The illustration above is by Tom Buhr in oil on drawing paper; the text of the letter on the reverse side follows my comments below. Dated 4.5.81.
Tom and I were friends in the seventies and into the eighties. I met him in the bathroom of a Vancouver dance club. It was instant lust ... we french-kissed within seconds of meeting. He had huge lips and a big mouth, fo which I apparently still have "lip memory" because the tingle returns to them as I write this. We had nowhere to go, so we went to a favorite spot of mine deep in Stanley Park. That visceral memory lingers too.
I was, and still am, in lust with Tom. He was closeted when I met him, but even as he became fully gay he remained the one who turned the cheek. My lust notwithstanding, we enjoyed a provocative friendship for many years ... the odd shag too ... but the loud clashes of mind, the fevered rants on all manner of subjects -- aesthetic and political, ethical and sexual -- were what held us together.
I last saw Tom during the Gay Games in Vancouver. We tooled around, we argued, he sneered at me when I cruised him. We drank coffee, hung out, and said to stay in touch. But he moved, and my number is the same, so I am peeved at him that he never called. I always asked Ian to keep an eye out for him in Vancouver. Gone.
Tom and I wrote a great deal in those first two years after I left Vancouver for San Francisco on January 1,1981. He also visited me several times during which times we pursued our furious arguing. But his plans for moving here went awry and our contacts became fewer. Several years later, he moved to New York, and later to Los Angeles. The following letter accompanied his portrait of his own butt ... and the likeness is startling ... which I reproduce at the top of this page. In it he discusses his ideas about death long before he even suspected that he would not be an old man when he died. I have not corrected Tom's egregious spelling, grammar or punctuation. He would have been pissed off if I had.
To be Frank. A decision made but not thought about for long; I am sitting on a mammoth faded burgundy chesterfield; gulping espresso far far away. A twenty year old, collecting ideas from the past and projecting the collective package into the future; dark and alighted only by ideas that animate me into action. Direct. On the coast, you are North Americas west and wild end. a history of healthy drunken insatiable passion. cold sex. Soon to be twenty one I will come of age. my generation. me. my way my influence. When Im old and I die, I will decay or burn. gone away.flowing deep in a slow cold river that winds down from old crumbling mountains. and then out to sea. I sink to the bottom miles below the muddy sea floor I lay into clay scattered in pieces for part of me will be food for fish and part of me will petrify leaving an imprint for millions of years. I liquify and am pumped up to the surface. for energy. To heat me To set me on fire. TOM
Tom was a photographer, but he disliked my taking his photograph. He gave me this photo of himself in his utterly empty studio apartment in something like 1980. The image is rather coarse here because I scanned it with my camcorder. Even so, Tom's face is obscured in the original as well. The camera is pointing towards a mirror.
Glen Sanford, a film student at Concordia University, made a film about the relationship between Tom's work and his impending death. The film is called CLEAR DYING VISION. Glen has said he'll send me a copy in a few weeks. With his permission, I will mount an image from it here.
These texts may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of these texts on any terms, in any medium, requires the consent and notification of the author who can be reached by email at stephen at this domain name.