Les Plesko, 1954-2013: Late Night Youtube
Friend and colleague, the writer Les Plesko, killed himself on Monday morning, September 16, 2013. He was the author of three novels, including The Last Bongo Sunset, Slow Lie Detector, and most recently, Who I Was. His magnum opus–the brilliant No Stopping Train, set in the Hungary of his birth and circulated privately among his friends–has never been published.
As the many writers and students who knew and loved him began to share their memories of Les, one former student in the UCLA Extension Writers Program posted a clip of Joni Mitchell singing ‘For Free.’ That clarinet player on that streetcorner ‘playing real good for free…’, that was Les. A man less interested in self-aggrandizement, slickness and commerciality could hardly have been found.
A website has been built for him at –www.pleskoism.wordpress.com, where friends and collegues are posting their thoughts and remembrances.
That clip was from Les’s YouTube channel—his student told me that he’d loved YouTube… another thing I didn’t know about him.
I spent that night watching film after film, his music, his obsessions. Themes emerged. The young lovers, the flooding daylight, a grainy rawness, a certain hand-made quality, poignancy, romanticism, mystery. Then a wacky humor, and gentle pessimism. At one point, the stream kept reverting to the ending of Bergman’s Smiles of a Summer Night, with its sweet, gently cynical conclusions about love.
If you ever want to look inside someone’s head, look no further than his YouTube channel.
On Watching Your YouTube Channel Late at Night
You won’t be there at my bedside.
When it’s my turn,
You won’t come by
Quiet, that smile on your face
In your old scuffed shoes, some goodwill coat
To sit on my bed,
Tell me about the great book you’d just read
Your latest muse in the form of a girl.
You would have been such perfect company.
But you won’t be there for the reunions
The birth of grandchildren
All our hair gone white
Reading glasses on a chain.
We carve ourselves in light, Les.
There I sat in the quiet house watching
Your video clips
Romantic, whimsical, heartbreaking,
Each in its own way.
Washed out scratchy films
The mystery of dust and overexposure
That Seventies gritty romance
A code without a key.
You, hidden in snips and slips
And cockeyed snapshots
You reveled in all that beached, bleached light.
You slipped away into
Badlands, sand, chance encounters,
Always youth and its perplexity.
Romance, poignant and wrongheaded.
Hair streaming into desert light.
No one is ever old there.
Desperate perhaps, but ever young.
I wish I could wear
A black sheath dress for you.
Like a black and white French movie.
My hair worn up.
But I was never like that
And now–Christ, I’ve gone past
Even regretting it.
I watched your films through half the night
Like living through your dreams.
They are not long
The days of wine and roses.
As the empty pint sinks.
When did you add that one
To your repertoire?
Your YouTube keeps wanting to return
To Smiles of A Summer Night.
That gentle coming back to earth.
Not the brutal truth of a high-speed sidewalk
At the foot of a brick house in Venice Beach.
I wish I could gather you in my wings
Take you back up there.
I wish I could.
No one knew me
Looked right through me…
Was that true?
We’re all so damned opaque
But especially you.
You were inscrutable
And then comes the wackiness again.
Like you on your bicycle
A Charlie Chaplin silent.
A bicycle, an umbrella
Laurel and Hardy moving a piano.
Why’d you let it go that far?
You’re on the other side,
There’s the man who dies
And the man who’s left
To carry on his memory.