was a 6 foot giant not terrifically bright Vietnam veteran from Watertown Square with a ruddish complexion, PTSD, a volatile temper, various weapons and a synthetic morphine habit. He’d ‘come with the building’, living on a landing in the 3rd fl. stairway, and paying no rent, because no one could face telling him to leave.
He sat on my bed framed by the giant flag and began to weep.
O jesus, what now?
“They lied to us, man!” he said.
“We know, we know,” we said, not wanting to die.
“The bastards lied to us, I lost buddies, MAN...” more weeping.
“We know, we know.”
It took an hour to talk him down from his violent sorrows and steer him back off to bed on his landing.
We’d been trying to consumate an unnatural marriage between these 17th and 19th century literatti and here we were, in our own Sam Shepard play.
Evidently we’d taken the wrong class...