Adam Madness

Ever make a 180-degree turn in your opinion on someone or something, then after a bit come back to where you were to begin with?

For me, this happened with the recent death of Adam Parfrey. I spoke to him several times and exchanged messages in the weeks before he died. We hadn’t interacted much in years. I rather gathered I was on his shit list, as many old acquaintances tended to be. At one point he blocked me on Facebook. But now he said he was trying to do a memoir, and was contacting old connections in order to fill in the holes in his memory.

A few weeks later he was dead—suddenly, unexpectedly—and I learned that responsibility for the memoir had been passed on to someone else. The memoir was to be an oral biography, like the 1980 Edie Sedgwick book (Edie), or the Ed Wood bio (Nightmare of Ecstasy) that Adam himself published in 1991.

Our Modern Boswell had been helping to collect Adam stories for a year or two. He told me, frankly, that Adam had a habit of making up lurid and scurrilous stories about people he’d known. I’d detected this tendency during our last phone conversations, but I put it down to memory lapses and his innate need to find a sensationalistic tale wherever he looked.

I learned he’d had a couple of bad accidents over the years, and suffered some brain damage. Not so much that he couldn’t function well; superficially the difference was that he was no longer the manic, mischievous youngster he’d been when I first knew him (we were both then in our early 30s). Now he was slower, calmer. I met him after the first accident, as he was sliding into middle age. He seemed fine.

When I learned about the “accidents” excuse, I let it cover a multitude of sins. It explained everything. It wasn’t just that Adam was forgetful, his brain wasn’t wired correctly. He was just imagining things that never happened. I’ve seen people die of AIDS. Some of them, in their final months with cytomegalovirus or whatever other opportunistic infections attack the brain, begin to say crazy things about family and friends. Surely, this is close to what was going on with Adam.

There my opinion lay until in the passing weeks I took account of the sheer number of people Adam had betrayed or lied about over the years. Slander was his habit. I realized that he was retailing gossip about me and others long before any accidents and brain damage offered an excuse.

Many years before, we’d both been employed at a weekly paper where someone was bad-mouthing and pranking me, repeatedly. I could see Adam was involved, at least peripherally, but it just never occurred to me that he was the actual source. I blamed everyone else, but left Adam out because I considered him a friend. Now I realized I was wrong.

Of course I was furious with this realization. Here I was now making excuses for Adam because of his infirmity—had in fact been making excuses for him long before the infirmity—and I had to face the fact that he was a first-class shit. I’ve known a few other gossip-mongers and slander-retailers among family and friends, and they all had a nice front of being witty and charming in your presence, and then making nonsense about you when your back was turned. Adam was just one of these.

So that was my first 180 turn, around June 2018, a month or so after Adam’s death. Then another month rolled past and I just didn’t care so much. Yes, he was a shit in many ways, but his late-life fantasies, around which he was structuring his proposed memoir, were just the product of brain damage.

Maybe I’ll change my opinion again. I don’t expect to see the memoir for another year.

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