LOVE WILL TEAR US APART by Noah Buschel

Gray Madder died the other night. There will be no big funeral parade. Some of his union buddies will have some drinks. Some of his punk rock bandmates will mess around on their guitars and reminisce. Gray was in the film industry. Gray worked art department. Gray did some acting. Gray was the picture car coordinator on The Place Beyond the Pines. He lived a life in movies, but he was no Dame Judi Dench. He was something else.

I met him at the casting director Lori Eastside’s place on the Bowery about ten years ago. Gray was a struggling actor. He sure looked like an actor—like an actor from the ’50s Stella Adler universe. He was gruff, low to the ground, tough—but with big flirtatious, almost feminine eyes and a loving rascal grin. He was raised in Alaska and Texas, fresh to New York, with big dreams. Mike Pitt, already a movie star, was hanging around Lori’s too, and everyone would tell Gray how much he looked like Mike and reminded them of Mike. It seemed like Gray was in the right place. And still in his mid-twenties, at the right time. His name really was Gray Madder.

He trained in acting with Maggie Flanigan, the Meisner technique. He took the craft of acting very seriously. He loved Klaus Kinski, Brando, and Lon Chaney. Towards the end of Gray’s life he talked to me the most about Lon Chaney. About the loneliness Chaney could convey without words. That meant a lot to him. New York can be a scarily lonely place. Especially if you’re a struggling actor with no family near, living in the Bronx, in an abandoned castle.

But I don’t want to paint him as a derelict prince, although as I write this I can feel him smiling over my shoulder and nudging me to romanticize him. Oh Gray, let me be, let me be. He was/is so easy to romanticize. He had a knack for showing up on his motorcycle (his father was a Hell’s Angel) and making just enough noise to piss off whatever discreet street it was. Gray was a brilliant provocateur. He was so perceptive and intelligent—he could see the big hypocrisy of a situation and cut right through it with a tiny gesture.

One summer night we were down in the East Village and Mike Pitt’s band had just played a show. Mike Pitt came out of the club with his ripped up t-shirt. Pitt seemed carefully disheveled, a young film star as vagabond. Meanwhile Gray, who also has a band playing on that street, who is also an actor—but by no means has made any money at all and really is living like a vagabond—he crosses the street to Mike Pitt and leans over to Pitt, and ever so delicately rips one of the holes in Mike’s T-shirt just a little bit wider. Then Gray smiled a big Cheshire smile, and said, “Perfect!”

Fuck, am I romanticizing you now? I am, aren’t I? But it’s all true. Should I balance it? Should I talk about the bitterness of an actor who goes in for audition after audition after audition and never quite gets that break? Should I talk about the indignity you felt? The anger and depression and isolation of wanting to be part of a world that you see through. No one saw through the ridiculousness of the film industry more than Gray Madder. And no one wanted to be in it more. He had a lot he wanted to say as an actor, as an artist. He had a lot of anger to get off his chest, and a lot of wisdom and compassion too.

His misadventures in the New York film world read like a who’s who of who’s hot. A short film he was gonna star in, called Mr. Softee, was set to be directed by a just outta college Lena Dunham—but when she showed up and saw Gray standing there with a camera, a Mister Softee truck, and no crew—she pretended to get sick and bolted. And who could blame her? (Well, Gray could.)

Somehow eventually Gray moved from the Bronx to Brooklyn, Red Hook. And instead of auditioning and getting turned down again by the casting director Avy Kaufman or some other casting director who ‘liked his look and energy’ but could never quite find the right role—Gray decided to be practical and make some money. He joined the union and took long-hour film crew work. It was a good job for him in the sense that he never needed much sleep and could work around the clock. And the money was good, and the time off between gigs was good. He would go skydiving, or go to Paris, or take long trips on his Harley listening to Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” He painted limited edition skateboards for Bustin Boards and was a fine longboarder himself. He remixed his band’s last album. The band was called Lower 48. He adopted a beaten dog—Maya. Sometimes Gray’s tenderness and sweetness stopped me in my tracks.

His heroes, if he had any, were often obscure. Guys like Dick Lucas, the vocalist for the Subhumans and later, Citizen Fish. Punk rock was his thing and if you mentioned Joe Strummer or The Clash he would you set you straight about where it was really at. Bands I’d never heard of. He coulda written a book on Punk Rock without looking anything up. That’s how knowledgeable he was on it.

Gray’s band Lower 48 was excellent when they could get it together to play. If you wanna hear jingly jangly careening jubilant unsettling stuff—find Lower 48′s “Escamoso.” Or even better maybe—perhaps their masterpiece—”Hypnotized.” If Alex from A Clockwork Orange was a punk singer, he might’ve sounded a lot like Gray Madder.

Anyways, he died the other night in his apartment on Pioneer Street, at 36 years old. Details are still coming in, but it wasn’t a suicide or even an accidental overdose. He’d just been pushing himself so hard for so long, and I guess he was a little bit tired. I think of all the times I saw him ride off into the night at 3am in the rain on his motorcycle. I guess I kinda thought he was invincible. Maybe he did too.

Gray alienated a lot of people. He rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. His love relationships generally ended badly. He had falling outs with a good portion of his friends. He liked to drink, he liked to smoke, he liked to cause trouble—and push and push and push. He could be extremely needy and defensive and on edge. Sometimes it was like being with a pot of barely contained boiling water.

But… but… but! Let me say this to the four people still reading this piece. And let me say it to Gray and to myself and to whoever: He was extremely curious about this universe, this mind, whatever this is. He was very, very curious. And being with him helped me be curious. He was the most fun and adventurous person I ever met. He wanted to wake up. He didn’t like false comforts or false anything. He didn’t have time!!!!!

Okay, Gray?

— Noah Buschel

HTN Tool Belt:

  • Buschel

    Me and the three others…so sorry for your loss. Good friends are hard to find, and harder to keep. My condolences.

  • S Thornton Taylor

    Love you Gray! Hope I can do your memory justice.-Strange

  • http://www.facebook.com/connor.oliver Connor Oliver

    Gray Madder RIP

  • Nelson

    Noah, great piece. RIP Mr. Madder, you are hallowed.

  • Jc_smith39

    I am a Texas friend. He is known to us as Skater Bob! And He will be missed Dearly! R. I.P. Skater Bob.

  • Winn Lewis

    You are dearly missed, my friend. What you gave won’t be forgotten.

  • Shannon

    This is a wonderful tribute.  Well done Mr. Tully and rest in peace Gray.  We will miss you.

  • tully

     I didn’t write this! I guess I forgot to attribute the name in the WordPress though Noah Buschel’s name is everywhere else. Anyway, I have rectified the situation. I apologize for any misunderstanding. I myself never met Gray Madder, though just a few months ago Noah suggested I do just that, as he had a strong hunch it would have made for an illuminating HTN conversation. I guess we’ll never have that conversation now, but we will always have this lovely remembrance. Thank you, Noah.

  • huberdam

    gray madder as the drunken reviewer:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jXyq-eOo0Q4

  • Nelson Kim

    I directed Gray in a short some years back. Didn’t get to know him well as a person, but as an actor, he was wide open — when the camera was rolling and he was locked into the moment, his feelings came right through his skin. Total commitment. No bullshit. I wanted to work with him again someday… Thanks for this reminiscence, and condolences to his family and friends.

  • Nobuddha

    I didnt know Grey all that well but he was my union brother Iand I really wish I had gotten
    To know him. The Good Die Young

  • 999stepsisters

    we dated a few summers ago.  It always surprised me he was a vegetarian in light of such and aggressive personality. Is it sick to ask, how did he die?

  • http://www.facebook.com/mortgagecommitments Tom Barnhart

    Rest assured, you did not die alone.

  • Sirencaller

    On Gray’s Twitter account he talks about a Lower 48 album coming soon. I imagine this is where we can find the song Hypnotized that Noah Buschel mentions.  I hope Lower 48 gets it together to put out the album and honor Gray posthumously.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1141662743 Sarah Stanzione

    Like JC_Smith39, I also knew him long before the Gray days, when he was just Bob, just a kid in Texas. He was just as awesome then as the article makes him out to be. Not having seen him in easily ten years or more, this homage is clearly still about the same guy. Amazingly well written. Thank you.

  • Rebecca (Becky) Hale

    What a great tribute and writeup. I went to high school with Skater Bob! And even though we werent great friends, when I saw the pic, I remembered him and will never forget the name “Skater Bob”. It seems while he struggled, he did live a life that he enjoyed. I’m sorry it was so short. May he rest in peace. Many prayers for his family and friends.

  • Rhale1222

    Sarah, thanks again for the info!! Skater Bob was my memory of him.

  • http://twitter.com/kayotv Keith Overton

    this totally saddens me RIP Gray

  • Maribethemchugh

    this was really a nice read. thank you.

  • Lisa

    Hey I don’t know you or Gray Madder or have any connection with anyone except for some reason I saw this on a friends post on Facebook… This is a beautiful and universal obituary to an artist…’The Artist’ in fact…. and could be the last loving words I have also written to a few of my friends, mates…soul mates even…Gray Madder was lucky to have you in his short existence on this plane…and he won’t be forgotten now…

    I am sorry for your loss….

  • stephen guirgis

    great piece, noah. hope you’re well. rest in peace, gray! 

  • Tom Tonks

    Gray, thanks for the honor and privilege of knowing you. You are one of the nicest and real person I have met in a very long time. Rock on brother, you will be missed.

  • Xmliqq2012
  • Sarah Grace Long

    Noah, Its Sarah Grace, can you contact me please, somehow, some way, email me, long.sarahgrace@gmail.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/carlos.acosta.779857 Carlos Acosta

    I’ll never forget you Gray! You were definitely one of the most amazing people I ever knew.

  • Sarah Grace Long

    “In an abandoned castle”…. I can’t believe this is real…

  • jme

    I don’t know how to begin.. i could end up filling REAMS of internet space reminiscing about my times with my friendand occasional savior Gray. He and Lower48 really helped save in in a very dark time when I was at odds with my formerly upcoming stars proffessional band (the Pagoda show the origional poster mentioned… yeah that was my outward march from that band, and beginning of moving in with Gray, filling in a vacant drummer slot breifly with L48… and enjoying night after night of actually having fun in NYC for the first time in the almost 2 years I had been there… ROCKING like it was meantto be… with fun.. balls.. attitude.. sense of humor.. and a touch of tragedy too… he SPILLED ALL OF THIS so brazenly and openly and having traded ideas on tons and tons of musical ideas… opinions on actors and movies.. a handful of live shows.. and many a night’s beer-soaked philosophy… after him taking in my ex-stray “Digits” i had saved from Kingsbridge, moved to Staten Island.. and eventually brought with me to Gray’s Catsle tower… He was at times anarchic and angry and pissy.. at most other times so full of energy and optimism it revived my depressed ass and made me want to go along with all sorts of wild ideas and spontenaety. The world needs more enthusiasm, not less. I wish I could go on for miles with little anecdotes… like the time when we sat on the roof spraying the L48 back banner with the last of the black spray paint and he let me keep borrinwing his cell phone everry 5 minutes to try and reach my GF i had sent away to portland… the time he had to pull the sunglasses off of me on stage cuz he knew i couldnt see the drum set (my first gig with L48 live)… time he kept calling me “ma damie” (which i mistook for him being drunk and saying ‘jamie’.. untill he made me watch ‘pootie tang’ with him one afternoon… followed by a dozen other old movies i had to be brought up to speeed on…)

    but as i said i wish i could go on for pages all the fond memories of one of the last superheros… but i dont want to overstep here.

    DAMMIT GRAY! wish i could have saved you from whatever it is.. the same way you saved me and my cat without me even having to tell you I needed saving. Instinct to love and give a shit. Instinct to enjoy even the worst turmoil in one way or another. Instinct to power through with a diligent unfaltering awesomeness.. and that wry smile like he always knew something I didn’, and was snickering about it inside.

  • alok