PRODIGAL SON: OR THE STRANGE & HIGHLY UNUSUAL DISAPPEARANCE CASE OF ALBANY POET, WRITER & FRIEND GARY MURROW
It has been almost seventeen years this month since the Albany Police Department found an old black Volvo left with its doors open in the middle of Washington Park near the Robert Burns statue with a strange note taped on Robert Burns forehead and written on the back of one of Dan Wilcox’s venue fliers that said in jet black sharpie ink “Gary Murrow Was Never Here Man And Neither Were You”. I remember that day well. On Sunday, November 19, 1998, an Albany patrol car pulled up in front of my apartment building on State Street and two police officers reported to me that the car, belonging to a local Albany man, a Mr. “Noel DePlume”, had been discovered abandoned with the keys in the ignition and had been simply left there overnight with the engine running and the cd player blaring tunes by Blue Oyster Cult. The two police officers had had the car towed and went to search the apartment of the missing man. There they found, (among other things), his cat, Mr. Sparkles, and one pair of black socks in his closet. His wallet, his watch, and his book collection as well as his porn collection were all missing. And so was his savings-account book, although the balance, which stood at less than twenty dollars, would remain that way. There was no suicide note, no photos and no journals and even his leather trench coat and pens were all mysteriously missing. The only other object left as almost a statement? Was a copy of his rare and now almost impossible to find chapbook entitled Poems From The Disco Inferno.
Nobody has seen or heard from or even of this unknown stranger Mr. Noel DePlume or our good friend poet Gary Murrow since that day or after that night before. On that afternoon, he called two friends who knew him well. The first was Keith Spencer, who at that moment—one of those happy and shapeless moments which at that age we all remember—was getting a hummer from an ex-girlfriend and was ready to head out the door to fetch his new special ordered musical instrument, a dual neck B.C. Rich Pro X Custom Double Electric Gloss Black Guitar from Drome Sound. In a moment he shared with us years later Spencer told us that over the phone Gary Murrow seemed quote “Not quite himself, almost remotely distant, even almost remotely stoned” and had told Spencer over the phone “Things are pretty bad man” Murrow said, adding the words, “Tuna fish” and then he mysteriously hung up. Spencer was all too distracted at the time to offer help. “I felt like horrible man,” he later said. “But of all the times to disappear he didn’t have to like disappear then, he could’ve like disappeared later”. The other friend he called, right after he called Spencer, Was me. And at that time I was reading a book of poetry by modernist poet Ernst Schnook and on my fifth cup of coffee. I answered the phone and it was clearly Murrow’s voice and he said “Homo Say What?” And I said “What?” and then, he just hung up.
And after that? I never heard from him again.
Murrow … Was gone.
So to all of you old and new to the Albany NY poetry scene let’s go back to the mid nineteen nineties and tell you a little bit of the history and about exactly who Gary Murrow was. I had met Gary Murrow when I came on the Albany Poetry scene around 1994 and he was a regular reader at the open mic at the QE2. He was a talented writer and poet who was well known to all the underground writers of the day and was famous for many of his poems such as “Where’s My Lunch?” “Goth Is Dead” “Day of The Ass-Eaters” and many other prolific poems. His presence was an inspiration to many of us on the scene and he was clearly a writer who was far ahead of his time. Few people realize exactly how much a part of our poetry family he was and to this day we all get together around this time of the year and have drinks in honor of his memory. Gary was a tall, good looking guy with side-burns and dark brown hair. He smoked Lucky Strikes and drank his whiskey straight. Gary wore his leather jacket black and practically lived out of what he called his “Zen-Tank” a black Volvo that never seemed destined to stop running or ever die. He always reminded me of a Humphrey Bogart film in the nineteen-forties and he never shared with us much of his personal life or details. We didn’t even know if he had ever held a job. And in one of his loftier moments (according to Gary’s assiduous biographer, President of Albany Poets own Thom Francis) Gary Murrow was quote “a cross between an art-house foreign spy film and a noir Beatnik American B-movie with the words of Keats & William Shatner and a sense of humor thrown in” Murrow himself it was once said, was actually a ukulele musician and dabbled in stereo “sales” on the side and was even rumored to be the illegitimate grandson of Playboy Magazine magnate Hugh Hefner whose empire to this day denies all or any allegations/connections to one or any man named “Gary Murrow”. I know this because when I investigated this story I called them about 15 times and asked “Is Gary’s Dad Hugh there?” and they hung up on me repeatedly and threatened me with legal action. Apparently they just couldn’t take the heat of professional journalism.
On the night, that final night of November 1998 that poetry legend Gary Murrow disappeared, he and a few other kindred spirits had put together an new event called “Never Kill Poetry – Yo Mama Says No,” It was an inventive mishmash of readings, hip hop music, and an all nude review of female (and male) dancers at a bar called Bogies. It was poised, like so many of Gary Murrow’s unique literary schemes, to be something between the old and the new, a futuristic fusion of burlesque art and late-sixties art consummating into a brand new kind of 90’s funky punk art happening for the upcoming apocalypse and the new century. Murrow read some of his work, as did a few of us other local poets. A stripper was hired from Schenectady to sashay onstage and read Ralph Waldo Emerson passages and accidentally split a Budweiser on Don Levy’s lap. There was a senior citizen jazz band, with Gary on stage and a live parrot reading his work over the mic. They played a version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. And honestly? It sucked. But still? Gary Murrow was an imaginative poetic genius, a true poet whose ideas much like his wild-muse man essence went out on a limb and like Icarus set on fire with a zippo plummeted towards the unworthy and uncaring earth of cold un-hip bastard people. Critics considered the event an embarrassment and a disaster. Then Gary got drunk and beat them all up after the show, which didn’t help. The police were called and Gary ran off (with his parrot & the Schenectady stripper) into the darkness of the Albany, NY night and to this day has never been seen or heard from since. Unfortunately, there have only been rumors (mostly spread by our own Thom Francis) of Gary’s return and possible sightings at readings. But alas after interviewing Thom the leads all hit a brick wall.
But almost 20 years later, what remains of Gary Murrow? Was Gary even here? Most people have never even heard of him. Only a handful of us may know and remember, then mention all the magazines & anthologies of verse in which his name once appeared in now long forgotten. There has been a devout effort to revive, or perhaps create, his reputation, yet the impact has been limited. Something about Gary, in his after-life as in his life, seems determined to elude any ambitions we may harbor on his behalf. Poets seem more readily enthused than scholars by his example, (yet even that enthusiasm has a gleam of the cultish), as if Murrow had hailed from (and returned to) some flickering gothy-hiphop underworld. But every now and then, there seems to be a light. Someone will have a Gary Murrow sighting; one finds a obscure poem that sounds like its written in Gary’s style. And recently, somebody sent an unaddressed packet of poems to Gary’s devotee & biographer Thom Francis from a writer who claimed to be “the real” Gary Murrow that mysterious figure who we all remember and mourn. But the main question is “Did Gary Murrow Ever Really Exist?” Over the years when I’ve investigated this Noel DePlume it was though he never existed. And the Volvo? To our knowledge it was and appeared to be Gary’s. The police refused to tell me who eventually claimed it. And to make things even more mysterious? In 1998 several days after Gary’s disappearance a similar black leather trench coat like the one he used to wear arrived in front of my doorstep after the bell rang and no one was there. Why? To this day it all just makes me get emotional, angry and verklempt.
So now you know who Gary Murrow was and is. Gary remains a part of our poetry scene and it’s been very hard for us to all move on. KJ Spencer & Thom celebrate his legacy through their band named after him “Murrow”. Mary Panza created a whiskey drink called “The Murrow Ass-Kicker-Licker” in his name. And even our own Don Levy has written numerous fantasy poems about him called “The Gary Chronicles” placing Gary as a romantic tortured art-refugee or Byronic figure hiding out somewhere in France, Newark New Jersey or Belgium.
The guy who used to get in drunk fights with Gary over “what mattered” in poetry? The guy who Gary Murrow accused of being a quote “sell-out” for helping to create Albany Poets and trying to unite all our area’s poetry scenes?
To be honest I’m not sure anymore. Because I’ve lost all hope…
Because well, look at it this way. If Gary Murrow is real or ever was real to begin with or if Gary was ever really Gary then Gary would be right here right now with us today. But the one thing that I do know is is that Gary’s poetry and his talent was and is as real as you and I are really real.
So, with all that said. If you are still really out there Gary Murrow?
It’s time to come back home (you jerk).