Monday, February 4, 2013
Pope Croke Tribute #3 - A Letter From Mark Hossfeld
(Above - Mark "Pappy" Hossfeld as a starving young artist and bookseller)
Thomas Pope Croke
I'm very sorry I can't be with you today. I would give anything to change that, but poverty continues to bite off my freedom of movement. Speaking of poverty, when Pope and I lived together it was different times. I'm amazed now at the comfort and filthy domesticity of our poverty and squalor together, something almost impossible to imagine today. Low rents, dive bars and 7-11 microwave burritos are all extinct species now. I misspeaks; the burritos are eternal of course.
I was intimidated by Pope when we first met. I'm not sure how it happened, but he had developed or cultivated a reputation for difficulty. But our first meeting went very well. I can still clearly remember his profile in a smoky, amber light. He was smiling and he had such a beautiful smile. Everyone nodded their heads and dilated their pupils when I told them I was going to move in with him. It turned out just fine, strangely enough. I quickly got used to Crass and Sreavinsky booming through the apartment at three in the morning.
When he was learning a new instrument, the first week was pretty horrible, especially the wood winds, but by week two it was a pleasure. And the way he "thought" on the piano was wonderful. He could go long, long stretches improvising on the piano, running the gamut of emotions and styles.
Another of the pleasures would be when I ran into him in the hallway after he had finally taken a pee-break from his long composition sessions. The look on his face was like a Catholic saint after a good sit-down with the Holy Mother. Pope was capable of great joy. I have ever since striven to match him, but no luck so far.
Of course, when Pope was down, he was undersea trench down. It would start as a kind of cosmic grouchiness. He might let out a soul-crushing, despairing cackle at an episode of Dynasty on our little, defective black and white television. He might go all day saying nothing but "Bah", in a five syllable exhale. But he was right. I consider it one of his gifts to me. He had me dead-to-rights as a Marxist Pollyanna on the make. The world really is a horrible place and Pope was right to insist I see it so.
But Pope could always find the sublime humor in the horrors of this world. It seems to be a Baltimore thing and he was quintessentially Baltimore in his practice. When we were in Kneeling On Beans together we covered "Kill, Kill, Kill" from the old show "Get Smart". Written by Buck Henry, it was sung by an evil hippie group (CHAOS spies) called The Sacred Cows, whose mission was to lead American youth to ruin by means of hypnotic hippie music. It went:
Kill, kill, kill!
Thrill, thrill, thrill!
Make the scene
Knock off the Dean!
Yeah, yeah, yeah!
Knock off a square!
That's what it's about
Hate is in, Love is out
Pope added a verse that went like this:
See your Mom
Make her cum
Make her scream
Like in your dream
Now you're bad
Knock off your Dad
That's what it's about
Hate is in, Love is out
I have always admired that little addition to the song because it works on so many levels, beginning with the knee-slapping lay obscene. Just as super-villains in spy dramas compulsively reveal their nefarious plans to the hero, the song now embraces cartoon counterculture in all it's helpless, retarded glory. Maybe that's what we were getting at in the late 80's. I still love it.
I also remember one time Pope asked me if I really cared how the audience reacted to one of my readings. I said, Yes, of course, it's very important to me. The look on his face was somewhere between amazement and compassion. I say compassion because he felt art was so much further from entertainment than I did. Art was the alien other. Art was a magnificent world all its own for the audience to seek and find. It could not be delivered in less than than thirty minutes with or without anchovies.
Pope loved me and forgave me a multitude of sins. I love him because he left me with nothing to forgive. I wish I could be more like him. I wish I could have told him so.
Love to you all,
Mark Hossfeld is a renowned writer and artist who somehow created a tasty heady melange mixing Marx, Lacan, Dionysus and Archy and Mehitabel. He is also a world traveler and triple agent currently residing on a Canadian mountaintop where he frequently runs about in only gym socks yelling Stooges lyrics. His period of living with Pope in the '80s was a rich one in Baltimore history that included "The Spanking Party".