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A Year Older? Already?

Lost Old Friends

category_bug_journal2.gif When, in preparation for my move to Portland, Maine, I was packing up my New York apartment, it took more than 50 cartons to contain the books and, of course, I was required to handle every one of them. In doing so, there were many surprises and I rediscovered some gems that I’d forgotten I own.

On the bottom shelf of a bookcase in a back corner of the living room, I picked up No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa. As I dusted the cover and sides, I was struck wondering about the book’s author, David Walley.

I met David when I was still producing my then-husband’s radio show in New York City and booked him on the program during his tour when the book was published in the early 1970s. David was such an astute critic of the culture – establishment, counter and pop – that I brought him back whenever we needed someone with his kind of sharp insight to the zeitgeist.

David and I kept in touch after my husband and I went our separate ways and I recalled, as I dusted and leafed through the book that packing day in New York, many long nights in the company of David and other friends fueled, in those days, by plenty of wine and weed, dissecting the problems of our world.

Then – who knows how these things happen – I lost track of David and decades passed. Now I wondered how he had fared in life.

These days we have the internet to help find lost friends and after I waded through links to another David Walley who runs a resort somewhere (certainly not how the David I knew would wind up), I found his website, Walley’s Witzend, filled with bits and pieces of his writings over these 30-odd years and – his email address of which I made immediate use.

Soon we were catching up via telephone, words tumbling on top of one another’s, and whoa! - he lived in York, Maine, not more than 30 minutes from where I was moving. David had his publisher send me a copy of his new book, Teenage Nervous Breakdown – Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age which he was eager for me to read and we made plans to reconnect in person when I was moved.

Once I was in Maine, we spoke a few more times on the phone but put off getting together until I was settled, and had finished a deadline project I was working on throughout which I thought often of David and was looking forward to again enjoying his fierce intelligence and always unique view of the culture, politics and society.

About ten days ago, David died suddenly, unexpectedly and way younger than today’s average life expectancy.

When people die, our sadness is not for them, but for ourselves; our loss of their love, their companionship and the qualities that made them special to us. Do not construe this as selfishness, for our pain at their absence honors them and, depending on one’s beliefs as regards the hereafter, they have gone to a better place or to oblivion where, in either instance, they are beyond the cares of this world.

Some say it is a curse to live too long, that in our later years the deaths of friends and other contemporaries come ‘round more frequently than in our youth and loneliness can be the only possible outcome. That, I think, is individual depending on temperament, family, outlook, interests and many other variables. But in age far more than youth, one lesson is to not procrastinate.

I would still have found a way to meet my deadline if I’d taken time to visit with David. I would still have settled into this new home if I had taken a couple of days off to read David’s book. The lesson for me – an old one that I ought to know by this age - is to do it now; there is no tomorrow.

In an odd bit of synergy, David’s daughter works at Sirius Satellite Radio with my former husband. I don’t know his daughter, but I am in regular touch with my former husband and for no good reason I can think of, it comforts me in some way that they know one another.

In a culture so invested as ours in the pursuit of entertainment and dumbed-down education, and with a current president who takes pride in his anti-intellectualism, it is good to be reminded of something David posted in the right sidebar on every main page of his website. I would like to think that although we are not averse to having fun on this blog, it applies to Time Goes By too:

"This site is for thinking, not surfing. There are few if any artificial additives. Remember, thinking is a subversive activity, especially in this glitzy age. Anyway, what do you have to lose?"
- David Walley


Great post for me, Ronni, as I have one friend from the French Alps arriving tomorrow and another one from Brittany on Saturday and I have eager clients with projects under way.
I'm going to tell them I'm taking time to be with my friends.
And will look you up the next time I get to Portland, or you are welcome to visit us over here in NH!

Ronni, How well I know your pain, only a couple months ago my husband and I lost a dear friend to suicide. He only lived a couple towns away and we were forever saying we needed to get "over" to see him. We had to learn of his death in the obituaries. I try very hard to live in the present and do it now, but it is very hard to get over the kind of upbringing that put so much emphasis on getting chores done before anything pleasurable could mother would put off family fun to make sure the house was spotless, just in case there was someone sitting in the driveway waiting to visit when we got home!!! Thank you for the wake up call, I'm going to spend the afternoon with my daughter.

So sorry for you, Ronni. I know how tough this can be. My thoughts are with you.

"When people die, our sadness is not for them, but for ourselves; our loss of their love, their companionship and the qualities that made them special to us."

How very true. One of my best friends just died recently, and I am so sad for myself, that I will never see or talk to her again.

I'm sorry for your loss of him, too, Ronni.

That is very sad and sounds like a loss for thoughtful writing also. It's always hard for those of us left behind when someone dies unexpectedly and younger than they were 'supposed to.' It's something we probably become more aware of as we age but true for all ages that nobody is guaranteed more than the moment. It's important to live up to date, with no regrets. Don't put things off, but we all do just that. It's an important goal and a good reminder from you.

our pain at their absence honors them

There was a review on NPR the other day of a book called "Grief". The passage quoted said something like, "Our grief for someone is what remains of their life in this world." (The original was much more eloquent.)

This must have been a hard reminder lesson, and one you so graciously passed to us, your readers.

You, my dear, teach me something everyday.

Thank you Ronni for the reminder to live in the moment......the hell with the dishes......I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend especially under these circumstances.

What a "punch" line David's death was -- it came like a sudden sucker punch in the gut in this tale of pleasant anticipation of a reunion -- as I'm sure it did, as death does. What a double twist to find out he lived so near you and then -- Lesson taken.

What a good reminder to not put things off. Post that letter, dial that phone, buy that train ticket. Ronnie, I'm sorry your friend died.

Yes, do it now; there is no tomorrow. Sorry to hear about your friend, Ronni. I go to so many funerals these days--which is a blessing I suppose because I do have a large family and a lot of friends. Each time I'm aware of how impermanent all our lives are. Thanks for sharing. Rain mentioned your post today at Rainy Day Thoughts.

Ronni, I am so sad that your reunion didn't occur - but so glad that you rekindled an old friendship before the chance was lost.

I hope you don't mind, but I've reflected on this post in one of my own.

Much love, Koan

This was a beautiful post. Ronni, I am sad for you but take comfort in the fact that you did get in touch with David before his sudden death. Most of us have experienced similar circumstances. Mine was when my mother, who lived in another State, was to visit me. Shortly before she was to arrive an aortic anuerism took her life in a matter of seconds. That was many years ago but it taught me to tell every one I love them every chance I get. At the age of 81 I have lost many friends, but I am not left with the regret of unsaid terms of affection. It is a lesson that we all need to remind ourselves of over and over again.
It isn't always easy to prioritize our busy lives. Ronni, you did what you thought was best at the time so, having no way of knowing what the future would bring, you did the right thing by trying to meet your deadline. Do not punish yourself with regrets.

I agree that no one is guaranteed tomorrow so if you want to do something do it asap! May God bless David. :)

I am so sorry for your loss, Ronni. I thank you also for graciously passing your lesson about living 'in the moment' along to your readers.

What a shock to read about David's death when I anticipated learning about your reunion. I'm so sorry for your loss. I'd like to read his books and will check out his website. Wonder what will happen to it now?

I echo Amba's comment - it was a punch to the gut to read of his death. I'm so sorry you didn't get a chance to meet again.

Sorry to hear you missed the in-person contact with an old friend, but at least you did have some contact earlier before his sudden death.

Can sure identify with the shock of learning of a friend's unexpected death as mine came in a mail notice some years ago from whatever that entertainment or legal group is that sends out official notices. I had never received one before so didn't realize it was legitimate. I thought it was my friend's gag, some how, and didn't believe it for some days.

Yeah, I agree, we may need to reassess our priority lists, especially as we get older. We just may need to view our relationships with others, our contact with them through a different lens than when we were younger, though age is no barrier to loss.

Ronni: I sent you by email this obituary from Today's NYT, in case you missed it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Obituaries from
The New York Times Sunday, August 27,2006.

David Walley

WALLEY-David. G. was an influential music critic and iconoclastic cultural historian, best known as the father of the contemporary rock and roll biography. Born 1945 in New Jersey, after graduating Rutgers in 1967 he became a columnist for Jazz and Pop magazine and the East Village Other and wrote reviews in Zygote, Fusion, and Changes. He was also Arts editor of the LA Free Press and ghosted books on Bob Dylan, David Bowie, and Bobby Darin. His interviews with Iggy Pop and the MC5 are considered classics. In recent years, Walley's columns appeared on-line in Cosmik Debris and New Partisan and he guest lectured at Williams College. Walley's books include ``No Commercial Potential: The Saga of Frank Zappa'' (1972), the first biography of the avant garde musician, which remains in print over thirty years later; ``Nothing in Moderation: The Ernie Kovacs Story'' (1975), a seminal biography of television's first surrealist comedian, republished as ``The Ernie Kovacs Phile''; and ``Teenage Nervous Breakdown: Music and Politics in the Post-Elvis Age'' (1998), a critique of American culture, which also remains in print. To be published posthumously is `` The Shackled Historian: The Life and Times of Herbert Feis,'' a biography of the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian. Sample chapters are on Walley's website.

Thank you for your words about David - he was indeed a fine man and talented writer. I will miss our correspondence a great deal. Condolences to all who knew him and to those who will know him (as a writer) in the future by reading his exceptional books. Namasté - Hammond

Ronni, I was David's girlfriend for the last two years. It is my daughter that works with Alex in NYC. David was with me when he died here in Waldoboro where he spent Friday morning til Monday morning. All of us who knew hin and loved him will miss him terribly. He was a spectacular man not only for his massive intellect and spot on obsevational skills, but for his deep connection sto his friends, his encouraging words and his delicious sense of humor. Life will never be the dame without him. Tonia Gould

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