A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


Monday, May 19, 2008

If even dying is to be made a social function, then, please, grant me the favour of sneaking out on tiptoe without disturbing the party.

Markings, Dag Hammarskjöld

Georgia Straight technology columnist, Dave Watson died of colon cancer on May 7th. Former Georgia Straight editor Charles Campbell wrote a fine obituary here. He was 45 and what separated his death from most of our own inevitable deaths is that he knew he was going to die with far more precision than any of us. Perhaps he was lucky to know or not. We look at his death, and like many a greenhorn soldier on the eve of battle, I wonder how I will face death. Will I be a coward? Will I be unflinching?

Campbell's obituary is followed by glowing remembrances from friends and colleagues. I never considered contributing. I have a very good reason.

When I first met Watson in the early 80s I worked at Vancouver Magazine. I had the lucky gig of contributing photographs to Les Wiseman's rock column In One Ear. The column was hip as it avoided mainstream music and concentrated on the lesser known proto punk (New York Dolls) the critically acclaimed Iggy Pop (then not popular with the crowds) and with the odd but wonderful local Vancouver alternative music scene. I had no knowledge of who Hunter S. Thompson was and did not understand when Wiseman would introduce me as, "This is Lenso, my Argentine lensman." I did not have the foggiest when he often started conversations with me , "As your attorney I would....." Or he would say stuff like, "When in doubt, drink heavily." I remember being back stage at the Commodore getting ready to photograph the Cramps. I wrote about it here. I had to make sure Wiseman had plugged in his tape recorder. He was in no shape to notice.

Around this time Watson started showing up at Vancouver Magazine. He worshipped Wiseman and admired Wiseman's methods for inspiration and how he wrote about rock and roll. He loved the off-beat articles that Wiseman wrote such as one on learning to drive a semi trailer.

Watson was a good looking young man, even with his glasses, he was not tall and he had a monotone voice, matter-a-fact kind of voice. He had clear and sharp eyes and no matter how much he told me had drunk or pills he had popped he always looked, acted and was extremely sober.

For years my friends had told me I needed to loosen up. They tried to get me drunk but after only a couple of beer I would be hit by terrible migraines. In Mexico they tested peyote on me. I threw it up and that was it. Maurice Depas (of Maurice & the Cliches) made me puff incredibly strong hashish. The only result was extreme stuttering. I learned to understand that for me there was no escape from problems, the chemical forgetting of them was not an option. I came to suspect that the one thing I could be sure of was that I was going to die sane.

I looked at Watson as my fetch. Like me he was as straight as they came. In many conversations with Watson through the years, particularly about computers, he never made me change my mind that he was a straight as an arrow.

It is my hope that somehow my exit will be as good as his but I have no illusion or wish that anybody write a fine obituary. Obituaries are for the living. The dead get no profit. We the living can only ponder every day if we will face our death with our chin up.

I took the photograph of the Packard hearse outside of the Guanajuato, Mexico cemetery back in 1968. The gate of the cemetery is decorated with skulls and children outside sell sticky taffy shaped like the mummies that people go inside to look at. After 7 years bodies are disinterred (if no perpetuity charges have been met) and the bones at thrown away. There is very little room in the cemetery for expansion. But often because of the arid weather and the chemicals in the soil the bodies are found mummified. A gallery is kept which shocks tourists but Mexicans take in their stride.

Three years ago Rebecca, Rosemary and I went to Guanajuato. On one of the streets I spied the picture of the hearse on the wall of a funeral service. I entered and asked the man. When I described my photo he told me it was his sister when she was young. The Packard had been purchased by a car museum in Cincinnati.


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