This year at Necon we buried Les Daniels. Not literally of course, though I think he would have liked that. It was the most unusual, most original funeral celebration I’ve ever attended. And maybe the most moving. There was no set program, simply an open mike. Chet Williamson sang one of Les’ songs, Cortney Skinner unveiled a magnificent portrait of Les commissioned by Mark Angevine, and one by one his sister, a few dozen friends, artists, and writers came forward to tell of his influence on their lives. Some were strictly professional but most were intensely personal and his importance became apparent to all in the room. The memories lasted longer than we planned but even at that I was told by many in attendance afterward that they would have come up also but weren’t sure they could add to what had been said by those who did. If they had, the celebration would have lasted long into the night.
The celebration was held in the main lecture room at the Baypoint Conference Center, part of Roger Williams University. That too was appropriate, in an odd way. Les lived his entire adult life on Benefit Street, within a few blocks of where old Roger settled when he got kicked out of Massachusetts, and of the church he founded, the First Baptist Church in America. It was within a block of The Golden Ball Inn (where Poe drank after being rejected by Sarah Whitman); The Atheneum Library (where he wrote his name in a book); St. John’s Cemetary (where he sat forlorn and watched the sunset); and The Shunned House, famously used by Lovecraft in his story of that name. Benefit Street is also within walking distance of both Brown University and the Rhode Island School of Design. Les was like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, living in a basement at the heart of a vibrant, cultural center yet almost invisible — almost.