Log in

No account? Create an account

Previous Entry | Next Entry

Remembering Lucius Shepard

I was by no means a close friend of Lucius Shepard, who died Tuesday night. I got to know him when he lived in Seattle in the '90s. One of my first memories of him was when he, along with his pal, Tony Daniels, got 86ed from Vanguard parties for bad behavior, the details of which I no longer remember. I seem to recall that he was already on the shitlist of some of my friends for what was considered mistreatment of a former girlfriend, but again I haven't retained the details. He was certainly capable of insensitive behavior, but by that point we had connected because we smoked and drank and liked rock music. My memory is that he moved to Seattle because of the music scene of that era, but that may be a simplified version of the real story. He had some good friends here because of his connection to the Clarion West writers workshop, too, including Bob Kruger and Les Howle, as well as Tony.

I read and enjoyed his first novel, Green Eyes, and I believe I read his first story collection, The Jaguar Hunter, as well. However, that's about all I read, other than a comic book mini-series called Vermillion that he did for Vertigo. His writing was powerful but not really my cup of tea, partly because it almost always straddled a border with horror, which is a genre I often have problems with. He was always a great guy to smoke and drink and talk music (and books and movies) with, however, and what little time I spent with him was spent doing just that. He was a natural-born raconteur, and he'd been all over the world having great adventures, so it was a pleasure to listen to him spin tales about his life. (For an example of what he could do in conversation, check out his LJ post, "10 Christmases".)

One of the legendary moments of his time in Seattle came at a party at Les Howle's house in West Seattle, when he and Tami Vining started thumb-wrestling on the front porch. I can't remember how it all went down exactly, but it got very intense, because they're both very competitive personalities. They shifted around each other, trying to gain advantage, and suddenly Lucius lost his footing and fell off the front porch, which was a pretty long drop. He was a very large man, and I remember feeling the impact of his body hitting the ground -- or maybe it was just that the sound of it was so vivid. Surprisingly, he got up and was able to walk. We'd been drinking quite a bit, so that probably helped. As I recall, he later said he had trouble moving for days afterward. At the time, however, he laughed it off and accused Tami of trying to kill him.

More along the lines of his bad boy persona, there was a time when a bunch of us went to a party at a Norwescon to find something to drink. We didn't know anybody there, so we stood in a circle in the middle of the room drinking whatever there was to drink. Lucius lit a cigarette, which was expressly forbidden at that party. For a while nobody was willing to confront him, because it was Lucius Fucking Shepard, famous and award-winning writer. Eventually one of the hosts came up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. Lucius used his big body to block the person and looked over his other shoulder, pretending he couldn't see who was trying to get his attention. The guy moved over and tapped his other shoulder, and Lucius shifted his body to block him and looked the other way. I'll always remember the innocent, baffled look on Lucius' face as he pretended that he couldn't figure out where the tap was coming from. A beautiful physical performance, although eventually he gave in and put out the cigarette.

Lucius was a former musician, and there was a strong thread of music to our conversations. Sometime after the 1993 Worldcon the still-teenaged Geoff Hartwell was in town, probably with his father, and he wanted to see a live show. He told me that Lucius had suggested an all-ages show that Built to Spill was playing at the OK Hotel. They had just released their first album, and a buzz was building, so Geoff and I went to check them out. I was blown away by their show, picked up the album, and became a big fan, catching a number of live shows over the next few years. Years later, because I'd bought him a bunch of drinks at the 2001 Westercon (about which more later), he mailed me a CD by a Swiss band called the Young Gods. I'd never heard of them and have never run across any discussion of them, but it's a good album that I've returned to periodically over the years. When I finally connected with Lucius on LiveJournal, I told him at one point that I was getting into Spanish-language pop music and mentioned Concha Buika. Knowing his affinity for Spanish-language culture I asked him for recommendations, and he pointed me to Cesária Évora and an album called Afro-Peruvian Classics: Soul of Black Peru. He was a font of knowledge about obscure artists who made great music, and I sometimes wondered how he had the time to listen to all this stuff. Life of a writer, I guess.

Probably the longest conversation I ever had with him was at that 2001 Westercon in Portland. He had moved to Vancouver, Washington from Seattle a few years before that, so I didn't see him as often anymore. I was sitting at the bar at the convention hotel with my friends Ron and AP when Lucius came in and sat down next to me. I proceeded to buy him drinks, and we spent pretty much the whole day there. Perhaps the next day too, I can't really remember. Occasionally other people, such as Gardner Dozois, would come in and sit and talk with Lucius for a while, but in between he and I shot the shit about everything in the world. He told tales of hair-raising adventures in Central America, and I particularly remembered one about a ramshackle flight to a Honduran island named Roatan that I visited years later with my family. He threatened to break the legs of one of my favorite writers, and I told him I'd fuck him up if he did so. This became the running theme of the conversation. Somewhere along the line a Best of Journey album started to play, and I wailed about how terrible Journey was. He wouldn't have any of it. He thought Steve Perry was a fine singer, and the band was good. That was the first inkling I got that my teenage hatred of Journey was out of step with elite opinion. We argued all day, with a lot of laughter, about writers, bands, and movies. He was a man of strong opinions, skillfully expressed, and he loved the push and jostle of an argument. The other thing I remember distinctly from that long day in the bar was when he pulled out a human skull that had been ornamented in what he said was a Tibetan style. He was giving it to a woman he knew, maybe a girlfriend or ex-girlfriend. I never followed up on it later, but I was awe-struck at the time. Is owning a human skull even legal? It was such a perfectly Lucius item -- an exotic, macabre, gorgeous memento mori.

Was that the last time I ever saw him? Probably not, but it was years ago that I last saw him anyway. At some point he started posting on LiveJournal, and I started interacting with him there. By then he had befriended that favorite writer of mine whose legs he'd once threatened to break, and that was heartening to see. We argued about movies on LiveJournal, and he pointed me to obscure ones that he got to see as a judge at obscure film festivals in Europe. Eventually he shifted to Facebook, but while I followed him there I rarely commented, because the threads were always humungous and thus hard to participate in without a lot more reading than I was willing to commit to them. We did chitchat about Roatan in one of those threads at some point, and he remembered the decrepit little resort called Fantasy Island where I'd stayed with my family. When he fell silent on Facebook last year, it was months before I learned that he'd had a stroke, and it was only after his death this week that I learned his kidneys had failed a couple of years before that. In the pictures I'd seen of him in those last few years, he looked a wan shadow of his rowdy former self.

He had an air of perpetual disappointment with the many failings of humanity, but he clearly had a lot of affection for his friends. A larger-than-life character was Lucius Shepard. I only saw the barest tip of the iceberg, but even that much left an imprint. Because of the lifestyle he had lived for so many years and because of his recent health problems, it wasn't really a surprise when I heard the news of his death, but I still felt a pang of loss. It feels a little presumptuous, really, considering the fact that I didn't know him all that well, but there it is. I had to say goodbye, and this is the only way I know how.

1999 Lucius Shepard at a Clarion West party for Gwyneth Jones
Here's my one snapshot of Lucius (on the left), taken at a Clarion West party in 1999



( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 24th, 2014 02:13 am (UTC)
Such a great tribute, Randy, such a great goodbye.

I love reading what you write about people, whether I know those people or now. Your words, seeing them through your eyes, bring them to life for me all the more.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:01 am (UTC)
Thanks, Geri. It's been fascinating to read the various memorials for Lucius that have been written since he died, with more no doubt still to come, and earlier today I had a fascinating reaction to my memorial from a friend with a completely different experience of him than mine. Nobody can seem to agree when he was born, so I guess it makes sense that he left such a wide variety of impressions on those who met him.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:08 pm (UTC)
Only just caught up with this news. Bloody hell -- seventy isn't old, these days.
Mar. 24th, 2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
Yes, it's a relatively young age to die, in this era.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )

Latest Month

April 2017


Powered by LiveJournal.com
Designed by Lilia Ahner