Remembering Nic Mevoli
I met Nic Mevoli on a film set in Philadelphia. We remained friends for years, later living in the same Brooklyn neighborhood until I moved across the country to Portland, Oregon, losing touch with him and most everyone in New York. I knew Nic was kind of a jock, but had no idea of his newfound passion for freediving until this past Sunday, when news of his death off the coast of the Bahamas broke. I found out through a Facebook message from filmmaker Esther Bell: “Nic Mevoli passed away today- imso destroyed.” Esther is Nic’s ex-girlfriend, but she’s also how we met, as actors in her 2004 film Exist. Attached was a Daily Mail story detailing Nic’s death, brought on by lung compression after a record-breaking free dive to a depth of more than 200 feet into the Bahamian sea.
Like anyone else who’s read the coverage, I was shocked by Nic’s fast ascent into the top tier of the sport within the short span of two years. But while writers and commenters both seemed to express surprise and confusion as to why Nic would have chosen such a risky and physically demanding new career (not to mention the fact that he lost money in the process), I didn’t share their bafflement.
The Nic I met years ago had not yet become a diving superhero—rather, he was a butcher’s son turned vegan who lived in a South Philly squat and ferociously pedaled his bicycle everywhere out of concern for his carbon footprint. As young activist punks who spent our teen years living in abandoned buildings and raging against the machine, risky behavior (and how to live off stuff we found in the trash) was all we knew.
Volunteer-Run Morgues Are a Terrible Idea
Australia’s Northern Territory is huge, sparsely populated, poor, and crawling with deadly animals. It’s not surprising, then, that it doesn’t attract many professional types. Types like, say, people who are good at managing morgues. As a result, the territory’s dead-body storage system is a mess. The morgues are staffed primarily by volunteers, and no agency is specifically in charge of them.
This is a problem, to put it mildly. An inquiry led last year by Northern Territory Ombudsman Carolyn Richards uncovered a host of horrible practices, like a body that got put in a courtroom when there wasn’t space for it elsewhere, and a corpse stored in a doctor’s kitchen for a week while he was away. Things haven’t gotten better since then, and in the past few months, the bodies of two Aborigines were placed in the wrong graves—an especially big deal because in that culture, being buried with your clan on tribal land is of the utmost importance. The bodies were reportedly exhumed and reburied, but the families never received an official apology.
Also still waiting on a “We’re sorry” from the well-meaning but undertrained—or incompetent—morgue workers is the family of Charlton James, who committed suicide in 2011. Charlton’s body was taken to a morgue in the town of Kalkaringi, but after a power failure, the refrigeration system went down and his corpse was left to rot in the Outback heat. By the time his mother went to view the body, it was so badly decomposed that she couldn’t recognize him.
A Memory of Lou Reed
I met Lou Reed and his wife, Laurie Anderson, through a mutual friend. Over the last three years of his life, my girlfriend Vera and I got to spend a little time with them, dining together and going to the theater. It was a double pleasure for me and Vera, since in addition to being long-time fans of Lou and Laurie’s music, we found them to be terrific company, accessible and fun.
One night in the spring of 2011, Lou, Laurie, Vera and I went to see the play Jerusalem on Broadway, which had arrived in New York amid lots of buzz after a successful London run. Its nearly four-hour length seemed daunting, however, and the opening act bored us. Lou, during the first intermission (out of two), seemed particularly unhappy. About the drama’s protagonist, a drunken ex-motorcycle stuntman named Rooster Byron, Lou snarled, “If that idiot considers himself a Harley beast, he’s got another thing coming.”
Uh-oh, I thought. Here was Lou’s infamously truculent side, the scourge of music journalists the planet over. (Asked in the November 2013 issue of MOJO Magazine if he planned to join the current bandwagon and pen a rock-star memoir, Lou snapped back, “Why would I? Write about myself? I don’t think so. Set what record straight? There’s not a record to keep straight. I am what I am, it is what it is, and fuck you.”) Because I was the one who’d suggested we see Jerusalem, I felt responsible now for Lou’s displeasure. This anxiety was foolish, of course—you win some, and you lose some when it comes to choosing plays, as with all else—yet I wanted Lou to like me. Who wouldn’t want Lou Reed to like him? And while I felt certain that Laurie wouldn’t blame me for my inferior aesthetic choice, I wasn’t so sure about Lou.
What Lou Reed Taught Me
A lot of people who’ve read Please Kill Me, the history of punk I co-wrote with Gillian McCain, don’t realize the book begins with a question from Lou:
“Rock ‘n’ roll is so great, people should start dying for it. You don’t understand. The music gave you back your beat so you could dream. A whole generation running with a Fender bass… The people just have to die for the music. People are dying for everything else, so why not the music? Die for it. Isn’t it pretty? Wouldn’t you die for something pretty?”
It seemed like the perfect way to begin a book called Please Kill Me, you know? I thought that would be a worthwhile question to pose, especially since the basis of all philosophies is, “To be or not to be?” I mean, why go on? Is life too shitty to continue? The history of punk is sort of an answer to Lou’s classic question.
That was the glory of Lou—he showed us just how shitty everything really is. Just listen to “The Kids,” off of Berlin: “The black Air Force Sergeant / Wasn’t the first one…” He’s always pushing me to go further into the depths of hell—to have all the experiences life has to offer, the profound and the profane—before making up my mind about whether to end it all. I’ve always been fascinated with people who’ve been to psychic places I haven’t been, like William S. Burroughs and Norman Mailer, to mention a few. Lou was someone who knew the true secrets of life, and tried to weasel some truth out of them.
Remembering My Friend Carolyn Cassady, Queen of the Beat Poets
Of all that was said and written about last year’s film adaptation of Kerouac’s classic beat novel On the Road, nothing was more perfect than this quote that Carolyn Cassady gave to the Telegraph about actor Garrett Hedlund, who played the character (Dean Moriarty) based on her late husband, Neal. “I think he was the most boring person I have ever met,” she told journalist Peter Standford. “He didn’t ask me a single question about Neal, but instead told me how his turkeys in Minnesota bobbed their heads to Johnny Cash music. And then he came here, chauffeur-driven car waiting outside, sat in the chair where you are now, and read to me from his diary for what felt like four hours.”
Carolyn, who died last Friday, September 20th at the age of 90, loved throwing rocks at the Beat industry from the sidelines. The way she explained it, there was always interest, but intense fascination came around every five years or so, as a new film, or book of letters, or whatever, was released—at which point, she became an excellent interviewee. An arch Anglophile, she moved to the UK in 1983, and as widow of the man who inspired On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s early poetry—and then, with Neal’s blessing, became Kerouac’s lover—she was a dynamite source for an article.
Carolyn used the opportunities she was offered to try to get her realistic, less-mythical side of the story across. It wasn’t always what journalists and editors wanted to hear. The last time I sat in that same chair Garrett Hedlund had occupied—in her immaculately kept mobile home near Bracknell in Berkshire, close to the hospital where she passed away—was in 2004 on assignment from style mag Dazed & Confused. They’d asked me to profile Carolyn. It didn’t go well. Or rather, I was happy with the article I filed, then Dazed editors added something incorrect into the piece that ran, which was devastating to Carolyn and me.
I had history. As a teenage Beat fanatic, I’d been a visitor at Carolyn’s flat in Belsize Park in London, before she moved to the Home Counties. I’d bring friends and alcohol around, and we also met a couple of times at the Chelsea Arts Club, where she’d been given a complimentary membership that she felt bad about seldom using. Perhaps, over the course of four years in the mid-1990s, when I was in my late teens, we saw each other ten times, and then my visits became less frequent. In the meantime, aged 18, I had traveled to the States and drove a $500 Chevrolet van from the east coast to the west. Carolyn had given me and my two friends Ginsberg’s number in New York—more of that later. I only went to her home in Berkshire twice, the second time for the Dazed interview. In fact, the last contact I had with her was in 2004.
People Are Now Crowdfunding Their Funerals Online
The new frontier for online fundraising arguably has the single steadiest revenue source in the world: Funerals.
It would cost about $10,000 to bury your dead ass right now. I’m talking to you, 18- to 35-year-olds. With VICE’s readership being what it is (it’s been a good year), someone reading this will drop dead pretty soon, statistically speaking. If you die penniless, your family could and should consider going the crowdfunding route on Giveforward
, or Graceful Goodbye
That $10,000 is just an average figure for a simple American funeral
. It assumes you’ll be embalmed, rested in a lined casket, placed in a room for people to visit, grieved over at a modest ceremony at a funeral home, driven to the cemetery in a hearse, lowered into the ground, buried, and have a few flowers placed next to your humble, flat headstone. Funeral directors get $6,600 of that, and the rest goes to the cemetery.
RIP Elmore Leonard
We had a long conversation with the legendary crime novelist in 2009. You can read it here.
RIP Barnaby Jack
Barnaby Jack, who could hack pacemakers in order to kill patients, was confirmed dead this morning by the San Francisco Medical Examiner’s office. As of now, no cause of death has been reported. He was scheduled to speak next week at a Las Vegas hacker conference about how to hack implantable medical devices in humans. Here is our interview with Barnaby that was originally published on June 25.