PMM’s Birthday Party! – George Hickenlooper and the Price of Creating Art and the Illusion of Death by Matt Dukes Jordan

Death is a counterpoint to the whole show. But life is for the living so as long as we are here, we might as well live…

Yesterday morning a big yellow butterfly was landing on some yellow flowers on this small tropical island now known as Key West though it was named Cayo Hueso on the Spanish maps. (Ponce de Leon visited in 1532. It was settled by some hardy Spanish people.) The Spanish name translates loosely to Isle of Bones. Native Americans had been here but all that was left were their bones, on the beaches. We don’t know what they called the small island…. nor why they died…

Yesterday the big yellow butterfly was eating yellow pollen in the yellow sunlight. Wings as big as your palms. Join hands at wrists, flap like butterfly. A man thinks he is dreaming about being a butterfly but a butterfly is dreaming that he is a man dreaming of being a butterfly.

The Chinese philosopher Zhuang wrote it more like this: Once I dreamed I was a butterfly… fluttering and happy in the yellow sunlight…. I was only conscious of being a butterfly…. soon I awakened and was myself again…. but now I don’t know if I was then a man dreaming of being a butterfly or am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man…

We are dreaming this life to some extent. Death could be like waking up.

A month and half ago I was packing up to leave my small rented apartment in Los Feliz (the happy ones), which is in East Hollywood. Bukowski lived a mile away on Mariposa in the 1960s. I wrote to him when I moved to LA. He wrote back….. So I’m packing up and a former girlfriend commented about George dying. I Googled this and it was the film director, George Hickenlooper. He and I were going to write a book together. He was only 47. He had died in Denver after attending a film festival in Austin where they showed his new film, Casino Jack. Everything that I was worrying about suddenly seemed somewhat trivial. I felt sad. Wow, he was only 47… how could he be gone?

Is leaving a place a kind of dying in some small way? I had been in LA for two years then had moved to Tucson last February. I was there for four months in the late winter and spring and then moved to LA again (I’ve lived there on and off since 1990).

Strangely enough I was living in an old red brick building from 1928 in which I’d lived in the summer of 1997, a very scruffy Bukowski-esque building that had a nice rooftop to go up to in order to escape the dreariness of one’s studio apartment…. None of it seemed real; I never even unpacked half my books and clothing. I was high on Vicoden for a week, the extra strength stuff due to excruciating pain when the nerves in a molar were sort of dying…. I drank beer and made art for a show at Hyaena Gallery and my book WEIRDO NOIR was published….. I did a few promotional events… book signings…. then it seemed best to head to Florida to the Keys…

In the spring of 2010 I wrote a book proposal with the director George Hickenlooper. The book we were going to co-author (if we could find a publisher) was to be a bio of Hickenlooper with a lot of emphasis on his life as an indie director. I’d become friends with him in that abstract way you do via Facebook. He was the one who proposed doing a book about his life. He did so in a joking, self-deprecating way, saying that his mom and dad would buy it. I liked the idea. A book about a filmmaker who lived outside of the mainstream of Hollywood sounded good to me. Sadly, he died on October 29th unexpectedly at the age of 47. He was in Denver while on a promotional tour for his new (and I bet excellent) film about the corrupt Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff. The film is called CASINO JACK. It stars Kevin Spacey, who, Hickenlooper wrote to me, was cast through Facebook !!

At first I didn’t know him except through his films. I was a fan of two of his films without really connecting them or realizing they were by the same director. One is the moody drama called The Man from Elysian Fields. The other is a wonderful documentary about filmmaking. It’s called Hearts of Darkness. The name of the director on those films wasn’t what stood out — it was the intensity of the storytelling.

Some directors have such a distinct style that you will always recognize their films. Hickenlooper had themes that interested him and his style was in service of them. A number of his films were about the struggles of artists and various kinds of challenges they face. For example, Hearts of Darkness is about what Coppola went through while making Apocolypse Now (an amazing artistic journey with great risks and costs).

What I’m leading up to is that I believe that Hickenlooper stressed himself out with the struggle to be an indie director and that is why he died at 47. He had made some films about the turmoil of the life of an artist… and he lived that way to some extent…

He was always on the move. New York to meet his new distributor one day. Meeting with new agents at CAA in Beverly Hills a few days later. Then to New Orleans to search for locations for his next film. Then to Denver to shoot ads for his cousin’s run for office as the governor of Colorado (he won and the ads helped)…. to a film festival in Toronto where he and Kevin Spacey promoted Casino Jack… and so on….

In short, he was on the move and that alone is exhausting….

He died of heart failure…

Life is life but we know there is an end point.

Before that we have a finite amount of time.

How will we spend that time? What can we accomplish, learn, do, enjoy, see, feel, dream….

Master Zhuang also said this: What if enjoying life is a delusion? What if it’s the case that in hating death I am like a child who was lost early in life and did not know the way home?

He said: Forget the years, forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.

MDJ has just published his spanking new book ” Weirdo Noir” here:

For some more of MDJ writing & other palaver check out some links:

3 thoughts on “PMM’s Birthday Party! – George Hickenlooper and the Price of Creating Art and the Illusion of Death by Matt Dukes Jordan”

    1. Very nice article. It’s nice to hear about Artists connecting on places like facebook…and having that lead to something like this…a sincere and poignant testimony to a fellow Artist and the pursuit of celebrating life through Art.

      It all worked out perfectly.

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