No short story today. We're reposting Les Edgerton's tribute to our brother Cort.
The Bareknuckles Pulp Dept. will be back next week.
A warrior has fallen by Les Edgerton
A warrior has fallen. Cort McMeel has left us.
Cort was my spiritual brother. We talked often and each time left telling the other we were brothers always before we hung up and we were.
I can’t stop crying. If Cort could only see the instant and immense outpouring of love and respect for him that has already begun and is turning into an avalanche of sorrow for our loss of this truly great man… Already, I’ve received dozens and dozens of emails and phone calls and everyone feels the same sense of immense loss of this most amazing man.
If Cort saw me now, with tears running down my cheeks, he’d grimace and tell me to “man up, dude.” He’d reach over and slap me and then he’d grin and we’d be fine. Above all else, Cort was a man’s man. The kind you don’t often run into these days. He took life by the horns and never gave any quarter. He was a fighter and literally. He was a boxer in the ring and a pugilist against the injustices of life. A true and fierce warrior.
He lies now on his shield, gone to, I hope, a better place. The light of the word has been visibly dimmed. We have lost one of the greats. Cort’s vision--his burning ambition--was to be this age’s John Martin. He had a great start on that ambition and if he’d stayed with us, he would have not only become the Martin of this age, but I know for a surety that he would have passed even this legendary editor in his accomplishments.
He was a brilliant writer. His first novel, Short, was a true original, a literary work of the first magnitude. He was close to finishing his second, Cagefighter, and I hope he had it close enough to being finished that it can be published. He founded one of the premier magazines in literary history, Murdaland, and he often told me he felt it to be his favorite body of work and probably his best legacy. He founded Noir Nation and Bare Knuckles Press and everything he did in literature was just of the very finest order. A brilliant writer and perhaps even a more brilliant editor. He had the best eye for literary quality of anyone I’ve ever been privileged to know, and Cort would rather help another writer achieve success than he himself. He was totally selfless and all he ever wanted was to help deliver to the world great writing.
Perhaps no one will ever know the demons that pursued Cort. I know a few of them, but I’m sure I don’t know them all. I do think I know one thing Cort would have wanted. For those who speak of him to speak with the unvarnished truth. He was as honest a man as I’ve ever known. He was as good of a man as I’ve ever known.
One of Cort's demons was that he cared so much. About truth. About literature. About the world around him. More and more, he felt that he couldn’t win. How do I know this? Because we talked and often. We told each other things we told no one else except our wives.
I talked to a cousin of his today, George Clark, who was his first cousin but told me he was more like Cort’s brother. They were closer than brothers. We feel the same about Cort. The more I talk to people, the more I find the same thing with their relationships with him. He touched so many lives in such a glorious way. I’m just so thankful I got to know and love him.
I think what defeated him was that he increasingly found himself in a a world in which it had become clear to him that he felt he wasn’t going to win under his terms. He loved literature more than anything and he detested with every fiber of his being what political correctness was doing to our freedom of speech and our literary canon. He just wasn’t the kind of guy who could live with compromise when it came to something this important.
A week and a half ago, Cort called me and he was clearly not himself. Les, he said, I’ve got a huge, huge favor to ask of you and if you refuse, I totally understand. What was going on was he felt pretty sure he was going to lose his job as a trader. He was handling that and had made up his mind that he was going after a job teaching writing, which he loved. His wife Sharon was fine with that, even though it meant less income than what they’d had.
The problem was, as Cort explained, was that he’d already lost three teaching jobs he’d applied to because the schools had seen the Amazon link for my book, The Rapist, which listed him as writing the foreword. It was the title that caused these assholes to refuse to hire him. None of them had read the book, but the title was offensive to them. Their reasoning, he said, was that if any of the students saw it, they’d think he was promoting rape. This is the level our “educators” have fallen to. He detested it, but felt powerless against these kinds of attitudes.
He asked if I’d be willing to take his name off the Amazon entry. There was no way he’d even consider removing the beautiful foreword he’d written, but he said if he could just take his name off he felt that would remove any future objections and he could secure a teaching job. I won’t go into everything he said, but the gist of it was that he felt awful in even asking me such a thing. We both believe fervently in freedom of speech and both of us detested the political correctness imbecilic mania that’s impacting everything about free speech negatively, but he said he desperately needed a job. He hated asking me to do this, but said he’d never even consider removing the foreword itself—just his name on the Amazon blurb.
I didn’t hesitate a second. Absolutely, I told him. The minute we got off the phone, I emailed Jon Bassoff, my publisher and mutual friend and he took Cort’s name down from the Amazon entry immediately.
Cort is the reason this book even got published. In fact, he’d wanted to publish it when he was with Bare Knuckles Press and when he left BKP, he did everything he could to get it published elsewhere and was ecstatic when Jon Bassoff wanted it for NPP because of the tremendous respect he had for Jon and NPP. He told me he felt like he was doing the same thing as John Martin had when he got Charles Bukowski published in the U.S. with Black Sparrow Press. In fact, in dozens and dozens of our conversations, Cort always compared the two of us to Bukowski and Martin. He was extremely proud of his part in getting this book published. He just felt that he was doing a great thing in getting controversial work into the light of day. I agree and I owe Cort everything. I’m not telling this story for any promotional value in the least, but simply to illustrate how the man thought and his creed.
I don’t know nor do I have any way of knowing this, but I feel as if I’m at least partially responsible for Cort choosing suicide. I don’t know if his job search was thwarted because of his association with my book or not. If it was, then I have some guilt to deal with.
But, I think the educators who would deny a supremely talented teacher and writer a job for this most specious of reasons should carry much greater guilt. Not that they will. Those kinds of folks never do.
A few weeks ago, Cort and I had a conversation on the phone about this letter we were both familiar with. It’s from Charles Bukowski to his editor at Black Sparrow, John Martin. I’m reprinting it here in homage to Cort.
Thanks for the good letter. I don't think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don't get it right. They call it "9 to 5." It's never 9 to 5, there's no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don't take lunch. Then there's OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there's another sucker to take your place.
You know my old saying, "Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors."
And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don't want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.
As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can't believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?
Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: "Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don't you realize that?"
They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn't want to enter their minds.
Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:
"I put in 35 years . . . "
"It ain't right . . . "
"I don't know what to do . . . "
They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn't they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?
I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I'm here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I've found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system. . .
I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: "I'll never be free!"
One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.
So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I'm gone) how I've come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.
To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.
I don’t know, but I have to wonder if what Bukowski had to say here was on Cort’s mind somewhat. If so, I just wish he’d stuck it out a bit more. I know he often felt the same way Bukowski did about how life beats one down. He’d had more than his share of body slams. But, Cort was always a man of action and I think he just took the wrong action at the wrong time and only wish he’d waited a bit. I wish I’d been there to perhaps talk him off that ledge. It was that wild Irish temper of his that made him impatient. If something wasn't right, he couldn't wait to fix it. He did the only thing he knew to do and that was to give battle. He was the most courageous man I've ever known and he was also at times the rashest. He'd just say it was the Irish in him. The Irish! God, ya gotta love 'em. You'll also end up weeping for 'em.
But, I wasn’t here for him, and it was a decision he faced and made. He must have felt like all hope was gone and that makes me weep more than anything. That a good man like Cort truly was would be bereft of all hope is the saddest thing I can imagine.
I can’t begin to list all the things Cort did for me. He championed my work to everyone he possibly could. He knew I was broke, so he paid for my wife and me to come to St. Louis to take part in Jed Ayres Noir @ The Bar. This fall, he was going to bring me to Denver to take part in the Noir @ The Bar there. He’s done so much for me and my career and more than that we’d become brothers. And, then, when he really needed a brother, I wasn’t there for him. That will haunt me the rest of my life. Cort wouldn’t see it that way at all and I know that and that makes it bearable.
There’s a lesson here, perhaps. To be aware of our brothers and sisters in life. To be sensitive to their needs and their pain and even if they don’t ask, don’t allow the signs to become invisible, but to reach out and let them know we love them and that we’re there for them.
I’ll miss you, my friend. More than anything. You have been my hero since you came into my life and will always be my hero. Thank you.
Finally, Cort fits Bukowski’s final thought above perfectly. To not to have entirely wasted one's life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself. Cort’s was not a wasted life—it just should have gone on longer. Even cut far, far too short, it was a worthy accomplishment. He just did so very much for others. The shame is, he should have done far more for himself.
Rest in peace, my brother. You made a difference in my life and in the lives of many others. You will not be forgotten. Everyone of of who are writers has lost a compadre and we all are less than what we were because of it.
What should help Cort’s family is if people buy his novel Short. They’ll be able to receive the royalties so give it some consideration, please.
Buy it here.
For those of you who may not have known Cort, look at this photo.
Cort is the guy just behind me with the tough guy hat. He was truly a tough guy. One of the fiercest men I've ever known. He fought for justice and what's right and what is good. I miss him and always will. He was a majestic, heroic man, bigger than life.
Other tributes to Cort:
From Bareknuckles Pulp Dept. Editor, Court Merrigan:
I didn't know Cort as well as I'd liked to have. I wish I had. I know this, though: the man was a lion, who believed in the transformational power of literature. I don't understand why he did what he did, but I won't stand in judgement on how heavy a burden another man can carry, or how long.
We've been back and forth online. With one Facebook message he changed the whole trajectory of my writing career. But I only met him once. Stayed up till 3AM drinking Irish whisky, speaking truths. I wish there'd been more nights, I wish I'd known him better, I wish I could've helped. Cort would have laughed, I think, and told me to man up. All right, brother. I will.
"Once I was knocked out in a fight and while unconscious on the mat an old man in an eye-patch came and hovered above me. He removed his eye-patch and I traveled inside the eye to a strange realm of stars that looked like frozen, white stones, frostbitten lands."
- Cort Mcmeel, "Nasty Jay," Murdaland #1.