Trying to find words is hard for me, a lot of the time. Today, it’s even harder.
Missy James was a longtime figure in Seattle’s underground literary, pottery, and music circles, and a mainstay of the tight-knit bohemian scene in Seattle’s remote South Park neighborhood. Her “artist’s product” business Fossil Fire, in which she made ceramics that looked just like fine chocolates, has been on the “Friends of MISCmedia” column on this page since ’09.
I’d first met her, bizarrely enough, through a national email list of fans of the author David Foster Wallace. I first met her in person at a local meetup of some of that group’s members. We quickly became good friends, as did most people who met her.
She was a major force in South Park’s art/music/party scene, a “world unto its own” the likes of which Seattle otherwise doesn’t have anymore. She was an occasional guest voice with drag-rocker Gnarlene Hall. She helped organize regular street and yard parties. She was a hockey fan, a cat lover, and a voice against injustice and stupidity.
But mostly she was a Presence. One of light and passion and sass.
So, when she finally learned she’d had a long undiagnosed cancer, she became furious. At the doctors who’d told her it was something else. At the world for thrusting this painful, brutal burden upon her.
But she fought back, for as long as she could (more than three years since her first surgeries), as fully as she could.
Then she went in to Overlake Hospital near Christmas. She went back in late January. She then spent several days at a hospice facility. Then her brother David, who’d flown down from Anchorage, picked her up and took her back to her home. She received visits from neighbors and friends until David announced on Facebook that she couldn’t take any more visitors for the time being.
That was last Saturday. She passed on early Tuesday morning, with a friend holding her hand all the time.
She did not go gentle into that good night. She raged, raged against the dying of the light.
May I be more like her.
Since most of my most loyal readers will have other things to do on Sunday afternoon, here’s some relatively timeless randomosity for whenever you log back in:
I first knew Mike Vraney, the legendary Seattle rock promoter and home-video mogul, from the regulars at Time Travelers, a comic book store at Second and Pike that also stocked some of the first “punk rock” records. It was a nexus for the nascent “alternative” music scene in town.
He became one of the promoters (with Jim Lightfoot, Carlo Scandiuzzi, and Terry Morgan) who reopened the Showbox Theater for live rock shows in 1979. (The legendary big-band hall at First and Pike had, by then, become a Jewish bingo parlor.)
For two amazing years he helped to stage dozens of shows, all of them memorable, with both national (the Ramones, XTC, the Police, Devo) and local (the Blackouts, the Beakers, the Fags) acts. For that alone, he shaped my life and what would become known years later as “the Seattle scene.”
From there, he went on to manage such bands as the Dead Kennedys, TSOL, and Seattle’s own The Accused.
Then in 1990 he launched Something Weird Video.
At first, it was a simple operation. Vraney had unearthed a cache of nudie-cutie “loop” film reels at a swap meet. He sold VHS tapes of their contents.
Those tapes sold well enough that he put out tapes of other reels he and friends had collected over the years, and sought out similar “cult” films to release.
Early hardcore pornos; earlier softcore sex films (that had been driven out of the marketplace by hardcore pornos); indie horror and gore flicks; nudist-camp pseudo-documentaries; sci-fi “creature features;” gangster and spy capers; gruesome driver’s-ed classroom films; drive-in intermission promos; old beer commercials—almost no genre was too outré for Something Weird.
In these tapes’ packaging and promotion, Vraney effectively captured and updated the carney-barker showmanship of old sleaze cinema. His video boxes were printed in lurid colors that made them stand out on store shelves. Wherever available, he incorporated the films’ original advertising copy and poster art on his videocassette boxes, along with scads of text placing the films in the context of their original making and release.
Before long, Vraney was buying or leasing the rights to films by such schlockmeister auteurs as Harry Novak, David Friedman, Doris Wishman, Joe Sarno, Michael and Roberta Finley, and Herschell Gordon Lewis. (Vraney took his company’s name and logo from one of Lewis’s no-budget “classics.”)
He brought these films (which had originally only been screened in drive-ins and urban “grindhouse” cinemas) and their makers (who’d been mostly unknown, even to the films’ original viewers) to the attention of new generations of enthusiasts. The pop-rock band 10,000 Maniacs named itself after a film Vraney had reissued, Lewis’s 2,000 Maniacs.
When DVDs first came out, Vraney hit upon a two-pronged business strategy.
For “mainstream” markets (or at least as mainstream as Something Weird got), Vraney signed up with distributor Image Entertainment to place over 100 discs (mostly double features) in major retail chains. These “Special Edition” discs included trailers, shorts, and the films’ original posters and ad art.
He kept full control of the rest of his catalog (which by this time numbered in thousands of titles) for sale on DVD-R, through mail order and through specialty video stores.
As the DVD biz peaked and declined (he once told me he’d known DVD was done for when Tower Records, his biggest customer, folded), Vraney moved into downloads, streaming, and on-demand cable TV. He even set up a stock footage operation, licensing scenes from some of his videos (such as his compilations of old commercials and educational films) for documentaries.
In 2012 he co-produced That’s Sexploitation!, a documentary about the makers of old time nudie, softcore, and stag films. Even as he appeared at some of its festival screenings, he kept private what only family and close friends knew—that he’d been diagnosed with lung cancer.
The end apparently came quickly.
He leaves behind his wife and partner, artist Lisa Petrucci, and two now-adult children he’d had with his first wife Tammy Decroff (who had also died from cancer).
A long-delayed batch of randomosity (the first in more than a month) begins with the discovery of the newest local “mainstream microbrew.” Underachiever Lager appears to have begun as a promo vehicle for Tacoma designer-casual-wear company Imperial Motion, but is now being rolled out as its own thang in select local bars.
To get over with the obvious: I was in first grade when the announcement came over the Liberty Elementary School PA system. The President had been shot. School was canceled. We got on the school buses, in the orderly fashion we had been frequently instructed to take.
My father came home shortly thereafter. His Federal office had also been shuttered.
The next four days were spent at the black and white TV, with nonstop tragedy. The non-network stations might have kept with regular programming (I don’t recall), but we didn’t watch it.
The network morning shows and the news sites and the magazines are full of reassessments of the Kennedy legacy.
As usual, almost all of the pontificators talk about Kennedy as the face of youth, Kennedy as the bold public speaker, Kennedy as the inspiration to young lives.
But what is the Kennedy legacy, really?
Granted, he turned out to only have 34 months in office.
But still, there should be more than just a rugged face, a carefully crafted public image, some sex stories, some rumors, and some conspiracy theories?
He certainly got the ball rolling toward that whole Vietnam debacle.
He stalled on many of the day’s simmering civil-rights issues until almost the end of his shortened term (knowing that a Dixiecrat/GOP coalition in Congress would likely stall any meaningful race legislation), eventually leaving them to the next guy.
He totally blew the Bay of Pigs fiasco, but made up for it during the Cuban missile crisis.
He started an investigation of organized crime, but was hampered by his own alleged family connections to same.
In the end, it might just have been that the American “ship of state” was (and certainly now is) too bulky to effectively re-maneuver or re-steer toward progress (it’s easy, however, to careen that “ship” toward the rocky shoals of disaster).
Perhaps speeches and a public image are all a President can employ for good.
He is angry because Salman Rushdie uses Twitter, and nowadays people can buy books on the Internet, and the Home Depot, and he had to go to Germany one time, and also some women exist who have not had sex with him.
getty images via huffington post
My first thought: How could such a still-vital part of our musical heritage, one of the original proto-punks, be gone from us so soon?
My second thought: How did the writer of “Heroin” (almost a love song to the drug), then later of “The Power of Positive Drinking,” live this long?
My third thought: Back to the first thought.
I mourn the Comet Tavern for what it had been. The un-upscaled hippie hangout; the dive that remained a dive when most of the other dives in town cleaned up their acts. I don’t mourn what it had become—a hangout ruled by an oft-violent aggro gang called Hate City. (A good friend, a petite female, was once roughed up by bouncers there, badly.) Could any new owners make it an inviting place again?
We went on holiday to Spain and had a problem with the taxi drivers as they were all Spanish.
During our three-week-plus blogging absence, one of the events we failed to note was the demise of one of the unsung pop-culture greats, Samuel W. Petrucci. A logo and packaging designer, he worked on everything from the Charleston Chew candy wrapper to a Lassie lunch box. But he’s best known for the logo and box art on the original G.I. Joe dolls, often using himself as a model for Joe’s face. His daughter Lisa Petrucci is a prominent local “pop surrealist” painter and co-owner of Something Weird Video.
charter construction via ronald holden, cornichon.org
Gosh, has it really been more than three weeks since I’ve done this? Time flies when you’re desperately looking for paying work (i.e., absolutely not “for the exposure”).
We have forgotten what this country once understood, that a society based on nothing but selfishness and greed is not a society at all, but a state of war of the strong against the weak.