Tuesday, September 11, 2007

To Lydia

(Lydia Tomkiw, 1959-2007)

You remembered the day we met better than I did. I'm still not completely clear on it; my memory of it has been inflected by your various tellings of it. If you were alive, I could call and ask you to tell me again how it went. Sometimes you'd just go into it — "My God, Sharon . . . you can't fool me . . . I remember you when" — and I hated when you did that. So maudlin, in your "red rum" voice. The same voice that said, "I have at least one bit of information on all my friends that I could ruin their lives with. But I won't." Now I miss that voice. I want to hear it again, telling me anything.

It was 1978, our first day of college, Columbia College, and our first class — Paul Hoover's "Pound, Eliot and Williams." I had actually cried before I left for school that day, knowing that my life would change as soon as I stepped on the 44 Wallace-Racine bus out of the south side. I think I saw you for the first time before class, in the seventh floor lounge, smoking and writing in a notebook, before a vast panoramic view of Grant Park and Lake Michigan. I thought it was cool that you were writing in a notebook — a "journal." I kept a journal, too, 'cause that's what poets did. I wanted to ask you if you were a writer — a poet, like me — but you looked too cool to talk to. Then I saw you again in class. Did you walk in first or did I? I think I did, and watched you make your entrance. Your hair wasn't red yet, but it was down to your ass, and your dark eye makeup was dramatic. How did you get your lashes that long? (An eyelash curler and Maybelline's "Great Lash" in black.) The next part I don't remember, but you did, although now I don't remember how you told it. You must've sat down next to me as I was talking to some hyper gay kid about the punk scene or something. I mentioned I wrote for the Gabba Gabba Gazette (I'd only written one thing for them at that point: a rant about being a teenage punk on the south side). He asked me my name and I said "Sharon Sharalike." "Oh, I read your personals in the Reader all the time," he said. "You're famous!" I was pissed that he knew me from the stupid personals and not from "real" writing (even though what "real" writing had I published? ). I was going to be a famous poet, and this was not an auspicious beginning. He'd said it so fucking loud, too, and I was embarrassed. Mercifully, Paul walked in, and I turned to you and said, "I hate when people think you're famous 'cause you sent in some personals." "Oh, I don't think you're famous," you said, deadpan. Then we both laughed.

I don't remember how things progressed after that, but by winter we were going clubbing every weekend (we groupied Devo together, after their show at the Park West) and you went to my boyfriend Arnie's wake a few months later; he died on the Ides of March, 1979, and you were the first person I called with the news. We'd been with him at the last concert he attended — Elvis Costello at the Aragon Ballroom. We'd stood in line in the freezing cold in the alley, waiting to get in, with Miss Elinka and her boyfriend, Rover. As soon as you walked into the funeral home you pressed a couple of valium into my hand. After the service you took the bus to work (St. Mary's Hospital in Ukrainian Village) and I went to Wax Trax with Joe Bryl, Arnie's best friend. By that time I was in Paul's beginning poetry workshop, you were in the advanced class, you'd dyed your hair red and we were starting a school of poetry: the Neo-Contempo Movement. What was our point? You'd remember. Something along the lines of We're going to write good poetry.

We did our first reading together, at the Paul Waggoner Gallery, April 8, 1980. Instead of reading one after the other we alternated three poems each. The title of one of the poems I read was the name of the perfume you always wore: Night-Blooming Jasmine. I made the poster:

I remember that photobooth session: it was at the Woolworth's on Broadway near Belmont (I think; I wish I could ask you). I wore a black beret and a black and white striped top from Amvets; you wore a black dress. The photos later appeared in the Banyan Press Anthology (sponsors of the Paul Waggoner reading). Your bio: "Lydia Tomkiw, ghetto kid, pom-pom girl, college kid who dresses funny, fond of things priced under 79 cents; dyslexic, arthritic, devout pantheist . . . craves only revenge through fame and a leather couch against her thighs in summer." My bio: "Born 19 years ago. Early honors were spending the entire second grade in the corner and almost getting thrown out of eighth grade for spitting on holy statues. Began writing poetry at 14 and printable poetry at 18 . . . Currently employed as a WMAQ Dancing Dollar." Our work statements: "All art is non-utilitarian . . . if it can't amuse you, if it's not any fun, it has no purpose and is 'useless' and thus is nothing but a waste of time" (you). "During this time of staunch conservatism, I would like my poetry to be heart-wrenching, surprise-giving and easy to dance to" (me).

The Step-Hi: the bar across Harrison Street from Columbia. On the jukebox: "Cleo's Mood," "Satin Doll," "Misty," "Train in Vain," "You Can't Hurry Love." The bartender: Texas Bob. Always on Thursday nights and sometimes in the afternoons. I turned twenty-one there. Twice. I started going out with Tom Corboy (who you had a crush on) there, one night after Paul's workshop. You never let me forget that. (You also went out with Chris Holda before I did; in his poem "Flag" he referred to you as "Veronica Leather.") We both wrote prose poems about the Step-Hi with pinball-playing dwarves in them.

Remember the first poetry slam at Tut's on Belmont in the spring of 1981, put together by Al Simmons. It wasn't called a slam then; what was it called? Jerome Sala was in it, and you went up against Michelle Fitzsimmons who was dressed like a waittress and won. Sue Greenspan yelled "Sell it to Hallmark, bitch!" A riot broke out. I had done blotter acid for the first time the night before.

Remember when Allen Ginsberg came to town and we decided to ask him if he'd let us kidnap him so we could get on the cover of Time magazine and become famous, and he agreed?

Remember when I was going out with Bob1 from Devo and you were going out with Johnny Bentley from Squeeze? Remember the night you, me, Cy K. Delic and Bob1 ended up at the White Castle on Milwaukee Avenue and Cy and Bob1 agreed that you looked like Lily Munster (a good thing)? Remember the drummer from TuTu and the Pirates who liked me? What was his name? Remember when I interviewed Lenny Kaye in his Holiday Inn room? Remember "We're on the guest list"?

Remember how we couldn't keep from laughing at the Robert Bly reading at Mundelein College and some woman told us to leave?

Remember how we used to call each other in the middle of fucking?

Remember when I was your maid of honor and I got into a fight at the reception with your Aunt Lydia? Remember how I knocked over a candelabra and the wax got all over your dress? You had two wedding receptions, one was a Halloween party, and Chris and I came as a B&D couple. You and Donny were Lucy and Ricky. Or were you Carmen Miranda?

Then came problems. My engagement to Chris broke up and I had a breakdown and drank a lot. You were in the foyer of his building, by the mailboxes, when I slit my wrist. We were supposed to be going to Project 1999, on Sheridan Road, to talk to the guy about starting the Gizmo Reading Series. The first time we met him (Ed ... something ... what?) he pointed to the cover of my book, Jayne Mansfield's Head, and said, "This cover is good." Then he pointed to yours — Popgun Sonatas — and said, "This is better." I was jealous of you for some things, and you were jealous of me for others. A few months after I slit my wrist you dumped me with a letter saying I was too out-of-control to deal with, and we didn't speak for many years, the years when you and Donny formed and performed as Algebra Suicide; when Debbie Pintonelli, Connie Deanovich and I started B City; and when Debbie and I went on to do letter eX with Carl Watson. Carl and I moved to New York in 1988, when you were doing Lower Links and seemed incredibly successful, with an international following. I couldn't wait to leave Chicago and live somewhere where people didn't assume I wrote poetry because my boyfriend did. (You, of course, knew the real story.) I saw you again in 1991, when you were in town and Debbie invited you and Donny over to watch me in "Live From Off Center" on PBS. You had long blonde hair, you looked great, and I didn't know if I was happy to be with you again or not. Nothing was re-established that night, but at least we were civil to each other.

Then, I don't know why, I wrote you a letter a few years later. No, I know why: I missed you, and from that night at Debbie's I knew that I must've seemed more together to you. Despite you blowing me off when I needed your strength and humor the most, I missed our intense friendship, totally focused on poetry. You were always the best reader of my work. Your work inspired me. You were my older sister because we came from the same place: working class, immigrant, Eastern-European. Our parents had never gone to high school. Our grandmothers barely spoke English. You wrote me back that you'd been in rehab for alcoholism (alcoholism? you?), Donny left you, Lower Links had gone under, the band was history. You said while you were in the hospital you ordered yourself a room full of flowers from FTD and posed on the bed with a lily on your chest. It didn't sound like you. The whole letter was crazy and flailing and I felt sorry for you. I said maybe you should move to New York and start over. You came for a visit to check things out.

You were supposed to meet me and Bart and Jose and some other people at The Levee for dinner. This was in the days before cell phones so we couldn't call you. But you called at the restaurant and said you'd gone to my place instead, sat on my steps for awhile (just like Lorri Jackson had done), and my downstairs neighbor, Al, had let you in. You'd wait there for me, so we should all just eat dinner and not rush — everything was copacetic. When I got home I almost didn't recognize you: your beautiful hair had been badly permed, your clothes weren't you, your eyes were all wrong. You'd spread pesto on a piece of bread, folded it over, and were eating it like a mouse that'd never eaten before. You said you'd made out with Al. "It wasn't gross," you said. "He didn't have old man smell." When you left after a few days I discovered our vodka had been replaced with water.

Still, New York seemed the place for you. Especially since you'd seen the aurora borealis on the plane coming over, and I'd had a dream about us sitting on a curb in Soho fashioning a mental movie of the story of our lives. Debbie was going to sublet her place to you, you already had a reading at the Poetry Project. It all seemed perfect. We'd be poets together again, as you started over. Your life would turn around.

It didn't happen that way.

Lydia, I hate myself for behaving. I didn't used to behave, but somewhere along the way I got whittled away by bad boyfriends and negative poet-friends into behaving. Into being afraid. You, on the other hand, never stooped to behaving. That was what drove people away — it's what drove me away. I was so angry at you. I still am. But I love how you were never afraid, in a way. You wanted to feel like the most beautiful, smartest person in the room, but when you drank to feel that way you were the opposite. Still, you'd go to any length to get that feeling back, and I understand because I had that feeling once, too. You were there to see it.

You told me not to tell you about the problems I was having with a mutual friend, then you went and talked to him about me. Did you tell him I'd gone to an AA meeting with you when you asked? Did you tell him about the Chicago concert at Jones Beach? When we sat in the half-empty stands (it was Chicago, after all) with the wind off the water almost blowing our words away and I told you I was jealous that you seemed completely okay with getting drunk and barrelling around and letting your life go to hell, while I obsessed about every word I said? You said you understood how I could feel that way. I said I knew you were trying to keep it together, but it was too frustrating to hear your "red rum" voice every time I called, or you called. Too frustrating to have to wonder what was happening to you, if you were still alive. Because you were once so utterly alive. I learned how to be alive from you.

We had some really horrible times. Like that weekend at the house with Bart and Nina. I was angry with you, I yelled at you. I'm so sorry. But when we were making plans I asked you to please not drink, just as an experiment: with all your friends around, you'd see how you didn't need it. But you were drunk when you got in the car (you always smelled a certain way — salty — when you drank vodka). You spent the whole weekend in bed. On the floor, a bottle of vodka was visible in your purse. At some point you came up to me and said, "Don't hate me." I did hate you, and I didn't. You were stepping all over my attempt to get you to not drink so you could see that you didn't need it. There'd be no pressure to perform. In fact, we could all be as ugly, boring, and untalented as we deeply feared we were. It would be okay because we so weren't. You most of all.

Right now, the person I want to cry with most of all is you. Even though during the last months you lived in NYC you were the last person I could talk to. You betrayed me so many times, in little and big ways. And I betrayed you, too, ultimately. For that I am truly sorry.

When I was in Chi in 2004 for AWP and staying at Karen Volkman's apartment in Ukrainian Village I walked over to look at the house where you lived with your parents when we first became friends in 1978. Standing outside in the cool March night, the first time I was back in Chi since my mother died, I really wanted to call you and tell you I was standing in front of your old house and it looked exactly the same (I could almost smell the gangrene stench from your downstairs neighbor's apartment) but I couldn't get a number from Phoenix info. And it made sense that the connection had been been broken. But not lost: it still existed somewhere because there was still palpable proof in the landscape — we had been there. Some things still stand, and can't be ruined. There's always a moment outside of time, when all the hurts and resentments go away and you're left looking at the physical proof that something beautiful and important really did exist once.

We both know it did.


Blogger rodney k said...

What a beautiful tribute. My condolences.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Brendan said...

Sadness on all fronts with this news. Lydia was a very unique person. It seemed like she was hell bent on wrecking all her friendships. The drinking pushed me away for sure. She became too much for me to handle. -Brendan deVallance

7:56 AM  
Blogger HeidiH said...

So true, the saddest part was watching her become a nearly ruthless facsimile of a 'bad girl,' without winking an eye, with no gang or peers. She who was so precise with images and meaning . . .

12:03 PM  
Blogger The Quiet Prophet said...


I would have emailed you this, but i figured it better to leave the comment here.
This touched me in ways i can't begin to express. I, of course, didn't know your friend Lydia, and my condolences are with you, but I feel I have friends like this, and some of the stuff you talked about I have been through and I am going through right now with them.
This was extremely touching and honest and thank you for putting out there.
The most beautiful tribute for a friend is to hold a space for them, and what a beautiful space you created for Lydia.

All love to you.


12:05 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

It is sad to have known Lydia during the good times and wonder just what went wrong. You are so right that Lydia and Don had a lot going for them with the band getting such recognition, but Lydia seemed to need more. Or was it, as you said, all about not behaving the way that you were supposed to. A very sad and touching tribute, Thanks Mark S.

3:49 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A very beautiful and moving piece -thanks very much Sharon. It definitely brought back LOTS of memories (some very good ones - like listening to Cleo's Mood at the Step-Hi!). For so long, I have wondered why Lydia, who was so loved and admired by many, chose to blunt and destroy that very personality that people loved and admired. It's incredibly sad and heartbreaking, and will always be that way ... donny

7:40 PM  
Blogger Rebecca said...

Sharon, I have something odd to report: I crossed paths briefly with Lydia in about 1998, when, I'm almost positive, she replaced me as the receptionist at the architectural firm where I worked. I recognize her from your description and from the video Kasey Mohammed posted. I was just starting Fence and I remember her telling me she wrote poetry (I think she actually gave me some to read, but I have a very foggy brain so I can't be sure). She was living in an apartment above the Hell's Angels place in the East Village. I trained her at this office, then heard later that she didn't last long in the job, that there was some kind of bad thing that went down. I'm so sorry that you lost your friend.

8:33 PM  
Blogger logochrysalis said...

Do you know, and can you share any exact details re: Lydia's death? I like to memorialize her at a poetry reading somehow, but how? So fitting, her mysterious demise--I once did a send up of her "Little Dead Bodies" poem to look like exactly a New York Times article, satirizing her death: found frozen stiff in the snow at the South Pole, outside the Ukrainian arctic research station outpost (there really is one!) She was so tickled, she mailed it to her mother in Sun City AZ, who she thought would laugh just as hard as she did. And now this sad reality. I'm a musician-poet from her NYC days. We first met on the job back in 1996 (?) (I was working as an administrator in juvenile justice) and she showed up one day overly made up and tricked out in gold costume jewelry applying for a temp secy job. The CEO was fairly skeptical--how to hire anyone with the potentially troublesome middle name of Rockefellar? (She went to court to legally obtain the right to name herself that.) She was trouble, alright--you're so right on about that maudlin "red rum" croak (she liked her vodka and ciggies) and the insinuation that she'd use whatever dirt she had on you (Tomkiw, private dick, would ferret it out when we'd go out drinking together after work, and she'd slyly slip in her tricky/innocent questions between her Paul Lynde impersonations at the bar--she was so kooky/noir/campy!) Such was her charming but outre and totally original persona that my boss just had to hire her full-time, afterall. (Months later it came out that she'd spent one of the first days on the job sleeping overnight in the office, claiming that "she just had to get that word processing rush job done" (what job? finish the bottle?). And her "You must be at least this tall to get on this ride" tattoo emblazoned across the back of her shoulders was far more amusing than any of the same-o same-o Gen X ink you see on everyone and their brother nowadays. She helped definine a genre, alright. Just not sure exactly what genre. Cross-over something, for sure. Though I hadn't seen her for a long time (she had a fatal attraction for me for a couple years--but that's another story), I'm gonna miss her. Loss of a great talent too soon.

10:52 AM  
Blogger Diana Manister said...

Lydia is dead. It seems impossible and yet obvious that her drinking would kill her. She gave me more than most people ever would, accompanying me to back surgery and staying with me in my apartment for days to change bandages and bring me food until I could fend for myself. On the other hand, we were late for my surgery because she was up the night before drinking vodka so that I could not get her awake and ready to leave in time which made me mad at her. That was Lydia -- you loved her at the same time she pissed you off.

She saw me through some of my own traumas with warmth and patience and humor that snapped me out of my self-pity, and I returned the affection when she was in a funk and I knocked on the door of her Third Street flat until she opened the door and came out for a night of movies and heart-to-heart talks in some zinc bar we stayed at till closing time.

I wish she were alive and sober. But if wishes were horses there would be a lot of horses.

Goodbye Lydia and thanks for everything. Diana Manister


7:08 AM  
Blogger Bobo said...

Sharon, thank you. I am saddened as much by the loss of my connection to Lydia even while she was here in New York, and more so after she left for Phoenix, as I am by the thought that she is gone forever. When I needed a friend, she was the one, and it pained me greatly to feel that going as her life got worse. It was terrible to feel her becoming harder, then impossible, to love as before. She was a whirlwind, an original, a creative genius. I owe her so much and I wish I could have helped her.


6:39 AM  
Blogger widely said...

it was a sad joy reading your piece... i put out Al Su's and lydia's CDs during those heady days so lydia always knew where to find me to score a few cd's for new friends, associates and those who didn't believe.
my last contact wasn't that long ago-- maybe 2 months-- but it was the indirect kind that has existed between her and i for nearly 20 years-- A job reference... Yes, she worked for widely distributed, yes, she was reliable (as a friend...), hard working?! i've give out dozens of these via phone and mail. the last call was from arizona and followed the normal H.R. script until the very end when they said they had an odd question (imagine my fear...) 'how would she be working with young children?'
i didn't have an quick answer though i laughed and said i imagine they would get along just fine. and now i remember her mostly by the laugh that followed that question and the smile it brings to my face whenever i think of her. jack widely


11:19 AM  
Blogger Traveler's Journey in Babel said...

Sharon, such a vivid rememberence for such a vivid character. I hung out with Lydia briefly in the late '90's and our friendship developed so quickly and intensely that i sensed a deep loneliness and profound capacity for love that could be overwhelming, maybe even a little frightening. And there was her dark sense of humor, her sense of adventure.
I remember the day we went to the Mermaid Parade together and we batted baseballs. She insisted that an ego maniac writer i was feuding with at the time had a mad crush on me, which seemed like her way of playing with the truth but I'll never know. Before she left new york i was unable to sustain contact for all the reasons already mentioned by others. I do know she left because she couldn't maintain or even get a job. She could be incredibly supportive and an astute observer of human nature. I am saddened that the many positive things we've all said had to be qualified, that so many negative things are said in these pages. I feel bad about writing them after her death. She reached out to me with a couple of emails after she went to Arizona and i ignored them because i'd had a long relationship with an alcoholic and was trying to "detach with love" as they say. I got the 'detach' part of it, but sadly, the love was lacking. I will always regret that. But that's what death does--it leaves you faced with the possible transformed into the impossible in an instant. After i got the news of Lydia's death i googled her and watched the "Little Dead Bodies" on youtube. The beautiful dark irony of it is powerful. She said something there that i, and so many of us, have thought. And now she's gone. All that beauty, talent, pain and heart--gone. DAMN!

1:39 AM  
Blogger kim said...

Hi Sharon,

I only knew Lydia through my ex-husband who wrote a nice-obit about her for the Sun-Times. She would call our house, and we went out with her a few times. I found her fun; and overwhelming. When we moved to NY briefly in 1995, she would call and want to get together and I blew her off. I didn't want to be bothered. After reading your tribute, I am reminded of current relationships in my life, and feeling bad for how you eloquently put it, "behaving"----thank you so much for this post. It really helps me. And as far as Lydia, I guess perhaps she thought it was better to "burn out than to fade away."

7:18 AM  
Blogger X. Su Zi said...

You were my secret graffitti penpal on the stalldoors, but I never told anyone. I was killed and now I am back with scars and differences --I was brought from a pool of my own blood on the streets of New Orleans during an ambulance ride that I remember as silence and shadows--and you haven't known me since Batteries Step-hi Links the Cubby Bear gotta Holda, fer Chris sake. Now we are all over 40 and then we were all under 25 and amazed with each other as we twisted and turned and sought that which has become so obvious but which was so much a river then.
can we talk--doya wanna? Not everything we remember about each other needs to be predicated upon rift and loss, savage mysteries, and the discomfort of shared youth;this is what we had, a youth shared for a few years in Paul's semicircle. Can we go beyond moaning our wombs? The last adult human female I asked to speak to as a woman ran away from me, her Jamacian caftan trailing in the burnt grass, because she wanted the power job, not the truth. choose ye how.

9:39 AM  
Blogger Bill EDMONDSON said...

What happened?

It's hard to believe it's been almost 30 years since the two of you used to try corner me in the elevators at Columbia. Lydia was the only one who thought that ratty old green sweater I used to wear was cool.....

2:25 PM  
Blogger morales381 said...

What a beautiful tribute to Lydia, In reading your words I can her her voice,I miss her off the wall never ending phone conversations, and am angry with myself for ending our last one so quickly with the promise to phone as soon as I returned home to Phoenix. Lydia did not talk alot about her days in Chicago when we first met only recently had she started sharing things from her past well actually she suggested that I "Google her" which is what opened her up to sharing her past. She spoke of things as if they happened yesterday.
She was a very unique and dear friend, I will treasure the short time I knew her forever!

Goodbye Lydia...I hope you have found peace, Donna

12:55 PM  
Blogger Larry Gross said...


Condolences. Beautifully done. 'Gaiety transfiguring all that dread.'

Larry Gross

1:17 AM  
Blogger Larry Gross said...

Condolences. Beautifully done. 'Gaiety transfiguring all that dread'

Larry Gross

1:29 AM  
Blogger vaporacle said...

Thank you for your wonderfully written tribute to Lydia. I have been encouraged to write about Lydia at ChicagoPoetry.com but I can't bring myself to do it, because my story is much the same as yours: all the good times with Lydia, and then witnessing her downward spiral into alcoholism. Lydia and I were very close for several years. When she moved to New York I thought it would be good for her, that she would find something to fill in the blank space other than the bottle. (She came out with a CD that was very popular; they had one of her tracks on all the juke boxes in her neighborhood.) Instead, she became worse. I visited her three times in New York; the final time I had to make a personal decision to distance myself from her because it was becoming too painful to witness. Lydia Tomkiw was one of the most talented poets I've ever met. It was not merely the alcohol that robbed her of her creativity and perhaps her life, but more-so it was the prescribed anti-depressants she was on. I can say no more about it because I'm already getting choked up. --CJ Laity

9:18 AM  
Blogger John Tomkiw said...

Here's an idea:

How 'bout the commenters stop trying to top each other with Lydia horror stories? While Sharon's piece balanced her friendship with her frustration, all the other "boy, you should have seen what I saw" comments do nothing to honor someone's memory. Perhaps others like to recount these things to comfort themselves--knowing someone was in a more fragile state...

It was a hard life. Let her rest.

4:17 PM  
Blogger Paul Hoover said...

Lydia was in my classes at columbia college chicago along with sharon, connie deanovich, suzi (then sue greenspan), deborah pintonelli who made such a hit with her book meat and memory, chris holda (whom allen ginsberg had a crush on, taking him all around naropa in hopes of getting lucky, but alas no), and elaine equi, who had returned I believe at that time to get an m.a. degree. A brilliant generation of young chicago poets, fiercely competitive with each other and at the same time friends. Later lorri jackson arrived in the classes with her brilliant sleeves of tattoos done by her boyfriend, who owned a tattoo shop. Lorri died of a heroin overdose around 1980 and made the front page of the chicago tribune ("heroin takes life of young poet"). I'm going to put something on my blog about all this, but meanwhile here's a tribute to Lydia, who was so promising and in fact did so much. . . it's a poem she presented in class which we published in new american writing and which was included in the first edition of The Best American Poetry, ed. Ashbery and Lehman, 1981; it's both entirely palindromes and also, as I recall, a rondel or something like that:

Six of Ox Is

O, no iron, o Rio, no
Red rum murder;
in moon: no omni
derision; no I sired
drab bard,
but no repaid diaper on tub.
O grab me, ala embargo
emit time,
Re-Wop me, empower
Eros' Sore
sinus and DNA sun is
fine, drags as garden if
sad as samara, ruff of fur, a ram;
as sad as /
Warsaw was raw.


5:39 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

John's got an excellent point. enough with the horror stories. How about this one. Algebra Suicide played in Europe during August of 1990 and one of the most memorable shows was at the Rose Club in Cologne. The Rose Club was kind of like the CBGBs of Germany - a sweaty, wonderful place that was packed to the gills. Lydia was in absolutely top form that night and the audience was with her completely. They seemed to know all of her words and sang/yelled along with her on many of the songs. she could do no wrong! After the normal set was over, they wanted more, but instead of yelling more or encore, they chanted lydia, Lydia, LYDIA! .....
it might have been a fleeting moment, but it was one helluva MOMENT!
Other great shows that summer included Munich (where Franz Liebl organized an incredible first show of the tour, and we sold all of the t-shirts that we brought for the entire tour in one night), Paris (we played two nights in the EPE record store's cavernous basement with Bart Plantenga hosting us and opening up the show), and Bordeaux (where pal Tierry had put up AS posters ALL OVER the city and the place was packed).
In one of her poems (guess which one!), Lydia wrote the line - "inside me, five girls shout in Italian wanting life to be one long vacation" - that summer she got it!

8:13 AM  
Blogger Sharon Mesmer said...


That's such a beautiful memory. Thank you so much for posting it. I hope wherever Lydia is now, an adoring audience is calling her name.

xoxox, Sharon

3:50 PM  
Blogger jimmydecember said...

I just heard about Lydia's death and I was truly sadened. I met Lydia through my friend Lestushka back in the day. I remember having a great time at the Algebra Suicide gigs at Phyllis's, record release parties etc..I am still a fan!! Great memories of Lydia with her gold tooth, the way she'd give you the once over twice combined with a wicked or funny comment. She loved David Cassidy, My friend Mary just reminded me of that fact!!...All the Young Dudes as an encore..always was "LESTER looks sweek cause he dresses like a queen" .. Great giveaways at the record release parties,,They gave out algebra suicide combs..Lydia reminded everyone not to share "you might get lice," she warned!! I have some pics of her playing the kids game "busy busy bumble bee" at a partyy somewhere..
I spoke with her a few times after she moved to NYC..then we just faded away from each other...

6:57 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

I remember Lydia Tomkiw as a superior performer and a big hearted social facilitator. I met Lydia in 1983 at a performance art event at the old Brunswick building. She was there with her friend Heidi; we got talking during intermission and Lydia suggested I come by Phyllis’s Musical Inn after the show; “My husband and I are performing there.” I went; it was my first Algebra Suicide show. Lydia made me welcome among PMI’s Thursday night regulars, a group of recent Wicker Park arrivals from Columbia College, U of C, and Michigan looking for a cheap way to have fun in the neighborhood. Many weekends started early at Phyllis’s; I’d stop by Thursday to find out what to see the next three days. Lydia was a leading light of this informal group; I remember her moving from group to group, catching everybody up on everything. Lydia was always happy to introduce me (and others) around, gossip, and talk about promising music, performance and poetry events. It was a rapid introduction to a scene I knew nothing about. As a geek U of C grad I appreciated her instruction and attention.

Lydia and Don hosted several special events at Phyllis’s, their place on Chicago Ave., and at Links Hall, mostly birthday and record release parties. These were always red letter days on my social calendar. Lydia was an old-school hostess and made sure there was plenty to drink and eat, and the decorations always showed her personal touch – I especially remember the cupcakes at the Alfa Que release party. All of Lydia’s circles came to these events. I met Lydia’s and Don’s parents and the rest of their families several times over the years.

Lydia was, for me, my entry to and a big part of some of the best things that happened to me in the 1980’s and early 1990’s. I owe my interest in local art and music to her. It was my good fortune to make her acquaintance. I certainly profited from the connection. I hope she rests in peace.

Joseph Hanc

9:10 AM  
Blogger Shannon Blannon said...

I was organizing CDs last night and came across "Swoon" by Algebra Suicide. I'm planning a trip to NYC so I googled Lydia to see if she was still there. Now I know she's not there and not here either.

The world has lost a true voice, an intense giggle, a set of flashing eyes, a quick wit, an insighter, an instigator, someone who wanted to share, bring people together, she improvised, she exhaled magic, she connected.

Phyllis' Musical Inn was a springboard for me out of my own private Idaho. Lydia showed me that creative living was not only possible, but more than I could've imagined. Thank you Lydia.

7:42 AM  
Blogger lou said...

We don’t want to talk right now, no, no talking. Just silence. There has never been reason to brake the spell, never been reason. Just necessity. Necessity and shame, necessity outwaying shame by a hundred times over.
Someone said she was dead. People found out she was a decaying alcoholic and took it to the limit. Blogs about what a horror she had become. Sickening reading. Nothing terribly new, except she wasn’t around to defend herself, count me out.
It rolls around like a cornicopia and the secret center is so hard to see because it is filled with the most beautiful fruit. And that dark center the deep abyss the hole is so scary. What's in there?

10:43 PM  
Blogger Mitch Corber said...

I recently popped on my video recording of an April '97 Unbearables Allen Ginsberg Memorial Reading....yeh, eulogizing were Lydia, Sharon, Sparrow, Kolm, myself, many other downtowners in debt to a Beat legend....a mostly somber event, yet pierced with numerous high squeals of laughter....

......that we so deeply recall this New York exile femme-fatale.... is testament to her achievement of burning a unique fireball into our foreheads....

Lydia, my great teacher.....my mystery girl.....

Mitch Corber

2:34 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

A very touching and sad tribute for a friend. It's really sad to have lost a real friend. My condolences.
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8:10 AM  
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8:06 AM  
Blogger Jasonian said...

A beautiful tribute to a beautiful poet. Thank you.

I somehow doubt that her body was left at the top of tower of silence to become the vultures' problem--which is sad.

I only wish I seen her alive.

Goodbye, Lydia: you made my life better.

8:20 PM  
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12:19 AM  
Blogger blog for steveLi said...

Sadness on all fronts with this news. Lydia was a very unique person. It seemed like she was hell bent on wrecking all her friendships. The drinking pushed me away for sure. She became too much for me to handle. -Brendan deVallance cheap electronics

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