Comment: Kevin Killian

On the occasion of a memorial event Sunday, August 25, 2019, some words about Kevin Killian
By Aaron Harbour

Watching The Sopranos (me for the first time) a minor character Bobby Baccalieri Jr. is trying to get his boss, Corrado “Junior” Soprano, who he loves deeply and is intensely loyal to, to come to his father’s funeral. Bobby’s namesake father was old and dying of cancer, and the Sr. Baccalieri died while escaping a job he was too old, too out of practice to have been expected to pull off. Bobby Jr. is taken aback when Junior is ready to go when he arrives to pick him up; after a bit of back and forth Junior reveals that he too is dying of cancer. The look on Jr’s face… well, it hit a little close to home. It all feels just so absurd and cruel. It wasn’t the last tragedy Bobby Jr. would have to bear; there’s no justice in the timing of either the good or the bad things in life.

2019 has been a rough one. I can’t get out of my head that scene in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula in which Winona Ryder’s character asks her vampire lover to “Take me away from all this death”.

I am awakened by my cat in the middle of the night each and every night; I feed her, maybe sit and read a bit or bounce around the internet, then I go back to bed and she joins me as I fall back to sleep, laying across my chest. This night I sat there and thought about that little bit I wrote above, and when I got back into bed I couldn’t fall back asleep. Instead I thought about Kevin Killian, crying gently, not as much as the days immediately after Kevin’s passing but there were still tears left. She (the cat) jumped up and onto my chest but after a while she started to get the hint that I wasn’t going to fall back to sleep and this annoyed her. She meowed and I whisper-yelled at her to quiet down and not wake up her mother (my wife); she got off and wandered into another room.

A bon vivant, a skilled educator, a mentor to too many to count, a creative firebrand, a generous spirit capable of making even the most dour or academic scene electric, Kevin Killian was a one of a kind in a hard to fully quantify way.

With the kind of friendship that comes out swinging but then, having made contact, asks little, Kevin Killian came into my life. I just don’t know where I’d be without the man, the first person in the art world (which I rejoined or for the first time fully joined when I met my partner as she was finishing graduate school) to know me, to be excited to see me. I remember asking Jackie “Why does he know my name?”, stupefied by the whole exchange of pleasantries which I felt I didn’t deserve. I never felt over the nearly a decade I knew the man worth the time he spent caring about who I was.

It’s all so cruel; I just don’t know who will be this welcoming, inspiring, warm human to others. I mean, we can all try, but however sincere our efforts may be, it’s not the same, not by a long shot. 

Kevin’s generosity towards cultural productions ‘high’ and ‘low’ was frightfully rare: folks are generally willing to admit one range of creative exploit as worthy of love, excluding others. Kevin’s wife, the incredible author Dodie Bellamy, described his final moments listening to his favorite artist, under appreciated pop diva Kylie, and his favorite poet, the equally under-appreciated Jack Spicer. For him, a strange perfection.

When it came time to get married my wife and I could’ve cared less about food or flowers, though we’re happy with how those things turned out. What our dream wedding centered around was a location, The Lab, and an officiant, Kevin Killian, and somehow we managed both of these things. We’d be afraid we’d wasted all our magic on these wishes if we believed in such things.

A flash of time has slipped by since his passing but I think of Kevin no less often, his absence feels no less raw. Something about the man’s smile, about the inspiring love between Kevin and Dodie Bellamy, some hundred other miracles that seemed to surround this gem of a person just infected me each and every time I saw him. Infected me with the durable possibility of joy and creativity and love, despite a world constantly straining to mute this potential.

Now I’m left with the phantom limb of him, a tingle of irreducible absence that rings out now and then.