Brendan Mullen: Good-bye to such a nice guy

At 6:55 this morning, still dark here in Portland, there was a knock at my front door. My husband had just left for work and I was still in my nightgown.

"Who is it?" I asked, not being able to see through the keyhole, which, for reasons I have no explanation for, is set at six feet high.

"It's Hector," came the voice. "I'm Brendan Mullen's friend."

I remembered meeting Hector during Brendan's trip to Portland last year, to read from Live at the Masque: Nightmare at Punk Alley, his book about the proto-punk club he opened in Hollywood in 1977. Brendan's appearance at Powell's Books had been packed, more crowded than for any of the dozen writers I've seen read there, and as was fitting the subject and its author, included young punks, old punks, and one drunk heckler with a mullet. Brendan patiently answered the questions of each. Brendan always chose his words with care, and often spoke so softly, and with a Scottish burr so burry, one did not realize for several beats that what he'd just said was lacerating or funny or both.

But this morning, not yet having had a cup of coffee, I could not understand why Hector was on my doorstep this early, and so, I asked.

"Brendan died yesterday," he said.

I opened the door. The Army jacket Hector wore looked as though it weighed a hundred pounds. I brought him inside. He told me Brendan had died during a trip up the coast with his longtime girlfriend Kateri Butler; they'd been at a restaurant in Ventura celebrating Brendan's 60th birthday when he had a stroke. I asked if Hector had spoken with Kateri, with whom I worked for years at the LA Weekly. He said he had, several times, including once already this morning.

"I called and woke her up," he said, a little sheepish but it couldn't be helped. He needed to talk about his friend, so much that it drove him out of his own home before dawn to find mine, a place he had only ever been once, a year earlier.

"It's too soon," he said, of Brendan's death. "We still had so many things to do."

We talked about what had been done. About Brendan's books, and his latest project, writing the copy for a Red Hot Chili Peppers coffee table book, copy the publisher had apparently asked to be cleaned-up; they wanted a little less of the early-years drug stuff, a request, Hector said, Brendan thought pretty funny, as did Hector, as did I. We'd all been in LA in the 1980s; we'd directly seen the casualties; I can still see Jamie Slovak, brother of the Peppers original guitarist Hillel Slovak, standing in my driveway the morning after his brother overdosed, looking utterly broken and alone.

Brendan had both driven the LA punk era of the 70s and 80s and documented it, its epiphanies and deaths, its rattiness and joys. But he never seemed, to me, nostalgic for it; he seemed circumspect, and concerned with getting things right. And happy, I told Hector; that the longer I knew Brendan, and I had known him twenty years, the more joyful he became. I told Hector, also, of Brendan's generosity; how after my first big story for the Weekly, he was the first person to phone and congratulate me. It was a call that made me feel validated, as I imagine his giving venue to so many at the Masque did, the way his oral histories did, by giving people voice.

"That's how he was," said Hector, wiping at a tear with a crumpled piece of paper towel.

It's true. And while it is equally true we tend to say nice things about the dead just to say them, I have a story, a recent story that is testament to Brendan's generosity.

It was during his trip to Portland last year, during which I threw a little party for him, to celebrate his book and so he might get together with some of his friends here, and some of mine. Also invited were my 18-year-old daughter and her friends, including her then-boyfriend Aidan, who was playing guitar in the band Wolfgang Williams and the Punk Rock Faggots.

I told Aidan, Brendan Mullen was coming over; that he'd run a club in LA called...

"The Masque," said Aidan. "You're kidding me. You know him? Can I meet him?"

When Brendan arrived, wearing per usual a pork-pie hat, I told him to be ready; that he was going to have a novitiate sitting at his feet. Brendan's eyes went wide in mock alarm, and he said, in all sincerity, that it would be his pleasure to meet Aidan.

Which it evidently was: as the party went on around them, Brendan and Aidan hung out for two hours; they looked through Brendan's books and they talked about Aidan's band. It was a meeting of equals, and it was Brendan's patience, curiosity and genuine kindness that made it so.

I called Aidan just now, to tell him, about Brendan's death.

"That's terrible," he said. "I was just thinking about him two days ago."

What had he been thinking?

"I was thinking," said Aidan, "how nice he was. He was such a nice guy."

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