Is it possible to be friends with someone you’ve never met? If you wanted to argue in the affirmative, I could bundle up my 12, 13, 14-ish years of correspondence with Ashley Morris, for research purposes. You’d see how we “met,” back in the early days of the web, when I typed “warren zevon” into this marvelous thing I’d just discovered, something called a “search engine,” and stumbled across Ashley’s unofficial Warren Zevon page. I wrote him a note. He wrote back. It went on from there.
Ashley’s WZ page had Easter eggs in it, one of which was a hyperlinked period at the end of a sentence. It took you to a photo of a crazy-eyed topless woman doing the splits. He said it had been sent to him by another girl who’d started out a friendly correspondent and ended with abrupt questions about his penis size and an unsolicited topless picture. So you can see, perhaps, why Ashley responded to out-of-the-blue notes from strange women — you never knew when you’d get another naked picture in the e-mails.
That’s not how it went with us, of course. Instead, we wrote back and forth about everything and nothing. I guess it started when Ashley was finishing his doctorate in computer science at Tulane, after which he moved to Idaho for a spell, then to Chicago, then back to his beloved New Orleans (while keeping the job in Chicago — he had a long commute). Along the way we covered everything from his Audi Quattro (essential for Idaho winter driving) to his fondness for Cuban cigars (which may have been a plank in the foundation of his radical leftism — he must have thought anyone who could turn out cigars like those couldn’t be all bad) to his agony over the fate of New Orleans. Along the way, he went off to the Czech Republic to teach at a conference and came home with a fianceé, who stood over six feet tall. Did I have any suggestions on where she might find clothes to fit?, he wrote once. I told him you could find anything in Chicago, but for best results, ask a drag queen.
He was raised by his grandparents, whom he thought were his parents, with a shiftless older sister that he learned late in life was actually his mother. She died a few months ago, of an overdose. Ashley opened up her apartment to start putting her affairs in order and found a fresh two-gram package of heroin on the kitchen counter. It’s a reflection of the kind of guy he was that he managed to find the humor in such a discovery:
I called the cops who found the body, and asked them what to do with the heroin. They said I could bring it in to the station.
That would be the time I get pulled over for speeding. “Yes, ossifer, I was bringing this brown tar to the station! Honest!”. Or maybe, I could just announce when I got there: “HI, I BROUGHT THE HEROIN!”.
When, late in his PhD program, he was diagnosed with adult ADD and prescribed Ritalin, a turn of events that saved his doctorate from oblivion — he said he could never have finished his dissertation without it — he told this same mother/sister about it. She said, “Oh, they told us that when you were a little kid, but I just figured it was bullshit.” He said he wanted to strangle her.
He didn’t have an easy or long life, but it was action-packed. He lived in Los Angeles for a spell, rode a motorcycle he was nearly killed on, made music, cut a demo. The demo never amounted to much, but it did turn up in the soundtrack of a porno movie, a turn of events Ashley himself discussed here (first comment). He had a huge heart. This you could tell from the get-go, and if it wasn’t clear immediately, it surely was evident in “Fuck you, you fucking fucks,” his cri de coeur from New Orleans in late 2005, which proved profanity can be poetry in the right hands:
What about you fucks that don’t want to rebuild NOLA because we’re below sea level. Well, fuckheads, then we shouldn’t have rebuilt that cesspool Chicago after the fire, that Sodom San Francisco after the earthquakes, Miami after endless hurricanes, or New York because it’s a magnet for terrorists.
And fuck Kansas, Iowa, and your fucking tornados.
Fuck you, San Antonio. You aren’t getting our Saints. When I get to the Alamo, I’m taking a piss on it. You probably go to funerals and hit on the widow. Classless fucks.
And so on. He hated all the bullshit spewed into the air after Katrina, and wanted one thing and one thing only — for New Orleans to get its due. OK, he wanted other things, too. He wanted another beer and some great NOLA street food and a big cigar. Check out that picture up there, that’s Ashley in his element — sweaty, cigar in his pocket, and some dinner. You know the funniest thing about that picture? The two little pieces of broccoli. When Warren Zevon said, “Enjoy every sandwich,” Ashley always said, “Make mine a muffaletta.”
He leaves behind his wife, Hana, and three young children, along with dozens of friends, fans and fellow travelers.
One last thing: A few years back, I went to Chicago with Alan and Kate, and had vague plans to meet Ash for a beer. This was in February, and it was cold and windy, and we’d just frozen our butts off all day, and at the end of it, I begged off. Stupid, stupid, stupid. I thought we’d have another chance, and had vaguely planned for this June in Chicago, but that had recently been torpedoed, too. I thought I’d take Kate down to New Orleans later this year and show her what still had to be done there. I figured Ash would give us the tour, and then we’d have a muffaletta. Well, that didn’t work out. Maybe I should try for the funeral. I’m sure he’ll have a hell of a second line, it will rock the llama’s ass, and knowing Ashley, there won’t be a fuckmook in sight.
Dorothy said on April 3, 2008 at 10:08 am
I hope he & Warren Z. are having a cold one in the next life right about now.
That must have been a very difficult entry to write, Nancy. Kudos, very well done. I feel simply awful for his little ones.
Sue said on April 3, 2008 at 10:42 am
Oh my God, oh my God. I can’t believe I’m sitting here crying for a person I’ve never met. I just showed his blog to my brother-in-law last weekend. Beyond a comment or two, I don’t think he was really aware of me, but I sure respected him and read his blog regularly. I loved his articulate anger, just loved it. Thank you for “introducing” him to me. I thought virtual friends would be easier to deal with. Not so.
MichaelG said on April 3, 2008 at 10:46 am
Wonderful obit, Nancy. I feel like crap.
virgotex said on April 3, 2008 at 10:48 am
This is such a beautiful piece, Nancy. My condolences to all his friends here. He sure does leave a big hole in the world.
Jolene said on April 3, 2008 at 11:14 am
Yes, a lovely piece, Nancy. I’m crying for somebody I never met. The thought of those kids without their dad is heartbreaking.
velvet goldmine said on April 3, 2008 at 12:22 pm
Beautiful piece. May we all have someone to remember us this wryly and affectionately when our time comes.
I’m one of the endless readers here who didn’t necessarily have any exchanges with Ashley, but had a really strong sense of him. I always got a kind of “this will be warm and sensible, in a kind of profane and grumpy way” flash whenever I saw his name above the comment.
And, of course, I always squirmed in anticipation whenever someone a) mistook him for a gal or b) said something negative about New Orleans.
alex said on April 3, 2008 at 1:02 pm
I’ll remember him fondly every time I utter the word “fuckmook,” which recently replaced “freak” as my epithet of choice.
Julie Robinson said on April 3, 2008 at 2:10 pm
Here’s a quote from Ashley’s blog on March 31:
“I have but one piece of advice today, from sunny south Florida, where there are no sidewalks: make a will, and let your loved ones have instant access to it, as well as your safety deposit box. Lest your name is cursed over endless glasses of Jameson.”
Sadly it appears he didn’t have enough time to follow his own advice.
Peter said on April 3, 2008 at 2:17 pm
Oh, this is just so sad. I can’t add anything pithy or poignant, so I’ll just offer my condolences.
Dexter said on April 3, 2008 at 3:14 pm
Rise up against the fuckmooks in your life, and set yourself free.
LAMary said on April 3, 2008 at 3:39 pm
This is really so sad. I thought of him as a kindred spirit and the sort of person I was glad was out there somewhere, making people uncomfortable.
michaela said on April 3, 2008 at 4:50 pm
I don’t have any words for this emotion — I barely even knew Ashley in the virtual sense of the word, just read his stuff here and on the Wire blog, and I am gobsmacked. I’m so, so sorry.
oyster said on April 3, 2008 at 4:52 pm
A wonderful, “tone perfect” tribute. Thank you, Nancy.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 3, 2008 at 5:19 pm
Making muffalettas for dinner tonight in tribute, and i promise to savor mine and raise my son to make the most of his (or at least not spill most of it on the floor, but he’s 9 — Ashley would understand).
joodyb said on April 3, 2008 at 6:34 pm
i’m so sorry, nancy, and for his family, and the loss of the voice of a soul of NOLA. i say go and be in that first line. he would have wanted you there.
michaelj said on April 3, 2008 at 6:54 pm
Dorothy, they’re having a throat warming Irish with a brew back. Since God possesses the spectacular and universal intelligence to provide for the invention of these balms and truth sera to go along with intellectual evolution of humans toward cetacean levels, take it to the bank.
Warren’s inexplicable. To me, the first deal is his facility with employing (exploiting) the English language. Made fun of manipulation, and I know this sounds like some dumbass How does the guy that wrote Jungle Work and Roland write Looking Down the Path and Keep Me In Your Heart? He knew everything he was taking about.
I tried to say this before but messed up. I don’t really understand choking up bout listening to Warren. I can understand feeling sad. I feel that way about what wouln’t Jimi have done. Jimi would have advanced music tonally and melodically, like John Coltrane. Warren would have advanced literature, culture, and perfect irony. What do the fans get out of Boom Boom Mancini.
I know, lot’s of y’all think you love Warren. Well, you do. And you’re right. Y’all that are such big Warren afficiandos: How brilliant is he playing the twelve-string? Ferocious, and in and almost as good as richard thompson.
What I think about Warren, and I’m just catching up, because I’ve been buying since about 1975. I love it when people get it. I can’t figure out how nobody ever got Nils Lofgren. He’s so good this seems like a joke.
Warren made songs where he indicted himself as some sort of a jerk. But he made brilliant shit up. Roland. Or he created his only inexcusable persona: Mr. Bad Example. Do y’all know everything this guy was thinking about. My idea is the best song Warren made was Poor Pitiful Me. Women rule.
and warren never thought so.
Jeff, choose the olives carefully, and leave in the pimientos, and add some Balsamic.
liprap said on April 3, 2008 at 7:28 pm
Oh, damn, this is beautiful. I wish you’d have met the man. I wish it had been Hizzoner da mayor of New Orleans, aka the Walking Id, who’d have gone instead of Ashley.
So many people are so upset right now. I wish this were a dream. If it is, I can’t wake up. I feel so bad.
Maitri said on April 3, 2008 at 7:46 pm
Thank you, Nancy. I’m still in denial, hoping he’s going to email us all with “Hey, I’m back!”
michaelj said on April 3, 2008 at 7:50 pm
Didn’t know the guy. Saw the picture. Had some idea. I’d say try this:
Nor dread nor hope attend
A dying animal;
A man awaits his end
Dreading and hoping all;
Many times he died,
Many times rose again.
A great man in his pride
Confronting murderous men
Casts derision upon
Supersession of breath;
He knows death to the bone —
Man has created death.
Everybody’s a great man. I doubt everybody’s murderous.
As I said, I didn’t know the guy, but Yeats on death and desiderata, well, we could all do worse, but it doan mean shit. Things are frightening.
I couldn’t sleep at all for days. Not to this day. That’s just me, but I expect y’all are intelligent to understand the problem. If it’s not interesting, no sweat, and the mob interests in Grosse Pointe, well, I was an idiot to get involved in a high school production with mob ties.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 3, 2008 at 8:40 pm
Didn’t think of balsamic — next batch. Thanks, michaelj. Taking out the pimentos would have been an insult to Ashley’s memory.
Huck said on April 3, 2008 at 8:59 pm
Lovely tribute. Thanks.
Jeff (the mild-mannered one) said on April 3, 2008 at 10:13 pm
No disrespect intended, but “The Wire” is featured on “Ace of Cakes” tonight. Food, “The Wire,” skewed pop-culch — it feels in keeping.
Dexter said on April 3, 2008 at 11:16 pm
“And I wish I was in New Orleans, ’cause I can see it in my dreams,
Arm-in-arm down Burgundy, a bottle and my friends and me
New Orleans, I’ll be there”
Dexter said on April 3, 2008 at 11:25 pm
same song…better version for a tribute:
LIsaPal said on April 4, 2008 at 1:58 am
Nancy, this was beautiful. Beautiful. Just like the heart and soul of our friend.
ann said on April 4, 2008 at 5:39 am
News from DePaul is that it was a traffic accident. He was in Florida to settle his mother’s estate. Thanks for the great tribute, Nancy.
Marco said on April 4, 2008 at 8:18 am
Great tribute, Nancy. I only knew Ashley through the web since the levees failed. He made me laugh and was a into more things than I could ever imagine. He loved NOLA like no one else. I like the Easter egg pix and your suggestion as to how his wife could find clothes.
Uncle Merlin said on April 4, 2008 at 12:50 pm
Wow what a great tribute Nance! One is always lucky to find friends in life that shoot from the hips ( or the broccoli)
Sorry for your real (virtual) loss. But the gift is truly in knowing him.
Jennifer said on April 4, 2008 at 12:57 pm
Oh! I haven’t been here in awhile and for some reason, something made me think of your site the other day. As the thought crossed my mind, so did the names I so often saw in the comments… LAMary, Dorothy, Brian, among others, and most of all, Ashley. What a shock.
whitebeard said on April 4, 2008 at 4:37 pm
I am reading all of Ashley’s comments, thanks to your blog, Nancy, and his was a fierce voice for New Orleans, the city that should not die. Only Ashley could write “HI, I BROUGHT THE HEROIN!” in the midst of dealing with his mother’s death in Florida.
I saw my old newspaper boss at his mother’s wake and funeral this week and he was surprised and very pleased that I had shown up and called me a great guy to work with, even though sometimes I was a pain in the keister. Ashley was plainly a pain in the keister as far as those fuckmooks in New Orleans and Washington were concerned, but they deserved every heaping plateful of scorn he served them. Just reading words by him makes me a little teary-eyed and I am so new here that I barely know all the players.
Sophmom said on April 5, 2008 at 9:48 pm
This was wonderful. I wish I’d known his ADD story. It’s very much like my own.
Marcia said on April 24, 2008 at 11:17 am
I was late to find out about Ashley, and so very sad.
I’ve neglected all of my online friends as of late, and this is a wake-up call that some of you mean as much to me as those in my real life.