It was mid-December, 2009 when Mel Gibson and his then girlfriend Oksana Grigorieva knocked on the door of the Venice Arts Club in Venice, CA. Mel had heard about the VAC through Michael Ruppert, a regular at the VAC and a founding member of the New White Trash, one of several music projects produced by the VAC. Being a Sunday evening, it was a slow night, with perhaps only a half-dozen people in the studio. I answered the door, greeted Mel and Oxana then ushered them through the studio and into the backyard where a fire was blazing in the outdoor firepit.
I can tell much about people according to how they react to the VAC dogs, especially to Squishy, a pit bull with a poker face. It’s typical of Squishy to wait until the other dogs have made their introductions before coming around and introducing himself. His big mug can be intimidating, and on more than one occasion someone visiting the VAC has refused to enter, simply because of catching sight of Squishy. This was not the case with Mel, who, upon spotting Squishy, let out a big chuckle and made his way over and introduced himself to the Squish.
It was a great start to a fun evening, all of us sitting around the fire, telling stories, playing music. Oksana explained how she was looking to re-mix a track off of her recently released album, Beautiful Heartache, and would the VAC be interested in the project? In getting to know Mel, it turned out we had both lived in the same area of Sydney (Paddington) at the same time back in the late 70’s. I mentioned Zelda the ‘cat lady’ and he knew exactly who I was speaking of. Small world. Mel took a genuine interest in the years I spent fishing on the Great Barrier Reef, turned out his love of Australia was equal to mine.
Somehow Mel and I got on to speaking about my bouts with cancer. When I told him I had twice been given 6 months to live and had pulled through on both occasions, he let out a low whistle, put his arm on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and just kind of nodded his head. And that was that, no more was said about it.
A short while later Venice guitar god Michael Jost showed up, unpacked his axe and played for all of us. Fortunately, mix-guru Andy Kravitz was in the house, at the board, and was able to capture the moment. From that, CAMPFIRE SONG was born and now appears on Volume 6 of the VAC MUSIC PROJECT. Mel makes a cameo appearance at the end of the song with some words of praise for Jost’s playing. Around about midnight, Mel and Oksana said their goodbyes and drove off. And so ended another evening at the VAC.
The next morning around 10am my phone rang from a number I didn’t recognize. I answered and said hello.
“Doug, it’s Mel. Thanks for last night. How are you?”
“Mel? Fine, how’s everything?” My mind was racing; having figured that he or Oksana had left something behind I walked outside to check the grounds for anything stray or out of place. “What’s up?” I asked.
“Doug, I want you to come up to my house, there’s some people I want you to meet.” Mel asked if I could make it the next day. I said yes, he gave me the address and said see you then.
I spent the rest of that day thinking, WTF? My first thought was that I had mentioned to him about an Australian writer he had never heard of and that he wanted more info. So the next day, armed with that writers book, I drove up to Malibu and found his house. Mel greeted me at the front door, gave me a bear hug and invited me in. He then introduced me to his family, who were there for the holidays, including his kids, his sister and his father. Mel then ushered me into another room where a team of health care practitioners were waiting to discuss my health/cancer concerns and offer advice and information on various forms of treatment. After a while, Mel stuck his head in and asked me if I was hungry. I said sure. He went into his kitchen and proceeded to make me a sandwich which he brought on a tray with an iced tea!
This went on for several days, each day I would meet with experts in the field of health and healing, all of whom had insightful information about treating cancer and maintaining my health. And each day Mel would offer me whatever it was I wanted in the way of food and drink.
In the end I realized there was no motive to Mel Gibson’s generosity, he was simply doing what he was able for someone in need of what he had to offer through what he could arrange. His cause for concern followed by his acts of kindness were genuine and touching and real. I am sorry to hear about his ongoing troubles. The Mel Gibson I know has a heart as big as a house and a warm and generous spirit geared towards sharing light and love.
April 16, 2012
CAMPFIRE SONG – Venice Arts Club Music Project
VAC BACKYARD Image by Cara Tompkins
MICHAEL JOST at VAC Image by Cara Tompkins
SQUISHY.2 Image by Cara Tompkins
DOUG LEWIS Image by Malia Luna
DL AND SQUISHY Image by Cara Tompkins