By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Back then, especially, I liked to push people’s buttons,” says Lunch by e-mail from her home in Barcelona. “[I] liked to play dirty puppet master, and loved guys who weren’t intimidated by my own macho posturing but used it as a springboard to skyrocket themselves (and me with them) off the deep end. And Pete, at least with me, fit that mold: He liked to drink, get drunk, act out, play dumb. And he wasn’t dumb. He was clever, poetic and, like myself, romantic in the worst way possible. And that makes you dangerous. It was part of his incredibly irresistible sex appeal.”
“The thing that stands out the most in my mind about Pete is that he was a very gentle person,” Cervenka says. “He was a really great artist, visually — a great writer, a great filmmaker. He was very wild and emotionally like all of us — no different than me, fucked up — and I think that prevented him from doing a lot of really great things with his life. But I never saw him be violent. The best thing that someone said is that this was a very film noir ending to Pete’s life.”
Whether due to his peripatetic nature or the ferment of the times, Haskell could never seem to focus his talents, preferring instead to pursue any artistic challenge that presented an immediate hurdle. He was the drummer for Thelonious Monster long enough to wind up on the cover of the Weekly in a cowboy hat and a T-shirt that read, “I Lease by the Piece,” and, by most accounts, a pretty good singer and rhythm guitarist. He wrote scripts, poetry, short stories and long letters to friends, as he oscillated between coasts and passed in and out of their lives. He and Haley produced four issues of a poetry zine called Rattler from 1982 to 1987 (with design credited to both Haskell and Wojciak), and he leaves behind hundreds of paintings, cartoons, photographs, carvings in antler and bone, and a dozen 18-inch dolls, replete with hand-stitched clothing and papier-mâché heads, based on characters he saw on Hollywood Boulevard.
“He understood that after the accidental beauty of youth, we’re all just stumbling around out here trying to do something great,” says Doriandra Smith, a seamstress and one of Haskell’s many non-romantic kindred spirits. “He just had an incredible penchant for everything that was curious and out-of-the-box, and a really intense artistic eye.”
“His intuitiveness was so acute, it bordered on spooky,” adds Heather.
People continually refer to Haskell as a Renaissance man, jack-of-all-trades, die-hard bohemian and beautiful loser. James Dean and Jack Kerouac are frequent touchstones. He rarely held a steady job, worked just enough to facilitate his art, frequently stayed with friends or moved in with girlfriends (his brother calls him “the houseguest from hell”), and slept outdoors when necessary. And he was generally charming enough to get away with it — he cultivated a chivalry and Southern gentility, especially around women.
“He was a really lovely guy if you were a girl,” says longtime friend Beth Thompson of the band Medicine.
But seen from a different vantage, bohemian can also be another word for deadbeat, or, worse, opportunist. At some point, living on the margins of society invariably makes you someone else’s problem. (Haskell once lived in comedy writer Tom Stern’s garage for four years in the late ’90s.) And ambition, especially when diffused through alcohol and contempt for commercial success, can turn bitter — or, worse, mean, even if friends never saw him cross the line into violence.
“He was a seriously flawed human being,” says photographer John Eder, summing up their 20-year friendship. “Serious alcoholic, although you rarely saw him fucking up. But he would get really wasted and live off the generosity of other people, or kind of worm his way into their lives. So many people would look at that guy and think, If only he would get his shit together and stop drinking, then he could rule the world.”
For the past three years, Haskell had bounced around between relatives in Charleston, South Carolina, and his mother’s house in Charlottesville, Virginia, and spent time working in Germany with an old friend. But eventually, whether by design or default, he decided to take one more run at L.A.
Haskell hit town for the last time on May 24, 2008, first crashing in Los Feliz and West Covina with friends of friends, and then sleeping in spare rooms, parks or his car. He found pickup work where he could, including porn shoots, but for the most part, he did not find Los Angeles overly receptive to his return.
Byron Baker describes attending a party in late July at an old friend’s house with Haskell in tow, and then a phone call several days later telling him Haskell was still there. “So I drove over there, and there’s Peter sitting out in the back,” Baker recalls. “I said, ‘Well, I see the party’s still going on.’ And he just kind of hung his head and said, ‘I know, I was gonna go.’” This is also where Haskell met the Spanish Guitarist, who was teaching him to play classical guitar (and who chooses not to be identified out of fear for his personal safety).