Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cort McMeel: RIP

If the energy and vitality Cort McMeel expelled taking a nap could have been harnessed and focused on a single, rotating national problem for week at a time - in a year we'd have had a shiny new completely badass country. 'Merica'd have beat its own myth by half, I believe it. Talking to him was like stepping out of the shower onto a live wire - just a righteous bzzzzzttttzzzzztttt that you were powerless to disengage from, and afterward struggled to remember clearly as you grasped dazedly at the gold dust left hanging in the ether in his wake.

The ideas, man. The enthusiasm. The passion. The sincerity.

Though I only spent a single weekend with him, Cort McMeel had about as much important and true impact on my life as any writer, editor, publisher I can think of. It was his (and Michael Langnas's) vision for and execution of Murdaland magazine that was my first literary drill Sgt. slapping down my lazy, smirky writing and chewing me out but good about what the fuck I thought I was doing, and why didn't I just do the world a favor and man up or shut up. I didn't even have to read the thing to know bullshit had been called on my ass. The image of Cort leveling his weapon at the reader on the cover of the first issue set the tone. Back away from this book with your presumptions and your MFA. Back off - your skin must be at least this (      ) thick to proceed.

But I did read it, and like Saul on the road to Damascus, was struck temporarily blind and knocked off my ass. When the scales fell from my eyes, I was a born-again zealot. I went forth with new purpose and vision.

A few years later, I made my first contact with him to learn more about his efforts alongside Eddie Vega with Noir Nation and Bare Knuckle Press. The immediacy and eagerness of his response made my inbox hum - the reply message rattling the bars of its electronic cage. Opening that message was like turning the final crank on a Jack-In-the-Box and what jumped out at me was the most frenetically insistent dervish of goodwill and great notions I've ever had the pleasure of being swept up by. Our correspondence was sporadic, spasmodic and spun from finer, stronger cords than I seem capable to conjure otherwise.

Last April Cort brought Les Edgerton to St. Louis for a Noir at the Bar event and we were joined by David James Keaton and Erik Lundy for a night of readings unparalleled in this dimension. I spent Friday night to Sunday afternoon with Cort and when dropping him off at the airport remember thinking that this had to happen again. This was going to be a semi-annual summit. As Cort put it in an email, "Last line of Casablanca applies here."

I never saw him again.

David James Keaton, Matthew McBride, Frank Bill, Jedidiah Ayres, Cort McMeel, Les Edgerton, Erik Lundy

We had big plans tho. The biggest. Man, we were going to set the world on fire and roast chestnuts or something. It was always Cort out front too. I tagged along like literary padawan he condescended to be associated with. He took the momentum from that time and made good on one of the plans - establish a Denver chapter of N@B (which he accomplished alongside compatriots Jon Bassoff and Benjamin Whitmer) - but for each checked-off ambition, a dozen new ones budded without ever becoming overwhelming. I believed that with Cort involved, anything was possible. The contact high from that weekend didn't wear off for a year.

Saturday morning I woke to an email with the terrible news that Cort had taken his own life. I still can't... What everyone who knew him knows is that he took with him a significant part of each of our lives too. I'm devastated for his wife and children. I'm angry. I'm gagging on a backup of emotions looking for their outlet and I'm lost.

It doesn't surprise me that someone with such brightly burning highs would know the other side too. I wish... I wish that I'd pried into his life more. I wish I'd been less content to benefit from the runoff of his life-force and pushed back a little harder when, in retrospect, he clearly needed it.

Y'know what I want, brother? I want five minutes in the ring with you followed by a big weepy, pulverizing hug and a fresh brainstorming session over something cold. I want you to turn me on to a dozen new books and authors in as many minutes simultaneously impressing upon me the weight of my ignorance and that your strength was mine to lean on, that, with your boundless energy and generous spirit at my disposal, I'd find the fortitude to rectify my pitiable situation.

I want the opportunity to return the favor.

Read more memorials to Cort by: Les Edgerton, Benjamin Whitmer, Mario Acevedo, Andrea Dupree, Brian Lindenmuth, Kevin Hardcastle.

1 comment:

David Cranmer said...

A beautiful tribute, Jed.