A few minutes ago, I learned that Scott Wannberg died Friday of an apparent heart attack. I met Scott at Dutton’s before it was Dutton’s, I think it was called Brentwood Books. He was the best book in that pre-Dutton’s store.
And I knew him all the years he was at Dutton’s. He was a true poet. What I loved most about him was that he was all the things that the world doesn’t want us to be: shy, talkative, prolific, overweight, a bad dresser, generous, original, funny, unambitious, strong, fragile, passionate. He knew what mattered, and didn’t bother with the rest of it. I don’t think he ever did or said anything cruel. I missed him when he moved to Oregon, and now I miss him more. I’m not sure we can do without him.
Scott Wannberg, a member of the traveling poet troupe known as “The Carma Bums” and a 23-year employee of the late Dutton’s Brentwood Books, died Friday of an apparent heart attack in his recent hometown of Florence, Oregon, according to his friend Rip Rense. They attended Venice High School together and Rense wrote about Wannberg in 1994 in the L.A. Times. Tributes are rolling in non-stop at Wannberg’s Facebook wall, where one poster observes with a smile, “I really liked that Scott didn’t have an ‘inside voice.” Especially inside Dutton’s.” At the blog Radius: From the Center to the Edge, Carlye Archibeque writes:
By now the arts community is aware of the passing of poet Scott Wannberg. Word started being delivered yesterday morning, August 20th, by phone and internet and by the end of the day it seemed that the entire world was aware that a great void had just been created in the world of word. Everyone who met Scott knew him because he was what he was. No hidden agenda, no guile, no malice. Just Scott.
Rense has posted a collection of Wannberg’s verse. Here’s also a YouTube video of Wannberg reading in 2009.
On Facebook: Friends post traveling music from John Prine, the Grateful Dead, Elvis Costello, Simon and Garfunkel, Van Halen, Leonard Cohen and this by Blind Willie Johnson.
Added: Email from S.A. Griffin, Wannberg’s close friend and publisher: Scott Wannberg’s influence as a poet-writer reaches well beyond his hometown of Los Angeles. The genuine article, Scott was one of a kind, a larger than life American original; the stuff of myth and legend. I was lucky enough to be his friend and publisher for almost thirty years. For twenty years with The Carma Bums, we traveled across the country and the internet, our last gig together in Kansas City, MO, August 2009. Over the course of his time as an employee of Dutton’s Books in Brentwood, Scott had cultivated an amazing network of fans and friends including Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Dustin Hoffman, T.C. Boyle, Ry Cooder, Peter Case and historian Page Smith. Viggo Mortensen was a very close friend. Viggo’s Perceval Press imprint gave us Scott’s most recent book, Strange Movie Full of Death,” and Scott’s forthcoming “Tomorrow Is Another Song.”
The past few years via Facebook, Scott had cultivated a whole new audience that was literally global. Generous to a fault, Scott mentored many poets via the blogs, especially younger up and coming writers. With 4,391 “friends” and fans at his death, Scott had arguably become the Poet Laureate of Facebook.
His loss and legacy are immeasurable.
From Perceval Press: “Scott Wannberg left shore from Florence, Oregon in the middle of the night without waking anyone, but not before hiding an unknown number of treasure maps that may help us get through the coming winter. We’ll find them by and by, but now we rise on tip-toes to watch his contrails fade above the sunrise swells. We wave him on with hands holding his recent poems up to the early light, then let the wind take the pages and scatter them like gulls skimming and corkscrewing over the Pacific. Here’s wishing him safe travels, good luck — and promising we won’t forget to write.
Here are two new poems from the collection of Scott’s work that was printed a few days ago:
Earful of Sun
How you get up in the early hours tells me a lot about your dancing ability. They claim the highway has no best friend. Someone bailed it out of jail, though, last night. We sat and drank beer and watched the meteors fall. I got an earful of sun and had to wash my ears out afterward. Maybe the resurrection will show up as promised and give us something to sing about. Maybe it won’t. I intend to sing anyway. When you finish reciting all the pain, when the dog finally digs up his last bone, come on over and put the bulletproof vest down. Everybody says they want to be loved. They say it over and over and over. As soon as they finish hitting me over the head, I will get up and love them.
One Day Summer Rented a Room
Hard laughter in a can, a bright can, aisle 56, endurable can, endurable bright hard laughing can. Can I, would I, should we, hard hard hard laughter in the land, cool front moving in on, cool front moving, sad coffee hallelujah.
Man stumbles up alongside me. Man says can I sing him some everlasting everloving? Says me, yeah I can, and commence to let it all fly.
Cool cool front hanging in the back, easy sorrow in a can, a bright can, aisle 58, endurable can, endurable bright easy sorrow can. One day summer rented a room. I fit into it.
Woman stumbles up alongside me. Woman says can I dance her some altogether alltime? Yes says me, yeah I can, and still commence to let it all fly. Don’t matter how brokedown or busted, how forgot or lost, the flight ability starts here. One day summer rented all its rooms. We all fit in.