|ZEFIRO TORNA OR SCENES FROM THE LIFE OF
These entries are from Jonas Mekas’ Diaries written during
the last 10 months of George Maciunas’ life. He reads them aloud on
the film’s soundtrack, which is accompanied by Monteverdi’s
April 16, 1977
||In a sense, George’s stance is of one who is totally
disillusioned, of one who has resigned to the fact that he has no
longer a firm place on this earth, neither in body of geography. His
country has been sacrificed on the altar of Yalta, His body is here
only by the grace of cortisone, an artificial - by now – frame
held together only by his willpower. The only thing left to him is
his laugh. So he became a king in his own kingdom. A court jester
presiding over the games of life, jokes, insignificances, the light
and the subtle. The heavy importances he leaves to the rest of the
July 6, 1977
||Hollis remarked today, while we were walking down the Wooster street
and talking about George – “Aprés moi le deluge,
that’s George.” Which is another perfect description of
George. One of one hundred such descriptions. No wonder his favorite
historical character is Louis XIV, including Rossellini’s film
of that name. He cares nothing about what people say, do, or possess
today: it’s all worthless, in his eyes. And the way the people
behave, they are still on the level of elephants. “You’ll
see,” he has told me at least a dozen times, “after I
leave 80 Wooster it will collapse in ten years, you want to bet?”
Everything that he makes, all his architectural structures are made
fragile enough to last only that long. “People are elephants,”
he says. “They break whatever they touch: door knobs, chairs,
light switches.” He would like to transfer the Japanese architecture
– the architecture of bare feet, matts, fragile sliding doors
etc to New York “to civilize Americans.”
November 17, 1977
||George is in town, stopped to eat with us, with a friend, Billie.
Hollis thought she was his girlfriend. They were so nice together.
And George was really happy. Most of the time he is happy anyway,
no matter what. But he said he’s taking morphine every day,
by prescription. Can’t stand the pain. Stomach. It has been
like that for four months, doesn’t know what else to do, tried
everything. The pain is like “pulling tooth without anesthesia
all day long, how could I stand it without morphine?” he says.
He said, he can’t sleep either. And eats only very little. But
he ate a lot of tongue and sheep cheese. Said, he has four goats on
his farm, is making a lot of goat cheese. Billie milks the goats.
Twenty people live now up there, some he never sees. None of them
smoke, he said, he saw to that. Complained that I seldom go to Fluxus
events. He said, I have seen only one quarter of Fluxus events, I
must hate them. No, I said, I really like them, but I have always
so much to do. George then said, yes, but we have, we are of opposite
tastes. He like, for example, Vanderbeek, and hates Brakhage. Anyway,
he had a good time, was very happy, ate a lot of tongue, even tried
some ice cream. It was good to see him in such a good mood despite
his stomach troubles. When Hollis remarked that morphine may not be
good for him, he said, if not morphine, the pain would be unbearable
and he’d have to shoot himself.
January 28, 1978
||Barbara Moore called. Said, George is getting married. She said,
he finally collected his courage – he said- and proposed to
Billie and she said O.K.
Called George. He says, I have some news. I said, New York is talking
So it’s true
He said he’s coming to NY Tuesday or Wednesday to Sloan Institute.
Barrington doctors give him only 2% chance which is not much, he says
… Sloan is better equipped. He said, he feels much better, with
Later I called Susan Sontag. Asked how she was, if she has any advice
for George. She said, she’s still on treatment, at Sloan, and
that’s the best place now. She said she’ll give a name
of a doctor in Paris, to George, in case he can go there, he is very
good. The mistake is, she said, to stay too long in provincial hospitals,
they don’t know much. Susan’s cancer started with breast,
and then some other complications came. But now it’s sort of
February 3, 1978
|| George called. He planned to come to Sloan Institute on Wednesday,
and stay with us. He said, Sloan Institute told him there is a long
waiting line, they don’t want him to come. He said, “I
am nobody there, they don’t want me there.” Meanwhile,
he said, the pain has come back, he’s taking maximum dose of
morphine, and it’s getting worse. I promised to get Susan to
call Sloan Institute, try to get him in. He suddenly sounded very
very sad. I have never heard that kind of note in his voice. He said,
I can’t eat, the pain is unbearable.
I called Susan and gave her the name of the Chemotherapy guy George
spoke to. Susan said she’ll call him first thing in the morning.
February 4, 1978
||Almus came and brought some Lithuanian bread. He said, he called
George and offered to bring some bread. It used to be George’s
favorite bread. George told him not to come, “I can’t
eat it, I can’t digest bread anymore,” he aid to Almus.
This depressed all of us very much. Poor George, he must be really
bad not to be able to eat Lithuanian bread anymore. Almus said, he
spoke with him about his marriage, asked him why he wants to do it
now. George told him that he “wants to live, nothing else is
February 11, 1978
||To be aware of approaching death is one thing, to accept death is
another thing. But George has accepted living with death, in a perfect
Fluxus spirit. Ah, he has been used to death all his life. He says,
he’s so full of medicine & drugs & cortisone that the
bugs do not bite him, and those bugs that bite him drop dead immediately.
Already in 1960 doctors gave him only a few months to live. But he’s
still around, George, doing his art, George is not using his body
to make art, there isn’t much of it left, there never was; he’s
using his life to do, to make his art.
February 20, 1978
||George: “They have to do it every month, this damned needle,
through the beck. Both sides of the spine, and very slow, because
everything is in the way, muscles, not safe. And I say to them, ‘It’s
hitting the bone,’ and hey say, ‘No, no, no, it’s
something else.’ So I used to say, at first, ‘You know,
I am not too tolerant to pain.’ But they said,” George
laughs, “Sorry, you’ll have to cope with it.”
“I told you about the appendix operation, with no anesthesia?
After that I can’t take any operation.”
George: “Yeah … I was screaming and the pain, I remember,
was the same … Maybe I’ll scream really high – remembering
the appendix, because that was the worst I could imagine. I still
remember, I was screaming consistently during the whole operation.
It was during the war, and the appendix was about to break, so they
said there was no time to go to the hospital, and they just cut it.
And they had no penicillin. They were afraid it would burst any minute.
You know, for a little kid – cutting your stomach. They tied
me to the table with belts and they cut it out. And I never passed
out. That was the worst of it.”
Me: “When did you go to Arizona, your asthma trip? I don’t
remember the year.”
George: “I went there in 1962 for two months. And then again
in 1967, for a month. I remember, in 1962, I went there with two suitcases,
you know – like a man from New York … And there were only
cowboys and Indians in that town. And I get into this rooming house
and they talk only about the horses. And they say, what the hell this
guy is doing here (laugh). And I stayed there, whole two months there
– and it was cheap cheap cheap, like one dollar a day, and all
those cowboys, coming and eating there and talking only about cows
and no interest at all in anything else, and they all look at me,
What the hell this guy is doing here …
makes me very sleepy. It takes ten times longer to do anything …”
Hollis: “Then you fall asleep?”
George: “I sleep, but not really asleep” (he laughs).
March 1, 1978
We were walking to the subway. I was carrying the bags. George
refused at first, but then he gave in, he just couldn’t carry
them, he said.
“I wonder what I’ll be in my
next life, I am really curious,” he said. “I believe
in reincarnation.” I said: “Give me some kind of signal,
or sign, like in Dovzhenko’s Earth, remember!”
The train just pulled in, as we approached
the token window.
“It would be silly to rush now,”
e said, and we took our time. I helped him through the gate, handed
the bags, and we said good-bye, in Lithuanian.
He came home from Sloan-Kettering –
Hollis said – he was so low, so tired and depressed. The visit
wasn’t what he had expected it to be. “They gave me
the maximum of six months to live, that’s all. They refuse
to operate, they say it can’t be done, the cancers are too
progressed.” He said, he has to decide now how he wants to
spend the six months best.
An hour later, he has collected himself.
When I came home, he was in a good mood & ate a lot and he said
he felt much better.
George is an idealist if there ever was one. And he has the chief
vice of a total idealist: fanaticism.
||George’s humor is self-referential, Brechtian. The awareness
of every daily act we perform, of every daily object around us. And
the critique of it all by means of humor.
Pop art took a look at the daily banality around us also. But it seemed
to embrace it, to approve of it. Fluxus brought it into a critical
awareness by means of humor. In that sense Fluxus is a political art.
George’s basement, full of boxes of every kind, containers,
cans. He keeps every container of everything he eats, everything,
every wrapper. And, like Joseph Cornell, uses it all in his art. Also,
like Cornell, George is working on hundreds of pieces simultaneously,
collecting bits of things to fit this one or that one, and many of
his boxes and things are in various stages of growth, of progress.
Waste is one thing George can not stand. All his texts, all his memos,
postcards, manifestos, letters are filled from edge to edge single
spaced, with same tight IBM type. His postcards, I need a magnifying
glass to read his handwriting.
||George said, his favorite writers are Dostoevsky and Thomas Mann.
George always insisted, at least to me, that Fluxus was not an art
movement: it’s a way of life.
It has such a touch of religion, I think …
George says he is really looking towards listening to all 38 lost
operas of Monteverdi after he dies … He says, it’s worth
dying just for that. Monteverdi is his favorite composer, he says.
Nothing of great interest has been composed after him.
George was talking about his immense appetite. Even now, sick as he
is, he eats a lot. He said, during our wedding (me and Hollis) he
sat next to Francene because he noticed she was a good eater. To get
to eat more you have to sit next to another good eater, he said.
He said in his will he may ask that his ashes be placed in a miniature
sculpture, statue of himself. He thought it would be very funny if
everybody, all his friends would sit around it, during the ceremony.
He says, he is a sucker for wide spaces and fields. He dreams raindrops
on blades of grasses, he said. Romantic, George.
March 15, 1978
||And there is Seymour, * xeroxing newspaper clippings, materials
for his monumental biography of D.W. Griffith, three days before his
death, fully knowing that he’s going to die soon, any day now
What was he thinking, that day when I saw him sitting by the Xerox
machine and resting. “Yes, I have to sit down,” he said.
“I think you should go home, Seymour, you don’t look well,”
I said. He said nothing, just looked at the floor. I didn’t
know he had cancer.
I never had that fall on me, not yet, to really know death. Death
always walked around me, sparing me, sparing me the experience of
death. My father – I found out about his death five years or
six years later. And my brother Povilas died far away. I found out,
the letter reached me already with photographs of the burial, and
with the distance of time and space.
What was George thinking then, walking across the snow, upstate, with
his eyes deep into himself, in some unfathomable space – silently,
as we walked across the snow towards the parked car, and he got in
and I came to the window and said, “See you soon,” but
he didn’t look up, he was still in that very deep distance -.
August 1, 1990
||Warhol and George. Warhol and Fluxus. Somewhere there, very deep,
they were both the same, they were both Fluxus, they both dealt essentially
with nothingness, the both dismissed the current life, civilization,
everything that is being practiced today as “everything is the
same.” Didn’t take any of it seriously. Both took life
as a game and laughed at it, each in his own way, untouched by any
of it themselves, looking at it all from the side, or from high above,
and creating their own realities that didn’t really fit into
it. Andy, standing at the Studio 54 in the lobby, standing on the
side, never in the middle of it, never really embracing it, and George,
laughing, laughing at it all, including Warhol, and creating in its
place his own fragile reality, totally inconsequential, unimportant,
a world of games, little boxes, puzzles, jokes, all in praise of nothingness.
April 3, 1978
||Billie stopped by to tell that George is doing much better under
the enzyme treatment in Jamaica. He’s cutting down on the morphine
and feels much better. Will be coming to NY on Thursday.
We were talking about George’s eating habits. On one hand, his
Bourguignon, when we visited him last time in Barrington; his passionate
and deep interest in the recipes of various countries of various historical
periods; on the other hand, total carelessness about what he eats.
During the last stay at our home he brought bags and bags of canned
food. Hollis later had to throw out empty cans from his room and placed
a drinking glass on the table – George was using empty juice
cans to drink water. All that canned junk that he was eating and
drinking on 80 Wooster Street! & our arguments about microwave
cooking which he thought was so great. He had no interest in gradations,
subtleties of real cooked food. He’d eat and drink milk made
out of milk powder, anything made of any powder, or distilled, or
whatever – but not real milk or real eggs or real fresh squeezed
juice or etc. etc. And he has always been so proud of his dumplings
– all those dumpling parties! I tried to eat them too, but I
always told him they were about the most terrible dumplings I ever
ate, or rather tried to eat. They were terrible, made out of prepared,
packaged dough, heavy, half-cooked, and tasteless. But George sat
there, in the chair, leaning back, holding his stomach full of them,
hiccupping, and ecstatic …
May 5, 1978
||Visited George at the University Hospital, in Boston. He looks so
thin, sitting on his cot. When I came in, the nurses were preparing
to wheel him out to the surgery room. He asked them to wait five minutes
so he could talk with me. “I thought they’ll wheel me
out and then you’ll come and I’ll be in surgery.”
We spoke for a few minutes. His voice was so weak that several times
I had to ask him to repeat what he said, his voice was so weak. “They
are very amazed that I am still around,” he said. All I can
hope is that they’ll keep me going until the miracle drug arrives.”
He laughed. He said, he is putting his hopes into a drug they are
working on in Texas, or somewhere. “They are very serious scientists,
I spoke with them,” he said.
He couldn’t get on the surgery bed by himself, so I lifted first
one foot, then another, and helped him to get in. He hadn’t
shaved for several days, since he arrived in hospital, and he was
an image of sickness and weakness. He said he had to move to the hospital,
because “they were all panicking about me there,” he couldn’t
eat anything. When he arrived in hospital, his legs were all swollen.
“Look,” he said, “film them,” so I filmed
them. “There will be a lot of pictures of me sick, I have always
been sick,” he said. “Doctors said I was dying of hunger,
I lacked protein, so now they are feeding me protein…”
We sat silently for a minute or two.
George: So you have to catch the train …
Me: At Three o’clock. I have time.
Doctor: (to the nurse): Roll it.
George: Shigeko has gone back? …
Me: No. She is still in New York.
She is still here.
George: Anthology should get more money …
Me: I am working on it …
George: This may take a long time (referring to his surgery)
Me: As they say, it’s not easy to kill a man…
George: Nothing to hurry now … (laughs).
The nurse began pushing the bed towards the surgery rooms. So he
his hand and I said, “Tai laikykies,” in Lithuanian, “hang
more or less, and he gave me a weak smile and they wheeled
May 9, 1978
||Dear Jonas –
George died this afternoon. Nijole will probably call you –
We are on the 10th floor at Terry’s.
H & O
May 11, 1978
||Shigeko, Carla, Francene, Hollis, Oona, we drove to the Fresh Pond
crematorium in Queens where George’s relative had arranged a
small wake ceremony, just before cremation. His mother came, his sister,
cousin, and a few other relatives and a good thirty-forty Fluxus community
friend – Moores, Hendricks brothers, Dick Higgins, Yoshi, Allison,
Almuswith Nijole, La Monte Young, Miller, etc. etc. George’s
mother was there, and I came to her, and she said: “I saw him
… He is so serious, so calm.”
Billie brought the Purcell and Monteverdi taped that George himself
had selected for this occasion. I set up the taperecorder in the chapel
and we played 25 minutes of George’s favorite music. George’s
coffin was right there, and some flower – dahlias and other
– on top of it, and George’s mother said to us, “Come
and take one, take home with you, from George,” – so we
took each a flower and later we stood outside and nobody wanted to
part, and George was still there, near us –
said George’s mother to me – she spoke in Lithuanian –
“I kept telling him to get married, and he always said no. Then
when you got married, he used to say, ‘See, mother, if Jonas
got married at fifty so why not I? I’ll wait till I am fifty,
then I’ll marry …’ And now, see, it’s too
late, he waited too long …”
“He always used
to say Jonas this and Jonas that, ever since he was a child. He was
always counting on your support even if sometimes you disagreed. It
was very important to him to have a friend. Later you sometimes disagreed,
but he was always talking about you.”
Later we all drove home and had wine and cheese and bread, Shigeko,
Carla, Francene – and we spoke about George, how everything
that we have, that we see here is connected with George – there
simply wouldn’t be SoHo without George, we wouldn’t be
in this building, in this home now, sitting around this table without
George. Shigeko said George brought her from Japan and she is here
only because of George.
Later we decided to have a walk through SoHo, to relax. We just had
to walk it out. He was so good, and even when he was suffering, he
tried not to impose his suffering on the others, he used to retreat
to our backroom, curl on the bed, and suffer by himself. He aid, it
hurt less when he curled into the baby-in-the-womb position.