LD and I have emailed off and on over the years about various ideas for collaboration though we only ever met in person once, the occasion being a Chickfactor show at Fez in the ’90s. There I learned of his interest in the band Crash and his desire to put together a tribute album. Would I be interested in participating?, he asked. Certainly, I replied, somewhat surprised that someone I’d never met before was aware of the band and the fact that I had sung back up on one of the Crash songs at least 10 years before when I lived in NYC. Though the project did not materialize, we kept in touch occasionally about other possibilities until 2017 when LD graciously consented to cover one of my songs for a tribute cassette and to also design the cover. While I cannot claim to have known LD well personally, I always thought of him as a rare spirit, someone who knew exactly what was good and what was not so good. His gift for words, songwriting, and the visual are not often found in one artist.
Most recently, during the quarantine summer of 2020, I started recording again after many years. It seemed like a good time because there was plenty of free time (I wasn’t working for various reasons). LD texted with some possible ideas for collaboration and we decided on a cover of his song, “Lack of Better,” a nicely moody tune beginning in E minor. Right up my alley. He gave me license to do whatever I wanted and so I did. He was to complete the recording with a “big acoustic guitar” track and a backup vocal. We last discussed the project in an exchange of texts on Thanksgiving night, after he had returned early from a trip to Memphis fearing another lockdown might be imminent. After talking a bit about the sorry state of things in general (as well as various recording software options), the chat ended. I assumed that we would pick up where we left off sometime in the near future.
I have spent all day trying to absorb the death of LD Beghtol, with whom I shared a stage and a cognac many a time. His extravagant voice and personality lent charm and drama to his bands Flare, The Moth Wranglers, and the New Criticism, as well as his unforgettable vocals on The Magnetic Fields’s 69 Love Songs. In lieu of a photograph I am posting what may as well have been a portrait, from a book by Edward Gorey we both admired. Listen to something gloomy tonight, with a touch of melodrama and panache, to remember a man who turned every room into a velvet-draped literary salon. Mr. Beghtol, the world is diminished.
What I keep remembering is at the first Three Terrors show, where Stephin, Dudley and LD were singing the saddest songs they could think of. LD sang “Pretty In Pink” with me on synthesizer and I screwed up the intro, so he only sang a few words and the we had to stop. But the few words, “Caroline laughs and it’s raining all day” gave away the surprise. So the start-over was particularly awkward. LD waited for the murmurs to die down—he did always hate a chattery audience—and then we started again and his vocals were so sad and relentless that everyone was transfixed. Everyone made the journey with LD to the place where this was indeed the saddest song. That’s what he did: he brought the theatrical moment, the drama, the gesture. And he could transfix you.
Dana Kletter remembers her friend and collaborator
When I met LD, I felt he knew me, and I think he felt I knew him.
The first time I recorded with him he instructed me to be the murdered girl.
He was a great writer of some crazy antic fiction.
“Maybe this time, you think to yourself: ‘Lady peaceful, lady happy.’ That’s the new me! Giddy with it all, you plant a big wet kiss on Not-So-Little Red’s startled, becollagened mouth, pinching what’s either a third nipple or an ill-concealed on/off switch slightly misaligned on the bead-encrusted bodice of the creature’s gaudy gown as a fan organ wheezes soothingly above the thrum of hypnotic snares.”
When I told him I found a new psychiatrist, he wrote, “I sometimes wish I were much more fucked up so I could do that.”
He was the most cynical romantic I’ve ever known.
He meant to make a record this summer but was thwarted by everything. He sent me some demos for possible songs. Hell is other people’s boyfriends, one began.
We texted and called each other regularly. I’m sorry I cannot text him now to complain about this.
I loved him dearly and will miss him forever.
Photo by Dana Kletter. Taken while we were in the studio recording “Morgantown.” Listen to the song here. Recorded San Francisco, 2012, Doug Hilsinger on guitar, LD and I on vocals, and backing tracks LD brought from New York. Mixed by Kramer.
Oh LD. I don’t remember exactly when I met LD but he just twirled into the Magnetic Fields universe around the time that 69 Love Songs was being designed and recorded. He was in a band called Flare. He sang on 69 Love Songs. He was a graphic designer who became instrumental in bringing chickfactor’s design to another level; his photoshop expertise also elevated the quality of my photography in the print publication. He became our designer in chief; I usually chose the art but he made it all work in chickfactor issues 12 to 15, our chickfactor mixtape, many event posters, and even a book of my photography that was published (limited edition, 7-inch size) in 2012.
When the rest of the city left town on holiday weekends, LD and I would hole up in my Manhattan apartment and/or his office on 23rd street and work work work on chickfactor. We would spin many singles. We would sit on the floor eating pad thai. We would plot upcoming shows. We both had extremely busy day jobs and yet we were productive AF during all of our free time. Other times we’d be communing with Stephin at St Dymphna’s over tea (Stephin’s chihuahua Irving Berlin would often eat the entire Irish breakfast) or later at Dick’s Bar on Second Avenue or the Phoenix where we would watch show tunes, sip Courvoisier and talk endlessly about people and music and art and life. I would often try to leave to go home and the boys would buy me another drink and set it in front of me.
LD was a force of nature. If he loved you, he *REALLY* loved you. But if you crossed him, it was murder. If he cared about you, his loyalty knew no bounds. He once wrote a set list that was built to torture a certain musician who LD believed had wronged me. He felt everything extra deep. Some of his creative partnerships didn’t last: If he burned the bridge, that was it. But he lived a creative life through and through; whatever day job he was doing, you can bet he spent every free moment doing a million small creative things. His grand moments in the spotlight with the Magnetic Fields in New York and London were among his proudest moments; as a featured singer he would come out with all the drama one would expect in such moments. He made you believe he *was* the King of the Boudoir all right.
Our relationship was complicated but we mostly got on like a house on fire. He found community with both the Magnetic Fields and chickfactor (among others), along with New York music culture in general. He and Dudley and Stephin were like a trio of charming, sulky sweethearts, and LD was like a bitchy-diva sibling to me. We mostly got along well but struggled with creative differences. Although the vile and brutal year 2020 took him along with many other cultural icons and American lives, his art will live on, and you can bet he had a million new projects simmering away that we’ll never get to see. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye, but I won’t forget him because he was unforgettable. RIP, LD.
interview and photograph are from chickfactor 15, 2002, by Gail O’Hara