James Murphy 1968-2016
If I only ever remembered one thing about you it’s that no matter how little you had, you always let me have half your noodle-roni when I didn’t have anything to eat. That when you had one cigarette left, you’d hand it to me for a few drags if I was already out and getting edgy. That when Carrie and I were evicted from our apartment and I had no place to live you let me move in with you in your tiny studio apartment on Jones street. There is no greater thing I can say of anyone but that they’re the kind of person who shares whatever they have during lean times with friends who have even less.
I haven’t seen you in over 20 years and on Friday you died. I’ve been watching all your friends and loved ones post memorials and it’s made me wonder if the James they knew was the same James I remember. I can’t grab hold of who you were to any of them because my memories of you are all from so long ago. The James I knew was technicolor the same as everyone else says you were, but you were also a dark sylph sucking all the marrow from life with a long wicked-sharp beak. You were Pan in a land of dancing naughty children, gathering souls to you like wildflowers choking to reach the sun of your misadventures.
We met over cheap FIDM vending machine coffee that cost 25 cents a cup and was occasionally decorated with a floating cockroach. The old Woolworth’s building was a monolith of aging tastes and teachers who couldn’t see beyond the cowl neck and pressed slacks that were chic when they were young middle class hopefuls themselves. They didn’t know what to do with you or me. But like the obedient person I have always been at heart, I followed rules, I attended my classes and bided my time. You couldn’t be bothered with their bullshit and so they sent you packing.
I knew right away that you had the kind of raw talent that could turn Chanel on its tired ass. You inspired me constantly to expand my own design imagination. You predicted the return of platform shoes. You constantly stood at the junction between genius and self destruction. I’ll never know how far you took your talent, but I know that you could have bought the stars with your imagination if you set your mind to it.
You were behind most of the misadventures I had during that time in my life. I spent just as much time laughing with you as I did wanting to strangle you for not thinking about anyone else if it got in the way of your desire for novelty and fun. You’d share your last meal with me, but you also left me to walk home from that club on Brannon Street after you and Kurtis promised me you would give me a ride back home. You invited others back to our apartment and didn’t have room for me in the car. So I walked home alone.
That was the night I got mugged, you fucker.
You opened my world to new things in a way few have been able to do. Mostly because you were so damn tenacious. Like the time you wore me down until I agreed to read Bukowski. Because of you I know I hate Bukowski’s work, but reading Hot Water Music was a rich formative experience you gave me as a writer. I learned that you can hate a writer’s work but still admire the fuck out of it. I don’t want to ever be sunk into his world again but I learned something from his use of language. The weekend you went away and left me alone in our hot little apartment to read that damn book is one of my favorite memories. You gave that to me.
Because of you I know what it smells like when pints of blood pool on the floor and congeal. I’ll never scrub that smell out of my memory: sick thick cloying iron that fills your airways and then your stomach until you want to throw up. I thought you’d killed yourself or been murdered. I have never approached a bathroom with such horror and dread. When I didn’t find you in the bathtub dead, I spent hours calling everyone we knew and trying to imagine what could possibly have happened to you to lose so much blood.
Then you came limping through the door as cheerful as you always were, as though I hadn’t spent the last three hours in a mad panic. I came down so hard on you for that, that was probably the moment you realized you were living with a pinchy old lady instead of a 20 year old. You left me no note, I accused. You couldn’t understand my anger when it was so obvious to you that you’d just stepped on the glass next to your bed and had to go to the hospital for stitches.
I remember that time you got those fat frozen steaks from your grandmother, wife of THE EVIL CATTLE BARON, and you decided to defrost a couple of those bad boys for supper. But then you went away for a few days on a whim. It took me two days to locate those rotting steaks in the oven where you left them. Another smell I couldn’t scrub from my nose for all of eternity.
You taught me that if someone suddenly has a pile of cocaine who has very little pin money for luxury drugs and offers you some:
ALWAYS ASK WHERE THEY GOT THAT SHIT FROM OR YOU MIGHT END UP SNORTING A SPEEDBALL FROM A STRANGER’S BACKPACK DROPPED IN AN ALLEYWAY, PROBABLY WILST RUNNING FROM DEALERS THEY OWED MONEY TO AND WHO’S PROBABLY DEAD IN SOME DUMPSTER WHILE YOU GOT FUCKED UP ON YOUR NINETEENTH BIRTHDAY FOR NO BETTER REASON THAN THAT YOUR DEVIL OF A ROOMMATE OFFERED IT TO YOU.
I discovered how good baked garlic is smeared on expensive bread because your mom took our sorry asses out to a really nice restaurant to attempt to make amends with you. Making baked garlic always reminds me of that night.
We haven’t seen each other for over 20 years and our parting was one of those natural things that was right and necessary for us because we needed different things, needed to take different roads to different ports. I regret nothing.
Except that I never got to see your lumberjack beard in person. I regret that. The picture I’ve seen of you with that lush full beard, bald head, and plaid pants is my favorite look you’ve ever had and I never saw it in person.
You’re the first and only person I’ve ever thrown a hard object at with the intent to hit. I’m glad I wasn’t such a good shot then. Do you remember that hideous ceramic vase? A few years ago I threw it out but I admit it was hard to do because it reminded me how you could bring out the very best and very worst in me.
I’m not going to miss you in the same way so many of your friends are desperately missing you right now. For them your death is visceral, fresh, and mean. But you and I said our goodbyes a hundred years ago, so I’m used to not having you in my life. Even so, I can tell you without hesitation that the world always takes a cut to the jugular when spirits like you leave it.
You lived and loved magnificently, my friend.
Don’t know where you’re headed but I’m willing to bet you’re trailing willing souls behind you like drunk lanterns lighting the places you’ve already been and holding up your beaded feathered train like mischievous acolytes of hell.
I will always love you, James.