By Carlye Archibeque
By now the arts community is aware of the passing of poet Scott Wannberg. Word started being delivered yesterday morning, August 20th, by phone and internet and by the end of the day it seemed that the entire world was aware that a great void had just been created in the world of word. Everyone who met Scott knew him because he was what he was. No hidden agenda, no guile, no malice. Just Scott.
I first met Scott in 1993 when I was producing a small coffee house play called A Junkie’s Christmas, a Burroughsesque retelling of the Mary & Joseph search for a place to sleep. The three wise men were turned into the Three Wise Idiots. I had heard of a group of poets called the Carma Bums and, sight unseen, I put out a call and asked if three of them would be interested in performing for me. There were no rehearsals, and I sent out only the vaguest of scripts. The only demand, if you want to call it that, more of a favor really, was that I pick up one of the Bums, Scott Wannberg, because he didn’t drive, and bring him to the show. I also picked up a poet named David Cooper, the Christ Child in the play. Standing at well over six-feet, David already tested the bounds of my 1966 VW Bug, so when I pulled up to the curb of Scott’s place and found a mountain of a man standing there I knew I was going to have to do some balancing. I tried to be delicate in telling him to sit in the middle slightly to the left of David, but Scott chimed in, claimed his size and was more than happy to balance on the bench seat of the Bug. This was my first introduction to the man who had no illusions and no ego, in the usual sense. The show was great, made more fun by the off the cuff performance of Scott, S.A. Griffin and Mike Mollette. I returned Scott to his house and all was well.
I’m not sure how it happened but before I knew it Scott and I were thick as thieves. I was just back from a tour in the first Gulf War (Stateside, no Iraq) and didn’t really know too many people, but I liked to go every where, and Scott liked to go everywhere but didn’t drive, so it was probably a marriage of convenience at first. We went to readings, the beach and tons and tons of movies and music shows. Everything was better with Scott. I learned about the movies of Anthony Mann at the yearly Western screenings at the 2nd Street theater in Santa Monica, we saw the opening of every John Sayles movie, and I was happy to drive, balancing Scott in the Bug until I transitioned to a larger Civic. We were regulars at Dave Alvin, Peter Case and, when possible, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot shows. When Allen Ginsberg came to town, we went, always arriving at McCabes early so that we could be first in line and Scott could get a front-aisle seat so he would be comfortable and he could hand dance at the players, who all knew him.
Scott was a light that shone on everyone. Not in a blinding way but in the best way possible, with warmth and encouragement. Scott wanted everyone to be their best selves and in return he gave them the best of himself, and poems. I call Scott the “Johnny Appleseed” of poetry. Everywhere he went, for everyone he met, there were poems: poems on napkins, poems on shreds of paper, poems in his head just bursting to get out. I have a ragged collection of bits of paper and paper like scraps with birthday poems, wedding poems, and just plain happy to be here poems that Scott gave me over the years. Everyone who knew Scott has a similar collection. He loved the world and the world loved him back. Lucky world. Now there is no Scott Wannberg. I’m not sure how to cope with the loss, but I know I am not alone in this because Scott gave me not only himself, but a community to fall back on.
When I got the call from S.A. Griffin, arguably Scott’s spiritual brother, I fell apart, but I pulled myself together enough to get to S.A.s’ place where I knew I would not be alone. I listened to S.A. call and field calls from people all over the country. He gently told those who hadn’t heard yet, and comforted them. He took calls from those who needed to talk to someone who had also known Scott and just heard the news. Over the course of the day, people drifted in and out of the apartment. We hugged, we cried, we laughed, we remembered and we raised our glasses of whiskey and our pipe full of weed toward a picture of Scott and we grieved. By the time I got home, I thought I had cried myself out, but this morning I find that I was wrong.
Death sucks, no doubt, but it only sucks in direct balance to the amount of love you felt for the deceased and the impact they made with their life. His death is a blip on the landscape of his life: a natural end to a natural beginning. I want to concentrate on Scott’s life, the joy he brought, the talent, the humor, the no bullshit human being that was Scott Wannberg. I want to celebrate his life, and I encourage everyone who mourns Scott to do the same. No regrets, he would say, no regrets.
After Dutton’s Books closed, Scott moved to Florence, Oregon, where the living was cheaper and easier. I didn’t see him after that. There were phone calls and emails, but I’ll always wonder if I was a good enough friend after that. Scott would scold me and come up with some brilliant way of saying, “it’s all good” because he was like that and he believed it which made it real. It’s all good. I’m sure in the coming days the black cloud of Scott’s death might lead to conversations that include the words “could have, should have and would have.” Well don’t let it happen, because Scott would want you to party in his honor, party with your friends and family, with your extended family. Hold them and love them because life is short and death is sneaky little bastard coming in on little cat feet taking what you love without a moments notice. Life is too short for regrets if you do it right. So in Scott’s honor, do it right.