Saturday, March 26, 2011

Death of a Friend

About a week ago I got a letter, via email, from the wife of my friend Daniel Blumenau. She said that he'd died a couple of days earlier. I was stunned. I exploded in tears, anger, sorrow. Dan Blumenau was the older brother of my college pal, Phil, with whom I shared a cold water flat in New York from 1970-1976 or so. Phil helped teach me how to behave as a man. When we hitchhiked across country the first time he showed me how and when you needed to wield a machete to ward off serious problems. He taught me how to understand when a girl wanted to make love and how to accept that. I think I taught him some things as well.
Phil's older brother Daniel was something of a rapscallion. And a Cassanova. When he was young he could meet a girl entering an elevator and by the time they reached the 5th floor she was begging him to make love with her. Wasn't my style, but I was always envious.
And Dan was an artist. He took making montages to a high level: Among his well known works was the inside jacket, double fold, of Stevie Wonder's Taurus album, and Jimi Hendrix's Electric Ladyland bathroom montage, for a while the most well known montage in the world. And it was Phil and I who did a lot of the work putting that up, under Daniel's direction.
I worked a lot with Daniel in the old days, when I was in college and shortly afterward. We worked on the Arthur Schlesinger house on, I think, east 64th street in NYC. We worked on the Kennedy house, yes, those Kennedys, across the street from Arthur S. We worked on the Oscar De La Renta house down the street. We worked for Island Records president Chris Black when he opened his offices in the Carnegie Building on, I think, 57th street. And then we rebuilt Island Records' townhouse on Grove Street in the village.
Daniel always had something going. Always was one step ahead of whomever wanted to blame him for Thai sticks showing up in New York and one step ahead of the other artists who would have killed themselves to get the building/art jobs Daniel got.
I've only been in touch with him sporatically the last 15-20 years. Maybe once every two/three years he'd call or email or I'd call or email to tell him I saw him on some documentary or that I was interviewed about the Electric Ladyland bathroom mural.
But he wrote me in November or December that his wife was ill with cancer and wondered if I had any medicines from the jungle that could be used as adjunct alternative therapies. I had a trip coming up and so said yes, I'd bring him some medicine for his wife when I returned from Peru in February.
I did. US Customs confiscated one of the plants; the other got through. I called him; we spoke. I gave him directions and sent the medicine out to him.
He was happy and on the phone he still sounded 32 to my 22 years old. Voices don't change as much as the color of our hair or the size of our pants.
And then two weeks later his wife called and said she felt great from the medicine but that Daniel had died of a heart attack two days earlier.
I am still crying. He was one of the very small group of good guys. Not perfect, but he treated the people who worked for him with respect and love and that is a small group indeed.
Despite not spending time with him for a long time he was still my friend and I always thought one day we'd do another building job together--and with Phil, of course, who has since gone on to be a brilliant physicist. And now we're not gonna get that chance.
Daniel: Have a wonderful trip to the next place/space. Smoke a joint of thai stick and smile and make some art that makes other people smile. That's why you were put here: To make people love the wonder of being alive. And I think you did your work well and earned your stripes and bars and now you go, brother, and show the universe what you can do. The universe will be surprised and will love you. Have a great trip, DB.


Graccus said...

Is that this Dan B. ???
Assume it is from his Jimmy Hendrix bathroom remodel comment...Hard losing the good ones for sure...
Was doing a bit of that kind of remodeling artist stuff back in late 60's in Manhattan and Brooklyn. Had a girlfriend who claimed Dali was sweet on her. A beauty. Still in touch with some of the Fillmore East boys. NYC was fun but sure was easier raising kids out here in New Mexico.

Peter Gorman said...

Yes. Same DB. Thanks for reading/writing.

Unknown said...

I worked with Daniel from 79 - 83 working the NY Toy Show. I remember his bottles of Remy, Jake being born and in his Jolly Jumper on 86th Street. Daniel was so proud. So sad to hear of his passing.

Steve Mack said...

Dan had a tremendous positive affect on my life. He always said what needed to be said, when it needed to be said and without any provocation whatsoever. "Every creativity takes time" he told me. At the time, I don't know hoe he knew I needed to hear that. But I did and he was right. His style,energy and class was unmatched.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Gorman said...

Liz: Thank you for that. Beautiful to add to the mix.

Unknown said...

Peter, my name is Liz. The other night, I was on Facebook, keeping up with some old friends. Winding down the evening. A thought flew into my mind, one of the seemingly random ones that you get when you're packing it for the night. “Daniel Blumenau-- Good Lord, I wonder what he's up to.” I literally hadn't thought about him for years, and now I was struck with this inexplicable curiosity. I got on Google and found...this.

You know how I met DB? I was a waitress at a restaurant called The Rainbow in Greenwood Lake (just north of NYC.) I was working my way through college waiting tables. I was cracking jokes, singing, dancing. It must've caught his eye as he was chatting away with someone at one of the tables. We spontaneously struck up a conversation. I thought, "Wow, look at this guy. He's a wearing a suit that's some combination of Don Johnson's in 'Miami Vice' and....Mark Twain?” There were some retro elements to the ensemble like the hanky in the pocket, and some unusual and eye-catching spectacles...I remember this vividly-- and fascinatingly-- that is precisely the look that he sported in the picture at the end of his blog.

He lived in a house that he referred to as 'The Barn Studio' about 10 minutes away from the restaurant. It was great. He showed me some of his artwork and suddenly, we were locked in a passionate embrace. It took me by didn't occur to me that he was straight--and there was this explosion of hands, tongues..everything. He was interested in the work of Alexander Calder at the time and felt inspired to create this GIANT mobile. It was a huge yellow star that was balanced out by lesser yellow stars. He told me that was the next thing that he wanted to explore in his art.

We were knocked out by each other and we exchanged numbers. He called me and we proceeded to have an interesting on-again-off-again open relationship for the next four years (1987-1990.) He dated other people and so did I. We knew it, but never talked about it. I was going to college at SUNY Albany. We split our time between 'The Barn' studio in GWL and his apartment on Park Avenue.

One time, he took me to a Calder exhibit at MOMA and they were selling jewelry at the gift shop. He bought me a pair of earrings that were miniature mobiles, tiny replicas of Calder's work. I wore them for weeks. We went to colorful ethnic restaurants. He told me about his collage murals at Electric Lady Studios and how he was Jimi Hendrix's roommate. He told me about his Air Art show. He showed me pictures of his ex-wife and kids. He was proud of all of them. He showed me his commercial art pieces and some pieces that were more personal, filled with spiritual iconography and various historical artifacts. He was a passionate and generous lover. And he LOVED that Thai stick.