Mort: Richard L. Tierney

Word made the rounds that Richard L. Tierney died on February first — I heard the news in an email from Morgan “The Morgman” Holmes, who just put up an obit blogging for Castalia House.

Dick made it to age 85, which I don’t imagine he’d have ever believed he’d reach. When I first met him early in 1975, he was talking about not wanting to live past his fortieth birthday, coming up fast that August.

I’d moved to St. Paul, Minnesota from San Francisco and found a place on Summit Hill not many blocks away from Tierney’s rooms. Two years, 1975-76, hanging out with Dick and the weird fiction fan sub-group a.k.a. the MinnCon — Count Koblas, Joe West and others. Stopping in on Donald Wandrei — a bit farther off than Tierney, but not that far.

As I’ve said elsewhere, most of my hour-by-hour hanging out was with Dick, and in retrospect it seems we were mostly tooling around in his VW bug. We made a run up to see the Kensington Runestone (as fans of Robert E. Howard, neither of us had any problem believing Vikings might have made their way along epic waterways into the middle of Minnesota). We went down to Dick’s hometown of Mason City, Iowa where he showed off the bank Dillinger once robbed. Alvin “Creepy” Karpis of the Barker-Karpis gang had lived in our neighborhood. Al Capone had a getaway home on the banks of one of the rivers. Indian mounds. We did it all.

Mostly of course we circled around the narrow tombstone-bordered lanes of graveyards, talking weird fiction. Dick is the one who made “the Arthur Machen time of day” part of my mental fabric — the time as the sun sets when light flashes off distant windows, twilight dropping down. I wrote up one of his instantaneous observations for Crypt of Cthulhu, when as we were talking about the Clark Ashton Smith story “Ubbo-Sathla” Dick realized “Ubbo-Sathla is US!” — the primordial mire we all arose from over the eons. It’s a great thing to have someone around you can fully engage with on such matters — you’ll find mention of Dick and his ideas in various essays I’ve done over the years, such as “The Dark Barbarian.” I’ve said before and will always maintain that I wish Dick had written down more of his thoughts — but I’m happy I was on scene to get the living ideas fresh off the synapses. Wish you were there.

The only thing I recall not agreeing with him on was his notion that Henry S. Whitehead was the best prose stylist to write for Weird Tales. Perhaps on strictly technical grammatical grounds, but Whitehead couldn’t get close to writing by Lovecraft, Smith or Howard when they were kicking it.

I made my major discovery in MinnCon terms as we circled a cemetery. Tierney and West and Koblas already had discovered the monuments bearing the necrophagous names Skoog and Kroll, but I happened to glance to one side and saw it.

A stone bearing one word: DRKULA.

Dracula’s tombstone! Holy crap. We were estatic.

Later I learned from a longhair guy at some place I was working briefly that the name wasn’t quite as mysterious as it seemed — he was a regular at Drkula’s Bowling Alley.

He pronounced it Dra-cool-ah. Dra-cool-ah’s Bowling Alley.

Tierney and I drove out to see it.

Count Koblas, always more a hysterical type than the others, kind of ginned up the notion that he was sure Dick was going to commit suicide before turning 40.

I wasn’t all that worried about it. Not impossible — Dick was a big fan of Robert E. Howard, who shot himself at age 30. Dick had a handgun.

His rationale was purely intellectual. He had decided over the years that he’d never met anyone over the age of 40 worth talking to, and not to put himself in those ranks it’d be better to cash out.

But eventually he had met some older people worth talking with, including Bigfoot hunter George F. Haas in Oakland, during a Tierney stint in the Bay Area — and during those years he was a frequent visitor in The Lamasery above the hills of Redwood City, the lair of pulp fictioneer E. Hoffmann Price. Price once told me that Dick was the absolute favorite guest he and his wife hosted. And then there was Don Wandrei. . . .

So, birthday 40 came and went and Dick told some of us a story to explain why he didn’t kill himself. I think the story was real, something that had happened. Maybe from the newspaper.

A wife in St. Paul came home to find a note from her husband that he was going to end it all by jumping off the High Bridge over the Mississippi.

The High Bridge is really high up, strung between two enormous cliffs overlooking the river at that point. Even worse, if you’re afraid of heights, the pedestrian walkway on the side consists of slats of wood laid between iron supports — and they aren’t nudged tight. An inch spacing here, two inches there.

You can look through the gaps all the way down. . .

The wife calls in the police, they’re examining the suicide note when the husband walks in the door. A dour Norwegian or Swede or other Minnesotan pioneering type.

They ask him why he didn’t jump to his death.

Tierney looked at us and in sepulchral tones quoted the man: “Changed my mind.”

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