This song was recorded in 1985, it was likely the 20th version of the song. It’s not our best song, but it is my favorite. Corey Smith, David Fisher, and myself in Corey’s living room. We all played just about everything on it. Yes, those are my vocals, with Dave doing rap and backup.
In those days, I could walk into a room of my friends and start making crazy strings of noises. Corey, I want you to take the guitar and go ba ba tssst tssst tssst babababa wham. And Corey would do it, except a lot better and with an actual guitar. Dave, I want you to pound on those things over there like this tap tap bam taptaptap bamBAM. And he’d do it.
And soon we’d have a song, or something like a song. Doing overdubs on it until we’d either reached perfection or total audio breakdown.
You have no idea how much I want to go back to that time, if only for a few hours.
Now when I listen to this song, I am struck by how I am the only one left alive. I’m not quite old enough to say this, I think.
Corey left us in 1990 in a car accident. Sudden, extreme, painful – like a shotgun blast. I was still in Michigan and flew back to Nebraska for his funeral. At that time, Dave was getting his law degree from the University of Nebraska.
Corey’s funeral was more than likely the most painful day of my life.
While I was there, I had a conversation with Dave’s then girlfriend Melissa. She was taking me to task for writing zines that described Dave’s and my misadventures in Colorado. Most of these stories involved me hauling Dave’s overly drunk body out of one situation or another.
She yelled at me across a table at an Italian restaurant: “I would kill you if you wrote things like that about me, but you know what Dave says?”
“I’m just glad I make good copy.” Dave said, taking a sip of beer.
But those stories were prescient. Corey died suddenly, unexpectedly, shockingly. Dave died very slowly, painfully, and perhaps worst of all, boringly. The initially funny stories of Dave’s antics led ultimately to annoyance. Dave stopped making good copy.
In 1985 in Denver, on the Denver University campus, Simon Bone yelled at Dave, “Goddammit, you’re an alcoholic at 20 years old!” (Back then, the drinking age in Colorado was 18 for ‘3.2 beer’.)
Dave’s heroes were Neal Cassady, Jack Kerouac, and Charles Bukowski. In Denver, we’d stay up late talking about literature, music, and thought. Dave saw the prolific writing of 2 of his heros (Jack and Bukowski), and the stories generated by the third (Neal). Those guys drank heavily, why couldn’t Dave?
Simon was right, of course. Dave was already an alcoholic. While in Denver, I became more and more annoyed with Dave’s drinking. After Denver, each time I saw him, we connected less and less. His sharp mind would latch on to manic tangents and he would rant just on the border of nonsense.
Dave was dying slowly.
One day, in what I believe was 2003, Dave called me at 5 in the morning. This was not unusual and we had a policy not to answer the phone at that time. Something told me I should answer the phone. So I did.
Dave was in the process of drinking himself to death, with the strategic aid of sleeping pills, in a Presidential Suite of a hotel in Hartford, Connecticut. I managed to figure out where he was and get police and paramedics to him. He died in his hotel room, then again in the ambulance, then again in the ER.
His wife was the strange mix of sad, infuriated, and unsurprised that I am today.
Of course, Dave did not die in 2003. He managed to come back even after three charges at the pearly gates.
I hoped that this would be the ‘rock bottom’ that Dave needed to get better.
So, Dave and his wife really liked status-type things. So they checked Dave into a rehab clinic loaded with music and film stars. Net effect: they spent some money and met some stars.
Years pass and Dave ends up with an ultimatum from a judge in Nebraska, where Dave has moved to do … nothing at all but drink. “Get sober or get time,” the judge says. So Dave went to a rehab clinic in Colorado.
By this time, I had come to the conclusion that I was an enabler for Dave and had stopped taking his calls altogether. In a way, failing to come back from the three deaths and make something of himself offended me. It made me resent that Corey had left this earth long before his time and now Dave was just pissing away his talents and intellect.
But, one day, the phone rings and something tells me to pick it up.
Dave is at a Buddhist rehab clinic in Colorado. And, holy crap, the guy on the phone is my old friend Dave.
He’s lucid, creative, smart, optimistic.
And I got very excited.
It was like someone I cared about had died … and come back. ... because it was that exactly. You just don't get gifts like this.
Over the next few weeks, Dave and I had great conversations. We talked almost every day. The monks had asked Dave to stay on and work at the facility. This was too good to be true. I made plans to go to Colorado and visit him.
“I just have to go back to Grand Island to clear up some stuff with the family,” Dave said.
“No!” I said, “Don’t under any circumstances go back to Nebraska.” I knew if he did, he’d slide right back to the bottle.
And that’s what happened. My next calls from Dave were rambling incoherence and him telling me he was sober. After several calls of me asking, suggesting, pleading, or cajoling him to go back to the facility, I Finally told him, “The only call I’ll take from you is when you’re back in Colorado.”
And I never spoke to him again. We "talked" on the phone a few times, but it was always me listening and nothing really being said.
During Dave’s last decade, he managed to get himself in all sorts of trouble that would have made good copy. Dave had more talent than necessary to quit drinking, tell those stories, and tell them with a purpose.
As it is, Dave, who ironically inherited a bunch of money that did not let him “have a real life” but did enable him to drink his life away, died a few weeks ago in a lonely hospital room in Grand Island, Nebraska. What he specifically died of is unknown to me and it doesn’t really matter. It was a long slow downhill slide.
Like both Jack and Neal, Dave died in his 40s.
Today, part of me feels guilty for not helping Dave more. Part of me wonders if it wouldn’t have been better for everyone if I didn’t answer the phone in 2003. Part of me will feel forever pissed off that Dave didn’t write his own Dharma Bums or Subterraneans. Dave leaves us a legacy of unrealized potential.
He could have written some awesome books.