Monday, June 07, 2010

David Markson, 1927-2010: another friend gone.

Some years ago, someone I knew (but I've now forgotten who) wrote an article for GQ magazine about the Lion's Head, the Greenwich Village bar where I spent many a long night's journey into morning, drinking Utica Club from the tap, or, later, bottles of Rolling Rock, and enjoying conversation with as eclectic and interesting a group of characters as one might imagine. (There's a more recent article about the Head, by the late Dennis Duggan, here.) When the GQ piece came out, I called my father in Florida and suggested that he get a copy. A week later, he said, "How come everyone mentioned in this article is either dead or has quit drinking?"

Dave Markson was one of those who quit, but I knew him long before he got the ultimatum from his doctor that, no doubt, added a good number of years to his life, which ended Saturday, at the age of 82. Al Koblin, a former part-owner of the Head, famously described its clientele as "Jewish drunks, Italian intellectuals and Irish lovers." Dave in his drinking days could have been the archetype for the first of these categories. I rarely saw him silly, sloppy drunk. He knew how to pace his drinking so as to sustain his part in the conversation, which he did with aplomb. He liked other writers who shared his weakness, including Dylan Thomas and Malcolm Lowry, whom he discusses in the video clip above (courtesy of thousandrobots). Early in our acquaintance, I told him I was reading Lowry's Under the Volcano. "Congratulations," Dave said, "you're becoming an adult."

When Dave went on the wagon, he avoided the Head for a while. Later, he found that he could come in, drink club soda, and not be tempted. On one of these evenings, I paraphrased one of the epigrams that make up his then just-released novel Reader's Block: "Have you come to this place because you had no life back there at all?" He grinned, and thanked me.

I'll end this with the final words of Reader's Block, which is not a spoiler because, as Mark Twain wrote of Huckleberry Finn, "persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot":

In the end one experiences only one's self.
Said Nietzsche.

Nonlinear. Discontinuous. Collage-like. An assemblage.

Wastebasket.