The last time I ran into Philip was at Bar Centrale, a theater restaurant, when he came in with a group that included Chris Rock, Zach Braff, and a bunch of great stage actors. At the time, I had read that Philip had gone to rehab for heroin. I was shocked, because you don’t think that a person who absolutely everyone acknowledges as great, would have such problems. But that was foolish, because addiction cares nothing for personality. It is an illness, not a matter of will, class, intelligence, or lifestyle. I have no idea what happened to Phil before he was found dead, but a friend of mine told me they saw him the day before he passed and he looked happy. This says to me that Philip was not someone who had given up. He didn’t throw it all away. He was just someone—a very special someone—who was sick. His death is shocking to us because his greatness made him seem invincible. At the very least, all the incredible art he gave us should warrant him another chance.
Playing the great rock critic Lester Bangs, in Almost Famous, Seymour Hoffman remarks that: “Great art is about guilt and longing.” So often, that was what Seymour Hoffman’s acting was about. “Truth” is a word that’s thrown around a lot in the theatre; it’s a hazy concept that encompasses a lot of things, including not being hammy, or affected or self-conscious. It’s hard to pin down but easier to see when it’s right in front of you. When you watch Philip Seymour Hoffman act, you are watching something true. He once said of his career: “I just thought I’d ride my bike to the theater. That’s what was romantic to me.” It’s a line that sums up the possibility of creation, the optimism of making something artistic happen. To think that he’ll never do that again is almost too sad.
In the age of the Internet, we are all infinite. But you and I are not as infinite as Biquette, the world famous grindcore goat. Who was Biquette? You may have seen photos of her floating around the Internet for the last few years; BuzzFeed posted some under the header, “Punk Rock Goat.” To put it plainly, Biquette was a goat who loved grindcore. She lived on a farm-cum-DIY space in Mauriac, France, where she made friends with touring acts and, from what I’m told, just about everyone who passed through.
These photos were taken during a show played by a band called Wormrot and became a minor viral sensation for the simple reason that it’s really, really funny to look at a goat standing in the front row of a punk show. For all the self-seriousness that DIY sometimes involves, there’s probably no better way to have a laugh than by looking in the audience and seeing a goat soaking up the rock. There’s a video of Wormrot playing with Biquette in attendance, and it’s pretty great; the members of the band are smiling as Biquette stands there without a care in the world.
I forget how, but I was linked to a Facebook page in December noting that Biquette had passed away earlier that month. Intrigued, I tracked down the e-mail address of Flo, a woman who helps put on shows at Mauriac and pinged her with a few questions about what Biquette’s life was like. Because if the world is about stories, no one deserves to have their story told more than a goat who truly loved grindcore. [Note:Flo’s answers were translated from French, so the exact wording is sometimes confused. For example, Biquette is the name of the goat, but biquette with a lower-case b is a French word that roughly translates to a young female goat; essentially, her name was Goat the goat, which is wonderful.]
Noisey: Could explain what Mauriac is for our readers? Flo: Mauriac is a little farm that people have lived at for about 10 years and that has seen a bunch of people come through! Some people came to spend a little time, others were as much a part of the house as the stones and there were also all those who came to see/perform concerts and festivals at the house. Now it’s a whole new team that lives there and handles things, but what’s for sure is that for a heap of people who came there, Mauriac will always be the house.
What do you do at Mauriac? My name is Flo. I lived at Mauriac for a few months here and there to try to repair my vehicles and organize some concerts from time to time. I came to Mauriac for the first time ten years ago because [my car] broke down… and I still am!
Maybe it’s because we just said goodbye to another year, or maybe it’s because I spent the past two weeks gazing into the creases of my grandmother’s face as she tried to remember my name, but I’ve been thinking a lot about death lately. Not in the half-assed New Year’s resolution way, where I’ll con myself into thinking I’m going to live life to the fullest, while simultaneously reaching for a bag of Cheetos and watching porn. I’m thinking more about the practical side—burial arrangements.
Let’s face it: graveyards are a bummer. And I’m not talking about all the dead mommies, daddies, and babies lying underground rotting—I’m speaking from a purely aesthetic standpoint. Most cemeteries are just a sea of boring gray, crumbly stone with a bit of marble thrown in here and there. At best there might be a statue of an angel crying or a cool spikey cross to mix it up, but generally speaking they’re not an exciting visual experience.
But why shouldn’t it be? When I die, I want my final resting place to be a monument to my own inflated sense of self-worth. And while some people have the fun coffin thing on lock, I think it’s time we paid more attention to what’s going on above ground. Thankfully there’s Funeral Concept.
Nelson Mandela has left the planet. It is, at the time of writing, slightly more raw than the long-rehearsed curtains-down on 95 years ought to be. To South Africans like me, he has long been the man who held up the sky. Who will hold it up now?
Over the next few days, weeks, there will be a torrent of equally long-rehearsed, finely-pitched, predictably excellent journalism to commemorate him. This is not that. It is not “the Mandela I knew.” It is not “the Jesus of Soweto.” It is not meant to add to the coming scree of well-meaning hagiography.
Instead, it’s a bit of an antidote. A life story chopped into a few interesting lesser-known facts, the odder revealing moments, personal things, designed to give a flavor of the real man above the Morgan Free-man he’d become. To penetrate if possible through the reek of incense that is about to envelop our secular saint, towards something more measured, but perhaps all the more human for that.
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.
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.
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.
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.