Michael Longdo R.I.P.

Michael Longdo, September 1947- May 2002

You type a name from your past into Google, who knows why. This time the first thing to come up is a death notice, eight and a half weeks old. The lousy server on the Las Vegas paper never loads, you can’t even pull up a cached page. Go into your roommate’s room and try it on the DSL line and it comes up immediately: Michael C. Longdo, aged 54, artist and Army veteran, died Wednesday. Survived by some sisters and one remaining brother. No gruesome or poignant details (was he finally a suicide? did he piss someone off enough to get himself killed?), no survivors who weren’t bound by blood. Shut the book, it’s over for Michael.

It’s probably eight years since I talked with him, and we weren’t friendly then. He lit into me with all the rage he held towards the female sex, and I—his spiritual daughter, his friend, eternal innocent who had never wagged a snake in his direction—was mortified by the abuse. I never let him get near me again, though he tried with one or two AA-scented phone calls of unconvincing amends. I missed him and I loved him, but we lost track of each other and I never dug deeper than checking the phone book whenever I was in Vegas. He’d become unlisted, while I just got easier to find (assuming he wanted to).

Longo came into my life when I was five. My folks were separated, and he hung around my mom. I busted him by telling dad about the razor in the bathroom, but I don’t think dad cared very much by that point. My first hero was Leonardo da Vinci, and it seems obvious that that was Longdo’s influence. I still have his painting of Ozma of Oz hanging over my bed, my eighth birthday present. He was just a boyfriend of my mom’s until I moved back in with her in 1978. Mike and I had an intellectual connection that flowered as I reached my teens. I realize now that part of it may have been him trying to hurt my mom by caring for me instead of her, but at the time I just felt how great it was to have someone to talk to.

I’d take the Hollywood Boulevard bus east into then-mysterious and crummy Los Feliz, get off at Vermont and walk over to his little bungalow on Dracena. He’d show me his latest drawings—he was a master abstract expressionist, too antagonistic to ever find a gallery—give me beer and talk about books. I discovered Rimbaud, Henry Miller, the Beats, Julian Jaynes, Pollock, at his knee. He only made one pass, and was sweet when I demurred, mainly because I couldn’t bring myself to touch someone who’d been with my mother. I loved the spark of our dialogs, the mutual thrill as ideas spun into form in the air between us. He supported my ambitions and respected my brain, which no other adult seemed able to do. Michael was both my peer and my mentor, and I loved him unreservedly for what he gave me.

He was an angry guy. It could be funny—he schemed to make Hallowe’en candy —sesame balls— out of birdseed to bedevil the neighborhood kids—and it could be scary. One time at the old Baskin-Robbins on Crescent Heights (the one they tore down to build the Virgin Megastore) he got into a fight with two whores. I remember one of the girls was wearing a short, sheer black dress, and he was down on the floor trying to look up it, which I thought was a crazy and nasty thing to do. They called their pimps, who caught up with us on the walk back down Sunset. Smooth as an assassin he heard their approaching steps and snapped an aerial off a car, then told me to beat it while he faced his attackers. I ran home, and he showed up not long after, breathless and thrilled from psyching them out. He would shoot hummingbirds out of the sky and leave their heads in an anthill, later showing off their clean bubble skulls, so light you could see through the bone.

In Germany in the sixties he stumbled into a cellar bar and saw the Byrds play. He used to take any drug he could get his hands on, even nutmeg. He loved his dad for teaching him to draw, hated his mother, and swam in his guts. He was smart but a total fucking idiot where other people were concerned. It wasn’t long after our falling out that I found myself working for the chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, and I thought how perfect it was that he should have alienated me now, when I might have helped open big doors for him.

He really was a great artist. His compositions were endlessly inventive and powerful. Good colorist, too. His best work was his drawings, tight lucid explosions of highly charged symbolism held together with snarls of raw energy. I hope his art survives him. I hope he died with his pride intact, and without regret.

I don’t know how he died, but I do know when. Paging back through the calendar, I find that he died on a day I missed: en route to Australia, I never had a May 22 this year. I was asleep and flying through the perfect void that he’s become.

—Kim Cooper
Los Angeles, July 14, 2002