Is David Woodard's Life His Art?

Or is his art his life?
Or is he just scamming us?

It was obvious that he was not a baseball fan. His interest in DiMaggio sprang from the ubiquitous mention of DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak. It wasn't the streak, Woodard said, that interested him—it was the number 56. Fifty-six was significant because of the men who died at that age—Oswald Spengler, Friedrich Nietzsche—and because 1856 was the year Robert Schumann died and that Wagner began composing Tristan and Isolde, which, as we all know, signaled the death of tonal music more than 100 years before the appearance of Alanis Morissette.

He added that the year 1947 was just as significant because not only did Aleister Crowley die that year, but it was the year UFOs were sighted at Roswell and David Bowie, Iggy Pop and Hillary Clinton were born. As was Burroughs' son, "who died at the age of 33, the age that Christ was when he died."

It was about this time that I started to get tired of him and questions began to gnaw at me: Exactly who is this guy, and exactly why does he do the things he does?

Weeks later, DiMaggio was dead, and Woodard had given up on the idea of playing "Farewell" before 50,000 fans in America's most hallowed sports stadium. He abandoned that idea so that he could perform at Long Beach's Blair Field before a Long Beach State-Sacramento State baseball game that would be lucky to draw 300.

Lunch rattled on. His answers were long and considered, but they never seemed to go anywhere. More than two hours after sitting down, I still had no idea what he did. I still couldn't get a straight answer about the point of his work. As he continued to talk, I found myself wavering between being pissed and feeling sorry for him.

He said: "At the time, before Mr. DiMaggio was dead, it was much more of a pre-quiem, so it might have been strange performing in his hospital room. You know, performing death music specifically written for that person might be unsettling."

"Yes," I said. "It might." Idiot.

He said it was probably all for the best that it hadn't come off since, in the early stages of the piece, there was a portion in which a woman sang "Ave Atque Vale" (Onward valiant soldier), and Woodard had envisioned the singer dressed to look like Marilyn Monroe.

"If it had happened back then, I might not have ever made it out of the hospital. It might have been that some of Mr. DiMaggio's Italian connections would have taken care of me."

"Yes," I said. "Yes, they might have." Poor, brainy, doe-eyed bastard.

He said he had a standing offer on his website to write and sell requiems to people who were either born in the year 1947 or die at the age of 56. DiMaggio was neither, but somehow his 56-game hitting streak qualified him.

Woodard said, "If a person born in 1947 dies at the age of 56—that would be either in the year 2002 or 2003—I have a standing offer that I would write two requiems for them. This is understanding that the dying person make the arrangements or a representative of the deceased with a notarized death certificate."

This was the first time I heard him speak of money—of earning it—and I was glad to hear it. It was the first time he said something that seemed tied to the real world. The first time he said something that seemed real.

So was that how he made money? Was that his job? Requiems?

Yes and no, he said.

Of course.

He made most of his money by selling the dream machines, which he really didn't want to talk about. Then he told me about them. Dream machines are devices with light bulbs inside a cone cut with various archetypal shapes. The machine flickers light at a calibrated speed and induces hallucinations in those who put their heads near it, eyes tightly shut. But he didn't want to talk about it. He then told me that the machine was invented by Brion Gysin and written about by Burroughs. But he'd rather not speak about it. And he made it clear that he could not talk about the incident "up north." I had no idea what he was talking about. He said that he hoped I would understand—that he could not comment on the dream machine's role, if any, in the shotgun suicide, a few years back, of a very famous rock star in the Pacific Northwest. At this point, I was really getting tired and didn't care much about the dream machine. I told him I'd respect his wishes.

But his talk of money gave us common ground, made me think he had at least some clue about how to survive. As tired as I was by the end of our lunch, I wanted him to survive. I liked him, and I felt sorry for him. Another in that legion of really smart guys who haven't got a clue.

I arrived early the night of his Blair Field performance. Blair has a capacity of 3,000, and fans sit close to the field. On this night, a bitterly cold March one, there would be plenty of open seats.

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