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

For Les


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.

Christ, Christ.

Young lovers

Top down

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?

Was it?

We’re all so damned opaque

But especially you.

You were inscrutable

Positively feline.

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?

Drunken Angel.

You’re on the other side,


There’s the man who dies

And the man who’s left

To carry on his memory.

That’s you

That’s me.



16 Responses to “Les Plesko, 1954-2013: Late Night Youtube”

  1. How terribly tragic. My sympathy to the Plesko family, friends and loved ones left behind. Very sad.

  2. But I was never like that

    And now–Christ, I’ve gone past

    Even regretting it.


    So sorry for your loss.

  3. It made me cry…”There’s the man who dies

    And the man who’s left

    To carry on his memory.”

    I am so sorry for all of us losing him…

  4. Brilliant. Thank you so much.

  5. This. Sucks. Dammit, Les.

  6. My heart breaks for you and for Les whose pain was so great, he needed to escape this world. Your words are a fine tribute, even though it sometimes feels like their are no words.

  7. Dian Greenwood Says:

    So sad, Les. Teacher. Mystery. The perfect, uncluttered novel the New Yorker said about The Last Bongo Sunset. Now, Spirit. Your unassuming self hovering over all of us.

  8. Dian Greenwood Says:

    Janet: that was such a beautiful & “right on” tribute to the man you knew better than I did. Those classes he picked up after kate left all those years ago. If there ever was a welcoming spirit, it was Les. Thanks for being his friend.

  9. Janet, this is a beautiful honor for your friend, Les. I wish I had known him better. Thank you for sharing this lovely tribute.

  10. beverlytrainer@aol.com Says:

    Lovely poem. Sorry for your loss.


  11. Athena Says:

    “We’re all so dammed opaque” its sad…nice poem

  12. Just read this again. So lovely.

  13. Your poem made me cry, Janet.

  14. […] It’s been a full year since my friend, the writer Les Plesko died. That night, I watched his YouTube station, over and over again, and wrote the poem On Watching Your YouTube Channel Late at Night. […]

  15. Edward Giles Says:

    Les Plesko was my 12 step sponser, friend and listener of many phone calls and coffee house meets. He taught me how to live a life with meaning and intention without judgement. He inspired me in many new ways to live and enjoy life despite the hardships and setbacks that happen during life. Miss him on several levels. Les Plesko was loved and repected by so many who shared in his life.Thank You for this platform to express thoughts and feelings for Les Plesko.

    • Hi Edward–so good of you to write. An excerpt from his unfinished last novel, found after his death, will be published in the St. Petersburg Review in September. It’s a heartbreaker, as you can imagine… so loved. Have you gone on Pleskoism.wordpress.com? We should be updating there, but I’ll do it here too. Good to hear from you.

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