Friday, August 26, 2011

In Memory Of Claire O'Connor

Last month, I and the other board members of HOWL!  Arts Inc. were stunned to learn that we had lost a friend, a colleague, a co-conspirator. We, the members of HOWL! Arts Inc. are the folks who bring you NYC's HOWL! Festival each year, outdoors in Tompkins Square Park. We've also established HOWL! H.E.L.P. an emergency medical and financial aid program administered by The Actors Fund for the EV/LES's un- & under-insured artists and performers.. whose numbers are legion.

Claire was a born-and-bred New York City girl with working-class roots, which made her exceptional even before you realized that, not only could she string two words or more together, and do it well, but she was championing the very same things that we were at about the very same time: original and thought- provoking performance, music and art. Most of it occurring after dark. In nightclubs, both big and small.

Claire got her start, so to speak, when she was hired as the publicist for that first famous, but then later infamous nightclub-in-an-old-church, Limelight. Since a publicist's job description is, by its very nature, both vague, vulgar and varied (one club owner simply told his new PR employee, "Just get the people here!") Claire wound up doing much more at the Limelight than getting the perennially reluctant press to write about that fledgling nightspot. She booked bands, threw parties, held events and created concepts. She did it until the Limelight was a place to "see and be seen," and a virtual "celebrity magnet." And this was all, indeed, many years before copious amounts of liquor and tax-free cash, the absence of even the flimsiest of moral compasses and a never-ending supply of the new, so-called designer drugs, combined to turn a clever but clueless Fordham University freshman named Michael Alig into the lunchbox-toting, clown-faced Party Monster now doing time for manslaughter at the correctional facility in Dannemora, New York.

Throughout this period as she was changing Peter Gatien from a Mongol into a Mogul, I had only a passing acquaintance with Claire. We were each busy in our own worlds: Claire at the Limelight and I at my own venue-- the Pyramid Club. It was only later, much later, when we had each been nominated to the HOWL! Board Of Directors and accepted, that we became friends. And much of that friendship developed over the telephone. Claire could always be found awake, up and working, and actually willing to pick up the phone at 2 or 3 or 4 AM. And I, after years on the New York nightlife graveyard shift, even though I no longer worked in the clubs,  was always wide-awake post-midnight and at the computer banging out a press release... or a script. 

"Claire, they are making me crazy... driving me nuts, the lot of 'em!" I complained. "Because N... (a certain play's director) sent me a complete cast-and-crew list from his play with over 50 names, more than half of them incorrectly spelled... I'd cut-and-pasted them into the release that I wrote for this piece of theatrical merde, because, well, N. had insisted on it. And now each of these ham actors is calling me and whining. Or emailing me and bitching about how unprofessional I am... And now even the poets are starting in about their names being misspelled..."  After a few minutes of commiserating, we said goodnight and hung up. 15 minutes later, the phone rang. It was Claire again. "Hattie, check the blog," she said, as she replaced the receiver.

In 15 minutes she had dashed this off...
There Just Aren't Enough Letters In the Alphabet To Describe Howl! Festival's Esteemed Guest Poets
No two poets are alike, but we know three poets who have all, very recently, suffered comparable misfortune. Susan Scutti, Amy Ouzoonian and Thomas Fucaloro had their names misspelled on various Howl! Festival press materials and even on this blog. No doubt each of them will interpret the adversity with great individuality.  Hopefully, they will exploit the incident creatively and for all to enjoy, rather than internalize the pain and bear it alone, wordlessly.
Susan Scutti, Amy Ouzoonian and Thomas Fucaloro, among others, will be appearing at the Howl! Festival’s opening night reading of the Allen Ginsberg poem, “Howl,” in Tompkins Square Park on Friday, September 10th, from 5-7PM.  Below is a little background information on these three fine rhymesters, as well as photos.
Once you know what they look like and how to spell their names, it might be nice to approach them at the festival and impart some empathy regarding this flagrant inaccuracy. Remind them that this exact, same faux pas happens daily to Allen Ginsberg, long after his physical suffering has ended.  Alan Ginsberg, Allan Ginsberg, Allen Ginzberg, Allen Ginsburg, Alan Ginzburg, Allan Ginsburg – it’s exasperating. 
It is, however, much easier to speak the one name Allen Ginsberg than it is to pronounce the three names Susan Scutti, Amy Ouzoonian and Thomas Fucaloro.
Claire, all of us at HOWL! Arts will miss you.

Brian Butterick (AKA Hattie Hathaway)