Transformation Through Transgression: Remembering Nick Zedd

I’d choose not to remember, but I miss your arrogance
And I need your intelligance and your hate for authority
But now you’re gone, I read it today
. . .

The Swans – “God Damn the Sun” (1989, lyrics by Michael Gira)

I met Nick Zedd in 1989 at an experimental film festival in San Francisco. At the time I was a struggling working-class film student trying to put myself through community college while toiling away at multiple jobs (bartender, office jockey, journalist…) and taking night classes in between clubbing and slumming. It was my first film festival and purchasing a ticket to the event meant I’d go without a meal but I was certain that the festival would be more nutritious than any food I consumed that day and I was right.

I had originally encountered Nick in the pages of Film Threat. The small press magazine regularly ran articles about the Cinema of Transgression, a fringe experimental film movement in New York that Zedd championed (leading to Film Threat‘s infamous “Zedd is Dead” debacle). I was intrigued by his radical fuck-all and take-no-prisoners approach to DIY filmmaking so when I saw an advertisement for the film festival I was determined to go.

The two-day event consisted of multiple short and full-length films by Zedd, Richard Kern, Manuel DeLanda, Tommy Turner, and Tessa Hughes-Freeland among others as well as live music performed by the avant-garde San Francisco band Iao Core. After the festival ended the audience was invited to take part in a casual after-party so during the festivities I approached Nick to tell him how much I appreciated the event. Despite (or because of?) my youthful wide-eyed enthusiasm and inherent awkwardness, we started talking and immediately seemed to hit it off after discovering that we loved many of the same films, actors, and writers. One thing led to another and we made plans to spend the next few days together while Nick was in San Francisco. During that time we hung out in local bars, watched mondo shockumentaries, and caught a double bill of Eddie Romero & Gerardo de León’s films at The Strand.

When it came time for Nick to return to New York we exchanged contact information and for the next couple of years we traded countless letters, postcards, videos, cassette tapes, and books. Our long-distance relationship was complex, nurturing, and turbulent. He could be a sensitive artist, creative visionary, and brilliant writer but he could also be a bullshit artist, cruel carnival barker, and self-absorbed bastard. In other words, he was human, all too human.

Typical programming at The Strand in San Francisco during the 1980s
One of the many letters Nick sent me

At the time that we met, I was very young, very damaged, and incredibly naïve. Nick was much older, extremely beautiful, and more worldly. And he undoubtedly had a long list of other young women around the world who he kept in touch with. Needless to say, I have no delusions about our brief relationship, but our lengthy correspondence was important to me. It was a film education in letters that taught me a lot about the arts, culture, politics, human nature, and the human heart. After a falling-out, we lost touch but reconnected on Facebook and I was happy to discover that he, like myself, had found much happiness elsewhere.

Nick Zedd died on February 27th leaving behind a lovely family that set up a Go Fund Me page to help cover medical and living expenses that is still taking donations. I’ve been mourning his death the last few months in my own way by making art using our old correspondence as a springboard and trying to compile his best letters. I plan to share the results sooner or later because I believe they show a side of Nick that many people are unaware of. I also think the information contained within them will be of interest to other film journalists, film historians, and fans.

In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Nick Zedd here are a few links I’ve gathered together: