A Memorial Service For Martin Matz

new york city november 18 2001 -- here we are "moving up the mourning bench," janine pommy -vega says that and she has a somber tone in her voice she is peering out over the crowd. it is the memorial service for martin matz, sunday, november 18, 2001, 2:30-4:30 p.m., ira cohen has already stepped up to the podium of nyu's cantor film center theater on east 8th street to kicks things off.

"i am the perpetual wanderer/the insatiable traveler," wrote martin matz once and appropriately that is what's printed on the commemorative program made up for the day; someone said marty matz weighed 300 pounds if he weighed an ounce and that's probably not far off, but it doesn't come close to describing the largeness of a man carrying his entire life in a suitcase through the world, a man who wouldn't walk a quarter of a block but could sprint when he needed to, for example if the liquor store was about to get locked down for the night; a man who could handle six flights of stairs to someone's walkup if they agreed to take him in as a guest, and frequently enough they did; he could make you open up your door and let him in, and he would stay with you awhile and then move on; and afterwards you wouldn't even ask yourself why you had gone and done that, you knew quite well why.

because martin matz was a troubadour and a hustler and a charmer.

take that epigraph. it continues for another couple of lines, like this: "the mystic nomad/forever moving/toward some strange horizon/of twisted dimensions/and chaotic dreams." apt words from a wordsmith of considerable skill, printed above the names of the sixteen or so officially named speakers, ira and laki vazakas and andy clausen and steve dalachinsky and penny arcade; and janine is like the rest of us, she has seen too many of these memorials, now it is marty's turn, so many of the beats are passing on, who is there to replace them, herbert bill allen gregory; ray bremser, jack micheline, bob kaufman; neal and jack, long gone; and now martin matz.

ira cohen is a blackrobed master of a ceremonies ira would as soon not have to host these, all the hip bohemian lost traveling angels fall in the midst of their wanderings, all things fall and rise, becoming angels in fact, "we are here to remember" the next last outlaw poet, martin matz, 300 pounds if he was an ounce, who railed and cursed wondering why no one put him in the book of outlaw poets; "because the book was bogus" says ira; yet they come to the podium one by one, take the microphone and speak, janine, ira, steve, andy, and the ones who filmed him or cared for him or loved him, the ones who loved being taken in by him; martin matz who did not even know when not to bother trying to hustle a person, he just enjoyed the hustle too much not to, in laki's video we see martin hustling herbert, it is at the chelsea hotel, charming hunke, hunke who has nothing to hustle away, is all street hustler charm himself, is astonished with the persistent charm and energy of the big guy, hunke beguiled; and this afternoon, there's a rabbi and a swami and a playright and a lawyer, and oh yes, drug takers and thieves, they have all at one point or another committed some theft of the heart they all understand; they are all beguiled.

in the midst of it all eileen kaufman calls me from san francisco to tell me she loves marty's poetry, so like bob, she says, "of course he went through women like wine, marty was there on the boat when they spread bob's ashes in san francisco bay, tell everyone i said hello" and so i do, and now we are here praising marty and everyone is trying to out-tell martin matz tales he told them himself, waving their arms, telling marty stories. we are moving up the mourning bench.

who can tell stories like marty matz could? a traveling salesman maybe but person by person they step up to the microphone and try. "someone said marty never had tattoos because he thought it was jewish law you can't be buried in a jewish cemetery if you have a tattoo," says ira.

marty would think nothing of spending fifty bucks for the stuff he needed to make spaghetti sauce, "he was rabelaisian," says roger richards.

the indians of south america called him "a man of wretched excess" and he was proud of it, says ira.

"he smuggled cocaine into the country by reducing and spreading like gloss over photographs," says laki.

"he tried to sell me an unsigned hunke painting for fifty bucks," says dalachinsky. "what could i say. i said no."

"the latinos called him tio martin," says bob yarra, a west coast immigration lawyer friend from fresno, "he spoke such wonderful spanish;" one time bob gave marty $300, and the next thing he knew when he turned around "marty was buying drinks for everyone at the bar."

"martin told me it is the job of the artist to wander around for a long time, doing nothing," says rabbi david wise. wise put matz up for months, a huge physical presence but somehow when the man would lie down "he seemed so tiny!"

wise is candid about marty's arrogance, his manipulativeness, "but yes, the honesty of martin matz, he stayed at my house three months, i told him no drugs and he kept to his word," says the rabbi. "but he made it up with vodka, the russian chasidim encourage it."

if he had written nothing else but the poem "i know where rainbows go to die," marty matz would have done enough to be remembered as a great poet. as it is, he deserves to be a famous one, having written many others, poems like pipe dream 8, which starts out "less spiders and more porcupines would make a better world," and just keeps getting better from there, the poem characteristic of marty's grin-full innocence and ingratiating manner. it wasn't just cocaine -- there were moments when martin matz could reduce poetry down to essences, too.

here at the memorial some people say he was a great poet, some say he was a big baby, whatever he was to people everyone who ran into him loved martin matz and they were exasperated by him, victims of his latest suicide gesture, beneficiaries of his keen desire to reciprocate. all of them falling for his charm. "beware the deadly underdose" said marty and lived that maxim to the hilt, overindulging in everything he possibly could get his hands on "but with heartfelt appreciation for the experience," says jamie rasin, he was one of marty's greatest friends in manhattan and knew the score when it came to martin matz, all 300-pounds-if-he-was-an-ounce of him.

what is the score? marty grew up in brooklyn his father took him to the symphony but then he died; marty was 10 or 12 and his mother remarried and took him to nebraska; he emerged from the midwest a street poet and wanderer in the true beat tradition. in his youth martin matz was a handsome man and an excessive one, mystic rabelaisian nomad and a messenger to chaotic dreams; a perennial figure in the ever-blossoming garden of american beat culture. martin matz was like most, scarcely known to the outside world, someone had to beg allen ginsberg to give him a shot on stage.

unlike most, at his best martin matz was a master storyteller who could keep his audience spellbound, whether in a sardinian bar at royal albert hall or at a kosher dinner table in williamsburg, new york. bob kaufman would leap on coffeehouse tables or throw himself on passing cars in north beach to recite his incendiary poetry; martin matz, a little less nimble than that, had a hustler's knack for collaring all and sundry into his orbit, where they were treated to a poem, a deftly woven tale. was it a hustle? was it supplication? was it the generosity of irrepressible wit? or payment of a troubadour's debt to the wider world which supports and sustains him?

whatever the economics of it, here at the memorial, several of the beat videographers have caught this magic of marty's on tape. "a heroin addict walks into the barber chair and flops down in the chair, he just sits there, rolling his head around, mumbling," says marty in a laki vazakas video. the barber says what'll it be. "a shave," says the mumbling druggie, nodding out. "if you want me to shave you, you'll have to lift up your head," says the barber. the addict's head sagging still further, he says "oh all right, then make it a haircut."

in footage shot by penny arcade, marty is telling his oklahoma whale story, which goes something like this -- there is this law which dates to 1912, it says bringing a whale into oklahoma is a hanging offense. here's why: in 1910 this fella from the east coast gets his hands on this dead whale, and he has this great idea, he's going to put it on a railcar and tour it around the country, showing the dead whale off, for a nickel a head to every american who will pay for the privilege of viewing it. well, by the time he gets to tulsa you can smell that man and his whale coming from forty miles away, and when he pulls up at the train station the authorities are there waiting and they tell him to get the damn thing out of town.

"this is my livelihood," says the guy, "i get a nickel a head!" so they offer him $500. and he takes it

only then instead of taking off with the whale he just pushes the reeking carcass off the edge of the rail car, and he leaves town. so now the town of tulsa is stuck with a dead whale at their train station. and it stinks. and they don't know what to do. so finally someone gets the bright idea to blow the dead whale up.

and they try that. they actually put a couple of sticks of dynamite in it. but of course it doesn't work, the thing explodes all right and everything but all they get is thousands of little pieces of dead rotten whale carcass, blown all over town.

"and that's why bringing a whale into oklahoma is a hanging offense," says martin matz or words to that effect. "that just goes to show what an effective deterrent capital punishment is. to my knowledge that's the last time anyone has brought a whale to oklahoma."

a whale of a story from a whale of a guy.

here's the skinny on big martin matz. for so big a man, he could worm his way into a person's heart with tales like that, and did. across decades and continents, the hearts of hundreds of people, some of whom show up at the cantor fim center theater on november 18.

perhaps one heart couldn't have been big enough to hold a man so big as martin matz. perhaps this is why, from chiang mai to fresno to the chelsea hotel in new york city, marty traveled from heart to heart, the perpetual wanderer, a latter day beat troubadour who, now that he is gone, has everyone who knew him telling a martin matz story.

like today, november 18 2001. before the afternoon is over day has bled into evening and evening into night. people are telling martin matz stories, this life spilling out on the sidewalk, and i travel along with the crowd, up east 8th to university five blocks to the cedar tavern. the memorial service has turned into a celebration, an all nighter of epic proportions, half of the cedar is occupied by friends of the latest "last of the outlaw poets" to have passed out of this world, martin matz. and the party doesn't stop there, from the cedar tavern it travels on to someone's apartment on east 13th, the party goes on and on.

for all i know it is going on still, manhattan bohemian society celebrating martin matz, one of its own, a giant man and epic wanderer, lost but reborn in their own lives, the renewal of the beat, a troubadour forever moving toward some strange unexpected horizon of his own -- and our -- devising.