Pal Brian Jostmeyer relayed the sad news today that our friend Dan French – beatific barfly, dark horse littérateur and Zen rebel – had been found dead in his apartment in China. French had been working in China as an English instructor for the past year. The circumstances of his death remain unknown.
With risk of irreverence, I’ll say that Dan French was something of a bull in a China shop, but that’s just glib bullshit to work with the China angle. It’s kind of true though: his voluble nature and creative themes were not for squares and garnered their share of sidelong glances from the Lumaville hoi polloi. Fuck them. This is the man who had the chutzpah to write a story about the sexual habits of a bear, summarizing its experience as having gone from “ready teddy to ruined bruin.” I always thought that line was stellar on the order of, say, Lewis Carroll, but it got more than a few polite ahems during an impromptu reading in the corner of a party.
Language was a playground for French as evidenced by his notebooks, loaded with cock-eyed puns and brimming with tales of misadventure — not to mention, inexplicably, the interior ruminations of the raincoat-clad dude on the Gorton’s Fish Sticks box (a creative obsession that dogged him for a couple of months). Moreover, French had become fluent in Mandarin, a linguistic feat that probably accounts for his popularity with his students. I can only imagine when he came trundling into town – a six-foot-tall, white Westerner who could scat scatological in their native tongue whilst draining the local tavern. Those of little vision may shudder at the notion of Dan French, de facto diplomat, representing America abroad, but I’ve come to applaud it. Few could define America in all its reckless beauty, its absurd genius, simply by arriving.
Yes, Dan French was a madman, but an often brilliant one, prone to hair-trigger episodes of gorgeous street-theater such as when he hopped off his motorcycle outside of Aram’s Cafe and let it crash to the pavement behind him with nary a glance back. He had a knack for visual lampoonery: Jostmeyer located a postcard collage sent by Dan to Spec’s in North Beach depicting an illustrated ladle and some church tripe reading “With Joy You will Draw Water from the Wells of Salvation” juxtaposed an image of a urinal.
French likewise had a habit of filing reports from the field, bizarre screeds sometimes penned by his alter-ego “Blackoutman.” In the tradition of Jekyll and Hyde, Blackoutman would emerge during French’s benders, utterly possess him, attempt to destroy him and finally leave him reeling, semi-conscious, groping for a pen to capture the affair for posterity.
Pasted below is an account of Blackoutman’s re-arrival in Dan’s life, which I received last November:
my folks mailed me a package of clothes the other day and i think blackoutman was a stowaway in the shipment. i am almost certain it is the Macy’s black wool sport coat that jackstrap handed down to me and he said it use to be yours at one time. no blackouts for 7 months, everything is pretty much sober here until i put the coat on last saturday. my colleagues and i went to a fancy kareoke joint where you get a president’s suite, top notch kareoke hi fi set, full bar and a large selection of girls to choose from for the evening. everything is covered under one price, so we went insane. “do whatever you want.” they saith. too drunk to take the girl for a quickie in the latrine, but i broke some bottles above my head (jackstrap move) and then i encouraged one of the teachers to do a cannonball dive into the glass coffeetable. next day was my south african and chinese friends crashing a wedding party (acceptable here). we drank oceans of liquor and ate lobsters. the rice whine here made us throw everything up later. real mess. went to work monday at 2:30pm. still felt drunk. at 5pm, i left feeling even more drunk… shittt, blackoutman was still partying in my liver. i must send you some pictures. – ok – dan
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Brian Jostmeyer is hosting a wake for Dan @ 7 P.m., Friday, February 24 at 2898 Glascock St. #5, Oakland ca 94601. All friends of Dan French are welcome. For more information call 510 282 8847.