Photography by Nick Waplington
Photography by Nick Waplington
How is it friends’ beings
can enable one’s own even
if there’s not any contact? My
friend Tom has died, and even
though we opposed each other
and hardly spoke for nearly
fifty years, I can’t understand
that he’s ceased to exist
nor how it is that it diminishes me
when I never saw him nor liked him
for such a long time.
I think he’d be furious
that I presumed to speak of him now.
I’m only thinking
It’s not unearned emotion.
I remember Ted Berrigan’s elegy for Jack
Kerouac: “Bye-Bye Jack.
See you soon.”
But they hardly knew each other
and Tom and I won’t be seeing each other again.
We spent the most impressionable days of our lives
together, each the other’s support and audience.
It takes an audience to make a person real.
It’s even more true
now that he’s dead
because if he weren’t
he’d probably contest what I’m saying.
I wonder how he would have felt
if I’d died first.
One of the most shocking things
I’ve learned with age is that my
long assumed most-practical means
for guessing how to behave
toward another I care about
in a confusing situation, namely
by imagining how I’d want to be treated myself
if the tables were turned (the Golden Rule
I suppose) is useless
because people are not that much
alike, not even that much like themselves.
It all comes to naught
but whatever it was before that
Tom was there with me.
I came across a piece of information that heartened me a little in the online chatter following Tom’s death… This guy, name of Buzz Poole, who’d invited me to write a foreword for the 2006 book he edited of photos of the graffitied walls of CBGB (CBGB: Decades of Graffiti), tweeted on 29 Jan 2023: “In 2006, I was working on a book about CBGB graffiti. We reached out to #TomVerlaine about writing a foreword; his reply was basically: ‘I can’t stand the guy, but you need to have Richard Hell write this.’ I’ve always found that quite touching. And Hell did write the foreword.”
24 Feb 2023
I saw Tom in a dream this morning. It was in a little candy store on the south side of East Houston Street. He was kind and warm. Patti was with him. At one point for some reason my shirt was off and she came over and fondly, funnily, sweetly touched my naked back. As they were leaving, Tom turned around and came back to ask if I’d like to go with him soon to a certain auction of interesting papers and books and objects, which invitation made me glad.
23 March 2023
I’ve always been so hard-nosed about not catering to human psychology rather than to the facts, for instance disdaining religion, or, say, astrology, or any other superstitions, or psychological reflexes, even though they bring many comfort. But, after Tom’s death I had a small experience that has changed my mind a little bit. For days and days, after I heard he’d died, I felt sad and empty and troubled, it wouldn’t go away. But I finally made a small gesture at my site, acknowledging his death and obliquely admitting that it had messed me up. I put up a link to a song/performance of his I loved [“The Scientist Writes a Letter” from Flash Light], and added, “I can’t write about him yet; too soon.” Only that, very few words, but somehow it gave me relief. I immediately felt more serene, less pained and agitated and confused. I don’t understand why, but just saying out loud, even only implying, that I loved and missed him, brought me some peace of mind, even though I don’t understand what the difference is between saying it and feeling it.
If Dubois posed a “double-consciousness,” defining it as the strange sense of two-ness, the split-self of the black person displaced in another land becoming “two souls, two thoughts, two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body,” then, now, it is appropriate to suggest that double has multiplied. We live in a time where there’s cause for the advent of a triple, or quadruple, or perhaps best put, a multi-consciousness. The diasporic black experience is uniquely marked by a permeating sense of dichotomy, between the sense of blackness and the opposing realities and ideals of the society the black person is displaced in. What is of vital interest is the additional layers of consciousness that have arrived with the passage of time, for the children of the second, third or fourth generation, of whom there isn’t the imminent displacement from one to another, only the idea of another place, or the teachings and passings on through previous generations of ideals, myths, religion, and sensibilities. It is strange enough, that one is taught and raised in the African common belief of the unseen, and then lives in a secular West. But, the contemporary phenomenon of multi-consciousness isn’t limited to race or diasporic displacement alone, it is shared by most – we live between multiple realities: the Internet, the television, day-to-day life, the realities of the various ideologies and religions of the present era. Layers of reality that topple over one another, producing a mass state of confusion, and a subsequent search to remedy it. But, the black person, now, perhaps lies at the base of the flame, in an exaggerated chasm, facing the conflicting realities of the contemporary world, and dragging on in a perpetual state of non-belonging that ultimately produces this new, unique form of existence – a surreal existence, which in turn, has led to, in the case of a few chosen artists that represent this new sub-movement in art, a body of work that I want to call New Black Surrealism.
For our Stories of Cultural Interest, we highlight five artists that are representative of our manifesto – each emblematic of a convergence of contraries. Richard Hell, writer, poet and musician, Le Diouck and Bamao Yende, whose musical style combines a multi-influence of sounds like electronic, hip-hop and rock, Fabien Vilrus, whose work navigates the feelings of displacement between Reunion Island and France, Abraham Toledano, who owns one of the largest Japanese fetish magazine collections in the world in his apartment in Paris, and Freeka Tet, a multi-disciplinary artist who constantly drifts between technology, music and video.