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Much has been written already about Andrew Breitbart and his life at the intersection of culture, media and politics. So instead, I will tell you a story about how Andrew Breitbart and I ended up at a Devo concert.
I first met Andrew in Los Angeles about 8 years ago, at a film festival where a short documentary of mine had won an award. At first, we bonded because we had similar views of the world, and when my film work would occasionally bring me to L.A., we’d get together for sushi and end up in loud dive bars in Venice.
It was often hard to get a word in edgewise with Andrew, but it didn’t matter, since whatever he said was invariably more entertaining and colorfully presented than whatever might happen to be on your mind at the time.
One night, I was mortified as Andrew called his father-in-law and entertainment legend Orson Bean at 11:35PM to announce that he was bringing me and my film over to show him. I protested and politely tried to end the call, hoping to avoid a late-night imposition on someone I hadn’t yet met, someone I figured had probably just been asleep, but soon enough we were walking down a Venice canal, and barging in to find Orson frying what appeared to be scrapple.
Orson couldn’t have been nicer about the situation. Apparently, this sort of thing was to be expected with Andrew. So the three of us proceeded with our late-night screening of the film.
On another visit, I got the “Breitbart Reality Tour” of Brentwood, through the parking lots of the schools Andrew attended, through the aisles of a grocery store whose decor looked like it hadn’t changed since Andrew’s childhood. Andrew talked about feeling alien growing up a middle-income kid in a wealthy neighborhood. It wasn’t too different from the feeling he had as an adult, being a conservative libertarian in Hollywood, he said.
In between points on the tour, our conversation kept returning to music. Among other things, it turned out that both had a love for new wave music, in particular, the band Devo.
Andrew recalled as a kid often seeing a car around the neighborhood with some Devo-related license plate, and he kept wondering whose car it was, who this mystery person was who loved this band as much as he did, so much so that it would be adopted as the code by which the car was known to the California DMV?
He made a point of observing what he could about the car when he’d see it around, and eventually, he caught a glimpse of the owner. Andrew approached him as a fan, and it turned out to be Gerald V. Casale, one of the founding members of Devo. Andrew said he could not have been nicer to the odd Devo-obsessed boy who stalked his car.
A couple years after hearing that story, I was back home in NYC, walking around the West Village, where I saw a concert poster for an upcoming Devo concert at Irving Plaza.
I figured it was a long-shot, Andrew being based in L.A., but I took a picture of the poster and sent it to him, saying we should go to the show, but not expecting anything to come of it. Coincidentally enough, he said he was already planning to be in New York the night of the show.
So we bought tickets for an evening with the album Are We Not Men?, which Andrew said was his favorite.
Before the show, we grabbed a bite and a couple of beers at Heartland Brewery in Union Square. It was just as Andrew was starting to get public attention for his various enterprises. Some of the personal threats were worrying him, and he was growing weary of the “psychic vampires” (he credited Matt Drudge with that term, although its provenance is apparently older) who latch onto people as they accrue fame. We then discussed the possibility of his getting a gun, which I had advised.
As we left Heartland and walked to Irving Plaza, Andrew’s phone was ringing incessantly. He howled on his Blackberry to people unknown about the injustices of a story whose details I can no longer recall. As we got to the venue, Andrew hoped we’d run into Kurt Loder, who he thought might be there. If he was, we never saw him.
Devo was surprisingly energetic and musically tight. Decades after becoming fans, and at an entirely different stage in life, we found ourselves jammed against the rail of the side balcony, stage-left. One of Andrew’s all-time favorite bands was playing his favorite album, but I couldn’t tell if he was enjoying it.
Maybe he was distracted from whatever the earlier calls had been about; his self-professed ADHD always pulled his mind in a million directions at once. Maybe he was tired from the constant travel; whenever I’d see him anywhere other than Los Angeles, he’d tell me that the worst thing about his burgeoning career was being away from his wife Susie and his four kids. Or maybe the threats, the constant battles—legal and otherwise—were dragging him down, even though by all outward appearances, nobody relished a fight more than he did.
Or maybe none of that’s true. I really have no way to know.
The last time I saw Andrew Breitbart was three weeks ago, at the CPAC conference in Washington, D.C.
Breitbart generated more excitement than any of the Republican presidential candidates roaming the halls, and he held court for hours on end in the lobby bar at the Marriott Wardman Park. As usual, he seemed to be the most energetic person in the room.
I heard about his death this morning through a voicemail from Adam Pasick of New York Magazine, a friend and former colleague from Reuters, who knew that I knew Andrew. Adam had seen the notice of Andrew’s death on one of his websites, and wondered if the site had been hacked.
Given the Andrew I had seen a few weeks earlier, that was the only plausible explanation.
Andrew was only 43. That someone so young and seemingly vigorous can be gone so abruptly, that’ll make you stop and think about what’s important in life, regardless of where you stand on the political spectrum.
We’re all born. We’ll all die. In between, if we’re fortunate, we get to laugh and love.
Andrew Breitbart was someone who laughed and loved a lot, and I will miss him.