Bahut yaarana lagta hai
Don’t mourn the loss; celebrate the life” is something a lot of people say, but it’s often awkward when you put it into practice. But my family, hollerin’ bunch of weirdos that we are, do truly take the saying to heart, which means our own memorial services are wild, and when we attend memorial services for others outside of the family, we are unintentionally offensive and seen as being overly flippant at a solemn ceremony. But with Todd Stadtman, I know he would not be happy to see me moping about, however much his passing may inspire dark, blue feelings. And so, I’m here to celebrate the life in a loud, bungling, unapologetic fashion. Luckily, Todd makes that absurdly easy.
Beneath everything else, it was a shared philosophy that brought Todd and me together: that, far from being disposable thoughts on meaningless pop culture ephemera, to experience, write about, and discuss what was then and still so often is referred to as “trash” culture from a given spot on the globe or population of people, is to bring you closer and closer to understanding the people in the spot or who comprise that population. That pop culture—film, writing, music, dance, whatever form it may take—gives you a window into a culture that is not granted via loftier forms of art. It’s not always pretty, and often it is crude and a little puzzling, but then, that’s human society for you. The one thing that binds us all together, all cultures and all peoples, is how nonsensical and crazy we are.
Pop culture was, for us, anthropology, and we both came at it with a sense of respect and love, if not always seriousness and if not always adoring. We both knew that there would be mistakes along the way—cultural nuances we missed, messages that went over us because we were watching or listening to something without the benefit of English subtitles (or with those pale white subtitles where only three words of a sentence are ever on-screen)—but that the correction of those mistakes, the filling in of those gaps, brought us, step after step, toward a fuller understanding of the people and the world around us. That excited Todd, and it excited me, because as much as I may seem to some a cynic or even a misanthrope, there is joy, curiosity, and excitement at the core.
I met Todd, I think, in the early 2000s, though it’s possible it was earlier. I remember the passage of time basically in terms of what the visual design of Teleport City was at any given moment, and where I was sitting during whatever day job I had at the time. It turns out this is a terrible way to chronicle one’s life, because my fitful flights of fancy means Teleport City has had more designs than I can remember, and I go through periodic, maniac bouts of deleting vast quantities of my past work for any number of reasons. Also, I just lose a lot of things, and my memory is less like a precise diagram and more like a hasty impressionist painting. So, to reconstruct certain timelines, I find myself spending hours on the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine going through the tattered digital remnants of my poorly-managed empire…which, in its way, is a fitting way to remember Todd, since so much of what we bonded over-involved us poring through forgotten and poorly-made bits of the internet in search of a single sentence about eldritch subjects such as Harinam Singh, Pearl Cheung, or this one song we both remember from maybe a “Nuggets” compilation.
It was Chor Yuen martial arts movies that first led to us crossing paths. Luchador and old Bollywood action films bound us closer, and well, what else can you say about the firm foundation of a friendship built on long exchanges about Amitabh Bachchan‘s bow ties and our shared love of 1960s girl groups and northern soul and the Pogues’ version of the song “Haunted”?
When we finally met in person, first in New York and later in San Francisco, it was like he had always been there. Rarely has a friendship made such perfect sense to me. As a curmudgeon, I often wonder, at least from time to time, “why am I friends with this person?” But that never happened with Todd. I can’t say it was like meeting my long-lost twin, because he was much taller and nicer than me, but it was definitely the feeling of a piece falling into place. From a shared love of films from all over the world, we wove together a shared interest in pop music, pulp, cocktails, and punk rock. His vast, voracious appetite for the beautiful and strange art of the world pushed me beyond limitations I would have otherwise settled within. Look at this weird thing I found…oh damn, now Todd is writing about Indian giant monster movies from the 1950s? And Sompote Sands? Who the hell is Sompote Sands? I still have a lot to discover. “I still have a lot to discover” is one of the best feelings in the world, and Todd instilled it in me almost daily.
Todd was so active, so creative, that his Taiwan Noir podcast Kenny B. eventually had to stop asking him what else he was working on, because the list would basically take up the entire podcast. The amount of fun, the amount of art, and the number of people that came into my life because of Todd cannot be fully comprehended in a single sitting. The massive body of work he leaves for the world will continue to be a source of awe and inspiration—I’ll never get tired of reading and rereading his exploration of Taiwanese monster movies, or remembering his pure, undiluted hatred for Magic Lizard—in fact, perhaps my most cherished gift from him is a VCD bearing the hand-written label “Fucking Magic Lizard. Do not watch.”
So while his passing hurts, and hurts big, I am overjoyed that he still has so much out there to share and dig through. I’ll never finish reading Die Danger Die Die Kill, and I think it’s actually physically impossible to finish listening to the vast number of entertaining podcasts he made or on which he appeared. We should all be so lucky as to leave behind such a raucous, fun, worthwhile testament to our life.