Carl Weissner, In Memoriam

 

Carl Weissner (1940-2012) died on Jan. 24, in Mannheim, Germany.

There is nothing I cherished more than my friendship with Carl. He was my dearest, oldest friend. We didn’t just go back to the ’60s together, when we exchanged torrents of letters and collaborated on literary projects; we remained the warmest of friends through all the years since. I am devastated by his death. It came as a shock, and not only to me. To his son Mike, too, and to all the friends who were as devoted to Carl as I was. When I heard he had died, I cried like a child. You’d think I deserved the purple heart for breast-beating. Shit. What a spectacle. I tell myself, “Don’t be sad. He would prefer a good laugh.” Besides, going out the way Carl did fits the man. No fuss. No muss. No bother. Complete surprise. The angels, if there are any, simply carried him off. Looking over our recent email exchanges helped calm me down. He was in wonderful humor.

Milena Verlag, Vienna, 2011

I had asked about his Rimbaud-in-Marseille novel, which he’d put on the back burner while finishing Manhattan Muffdiver and The Adventures of Trashman. He replied: “i should get into that marseille story, but I think I’ll have to suffer, in situ, endless bad weather bad food bad drinks in crummy waterfront bars first. in other words, earn it.” I told him about a recent trip to a shaggy little Caribbean village, which had “exceeded my expectations,” and I wondered whether he was “earning it.” He messaged back: “in their xmas edition, STERN gave my book five stars” — the reference was to Trashman– “as a result of which I get a chance to say my piece on austrian TV next week. so, I am not earning it, I’m living off yesterday’s laurels.” As to the Caribbean village, he said, “maybe one day we’ll have a 2 week get-together there, bottle of rum and a mulligatawny soup, ploog can hop over from ft lauderdale, we’ll have our own table, with a brass sign that says: The Survivors.”

Phone just rang … my daughter Olivia (who also loved Carl dearly and to whom he dedicated Muffdiver as one of the “Hermans”) is about to give birth, so I must stop here. I have much more to say, but that will have to wait for now. In the meantime, please have a look at realitystudio.org’s In Memory of Carl Weissner, which is largely about Carl and William Burroughs.

Jan. 27 – Signe Mähler sends this announcement:

Memorial for Carl Weissner to be held in Mannheim on Feb. 10. [Announcement & photo by Signe Mahler.]

Signe was one of Carl’s closest friends. He adored her and loved her work.

Jan. 28 – As I was saying, Carl was in wonderful humor before he was so rudely interrupted. Proof? I adduce our most recent emails. Now that my newborn granddaughter is safely home, I offer them here:

from carl, January 4:
we ate an american turkey, straight from the PX, at cody’s, and listened to sigur ros at max volume. it sounded, if that should be the word, like pink floyd AND edgar varèse on crack. [William Cody Maher, an American ex-pat writer living in Heidelberg, was also one of Carl's closest friends. Cody, Carl, and Signe recently did a booklet together, Down Southern Roads.]

Milena Verlag, Vienna, 2010

to carl, January 5: well WELL! yesterday’s laurels are thoroughly deserved. 5 stars! from STERN, no less. Hoo-haa!! they’ve wiped clean the curse of hitler’s diaries.

re dinner at cody’s, you’re not deaf now, right? just bleeding from the ears.?.
turned the big 7-0 the other day. onward into oblivion!

from carl, January 7:
turning 70 – how does it feel? monstrous event, bad joke of evolution? as far as i can remember i sat thru mine on ze left cheek (helped in no small measure by incipient senility) – what truly pained me was turning 40.
what do you hear from mustill?

to carl, january 9:
one cheek or the other. it makes no diff. i’m lucky to remember what i had for dinner last nite. i did get a few huzzahs. prompted i guess by the big fat number. no complaints, but troof? it feels like shit. as for mustill, he’s got the corragio. it’s nearly a year since his death sentence. as chipper as he ever was, most of the time. when the pain gets really bad he takes a bigger hit of morphine. says he’s turning into a regular junkie.

from carl, january 10:
good old norman. I swear I’m going to emulate him when I get hit.
Mike is for the stoic warrior stuff anyway. That plus a ton of painkiller.
“next”, they say at the dept. of urology, “we’ll circumcise you. and who knows? one day we’ll chop the rest of it off.” isn’t that hilarious. always one thing or another. “Yeah”, I say. “I’ll be The Dickless Dude from Hell.”

to carl, january 17:
did i ever point this way? talk about stoic … and laffs, too: MacGowran Reads Beckett.

That was my last message to Carl. I never heard back. Tomorrow I will have more to say.

Jan. 30 – “Tomorrow” came and went. I keep thinking, did I have a premonition? The reading, in MacGowran’s gravelly voice, is from Malone Dies. It begins, “I shall soon be quite dead at last in spite of all.”

This blogpost is still unfinished. I’ve been busy posting Matthias Penzel’s tribute to Carl, Transfers From a Different World. Please have a look at it. He tells me Milena Verlag has announced that an interview with Carl will be broadcast tomorrow night on Austrian TV. It was recorded on Jan. 14, which helps explain why Carl’s last emails ceased after the 10th.

Feb. 1 – I asked Cody to write something about the friend we lost. He wrote back that first he had to have a conversation with Carl about what to say. They must’ve had an interesting discussion. Cody’s poem begins: “Everybody knows that he is dead except me / Why don’t I know it yet?” Read all of it here.

Nova Broadcast Press, San Francisco, 1970

Feb. 3 – Carl wrote his first book, The Braille Film, in English. I published it in 1970, under the Nova Broadcast imprint. Although his native language was German, he had an incomparable ear for phrases that made his written English sing, certainly his American lingo. And he seemed to toss it off with the ease and sophistication of a Bill Evans solo. The Braille Filmis prescient and panoramic, an extended cut-up riffing about a world gone mad. Here is the jazzy opening:

The passengers of this hopped up mixed media set are on a trip to the end of the nervous system, to the end of the Invisible Environment. There is no guide, no voice, no word. Walled in by oscillographs of the past the crew plot a precarious course in dead space of random topograhies. Infra-red TV screens, exposed nerve ends, phosphorescent comics, roentgen films & tapes of fictitious events, windtunnels of gossip, rigged history. LAUTLOSER FLUG DURCH VERFALLENES FLEISCH. Et pas de commissions. SAUVE QUI PEUT.

The night croons in a thousand orange loudspeakers. (Invisible tracks of passengers on the run like bursting blobs of transparent jelly; windtunnels of luminous comics photographed with a 180 degree distortion lens, interrupted again & again by the white-out of exposed reel endings.) The Braille Film of Present Time unfolds in flesh-colored rushes sharp & clear as an electroshock orgasm.

RealityStudio published Carl’s second book, Death in Paris, 37 years later, posting it online in 2007. It too is written in American English, but this time the tone is coolly sardonic and deeply personal, darker and richer than The Braille Film. And very funny, sometimes hilarious. It is the work of a more mature writer. This time the word-slinging, if you will, is the least part of the story. This time the apocalypse comes wrapped in the jaded tones of a police procedural, a metafiction that brims with the blackest gallows humor. Here is how it begins:

realitystudio.org, 2007

Establishing Shot

He woke at 3 AM. Dim yellow light filled the room. Smog had descended on the city, filtering the bright lights of the hotel. The city was cast in a sinister sepia, as in a 1930s gangster movie. ‘I should have killed myself when it still made sense,’ he thought. He closed the curtains and went back to bed.

Near-Collision in the Main Character’s Subconscious

The Hotel Bogotá, close to a hundred years old, had been kept in shape with an attitude of bored efficiency. Room service was non-existent, but there was a fat stream of brown water from every tap in the building, and the ceiling fans blew the sweat off your face in sheets. The hotel had two elevators whose cabins moved soundlessly through shafts of soot and axle-grease. In one of them, Gerald Lake rode down at 7:50 in the morning, and entered the ground floor Starbucks from the lobby.

At the far end, near the street exit, the familiar silhouette of a man in his mid-seventies made the small hairs on the back of his neck crackle with the voltage of pure hatred. He had always felt sure that he had killed his father ten years ago in Germany, by deliberately steering the car, with the old man in the passenger seat, into the concrete pillar of a bridge across Highway 3 near Cologne. He had been somewhat less than half conscious when firemen cut him out of the wreck with acetylene torches, his face swollen and rainbowed, coated in abrasions, bloody lips and cheeks flecked with tiny shards of glass. Before they could shove him into the EMS truck, he was in a deep coma. When he emerged from it after six months, his doctors showed him a letter with a photo of his father’s grave somewhere in southern Germany. His stepbrother, Tony, who worked for a large software outfit down there, had made the arrangements and handled the paperwork.

Lake turned around unsteadily and crossed the diamond pattern of black and white marble tiles that had earned the Bogotá the dubious distinction of a San Francisco landmark. He pushed through the heavy slow-motion revolving door, turned left and started looking for a cab.

Posted by CW Label: Doomsday Lit / December 7, 2007 / 3:12 AM

You can see that Carl, the writer, was as tough-minded as they come. But Carl, the person, glowed with warmth. He was kind, thoughtful, generous, and given to modesty. (Yes, I know, sounds like a cliché.) His erudition always amazed me, though he rarely put it on display. It only showed when the situation demanded it, and then he was scintillating. To quote Ian MacFadyen, he was “one of the great ones.”

Among his lesser talents was his old musical training. Here is Carl’s rusty Chopin after not playing for, oh, 50 years. “This is the schmaltzy version — Viennese,” you can hear him say in the video. Also, he combines pieces. “But what the hell.” Typically careless of his ego, he let me post the video despite calling his playing “terrible.” When a YouTube viewer praised his hesitations as “rubato,” he gave a hearty laugh.

Ave atque vale, dear Carl. You were loved by many. Play us out.

 

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