Ave Atque Vale

Carl Weissner (1940-2012) died Jan. 24, in Mannheim.
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 Film is 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, 39 years later, posting it online in 2009. 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:

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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