Head Without a Body

I can’t remember when I first met Vinny but by first memory he was already using heroin, as was Mark F. and now Peter. It was basically an East Coast thing that was kept very on the D/L out in the Wild West, so I never saw these guys use. In all the time I knew Vinny up to his quitting I never once saw him shoot up. Somehow these guys had all met at Naropa in 1977 and they’d snuggled up with Corso and though Gregory had never given anyone their first shot, he had that Bird Parker vibe that it was supercool and maybe a source of genius (to these guys, anyway; Corso was too scary for me) so as the 80s loomed in they were all shooting themselves up except Peter who still needed help, but they knew it was very bad karma to introduce anyone to it so they kept it from me. Close as I came to begging for it out in NYC, I never did stick a needle in my arm.

Vinny was ultracool with his New Yawk Italian accent and he really had a laid back junkie mafioso vibe like Mickey Rourke in Rumblefish. Vinny once sold to Willem D. when Rourke was in the room and I asked Vinny if Rourke also dabbled and Vinny said he didn’t SEE him use but “where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire.”

Add to this his stepping out of Peter’s shower in a huge billow of steam and Christ what a wang on the guy. I mean, it was hard not to be impressed.

Vinny would periodically come out to San Francisco to be in a healthier way, or something like that, to pretend, at least. He once explained, “New Yawk is a head without a body, California is a body without a head.” We thought he was being pure when we all took mushrooms and went to the beach and by now Peter and I were pretty much established in our alcoholism and Hunter Thompson style of tripping which meant taking the edge off of those nasty dark corners like “Did my parents really love me?” Booze certainly helped, though it cut down on any spiritual aspect and just turned it all into a gonzo holiday of challenging sanity itself.

I was already doing Buddhist sitting practice and meddling “in the occult sciences, Miller” (see the Karloff Mummy) but sobriety for all of us was years away.

So Peter and I sucked at 40s of beer and pranked around on the beach having tug of war with seaweed while Vinny went into the water or sat on a rock and said nothing.

It brought back my own confusion about the rabid interest in the Grateful Dead that remains a part of San Francisco to this day. I never understood it. Vinny did, listening out in NYC as a teen. The idea of doing acid and listening to the Dead seemed like an out-take from The Time Machine where all of a sudden a siren sounds and all the flower children march into the big sphinx and go down and get eaten by the Morlock cannibals. I liked punk rock and early New Wave (the later stuff really being what’s now called synth-punk and not all the horrible Duran Duran and the like to follow). The hippies had failed me. Punk in general disdained them, which is funny now since Burning Man is some big amalgam of everything that came before: electronica, hippies, punk, New Wave, occult, piercings all thrown into the same laundromat dryer so you could see the mismatched clothes thrash about in the porthole.

So Vinny admitted he liked the Grateful Dead and it looked like he was having a Grateful Dead / Tim Leary moment.

Later he told me he’d shot up beforehand.

–Marc Olmsted