Tragic Lovers

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This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.

For the past week, I've been watching a poignant lesson in the power of the Internet to connect people. I've even participated, in a small way.

The episode reminds me, yet again, how much the world of websites and blogs drive the mainstream media bus these days.

Here's what happened. An acquaintance forwarded me a late-night email from a perfume creator. She was a stranger to my friend, looking for help confirming the accuracy of a shocking report on an online forum.

The report was that a blogger named Theresa Duncan had killed herself in New York -- and that her lover, an up-and-coming artist named Jeremy Blake, was so distraught that he walked into the ocean of Rockaway Beach in Queens. He was never seen again.

That's a pretty compelling story under any circumstances. But here in Los Angeles, it had extra resonance. I didn't know Theresa or Jeremy, but I knew their names and their work.

Until recently the couple had lived in Venice, fixtures on the local art scene. Blake showed in galleries and worked on the film Punch-Drunk Love.

Duncan was the more familiar of the two – and the more exotic. Magazines in the 1990's called her a cult figure, a writer and filmmaker who created cutting-edge video games for girls.

She was young and blonde and crazy smart. During the last Internet boom labeled her a Silicon Alley Dream Girl.

How could she be dead for nine days without word having gotten out?

I could find no media coverage, so I posted overnight on L.A. that the talk was out there. Unconfirmed hearsay, but the source was specific enough to be troubling.

The next morning I heard from an arts blogger in Washington DC that the story was true. Duncan's funeral in Michigan was the next day and Blake was still missing.

I posted an update, not expecting what happened next. Across the blogosphere, posts began to appear from distraught readers of the blog that Duncan started two years ago this month.

The Wit of the Staircase featured flowing literate posts about books Duncan read, beautiful objects she desired, and arcane subjects like the history of electricity.

She obsessed on the model Kate Moss and made the nuances of perfume sound enchanting. She wrote once that “Chanel Number Five is to France what Jack Daniel's Old Number Seven is to America: classic brews in classic bottles...utterly emblematic of their cultures.”

Duncan was new to Los Angeles but took to the city. She lived first at the Chateau Marmont, drinking Manhattans at the lobby bar as an ex-New Yorker's act of resistance.

She later adopted the Venice canals as her home turf -- after discovering they were no urban legend.

Westwood Driving School, she said, was the only school of higher education whose entire course of study she ever completed.

She was bawdy and entertaining and I became a fairly regular reader, seduced by her revealing style. Only after her death did I discover she had fans all over the place.

They spread the word on her death with sad, stunned efficiency, mourning in writing on their own blogs and linking to each other.

Nancy Rommelmann in Portland wrote that Duncan was complex and cool and someone that, one of these days, you'd inevitably run into.

Well that's not going to happen now.

Eventually, the outpouring in the blogosphere got the attention of the media. The New York papers reported on the double suicide of an artsy couple. The L.A. Times trailed behind, but eventually ran a big story and photograph in the Calendar section.

Listening to the chatter, it sounds as if more stories are in the works. I wouldn't be surprised to hear a script is making the Hollywood rounds.

For many people who never met Theresa or Jeremy, it's less a story than it is a tragic end to a friendship.

For KCRW, I'm Kevin Roderick and this is LA Observed.

Photo: Bret Haller