Michael Sommers, the Brazil-based brother of Annie, Dave Campbell’s wife, has written “Thinking about ‘Wave Boy'”, a beautiful account of Dave’s time spent visiting Salvador and Rio. Curiosity, enthusiasm, recklessness. Classic Campbell.
Another time, he and my sister went to the beach and Dave returned, thrilled at having made a new friend: a street kid to whom he had given the nickname “Wave Boy.” (Dave’s Portuguese was limited to “Tudo bem?”, “Tudo bom” and the ubiquitous thumbs-up sign that Brazilians use on a variety of occasions to mean “okay”, “cool”, “great”, etc. – but he got incredible mileage out of this linguistic trio). While I retroactively worried about the naivete of my sister and Dave palling around with street kids (not always the safest thing to do), Dave’s eyes were shining as he sipped his post-beach caipirinha and told me about the joys of body-surfing with this marvelous kid.
A rabid sports fan, Dave was over the moon to be in the land of futebol. When he discovered that a regional championship game was going to played in Salvador, he begged to be taken. My boyfriend (who had never been to a live soccer game) did the honors which, at the time, entailed hopping a municipal bus stuffed to the gills (to say there was “standing room” would be overly generous) with drunken, chanting, drumming (on the seats, windows, and side of the bus) fans. After getting far enough out in Salvador’s suburbs, it was necessary to walk through a favela and a garbage dump to actually reach the stadium. Emotions always run high at these games, but Dave’s joy lasted for months – and just as amazing as the actual game to him were the favela, the garbage, the endless ride, the pounding on the bus.
I am, I think, pulling out of the state of shock I’ve been in for the past 10 days. There will be a gathering of Dave’s college buddies and others in New York on the weekend of the 12th, and Heather and I will be there for that.
Until then, I have been driving the roads of central Kentucky, listening constantly to Dave’s genius compilations of brasilero music.
Dave Campbell, my best friend in the world, passed away Wednesday night. He was 50. I am still in shock. He had cancer but was responding terrifically to the chemo. I had just spoken to him a couple weeks earlier, and he was in good spirits and full of plans.
I knew Dave from the age of 13, when we compared results on our first test in Fred Gatto’s freshman biology class at St. Thomas Academy. We both lived in Minneapolis and commuted to a high school that was 15 miles away. A boys’ Catholic military school. It was a supremely strange experience, but we never thought so at the time. Our years there went from Nixon through Ford to Carter. It was a hard time for the authorities to keep order. There was a significantly large subgroup of the school that actively and openly mocked the JROTC and the military structure. Dave and I were in that group. He was a good student, but his subversive streak was already apparent. By himself, Dave turned more than a few teachers’ heads gray.
That obit mentions how Dave “reveled in small, clever displays of defiance against authority.” Perfectly said. There are so many of these from which to choose, but my most cherished was his graduation gesture. Remember, it’s a military school. All the cadets were expected to march smartly up to the stage to receive their diplomas with a crisp salute. Dave ambled up with his characteristic splay-footed, forward-leaning shuffle, and flipped the most nonchalant salute imaginable from shoulder height. There was an audible gasp, and I looked around to see parents and teachers mouthing silent imprecations à la the wedding scene from the Graduate (2:28-2:34). I could not stop grinning.
He went to the University of Chicago, I to Notre Dame, 90 miles away. The first time I visited him in Hyde Park he had discovered an entirely new personality that merged Kerouac-era beatnik with an 80-year-old bluesman up from the Mississippi Delta. That was when strange phrases such as “a buck three-eighty” (an indeterminate sum of money) and “going to get my butter whipped” (haircut) entered his vocabulary. Did he pick them up from old guys on the South Side, or did he invent them? I don’t think I’ll ever know.
We would bump into each other a few times after college, but he came back into my life in a major way in 1988. In the wake of an unpleasant after-hours bar dust up in Chicago, he left his paralegal job in Chicago and drove a Dodge Colt, with expired plates and done up in patchy gray primer, to Brooklyn. I had an apartment there and he stayed on the couch for a fairly long time. Under pressure from my roommates, he answered an ad for a share, and moved into 234 5th Avenue with a crowd of French and Japanese musicians the very same day. That night, Christmas Eve, he sat in on drums at a basement jam session and I beheld the return of that look of infinite joy that lit up his face every time he stepped behind the kit!
Dave eventually became a senior resident of the shared apartment. He gave himself a pretty sweet deal on his share of the rent, which apparently caused no small stir of resentment on the part of one Becky Wreck, another drummer and his roommate.
One weekday early in spring, Dave invited me over to watch an afternoon Twins game on this new thing (for us) called Cable Television. We were nursing our Bud torpedoes and enjoying the game (Frankie Viola on the mound). Becky (who was paying the cable bill as well as a lot more rent than Dave) stormed in, yanked the cable connection out of the wall, and started in on Dave.
I lamely pipped up something to the effect of “er, but I was watching that….”
She whirled and shouted “I DON’T KNOW YOU!” Dave, til that moment speechless, sighed and made a little windshield wiper motion with his index fingers, and muttered:
“Tim … Becky.
Becky … Tim …”
Dave and I were bike messengers together for a while. And then we made the major career move up to office temps for Laury Girls. Our typing tests were comical. But for whatever reason, Laury kept sending us out. Eventually we got “real” jobs. We both worked in midtown for the better part of a decade, and often had long lunches together in Central Park, where we toted our greasy bags containing double wurst combos from Rolf, the Hallo Berlin cart man (who sadly also passed away recently). Rolf, who could be a major grouch, was thrilled to see Dave, and there was always a surreally entertaining exchange between the two of them.
Dave was best man when Heather and I got married in 1990, and when we moved to a farm in Kentucky in 2003, he came down to visit every year, sometimes twice. He loved it here, and was the source of much amusement for our kids. We played golf. Many of Dave’s urban friends may be unaware of the importance of golf to the man. If you thought he could go on about Elvin Jones, wait til he started in on Jack Nicklaus.
His passion for the game was great, but he was never very good. For someone capable of such finesse with drum sticks and brushes, he had the most brutal chipping touch of anyone I have ever seen. He gripped way too tightly, and often sent the ball clear over the green, when he wasn’t chunking it two feet. Hitting the driver was another story. He LOVED swinging a golf club hard, and it was the rare tee shot that didn’t require a few steps backwards to right himself from the violence of his swing. Whether the ball traveled far or not, you could always say to Dave, “You didn’t get cheated on that one.” He did not hold anything back.
And that is the one small consolation I can find in my current broken-hearted state.
Dave never held anything back. He never got cheated. Ever. He packed more into his fifty years than most of us could in a hundred.
In five days I already have such a backlog of things I mentally file under “Wait’ll I tell Dave about this.” I want to tell him about what Heather’s up to (he was so proud of Heather and promised her books would never go out of print while he was in charge of inventory), or what Theo or Daniel or Lila said; when my calves are born. I want to continue arguing Tiger vs. Jack, to have endless arguments about his weirdly arbitrary passions; I want to send him twenty emails a day when the World Cup is on.
I don’t have any way to sum this all up. It is still pretty much unbearable for me. I miss him a lot already.
Please go to my tumblr for more pix of Dave which I am uploading in fits and starts….