I recently found out about the death of an old ex-friend, someone whom I’d lost touch with on purpose. He was ‘cool’ – a tattoo artist in Wicker Park when I knew him, and an artist before that. We had a lot in common and David and I came to know each other in a place where the gay scene, the leather scene and the art scene all met up and many damaged but creative, intelligent and original people came to know other. I was a photographer working for several local papers. It was one of the hottest summers in Chicago when hundreds were dying. David gave me his old air conditioner from his shop when he had it replaced, and helped me out in a few other ways when I was struggling starting my business. That summer I photographed him a few times – at his tattoo parlor for a local paper, and in a performance with Ron Athey for another publication and we stayed in touch pretty regularly. We were both bi and artists and in the same group of friends with a lot of the same interests.
But later I found he could be a self-important ass too – I think it was probably drugs combined with ego when he started to get recognition as an important tattoo artist. He took me on one date, and I had a feeling I should not get involved with him. I answered his questions in ways that I knew would turn him off, because I started to get a sense of his egotism and wanted nothing to do with it but didn’t want to directly confront him. In fact, during that evening at a local bar he tried to start a fight with some of the kids hanging around the pool table because one of them looked at him funny. Suffice to say I didn’t want to go home with him, made up some excuse or another and left.
We stayed friends for some time, until he started to date a woman called Lola. At one point there was an art opening for a show that I and several other photographers and artists were in for a charity event. The opening promised to be a major event since it was being held in the very rich area of town at a major department store, with plenty of rich but liberal art buyers in attendance. I decided to bring my friend Charlie with me to the opening. Though he was not from the ‘cool’ scene, he worked at a photo lab (where I used to work) and had as a favor he had printed a very big poster sized lucious print of a portrait of Jiann Kim for me (a portrait I took just shortly after the double overdose on heroin that killed her boyfriend and my friend Max Grey) – something I would have had to pay dearly for if I’d paid for it – and without that gift, I would not have been able to have a piece in the show.
Charlie was a musician but had bad social skills in that he never seemed to realize what other people were thinking of him or how his oddly naive but slightly invasive style of questioning people came across to them. He sincerly complimented David on his tattoos, and strangely David became a real dick nearly instantly as if Charlie had no right to even give him a compliment or something. Charlie asked him where he’d gotten them done and apparently had made the social ‘sin’ of failing to recognize David as an up and coming tattoo artist glitterati or something. It was rather idiotic as far as reactions go. Lola just stood there with her stupid umbrella which she took everywhere (parasol I suppose) and stared, saying nothing.
Charlie, on his side didn’t realize he was being brushed off or dissed by someone who thought he was on a much higher ‘coolness’ scale and social level and just kept on sincerely asking David about his tattoos as he genuinely was impressed – not seeing the irrational irritation that was happening with David (who must have been on some fucking drug to be taking offense at this). David then escalated the whole thing and threatened to punch out Charlie if he didn’t leave him alone. I had to drag Charlie away and told David he was way out of line. That was the last time I ever spoke to David – I thought his treatment of my guest was so shitty that I never dealt with him again even if I ran into him at the same party. On his part, David got in pretty deep with Lola (rumors of heroin use ensued). He also shunned me when he saw me as he was always accompanied by Lola who was a jealous type.
Even though Charlie was not a social butterfly or overly cool, he certainly didn’t deserve that treatment and the way I’d seen David overreact with violence or threats of violence twice totally contradicted other parts of his personality – he seemed conflicted and way too fucked up for me to want to deal with.
But over the years, as you do with people who touch your life and then fuck up, you wonder what happened to them. I saw when I moved to Europe that David also had, and had moved to Amsterdam to start a tattoo business. I thought maybe that was for the best for him but wondered about the whole Amsterdam scene.
Then this year, not long after I posted some shots of David from a Ron Athey performance on Flickr I got an e-mail from a good friend who knew my whole history asking if I’d heard David had killed himself. I had not and was shocked about that. I tried to find out on the internet but only could see his official obituary and some vague references to waiting for a liver transplant and a friend he made while in hospital that he worked a bit on an art project with before he died, so I at first figured maybe he’d never gotten the transplant and started to get despondant and felt quite sorry for him.
Then the story I heard later from a friend who said a close friend of David’s told her what really happened was very much not what I expected, and led me to yet another thought that David had remained at heart a selfish prick. I hate to speak poorly of the dead and maybe someone will correct me, but the only memorials I have seen don’t even mention he killed himself. I suppose most families don’t out of embarrassment or something, but it always seems to do disservice to who the dead really were in life when they do that – like a big cover up.
What I was told was that David did in fact receive a liver transplant. He had at some point apparently contracted hepatitis C which destroyed his liver (that in itself was disappointing to hear from a man who lived through the days of ACT-UP and safe sex awareness, ads about not sharing needles and all the rest but I have no idea how he got it and that was beside the point of what made me really angry.) She said that after the liver transplant he decided he couldn’t live taking the immune suppressant drugs and following whatever diet/health regime he had to follow (ie alter his lifestyle) to keep the transplant. So he got depressed and killed himself.
If this is true, which I have every reason to believe it is – what a fucking waste of a liver transplant. I am sorry but it is so easy to research what it means to get a transplant these days. How could he not have known what it would do to his life and why the fuck did he bother to get a transplant and take the liver that could have gone to another person who would appreciate it when he was just going to waste it by killing himself not long later – that liver could have gone to someone who deserved it.
So David Kotker I do not know not sure why you could never get your selfish ego under control but my opinion about you from the mid-90s was definitely not redeemed in hearing the details of your demise. You were a very good artist and at one point in time you were a friend, but you definitely had inner daemons. Rest in peace. I can hope what I heard is wrong and a bad punk rock rumor – if anyone knows differently (or confirms this) please comment on this post.