In reconstructing someone’s life, you recall your impressions of the relationship shared and the interactions that led to lifelong friendships. Including all the bumps and warts. How well can you know anyone? We don’t dwell on the bad and fondly recall the good times. Keith Worz was best at being the worst possible human at times and still came up stinking like roses.
I met Keith in 1977, first at Baltimore’s best watering hole, The Mount Royal Tavern. Punk rock was reaching its zenith in Baltimore, and we were riding high on the wave of its inglorious history as a band called Da Moronics. The first punk band in Tinytown. Holding court in our home away from home living room bar at the MRT, we were the idiot kings of a fairy tale kingdom. Keith was our court jester. It was a carefree time of loud music, endless parties, and the usual debauchery. We were young with time on our side. It was It was a fuck the world, rock on, hysterical time. There he was, Keith, on that infamous night we laid eyes on him, bouncing off the walls of the Tavern, sweating profusely, running from one end of the bar to the other. His eyeballs popping out of his cartoon head. The jukebox blasting, we found Keith’s frantic, frenzy of non-stop moving, running wordplay babble nonsense, weirdly amusing.
Eventually, Keith became the unofficial band mascot and roadie. We soon realized there was no cutting him loose. Couldn’t shake him, like a bad habit. He could be a pest, a parasite, an unbearable boorish buffoon, a real pain in the ass, a total asshole, but then again in those heady days, so was I. As time wore on, the punk scene sputtered out, the 1980s arrived like a dud firecracker. The Reagan years weighed heavy on our collective psyche. The Bush, Clinton, and yet another Bush were just around the bend. Pot, pills, and booze had segued into cocaine and heroin. Social and casual drinking became hardcore binge swilling. The drug epidemic was upon us and Keith dove into the mosh pit hell of it. We all did to some degree, in our strange ways. There was a war on drugs, an unlimited supply, and drugs always win out in the end.
Performance art in the 1980s was all the rave and live local poetry thrived too. There was always the alternative to passé musical endeavors. Keith started painting and making art. He changed his last name to Worz, signing his art with two dots over the o, making it appear like an authentic, surreal Dada name. He’d begun an unfinished LinkedIn page where he listed himself as a cerebrated artist. If nothing else, he could be cerebral, but his cerebellum got in the way of his creative success. He could and did sabotage every opportunity that came along. Then again, many share that fear of failure, fear of success syndrome. Good artist, lousy human. Great poet, shitty person.
Keith was well on his way to a daily fix, and at that time I was right behind him with my own dirty habits. Back then, heroin was the drug of choice, at least until crack hit the streets. Jack Kerouac: “The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, made to be saved. Desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles. Exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle, the blue center light pop and everybody goes, AWWW!”
That sums up people like Keith. He had a knack for rubbing people the wrong way. He loved to make people feel awkward, to disgust them by revealing their private compulsions, and uncouth hypocrisy. I had a love/hate relationship with him before his demise. I saw it coming. A few weeks back, there was some chatter on social media inquiring about his whereabouts. I had no clue. I guessed he was either in jail, the looney bin, or dead. But I kept nose out of it. He overdosed. DOA. I felt numb, but wasn’t surprised. Some said he was a visionary artist and a madman. One replied he loved that crazy motherfucker. Another compared him to the Beat Generation icon, Neal Cassady. That’s a stretch, but he had his moments. Keith Worz was a wild force, sometimes beautiful, often terrible. His glass paintings and sense of humor were sublime. A tragic end to a sad life.
I have to weigh in on Keith after reading Tom DaVenti's mostly accurate obit. I met keith and his wife Lisa around 1998 in a Timonium Starbucks. We became good friends when I learned he was an artist and a huge fan of music. He was also an avid reader - an autodidact - and in many ways an intellectual. We shared the love of films - he loved old British and European especially. He could be very contentious and obnoxious and he would immediately blame it on his mental illness and say that's just how I am. But he could also be very congenial, witty, often charming. The downside of course was when he was drinking too much and he would become borish and argumentative demanding of all the energy in the room. He only started using serious drugs in the last year of his life. He would usually binge and then straighten up for a month or so at a time. That was when our friendship was at its best. He knew I couldn't be around him when he was too drunk or too high. It was just intolerable for me. But through all that we managed to have a very close and meaningful friendship for many years. When his wife Lisa who was suffering from a debilitating disease died about 6 months ago he lost his reason for living and seemed to disappear down the rabbit hole of drugs and alcohol. About 2 months ago we had an argument and I told him to get back in touch when he was over the binge. Sadly that was the last time I saw him. I tried reaching him for 2 months and I just heard tonight that he died a month ago around Oct 15th. His body was racked from years of abuse and I knew he wasn't long for this world even under the best of circumstances. But with the drugs and alcohol he was using I knew I could hear any time that he was gone. So when I just learned tonight Nov. 18th that he had died a month ago I was not surprised. He told me that I was his best friend and the only person that really cared about him. I am deeply saddened and I have lost a dear friend. In have some of his art on my walls and that will help me remember the best of him. Burn on you Roman Candle!
Miss you Keith. Miss our 4:00 AM phone calls. Movies recomendations, music listening sessions, afternoon runs out to the self-serve produce stand, sharing our love of our cats. Concerts we attended in last 3 yrs include, Dylan, King Crimson, Noel Gallagher. Damn Keith, it's been almost 2 months and I miss you so much. You shoulda tried harder to stick around!!! But you lived the cliche: "Burn too bright but not too long" "Luv to Luv Ya" Keith, that was our nightly sign-off.
hey Courtney, email me firstname.lastname@example.org - would like to talk sometime. after clearing out the house we have a lot of his artwork for any friends of Keith who would like a piece of his art.