Thursday, November 13, 2008

An Appreciation: Joel Weinstein, Famous Publisher

A few years ago I realized that friendships, like love, can be mutable things. Some people come into your life and you're as close as bugs for what seems like only a few minutes, then they're gone forever. Others come and stay for years, becoming part of the fabric of your days. Then there are those who pop in and out over decades, appearing, disappearing and then reappearing when you least expect it.

A Mississippi Mud cover titled "Safe in Heaven."

Joel Weinstein was one of the latter, a good friend, a writer, designer and cultural gadfly, a self-described "Famous Publisher" (or, more familiarly, FP) who started the iconic and idiosyncratic Mississippi Mud magazine in the 70s, publishing Oregon originals like Walt Curtis, Katherine Dunn, Tama Janowitz, Stacey Levine and Ursula K. Le Guin. Then, as he and partner Cheryl Hartup moved to follow her career as a curator of Latin American art, first in Miami and then in San Juan, Puerto Rico, he took his second publication, Rotund World, online.

Joel on the prowl in Puerto Rico.

His writing was always an inspiration, the loopy, fantastical, intertwining lines inevitably landing to make a pertinent point, whether it was about other writers, artists or, especially, pomposity and arrogance should they raise their heads in his presence. Of Rotund World, he wrote that it would contain "homenajes, comings and goings, squabbles, promesas, sales to important collectors, drunken brawls, unconcealed flattery, pissy interchanges, lukewarm showers, boring stretches of nothing going on, accidental deaths, hip-joint replacements, studio hijinks, unintended insults, and a bit of fly-specking, sometimes all at once."

He dropped in for dinner when he and Cheryl were in town last Christmas, bringing with him a gift of coffee roasted by friends in PR, regaling us with stories about his new friends there, querying us for tidbits of gossip about old ones here, ears pricked for telltale details that he'd squirrel away for the retelling.

The memorial altar at his home in San Juan (notice the sneakers and the cat under the table).

It was a wonderful, warming evening. We didn't know that two months later he would be diagnosed with terminal lung cancer though he hadn't smoked for nigh on 35 years, the irony of which would not be lost on him, to be sure. He passed away on Halloween, and Cheryl opened their house in San Juan to friends and food, music and laughter the next day, the Day of the Dead in Latin culture and also the 18th anniversary of the day they met.

A detail from the altar, with an effigy of Joel in his signature t-shirt, sneakers and shoulder bag.

Per his wishes, his ashes will be buried in Lone Fir Cemetery, of which he wrote, "Lone Fir is the resting place of an astonishing variety of those who’ve come to be the city’s natives: along with pioneers and their descendants, there are Russians, Cambodians, Japanese, and Chinese whose families immigrated—some of them generations ago—and stayed." And though we're known for our rain, hippies and volcanoes, he said that they are merely "minor annoyances when compared to the city’s surpassing loveliness. Actually, the hippies are part of the charm, like colorful garden dwarves scattered amidst the tall firs."

Goodbye, dearest Joel.

His friend, Barry Johnson, in a lovely remembrance in the Oregonian, wrote that the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission, of which he was a founding participant, will celebrate Weinstein with a program called "Discovering Oregon Originals: Joel Weinstein's contributions to Oregon culture," at 7 pm, Wednesday, Jan. 21, First Unitarian Church, SW 12th Ave. and Salmon St.


bb said...

All I can say is thank you for the beautifully written eulogy. Joel would have approved, I'm sure!

Kathleen Bauer said...

Thanks. It was a huge shock, and we realized he's the first one of our cohort to pass away. Other remembrances are linked from Art Scatter, with some great photos and links from friends in Puerto Rico here.