Thursday, February 13, 2014

Maggie Estep (1963-2014)

Posted By on Thu, Feb 13, 2014 at 9:00 AM

Maggie Estep
  • Maggie Estep

About 20 minutes before I began writing this I was told that my friend and neighbor, the mind-bogglingly brilliant writer and spoken-word artist Maggie Estep, had passed away the night before. She was 50. Needless to say—but I will—I am presently numb with shock. The word is that it was a heart attack, which is utterly confounding, since, besides being so young, Maggie was a pillar of health: a clean-living yoga instructor who liked to take frequent walks and runs with her beloved child-dog, Mickey.

Maggie and I lived in New York at the same time, in the 1990s. Somehow our paths never crossed directly back then, but after we’d met in the mid 2000s as Saugerties neighbors we learned we had jillions of friends in common from the Lower East Side music scene. Several of those folks had played in Maggie’s band, I Love Everybody, which backed her up as she read her devastatingly acerbic, whip-smart—and usually hilarious—prose at music venues. I remember being bowled over by a short segment she did on MTV; later, I caught her at a Bowery Ballroom benefit for ex-Swans member Jarboe, who needed plastic surgery after being assaulted. Looking back, it makes sense that Maggie would've taken part in such an event. Because besides being so talented and intelligent, from my observations, she was a wonderfully sensitive and caring person to the people and animals around her—which is something those who only knew her from her barbed, acidic wordplay may not realize.

Within these last three years, both Maggie and I ended up in Hudson, drawn here in large part by the town’s vibrant literary and arts culture. We even did a few readings together, which were totally fun. Being relatively new to the spoken-word game, for me it was great to have the support of such an artful pro as Maggie.

Here she is reading the piece “Happy” on MTV’s “Def Jam Poetry”:

“I have to write because I don’t know what else to do with my mind, how else to make sense of the world and its inhabitants,” she says, something entirely believable, on her blog, which you should visit if you haven't (and revisit if you have). Maggie was the author of seven books (2003’s masterful crime novel Hex was named a notable book by the New York Times) and, besides teaching yoga also worked jobs ranging from horse groom to go-go dancer to, most recently, real estate agent. Obviously, Maggie and I bonded over a love of cool music (she wrote liner notes for the Talking Heads box set Once in a Lifetime and interviewed Amanda Palmer for Chronogram; I understand she played piano and guitar as well, although I never heard her do either), but also over our common passion for the noir masters. As a writer, Maggie took the terse, concise, no-bullshit narrative storytelling craft of greats like Jim Thompson and Nathaniel West and infused it with her own sense of wry, eye-rolling irreverence and side-splitting absurdity. Conversational and self-examining verbiage exemplified her stuff, which makes you laugh out loud as you shake your head in sympathetically ludicrous disbelief. And it’s a tragedy that, as of two nights ago, we’re now left with only a finite amount of it.

My phone just rang. It was one of the mutual musician-friends alluded to above, calling to voice his own shock and pump me for details of Maggie’s death, few of which I have at this time. We spent a few minutes catching up between our bouts of commiseration. And he lightened our shared dismay at the sad news with some great news: He’s going to be a father.

Neither he nor his lady know yet whether it’ll be a girl or a boy. But with two hip artists as parents, there's no doubt their offspring will be a highly creative kid. To me, it would be very cool if that kid grows up to be a writer. One who writes words that are rich, evocative, challenging, brilliant, moving, and snort-out-loud funny. Just like Maggie did.

Visit Maggie Estep’s blog:

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