I’ve just received some terrible news. Adam Gottschalk, a fellow blogger here on WordPress, passed away on or around June 16th. Adam had submitted poetry to my magazine, Into The Void. I had accepted one of his spoken word poems for publication and wrote to tell him yesterday. Today I received a response from his email account but not from him. His brother, Chris, informed me of his passing.
I didn’t know Adam but we communicated several times via our blogs as well as email. I liked and admired him. I found him to be fascinating, intelligent, creative and warm-hearted with a unique and brilliant mind. In him I found a kind of kindred spirit. I have no idea if Adam thought that too, but I think he might have. I actually wrote to him on a comment on one of my own blog posts not too long ago and said, “You’re a really interesting guy. Your life fascinates me.” And it does.
Adam moved to Taiwan at age 18 from New York, where he was born. He learned to speak Mandarin Chinese fluently completely by himself on the streets. He was able to pick up the language so easily because, in his own words,
“1) I studied Latin in grammar school, which set me up for facility with languages in general, 2) I immersed myself in Chinese, tried to learn as much as I could as quickly as I could, and 3) by learning how to say I understand which I would say even if I had no idea what was said—after a few times of hearing the same phrase, I would think, ‘Oh, that’s what that means.’ Also, I spent a lot of time with oolong-tea sellers, of which there were at least two on every block everywhere in Taiwan. At those tea shops I would learn more colloquial Chinese than I could ask for. So I basically studied Mandarin on the streets of Taiwan. I knew folks who had studied, even majored in Mandarin, in college—and they could not speak a word with the proper accent. I was unsullied by classroom badness, so for me it was all a matter of learning how the four tones blended smoothly into each other. There is no such thing as grammar in Chinese. That’s the reason they speak English with no grammar—in Chinese to say ‘yesterday I went to school’, you would say, literally, ‘yesterday I go to school.’ Learning how the four tones in spoken Mandarin all blend smoothly into each other is something you just can’t learn in college.”
Adam learned Mandarin so well and immersed himself in Chinese culture so well, he could say this,
“The Chinese call overseas Chinese who don’t speak Mandarin bananas—yellow on the outside but all white inside. I used to call myself an egg—white on the outside but the heart of a Chinese person inside. People everywhere got a kick out of my saying that.”
Adam lived all over Asia and busked on the streets of Tokyo nightly to huge crowds.
“I earned more money per hour than I’ll ever earn again in my life. $100 per hour minimum. The best part was I got to play my music in a care-free, pedestrian-only area in the red-light district. Crowds surrounded me at times. The yakuza held my place, given to me by a fellow Australian busker. I would show up at my spot at about 1am, and play until 4 or 5am. If there happened to be someone in my spot, the yakuza would ask the offender to leave, and they would use force if necessary. Who was I to question the ways of the Japanese mafia? My life was pretty lush, but I had to hide my earnings from others at my guest house. They were all teaching English or acting as so-called hostesses at fancy business-men establishments, lighting their cigarettes, getting them drinks, getting them snacks, etc. They were all earning maybe $10 per hour, and working hard just to earn that much. There’s no telling how they would have reacted were they to discover that I, a virtual beggar, was earning far more than they could imagine.”
In 2000, Adam was diagnosed with MS. This led him to seeking out a life of only organic, natural products and food, although he had already become a gardener and farmer by age 21. He studied Sustainable Development in college and shaped his life around its philosophies. He was a proud vegan who believed no life is worth less than any other. He once told me he learned how to meditate from monks in the Tibetan mountains. In 2005, he became interested in the world of natural perfuming. Natural perfume was how perfume began before it became the synthetic, cheap, dangerous, mass-produced mix of chemicals it is now. He set up a company called ‘Lord’s Jester’ named from his surname, Gottschalk, which means roughly ‘God’s fool’. This is an amusingly ironic name of course, because Adam was anything but. Yet it fit, because Adam was a lot like The Fool in Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’–he saw the world for what is really is and was one of the few sensible souls in it. His name is further ironic because Adam was a firm atheist and believed love is the only religion the world needs. About his perfumes, he said,
“I had an odd knack for creating great solid perfumes (concrètes de parfum)—something in me automatically knew how to get the most out of natural solid perfume, which couldn’t have been better. The whole point of natural perfume is that it’s supposed to be intimate, subtle, underwhelming—the opposite of mainstream perfume. Natural solid perfumes, because of the way and where they’re applied, take the intimacy to a whole new level. A person would have to hug or kiss you, or be right next to you, to get a whiff of a natural solid perfume . . . . I did end up becoming one of the best natural perfumers the modern world has yet known. My perfumes, I’m happy to say, made it to all the major continents. It pleases me to think folks the world over may well cherish my perfume each time they wear it.”
Adam was a truly fantastic spoken-word poet. In 1998 he founded, produced, managed, sourced talent for, and hosted The Bellingham Slam in Bellingham, WA. He said, “In that small town, we would easily have 200 folks on a given night once a month, on a Monday night no less.” He was famous within the scene for his brilliant pieces.
Adam was an accomplished jazz bassist and enthusiast and hosted a jazz radio show.
“For one year, I hosted my own jazz show on KMHD, the jazz radio station serving Portland, OR. The show was called Post ’69 and I was on air Mondays between 2pm and 6pm. With this show I hoped to emphasize the fact that the best jazz music is being made right now, as there are simply more players on the planet, more of them are making American jazz music, and more players are, today, more willing than ever to take chances, to experiment with hybrids, like electronica jazz, hiphop jazz, bluegrass jazz, etc. Not that this prospect is anything new. Miles Davis was of the conviction that jazz players should look to the popular music at any given time for material to make into jazz.”
In his own words, Adam Gottschalk was “a dissident, rabble-rouser, and a creatively maladjusted man.” He was extremely intelligent, sharp, creative, and kind, and believed in a better world for us all. I only came across him a few months ago and only spoke to him a few times, but his uniqueness, sincerity and absolute certainty of self stuck with me ever since, and I looked up to him. We were, coincidentally, two of ten writers to be published in Issue Two of a literary magazine called Spinebind. I emailed him to say congratulations and that I was delighted to be published alongside him. He told me it was an honour to have the same. Another time, I said I sometimes felt lonely and anxious, and he said, “I feel ya, man.” That was what he did: feel.
For a man I never knew, I sure know a lot about him, and I wish I could see what he would have written and accomplished next.