On Cookie Mueller

Hey Cookie, how’s it going? You’ve been dead 24 years. I think you’d be happy to know that there are new drugs on the market and people who are HIV positive now have a chance at a long life. It’s all in the timing, Cookie. You, your husband, and your friends – the artists and the lovers – were part of the first batch, lost when AIDS was called the gay plague and no one knew what was going on.

I’m calling you from the other side of that crisis, to say the world is still crazy. I read your book so I know you’re not likely to be surprised about that. I first came across your writing when I was doing my Masters in England. My tutor said I bet you’d like Cookie Mueller. I said who? That’s the thing about cult status. It’s only known in certain circles. One of the things I love about you Cookie, is that you’re not no one, but you’re not quite someone either.

You were a B grade actress in John Waters early movies. You watched Divine brace himself before eating a dog turd off the lawn in Pink Flamingos and you wrote about his professionalism later. You were raped in Haight Ashbury and retold the story as though it was just another pit stop in the madness of that night, but I felt the weight of that man pressing down on you, Cookie. You lived opposite Janis Joplin, went out with a pig farmer and once burnt down a house, with a bunch of your friends, by accident.

John Waters named Female Trouble after you. He said Cookie Mueller wrote like a lunatic Uncle Remus – spinning little stories from Hell that will make any reader laugh out loud.

In New York City you were Nan Goldin’s, lover and muse. At art school, I saw your smouldering image in books, long before I had any idea how well you could speak for yourself. Nan Goldin said you were sort of the queen of the whole downtown scene. In her photos you have crinkle cut hair, it’s the eighties, mesh is still in. You look like Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan, except you got there first. People were impressed by the cut of your gib. Your humour was as black as your eyeliner. And you wrote about art.

Who knows how you really felt about your own life in all its parts? You died at 40, a heroin addict. The hand full of stories you left behind prove you weren’t an introvert. I don’t think your book will ever win a Pulitzer, or be considered great art, but I return to it, the way I return to the good shit. I read your voice and I’m walking beside you, Route 95 South from Baltimore to Orlando. “There was no moon. The sky was like black cotton batting that enveloped us in a way that felt like walking through clear water in a pool painted black. Very clear and cloudless was the night sky, so it was thick with stars. We even saw clusters of the dust from exploded supernovas deep in space, thousands of light years away.”

It’s light years away. Your ashes are interred on a beach in Provincetown; in the flowerbed of the Church of St Luke’s in Greenwich; in the Scarpati family crypt in Sorrento, Italy (beside your husband and your dog); under the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janerio; in the South Bronx and in the holy waters of the Ganges.

Cookie, you made the cameo look like the best part.