This morning I received the horrible news that my friend David died suddenly yesterday. I have known him since the age of 18, including an eventful stint where we lived together in a wonderfully bohemian apartment on the north side of Chicago. I have known many memorable people in my life, but David was by far the most unique. He lived without resorting to bullshit or compromising his integrity, and was never afraid of what others thought of him. I wish I could say the same of myself.
In remembering him today, I have been listening to a lot of music that we enjoyed together. Hearing these songs has been both healing and painful.
Black Sabbath, "Neon Knights"
Dave was a huge fan of Black Sabbath, and my first album by the godfathers of metal was a tape he gave me, with Paranoid dubbed on one side and the first Led Zeppelin album on the other. It was an important moment, since my upbringing in rural Nebraska had made me disdain heavy metal, the music of the kids who used to bully me. Early Sabbath was an easy sell for me, but Dave had all of their albums from across the decades. I tried to resist, but eventually I caved to his evangelization, and learned to love Sabbath's Ronnie James Dio period. Every time I hear this song I think of riding along in the passenger seat of his rusty 1980 Dodge Diplomat, chugging through the suburban streets of Omaha with the windows down and metal blasting out.
The Stooges, "Loose"
While Dave got me into metal, I turned him onto punk. He fell for Iggy Pop harder and faster than I did, but by the time we lived together, we both listened to him on an almost daily basis. Fun House was a special favorite in our apartment, and this song in particular. The night we saw Iggy live at the Metro was one of the highlights of my time in Chicago, and one I will always remember.
Bob Dylan, "Ballad of a Thin Man"and "Like a Rolling Stone (Live)"
I also took pride in the fact that I got Dave interested in Bob Dylan, and the two of us listened to both Highway 61 Revisited and the second disc of the famous 1966 "Royal Albert Hall" concert a lot in our Chicago apartment. I spent the year we lived together working as a library clerk between my master's and doctoral degrees, while Dave was finishing up his master's study. I worked the evening shift, and I have a vivid memory of coming home at 10:30 to see Dave hunched over in front of the computer, banging out his thesis with "Ballad of a Thin Man" on repeat. I took it as a sign that the stress was getting to him.
Dave was a misunderstood person in his grad program, mostly because he was a philosopher trying to be a historian, and not at all interested in the petty vagaries of the academic profession. I think that's why the song spoke to him, just as Dylan's exhortation to his backing band to "play fucking loud"on the live version of "Like a Rolling Stone" fit with Dave's willful defiance of academic norms. He was a much more intelligent person than I, but much less willing to play by the nonsensical rules of a corrupt game.
Pink Floyd, "Matilda Mother"
Dave and I got obsessed with Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd at about the same time. In honor the man, we had a poster of him set up in the alcove where we placed our stereo, kind of like a little shrine. It was a picture of Barrett soon after his crack-up, he stared out under unkempt hair and baggy, dark eyes. I was prone to bouts of emotional distress at the time, so I found a kind of dark humor in it, as I think Dave did too. He was a huge fan of Tolkien and later did some scholarly work about him. This song has such a Tolkien-esque, almost elvish vibe to it, which is why I associate so strongly with Dave.
These songs will never be the same for me, since they remind me so much of a person whose loss has left a hole in my heart. Who will I discuss existential philosophy with now? With who else can I share my memories of early 20s urban bohemianism? My eyes are burning today from so much weeping, and my forehead is throbbing with pain over the strain of holding the tears back during the minutes they haven't been falling from my eyes. At least these songs have given me some smiles between the sobs.