“My name is Larry, my name is Larry…” Wild Man Fischer, “My Name is Larry”
It’s early November and all the vodka has been put away for months. We’re deep into fall, or as I like to call it, the Bourbon Season. I always have this odd feeling that I’ve forgotten something as the calendar turns to November. I have two friends who have birthdays in early November but I generally remember those. It always takes me a while but eventually the memories come back. It’s like the Pink Floyd song, “The Gunner’sDream” and the line, “floating down, through the clouds, memories come rushing up to meet me now…” I can’t describe the dream-like feeling of remembering any better than those lyrics. It’s funny how music brings things back to me.
On November 8th, 1993, a Monday night, the Kansas City Chiefs, the team I’ve been cursed to follow since I was ten (I blame my father) played the Brett Favre-led Packers. It was a crisp fall evening but the Chiefs played well and the Packers were kind enough to turn the ball over 3 times that night and I returned home to my humble apartment after a big win. It was late, after midnight (Monday Night Football games are always a bear getting home through the traffic) and I had a message on my answering machine. It was from Lynnette, my friend Matthew’s wife. I will never forget the words I heard that night…”Ken, if you get a chance tomorrow you might want to call Matthew, he’s pretty upset. Larry killed himself…”
Suicide. It’s a funny sensation when you hear those words. No one ever told me if it was that Monday night, or the previous night, Sunday that Larry had killed himself. Sundays can really be hard when you’re alone, that’s what I remember thinking. Larry was Matthew’s uncle, his father Martin’s brother, but he was an “oops” baby and was closer in age to Matthew and I than he was to Martin. We’d been friends for a decade. I remember sitting down at my kitchen table, with a strong drink and shedding a tear or two. But this isn’t supposed to be a sad story, so I won’t dwell on that night, 22 years ago today. Today, I celebrate my friend Larry.
As a kid, to go to sleep I always turned the radio on. It had a “sleep” feature which would allow it to play for 45 minutes and then shut itself off. The hope for me was that I could listen to rock and roll music until I dosed off (sleep has always been difficult for me) and the radio would always turn itself off vs wake me back up. It was a shaky plan but it usually worked. On Sunday night, the rock station I listened to, and there weren’t many choices, played the Dr Demento Show. Dr Demento played comedy/novelty records for three or four hours. It was goofy shit, but I needed something to help me get to sleep. Especially on those awful Sunday nights, where I’d lay awake dreading going to school on Monday. One of the funniest songs I ever heard on Dr Demento was Wild Man Fischer’s “My Name is Larry.” Wild Man is the worst singer, other than perhaps me, to ever record his voice. In the song, after proclaiming his name is Larry over and over, he goes through the litany of his family members and their tepid reactions to him. When he gets to his Grandpa, the Grandpa says, “Larry when you want to come over you tell your mom and we’ll arrange something.” The main message of the song was that “Larry” was weird. I didn’t know anybody named Larry but my high school buddy Matthew did, his uncle in Iowa was named Larry and so he recorded “My Name is Larry” on cassette and kept it.
A few years later, Matthew and my freshman year in college, we went off to KSU. At the mid-term, Christmas break I made the colossal mistake of transferring to rival school KU, for the worst reason anyone can choose to make a life change: a chick. That worked out about as well as everyone predicted and by early April the lass did me the favor of breaking up with me. I was the devastated, young romantic. Matthew, who was still at KSU, jumped in his car and picked me up. We were going up to Iowa to visit his uncle, whose name was Larry. Larry had been in the Navy or the Merchant Marine, I forget which, and was in his late 20s and was going to ISU in Ames on the GI Bill. Having just gone through a break up, the beer was flowing for me the entire drive up to Ames. Matthew produced the cassette of “My Name Is Larry” and we laughed the entire way up. I can remember closing my eyes, later on the drive, while Triumph played “Magic Power” and hoping the lyrics were true: “I’m young now, I’m wild and I’m free.” I was putting my freshman year behind me. By the time we got to Iowa we were a wreck. I was underage so Larry let me use his military ID, we looked nothing alike, he had sandy blonde hair and was a good looking dude. I was a head taller than he was. We hit the bar with a gusto rarely seen in Iowa. Matthew and I kept singing, “My Name is Larry” at the top of our lungs. We were a complete liability that night and yet, by the end, Larry and I had become friends, well as close to friends as Larry was capable. He had also managed to produce, out of thin air, a coed with perfect posture and huge breasts. Larry was the man! It was to be the first of many trips up to Iowa to party with Larry, who was one of the coolest guys I knew.
After college I saw Larry sporadically. He held a number of jobs. He lived in Kansas City for a while, during my exile time in Arkansas so I lost track of him. Then he moved to Dallas and got married. When Matthew got married I flew down to Dallas for the ceremony. I was the best-man. At the rehearsal dinner, my old friend Larry sat across the table from me with his wife, Hope, and we laughed the entire night. He told me, after my toast, I was the funniest person he knew. (He probably needed to get out more). He wanted to be my road manager and take me out on the comedy circuit. I was selling medical supplies at the time and thought that was a more sound career choice. We had fun reconnecting at the wedding but I could tell there was an undercurrent of sadness about my old friend. Hope seemed overly affectionate that night and I didn’t think anything of it.
I had always wondered why I had had to cab it in from the airport when I flew in for the wedding. I had assumed as “best man” somebody would send a car. “I’m kind of a big deal around here,” folks, that kinda deal. I found out years later, Matthew’s family and Hope had apparently been having an intervention for Larry the day I’d arrived. Nobody told me. Larry had gone to a bar about a year earlier to meet a friend who didn’t show, and met a lady instead. It was always the ladies for Larry, they were his Achilles Heel, even after his marriage it seems. Chicks dug Larry. This girl liked cocaine and she turned Larry on in a bathroom stall, ah the early 90s, with sex afterwards. I live by one rule, stay away from white powders people, stick with murky, brown, distilled fluids. There are no upsides in powders and pills, people. Apparently my friend Larry had a prodigious appetite. He was burning through Hope and his assets faster than she could keep up.
The “Intervention” held for a while, but like most folks I hang around with, the “dark side” is strong. Summer of ’93 found Hope and Larry in Kansas City for a weekend visit. I met them in Waldo at a bar named Kennedy’s. They were both in high spirits. Back then, Kennedy’s was located in the lobby of an old theater, which has since burned down, with cramped, small booths. We were all crammed into one of the booths in the front of the bar. I was trying to theorize why Matthew’s wife seemed to hate me. Larry was philosophical as usual. “Ken, you’re one of the most obnoxious people in the world, and she’s from the south. Chicks down there don’t dig your loud, vulgar sense of humor. You’r like olives, an acquired taste.” Gee, thanks Larry. We drank until closing time and I cabbed it back to my apartment. I remember hugging Larry and Hope goodbye. It was our typical laugh-filled evening. It was to be the last time I ever saw Larry.
By that November he had terminated his marriage to Hope in order to save her financially, and perhaps emotionally. He’d burned up all their money. He was staying temporarily at a cheap hotel. Then, that night, in early November 1993, early fall, he wandered into the field next to the hotel with a gun and as Neil Young once sang, he “touched the night.”
That night at Kennedy’s is what always sticks out in my memory. Larry smiling and laughing. I always tried extra hard to make Larry laugh because I felt the well of sorrow in him. I always wonder if there was something I could of said or done, anything to have helped him. People describe suicide as “selfish”, but I’m not sure that’s an accurate description. Larry got, as U2 once sang, “caught in a moment” and “couldn’t get out of it”. I wish I’d been bold enough to ask, “Are you OK?” or “Is there something wrong” but I never did. I’m always quick to do so now with my friends, a lesson Larry taught me. It saddens me to think of all the things Larry has missed in the last 22 years. But for me, I like to think about that first trip to Iowa. I like to put on Wild Man Fischer and sing along…”My name is Larry”…. Perhaps in a lot of ways I see myself when I was young in Larry. I pushed through the darkness and I wish I could have helped my friend do the same.
I miss you buddy. Cheers!