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….

Howard Zinn

A bad week for my personal heroes. First, Kate McGarrigle, and now Howard Zinn.

Here is a basic obit from the AP, which is all that we find on the New York Times web edition. (Which I find odd. I mean, he was 87, and there was no canned obit ready to go?)

By now, there are tons of tributes online, so I’ll just offer one memorable interview. Here he speaks of the fact that he did horrible things in the waning days of World War II. As part of a bomber crew, he dropped napalm on a tiny French village as a kind of experiment (the flight crews were not told), but he stood up to what he had done.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about your final bombing run, not over Japan, not over Germany, but over France?

HOWARD ZINN: Yeah. Well, we thought bombing missions were over. The war was about to come to an end. This was in April of 1945, and remember the war ended in early May 1945. This was a few weeks before the war was going to be over, and everybody knew it was going to be over, and our armies were past France into Germany, but there was a little pocket of German soldiers hanging around this little town of Royan on the Atlantic coast of France, and the Air Force decided to bomb them. 1,200 heavy bombers, and I was in one of them, flew over this little town of Royan and dropped napalm—first use of napalm in the European theater. And we didn’t know how many people were killed, how many people were terribly burned as a result of what we did. But I did it like most soldiers do, unthinkingly, mechanically, thinking we’re on the right side, they’re on the wrong side, and therefore we can do whatever we want, and it’s okay. And only afterward, only really after the war when I was reading about Hiroshima from John Hersey and reading the stories of the survivors of Hiroshima and what they went through, only then did I begin to think about the human effects of bombing. Only then did I begin to think about what it meant to human beings on the ground when bombs were dropped on them, because as a bombardier, I was flying at 30,000 feet, six miles high, couldn’t hear screams, couldn’t see blood. And this is modern warfare.

In modern warfare, soldiers fire, they drop bombs, and they have no notion, really, of what is happening to the human beings that they’re firing on. Everything is done at a distance. This enables terrible atrocities to take place. And I think reflecting back on that bombing raid, and thinking of that in Hiroshima and all of the other raids on civilian cities and the killing of huge numbers of civilians in German and Japanese cities, the killing of a hundred thousand people in Tokyo in one night of fire-bombing, all of that made me realize war, even so-called good wars against fascism like World War II, wars don’t solve any fundamental problems, and they always poison everybody on both sides. They poison the minds and souls of everybody on both sides. We are seeing that now in Iraq, where the minds of our soldiers are being poisoned by being an occupying army in a land where they are not wanted. And the results are terrible.

Zinn goes on to say that ten years later he visited the village and spoke to survivors, and relatives of those killed by the napalm bombing:

And they were very bitter about the bombing, and you know, they attributed it to all sorts of things, the desire to try out a new weapon. It’s amazing how many things are done in a war just to try out new weapons. You know, maybe the—one of the reasons for dropping the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were to see what this does to human beings. Human beings become sacrifices in the desire to develop new military technology. And I think that was one of those instances.

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