Image from Alienated in Vancouver
I was sad to find out a few days ago about the death of Zev Asher, who I had crossed paths with a number of times on the underground music and film circuits. He played noise music with Nimrod and Roughage, and had a parallel career as a documentary filmmaker.
I first met Zev through a friend of my wifeâ€™s. We were doing film projections for music shows at that time, and our mutual friend told us that he had a similar project, where he played music and screened films. So we ended up booking him at a show we organized with a bunch of like-minded people. I think he played last as Roughage. I just remember him yelling â€œBorn free! Free to wave my dick in the wind!â€ while noise and images swirled around him.
Around this time he was making the documentary on the Nihilist Spasm Band. It was hugely inspirational and probably influential on my own docs in the respectful way it treated its subjects, never stooping to make fun of them as many might have. Great Canadian fogey Robert Fulford wrote an article in which, with typical hauteur, he mocked those who called the decades-strong, influential Spasm Band â€œlegendary.â€ Zev responded by sending him his autograph, â€œfrom one legend to another.â€
His next doc was Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat. The film, about some art-school kids who killed a cat as an art project and the fallout that ensued, caused controversy when it screened at the Toronto film festival in 2004. (A pretty good summary of the events can be found here). Watching the film was an experience that Zev himself described as â€œunpleasant.â€ The titleâ€™s obscure word refers to unsound reasoning, and what I remember most about it was how ruthless Zev was in the way he let all the subjects hang themselves with their own rope. His stance was apparently excessively subtle, since he was protested by animal-rights activists (none of whom had of course bothered to see the film).
We reconnected later in Montreal, where we had both moved. One day we made a plan to go for coffee. I arrived at the appointed time and left after half an hour when he hadnâ€™t shown up. Later when we connected, he was genuinely confused, and made fun of me, for the fact that I arrived on time and only waited half an hour. This was my introduction to â€œMontreal time.â€
Zev was an imposing figure. He towered over me (Iâ€™m 6â€™3â€) and gave the impression of someone who didnâ€™t suffer fools gladly. Like a lot of people on the noise scene, he had a strongly distinct way of looking at the world and clearly didnâ€™t care about mass opinion. But in spite of this sometimes intimidating presence, he was always very kind and helpful to us and other people in the music and film communities.
After Casuistry, Zev made a few more films, artistic experiments on a much lower-profile tip. I hadnâ€™t been in touch with him for a while when I heard that he had cancer. Iâ€™m told he was full of plans for future projects, and had been documenting his experience with the hospital system for a film to be completed when he got out.
He died following a stem cell transplant on August 7, 2013. He was 50.
Zev was a one-of-a-kind person and a genuine, fearless artist.