R.I.P. John Napier
Radiation Level: Too much for words
Listening To: Ripened Peach by Ethyl Meatplow
I woke up this morning to an email that John had passed. I haven’t seen him since the ’90’s, though we used to pass each other often on the 10 freeway (I know, how LA).
I was 23, I think, when I met John. He was in the band Ethyl Meatplow which was managed by my on-again, off-again boyfriend. I’m sure he regretted introducing us.
As a performer, John was a madman. Watching him was intoxicating. It was as close to watching one of absurdist Antonin Artaud’s insane plays as I had ever seen. On stage, he’d pull out his penis and wrap it around his microphone. Why not? This was surrealism at its best.
He would come up the hill to my house in Beachwood Canyon at 11 or 12 at night. We’d have cappuccinos or I’d heat up some food and he’d tell me about the band. Things were really starting to happen for Meatplow and they would soon be making videos, touring, etc. It was a terribly exciting time for him. All his efforts to get his life together were paying off in a big way.
John and I dated the way two kids “go out” in 5th grade. We spoke to each other in funny voices. We kissed. We crank-called each other (this was before *69), we talked about the lady ghost that lived in my house as we’d lay awake at night.
He took me (and many other girls, I’m sure) to his favorite Thai restaurant. We’d wander downtown, though the California market. He loved to play characters, as did I, and we’d spend hours in fantasy, acting out kooky scenarios. I think he liked me because I indulged his inner child that just wanted to be silly and play.
My little sister was in awe of John. She was maybe 15 or 16 at the time. She was such a brave soul. I remember her looking at one of his numerous tattoos, including one on his arm that read “Brenna”. My sister flat out asked him who she was. I had assumed she was an ex. Turns out it was his daughter. He didn’t know where she was. It was such an incredibly sad and complicated situation for such a young person. I wonder where she is today and if they were ever able to know each other.
He told me stories of being on heroin and driving his car into a swimming pool. He went to prison. He got clean, then sober. He finally gave up cigarettes. Caffeine was his only drug when I knew him.
I knew that John had a dark side. He would make references to a sexual underworld that didn’t involve me or perhaps women at all. I don’t know if this came about in prison or much earlier. His father had been a boxer and I had assumed beat him, if not worse. There was some kind of sexual divide in him that was too dark a place for me to tread. We both knew it. It was never said. But it kept us from knowing each other in a deep way.
One time he looked at me and said, “You’re pretty.” I smiled, I liked that he thought this. Then a flash of bitterness crossed his face. “But you know that,” he said, almost disappointed. He was a complicated soul. All great artists are.
Though it hasn’t been confirmed, it’s easy to assume that John overdosed. There are some demons, like heroin, that never leave one’s body. Heroin is a powerful dragon that seduces and kills. I know, because my sister was seduced and killed by the same dragon. It is a horrible plague I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
John, you fought the good fight. Thank you for leaving the world your music, your videos, your memory.
Here is an interview – the sound is horrid, but worth watching the very end when John says, ” My mouth hurts… from lactation… from Pappa Daddy”.