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  • For those of you that are (or were) locals and haven’t heard yet, Jonathon Yegge passed away a couple of nights ago from liver and kidney failure. I’ve had a little bit of history with him in the way back and lately these last couple of months. From 1994-1997, I lived with Mr. Yegge in three different residences: the Prozac house on 7th near Park, the Life Arts Building during the last blasts of its heyday, and the notorious House of Men on Chestnut and 4th. He seemed like such a nice boy, and if you had a daughter and someone held a gun to your head and said you had to choose whether she dated him or me, 99 out of 100 people would choose Mr. Yegge. Those 99 would be in for an utterly horrific shock; Johnny was truly a freak king of kings from Rivercide, and I mean that in the best way possible.

    When I first met him, he dressed like Mr. Rogers, was quite thin, a dancer in the RCC dance department and even smoked a pipe. He seemed well mannered and even quiet! But isn't that what they say about all serial killers. However, by merely talking to him for about 10 minutes, that facade would shatter like the Ten Commandments in the House of Caligula. Johnny had a way of really pissing people off, and it was entertaining to view the spectacle. I try in my own comparatively subtle way using mostly words, but he just knew how to drive the point home and milk it for all it was worth, case in point, the Students For Satan. I came up with this bit of street theater in 1993 to combat the vacant idiocy of an out of control series of campus Christian groups and their screaming ministers polluting the air around the bell tower at UCR. Other than a couple of thinly veiled death threats and the campus Xtian groups meeting secretly to discuss this new satanic threat at UCR, nothing came out of it but a few chuckles from my friends. But, I've always held that UCR is the most apathetic school on the entire planet. In 1996, Johnny borrowed my red and black velvet Students for Satan banner and perpetrated the same stunt at RCC. He got the reaction I was expecting: protests, yelling idiots, waffling school bureaucrats trying to close him down, lawyers stepping up to convince him to sue, he made the school paper every issue for his last semester at RCC, made the Press Enterprise a couple of times, the AP wires and even was on the Ken and Bob show. Like a father watching his son outshine him, I was both proud and a bit jealous of Johnny. But, then again, I will freely admit to not having the heavy brass balls that he had to carry things through to their potentially ass kicking end. He was a small guy but had testicles that could fill a dump truck.

    As I migrated to Oregon, Johnny moved to Chicago to go to the Arts Academy there. That didn't last long. He was expelled for choking a student during one of his performance pieces, and almost went to the pen for it, but he got the charges dropped. A little bit later, he somehow convinced the Art Institute in S.F. to accept him and executed a performance piece there that made a simple throttling of a random student in the audience pale in comparison and catapulted him to performance art stardom. If you think I'm exaggerating, check out the links below. I would list what he did, but decorum prohibits me.

    As life does to good friends, we merrily went our separate ways and developed and evolved on our own paths. He would go on to the previous mentioned art schools to cause havoc and, after achieving the front page of the SF Weekly (the Pulitzer Prize for performance art) he would then give up on the performance art gig and drop into an academic anonymity of sorts, only the bread crumbs of his past doings following him forever on the internet. He still managed to study religion with the Jesuits near SF to get his BA and then earn two masters in Belgium, taught at several colleges and was ABD on his PhD when he passed away. While earning his degrees, he would become quite the sommelier and gourmand while working for Dean & Deluca and even getting involved in wine production while in SF. Again, like a demented father of sorts, I was proud that he would take my penchants for vino and good food, and go way over the top on both. He also got rid of the pipe, started smoking cigars like me and eventually grew a beard and started to get a bit of a belly before I left in 1997. I remember telling him one night, “You don’t want to emulate me, bubba. I don’t even want to be me.” So, I kind of feel a tinge of responsibility for his passing from what I’m sure was renal failure due to alcoholism, but it’s not like I was a crack dealer giving him the first one for free.

    After we parted in 1997, every once in a while I would get an email from Johnny, and we would converse for a bit. He dropped by the Conde’ compound in Oregon in 1999 with some large breasted blond girlfriend who had a monster truck and was an insulin shooting diabetic in her early 20s. I only remember that because she shot up in front of me, and I thought maybe she had something good in that spike, but she didn’t. Since then, our friendship remained sporadic and online until a couple of months ago. He had dropped back in town, for what I thought was a brief visit, and we had some cocktails at the VFW where his mom works the kitchen. We had another meeting a few weeks ago, where he told me he was back for a while to finish writing his PhD. He didn’t look too well and admittedly was drinking several bottles of wine a day and not eating much or doing any activity other than writing. I didn’t think anything of it; I’ve been on that train myself a few times in my life. I figured that he was just a bit laconic with age and the Bukowski vino diet. Apparently, it was a bit more than that.

    I don’t know if he knew his condition was dire, and he just came back home to finish out the game of life on the home turf, or if he over-estimated his own abilities to take the punishment many writers, artists and academics throw at themselves. I’m the last one to ever take health advice from; it’s kind of like Ted Bundy answering the suicide hotline, but part of “knowing thyself” is not just understanding your life philosophy, the world and your place in it, but actually knowing what your body can take. Not everybody is a Bukowski, Keith Richards, Hemmingway, Lemmy Kilmister or William S. Burroughs. Those genes like those names are rare.

    It’s a shame that Johnny won’t be around. I always figured he’d be some crotchety old academic at the end of the bar with some horror stories to tell the youngsters. I definitely didn’t think I would outlive him; he seemed to have that weird spark that was a signpost that said that he would dance through the raindrops even in a storm, but that spark was almost two decades ago, and things change, habits hammer mercilessly down or simply luck runs out on us all eventually. I’d end this saying “rest in peace,” but Johnny probably wouldn’t want that, so I hope if there is something after this that he’s raising hell, especially where it isn’t expected.
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