- Mike Davis
- L.D. Beghtol in Memphis, 2001
— Stephin Merritt,“The Way You Say Good-Night.”
From 69 Love Songs, performed by L.D. Beghtol
“Sweep everything under the rug for long enough, and you have to move right out of the house.” ― Rachel Ingalls, Mrs. Caliban
This is a bad story. There are worse stories, and sadder ones, usually involving orphans, serial killers, and/or extinction events. But the astonishing L.D. Beghtol is dead and no story beginning with news like that can be any kind of good. More than this, if you knew him, knew of him, or only recognize the sweetly whispering voice of “All My Little Words,” and other superb tracks from The Magnetic Fields magnum opus 69 Love Songs, no amount of accolades or fond accounting can make the bitter batter better. So be forewarned. If happy endings are your kink — if you like stories that make you feel better, affirm life, balm grief, and order the unruly world, if only for an estimated engagement time of 4 minutes — this isn’t the story you’re looking for. L.D. arrived in Memphis in 1983. If that wasn’t tragic enough, he went by Larry, something people don’t forget half as quickly as you’d hope. Nevertheless, Larry persisted, rapidly distinguishing himself as a notable artist, designer, curator, pot stirrer and mischief maker. During a dozen-year run in the Bluff City he worked with Towery Publishing, organized art happenings, and fastidiously studied the lives and habits of famous murderers, while penning witty, literate art and music columns for periodicals like No: and The Memphis Flyer.
- LD Beghtol
- Vintage No:
- LD Beghtol
Not content to work in two dimensions only, L.D. co-founded Nice Boys From Good Families, a multimedia arts collective. Nice Boys kick-started rave culture in Memphis while staging posh art openings and a beloved underground production of Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at Marshall Arts Gallery.
- LD Beghtol
- Blues on the Bluff
At the risk of sounding like I’m writing an obituary — which would make L.D. cross — it’s necessary to continue in this vein a moment longer. The media company kind enough to publish our horrible tale deserves a few clicks, and doing so ups the odds of someone finding this article by searching for “Magnetic Fields” and “Singers who aren’t Stephin Merritt.” Speaking of...
In 1997, while living in an apartment above the Stonewall Inn (not the one occupied by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson), and working as the art director for the Long Island Voice, L.D. became acquainted with Merritt, already an established force with musical projects like Future Bible Heroes, and the Gothic Archies. They shared tastes in literature and drink and a mutual fascination with bizarre old musical instruments. It wasn’t long before L.D., Merritt, Claudia Gonson, Daniel Handler, and various other Magnetic Fields regulars and irregulars were hard at play making 69 Love Songs.
- LD Beghtol
- Cover design, 69 Love Songs
- Courtesy of Galen Fott
- "Godot," a Clarksville High School-era illustration by LD Beghtol.
There’s much to consider about L.D.’s time in Clarksville, where he discovered the art of Aubrey Beardsley, the mystery of perfect cornbread, punk rock, musical theater, and the joys of madrigal singing. This is also the place where our story takes its first turn for the worse. How else could it turn? One time, when L.D.’s family was out for a drive, the front half of a deer with enormous antlers came crashing through the passenger side window of the car. The terrified animal started thrashing around while the car skidded and swerved, and the deer bucked and kicked to disentangle itself. “My sister lived,” he’d say, dryly. I mention this event only to further suggest that, as troubling memories go, this was one. And to assuage any ideas that L.D.’s Gothic leanings were anything but earned.
- LD Beghtol
- Created for Theatre Memphis' production of A Lie of the Mind. Painted print with deer blood.
The photo collection extends beyond dead boyfriends, of course. He collected dead imaginary family and friends too. Now, I’m sorry to say, it's time to get real. Phil Campbell is a former staff writer for The Memphis Flyer, currently living in Queens. Phil met L.D. in 2010 when he joined me and fellow Flyer alumni Jim Hanas for coffee and drinks in Brooklyn. Following this Memphis publishing reunion, Phil and L.D., formerly two friends of friends, became regular friends and frequent museum buddies. After visiting an exhibit together, Phil, a compulsive memoirist, asked L.D. how he would pose for a photograph, were it the late 1900s and he “only had one real chance in his life to be photographed.”
Without hesitation, off the top of his head, LD answered, “It’d be English summer, 1896 or so: I’d wear a striped Henley blazer; deepish-brimmed straw boater with grosgrain band; round-collard soft-front shirt; four-in-hand silk tie, wide-ish, shortish; white flannels or line trousers, quite narrow, slightly pegged, but no cuffs; perhaps a light vest, possibly knit; lace up high top Oxfords, canvas and leather. Absurd socks — with clocks on them? I’d be photographed with an equally dapper friend (or two) with our bicycles, near a lake or having a little picnic under a plane tree.”
According to Phil’s essay, L.D. would, “pose with a dog, which he does not actually have in the 21st-Century. Its name would be Montmorency.” At last, we've gotten to it: This piece of instant art direction is the true and tragic story of my friend L.D. distilled. It's everything you need to know in order to know everything you need you know about things you should know and all the things that matter.
- Robin Holland
- The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs lineup
Of course LD knew how to tune a Marxolin. And of course he offered to tune somebody’s Marxolin for them. And yes, it’s exactly the small things. And the old and fragile things. The forgotten, esoteric things of great power and no consequence; broken, beautiful, and probably without objective meaning. These are the things that mattered. If ever there was a sweet curmudgeon, born to be posthumous, it is L.D. Beghtol. And wouldn’t you just know it, author Mark Dery already claimed “Born to be Posthumous” as the title for his 2018 Edward Gorey biography. I know because L.D., as generous with books as he was with offers to tune Marxolins (and everything else, really), gave my family the hardback edition as soon as it was available. With this anticlimactic joke, about as funny as an urn to the head, our woeful yarn reaches its doleful conclusion. A great spirit has been lost; attention must be paid. Goodnight, dear L.D. And, foiled again!