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David Warren and the Suicide Club

by Elaine Molinari

“Members must agree to set their worldly affairs in order to enter into the REAL world of chaos, cacophony, and dark saturnalia, and they must further agree to live each day as though it were their last, for it may BE. The club will explore the untravelled, exotic, miasmal, and exhilarating experiences of life: deserted cemeteries, storms, caving, haunted houses, Nazi bars, fanatical movements, hot air ballooning, stunts, exposes, impersonation. The Club will be ongoing for the rest of our lives.”

This was the agreement among the founding members of the San Francisco Suicide Club in 1977. One of those founders, and a long-time friend of City Guides, David Warren, died in January of 2009. Having been long out of touch, some of the other founders learned of his death last fall, and planned a true Suicide Club memorial and reunion.

On January 2, 2010 at the Playland Not-at-the-Beach Museum in El Cerrito (see the following story), the clan gathered. From planning emails, we had learned that the motto for the day would be, “Let’s put the FUN back in funeral.” And as I approached the building, there were the three Doggie Diner heads sitting in the parking lot; an accordion quartet; magicians; fire eaters; and, best of all - the urban pranksters I hadn’t seen in years!

Dave was remembered in song, in prose, and in tears. He had been a “carny” entertainer for years; my kids remember him eating fire, then blowing out a mouthful of white gas that ignited into a spray of flames. He taught fire eating with Communiversity. As proprietor of the Camera Obscura behind the Cliff House, Dave’s interest in the nearby Playland at the Beach drove him to collect bits and pieces of its history. He fought the park’s destruction and ultimate development of the area, attending endless public meetings, presenting endless petitions.

But, most of all, he was an entertainer. There are films being made, musicals being written about this man and his Club. In the words of one tribute:

“Sing for the man who brought fire,

Sing for the man who taught fun,

Sing for the soul of Dave Warren

And hope he lives on in the sun.”

As part of his will, he wrote that he was collecting some of his gray hair, as it fell out:

“It would please me greatly if after some kind of tribal cutting up of this gray matter, it would be added to a small can of paint as Gary Warne’s ashes were, then painted with him at the top of the forth tower of the Golden Gate Bridge so that I, too, may follow his path into the future sunrises and sunsets overlooking our beloved city of choice.”

I attended the Gary Warne (a City Guide, Class of 1980) memorial event on the Bridge; will this new challenge be met?

Playland Not-at-the-Beach

As for Playland Not-at-the-Beach, what a marvelous tribute to FUN! Much of Dave’s Playland memorabilia is here, along with other posters, Laughing Sal, and photos. In addition: