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.

Here is a very perceptive remembrance from the Lucid Culture blog that focuses on his musical brilliance.

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 me, Brooklyn rooftop 1990

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….


13 thoughts on “Campbell

  1. Tim,
    That was the most heartfelt obit I have ever read. I feel your loss, and I cried for you and Heather, and for Dave gone too soon. Please know I am thinking of all of you with love,

  2. Tim:
    You honor your friend with such eloquent (and humorous) remembrances. I know you have thousands more. Dave led a fascinating life.

    Unfortunately, I don’t recall ever meeting Dave. Did he make it down to ND at any time when we might have met? Beers at the Commons?

    As for Daly, I wonder if they ever met. Daly did the bike messenger thing in NYC and was a big part of the music scene, as well. My guess is they must have known of each other, at the very least.

    Very sorry to hear about the loss of such a great friend.


    1. Thanks, Tim.

      Don’t think he ever made it to South Bend.

      Dave and Mike definitely overlapped in many ways — both even did some busking in the Paris Metro, but not at the same time. And so similar: charismatic, eccentric, a bit wild but deep down kind and sensitive. I keep thinking I hung out with them together for a time, but can’t grasp the details…

      Rock n roll heaven and all that….

  3. We are hurting terribly here in NYC. But your words are beautiful, and they help me—he was known, and he was loved, and he had many great times (and also did much great work with his music).

    I love your stories of his “resistance.” And the story about becky is a classic. One of my first memories of Dave comes from around when Amadou Dialo was killed. Dave said we should all say “Amadou” under our breath when we passed a police car or officer, forever after.

    I know Dave through LC7 (Dann is my s/o), but I hope I can meet you and hear more of your memories, either in Kentucky or here. xoxo Pam

    1. I probably will get up there soon and will definitely look you and Dann up. If you wouldn’t mind sending a contact email to timungs at yahoo com. I’m sorry I missed the musicians’ gathering Friday but I hope there will be some other event.

      Thanks for the nice note. And give my regards to Dann.

  4. Tim, you captured Dave perfectly. I remember when Dave would return from his visits to see you — delighted, refreshed, full of stories. I’m not surprised at all by his approach to golf. I will miss that windshield wiper motion with his fingers, sometimes slow, sometiems fast, often simutaneously staring you down over the rim of his glasses. We’ll let you know what the future event plans are, and in the meantime don’t hesitate to reach out (you can click through to my email). Love to you and your family. Erica

  5. From this side of wide Atlantic too, it feels horribly strange and sad to learn that the mercurial Dave Campbell, sometime American, Scotsman, Brazilian or whoever he picked to root for in a tournament – but always Minnesotan to his core – has departed his earthly form, despite the portents of the last couple of years. I got to know Dave via Tim, at the time a number of people converged on a small corner of Brooklyn. Dave was beyond anyone I had encountered in the UK and quickly became a friendly face, a fixture at any roof parties we had on Bergen Street, an appreciator of Pat’s Bar on 7th and general source of fun and enigmatic banter. As I told Tim yesterday, “Dave was without question one of the most original and humbling people I’ve known, thanks for bringing him into our lives. Amazingly intelligent, witty, charming, lantern jawed handsome, athletic, artistic, provocative, brave and fluid. And all the maddening stuff too, but that made him a Dave beyond compare.” A round robin banter via email continued until recently including many oddities, for example, he admonished the British and Germans for recently nationalising a number of banks – evidence of his peripatetic interest in world affairs, human history and our ultimate destiny. He was capable of an effortless poetry that stands comparison with the best of Tom Waits. So long Dave, with a large tear in my eye and a sense of great loss.

  6. Nice, Simon. Dave’s shape-shifting nationality was a critical part of the persona. Don’t forget his intense identification with Da Bulls (when they were winnning!) Also, his sometimes (often) nutty arguments. I always thought he would take the most ridiculous positions just because he enjoyed his own incredible persuasive gifts.

  7. I guess I knew Dave during his whacked-out Chicago bluesman-Kerouac phase then. I was the singer in Dumb Ra, our first drummer left town, so we latched onto Dave and wouldn’t let him go, even though it must have been very strange for him to have been forced to play our primitive punkish rock thing.

    I remember one night, we were coming back from a show, stopped in a junk food joint on 53rd street, Dave, Chris (bass player), Chris’s girlfriend and me. Somehow we got into an argument with a couple of the other customers — the guy was hitting lewdly on Chris’s girlfriend. It turned into sloppy fisticuffs on the street. But Dave was having none of that — he just scooted off down the street. Not that he was scared, no. He just found the whole thing too silly, too extreme, it just blew his mind.

    Actually, I’m pretty sure he taken Chris’s girlfriend to safety too. Oh, those were hazy days. Trying to have a conversation with Dave back then was never an easy venture, but always entertaining…

  8. Having a conversation never got easier, though sometimes it was extremely entertaining…. Talking was like jazz to him. If he liked a riff, off he went….

    I’m pretty sure Dave enjoyed primitive punkish rock.

    Was the Dumb Ra era during Dave’s undergrad years? Just trying to figure out the chronology…. Before or after Radio Free Illinois?

    1. I’m pretty sure we came just after Radio Free Illinois. I remember some of his friends being quite amused at the music Dave started making with us. This would be during his undergrad years, starting from around 1981 and ending around 1984 or so.

      I’m trying to ressurect the chronology of that time a bit myself, partly because I have real difficulties remembering names, and the various threads entwine. But I’m pretty sure I actually lived with two other members of Radio Free Illinois in a former dentists offices on the Upper West Side for a year or so. They were playing in the backing band for Madonna, just before she put out her first single? They later hooked up with Blondie in some capacity? These parts are hazy. But I know they missed Dave a lot. At any rate, I lived for much of a year in that place, eventually went back to Chicago, that’s when I met Dave. He had joined Dumb Ra while I was away, I’m pretty sure.

      We used to practice in a small cement storeroom in the basement of the Shoreland Hotel, and things would get pretty loud… and smoky…

      I haven’t heard the music he made after moving to New York, although I’m really glad to know he kept at it and touched so many people with it.

  9. That is incredibly murky territory for me as well, but Dave often talked about his time in NY (I think he took a year off college-might not have overlapped with you, since i think he lived in jersey somewhere). the tenuous madonna connection loomed large in his recounting, more so as the years passed.

    for his NYC music, google Love camp 7, erica smith, and the k’s. also philco bendyx

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