Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Brian Anderson: Farewell to a Friend


Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

I’ve known Brian Anderson so long I literally can’t remember when I first met him. I do know that for over a decade he’s been a key member of H.E.A.L. [Health, Education, AIDS Liaison]-San Diego, the alternative AIDS group I co-founded in 1996. He helped get our public-access cable TV show going (it now appears every Wednesday at 11 p.m. on Cox Cable channel 23) and he served on the H.E.A.L. board from the time we organized it until he died August 27 from complications from heart disease. Brian and his partner Robert Turner were also long-term sponsors of Zenger’s Newsmagazine.

But Brian was a good deal more than a fellow activist in the service of a controversial cause — advancing the point of view that AIDS is a long-term breakdown of the human immune system caused mostly by lifestyle and toxic factors, not infection with the so-called “HIV” [“Human Immunodeficiency Virus”] or any other single microbe. He was also a long, dear and valued friend.

At least once he drove me up to Los Angeles to attend a meeting of our allied organization there, Alive and Well, and on the way up he told me that he shared my admiration for composer Richard Wagner and thought Wagner’s four-opera cycle, The Ring of the Nibelung, was the greatest work of art ever created in any medium. The next time we saw each other I gave him a cassette of Anna Russell’s marvelous spoof of Wagner’s Ring — and after he listened to it Brian told me how much he’d enjoyed the lampoon.

Brian was like that. Though soft-spoken, he was definitely a man of strong opinions. You always knew where you stood with him. When he first attended H.E.A.L. meetings he was of the opinion that the federal government had created HIV as part of a conspiracy to depopulate the Gay male community, though as he kept coming he gradually came around to the, in some ways, even more radical idea that HIV isn’t the cause of AIDS and may not even exist at all. Indeed, he spent a few months touring the country with German virologist Stefan Lanka, whose theories about AIDS and diseases in general are so radical even some alternative AIDS activists aren’t comfortable with them.

Brian’s roots were in Minnesota — where a long and destructive family feud, mostly over money, absorbed way too much of his time in the last two years of his life and stressed him out so much it may have hastened his end — but he spent most of his adult life in Washington, D.C., from where he and Robert had relocated not long before we met. He had some interesting anecdotes about life in our nation’s capital but he really didn’t like to talk about it much.

About two months before his death, Brian buttonholed me after a H.E.A.L. meeting and told me he was going into the hospital for an aortic valve replacement — and it was typical of his stoicism that he made this rather serious heart operation sound about as risky as having his car tuned. So when Robert called me with the news on the morning of August 21, I knew as soon as he told me who was calling what had happened even before Robert said so. As things turned out, Brian’s heart had failed a little less than a week and a half before his operation was scheduled.

I felt devastated by the news and at the same time I couldn’t help feeling for Robert, who not only had been Brian’s partner for 34 years but was notoriously misanthropic. (At least that’s what Brian called him; since Brian’s death Robert has told me that was an overstatement.) Having lived through the death of a partner myself, I can readily relate to how hard it is to make those phone calls while you’re still reeling under the whammy of your own grief — and for Robert it was no doubt even harder than it was for me or it would have been for Brian if Robert had been the one to go first.

The last time I saw Brian was at a H.E.A.L. meeting where he and Robert stopped in briefly on their way to another engagement — and Brian, being Brian, apologized that he was not able to stay. But perhaps the most important time I saw Brian was the time before that, when he came to the Joyce Beers Community Center in Hillcrest on July 4 to attend the legal wedding of myself and my husband, Charles Nelson. It’s his photo of us during the ceremony that illustrates Leo Laurence’s story of our wedding on the Zenger’s Web site, and the fact that our last extended interaction took place at such an occasion of joy for us helps ease the pain of losing him … a little.