Elegy for a Friend. In memory of Bill Dwyer, giver of one of the greatest times of my life.
[Bill Dwyer at the Kappa Complex Sid Vicious Dance 1980, far left in the picture above]
A few days ago I got the message from an old college friend that Bill Dwyer had died.
I know I´m not done with Death. There´s plenty more around the corner.
But sometimes the Ocean of Definitive Passing (my Tibetan Buddhist friends will understand that obscure reference) sweeps over us in tsunamis of gloom so that any positive feeling of impermanence as a teaching tool is the farthest thing from my mind. In the past two years I have lost several friends, some relatives very close to me, and mentors whose guiding hands helped mold my life. On the outskirts of all that were the deaths of people whose names meant a lot to me, that is, their fame, status, reputation or contribution to the world of things I care about (poets being a major group, activists and thinkers another), a group whose numbers also is about a half dozen. And all of this affects me. Deeply.
I am admittedly a sensitive person, someone who feels pain from afar and convinces myself that I must do something, anything, if I can. For years I worked as a Chaplain and that was an outgrowth of activist work in several fields where war and death were commonplace. My own contributions to the latter causes were from afar, but I was always heartbroken and full of the sadness from too much empathy, too quickly felt.
But this is Bill´s space today, not mine. A little background first.
I entered Eckerd College (EC) in 1980, at the age of 21 and so my “peers” were overlapping groups which didn´t or might normally not be so intertwined. There were the upperclassmen I was as old as (and sometimes older) and then of course, the freshmen whose class I entered with unbridled enthusiasm. I took advantage of both positions and made many good and lasting friendships but also nevertheless, created incredibly vibrant and lasting memories I am still very fond of recalling. When I arrived at EC I therefore hooked up with a great and motley crew of aspiring thinkers, aspiring musicians, and young students aspiring to simply have a good time. There were names of people who had done legendary things (in our minds, anyway) or whose personalities rose so high among their peers that their exploits were passed down like Homeric paeans to adventurers whose wit, warrior skills and wiles got them out of (and sometimes into) situations us mortals could scarce imagine.
Bill Dwyer was one of those people. A tall, thinnish, prematurely salt and pepper haired man with fine features and a fine intellect, he had this sharp capacity for seeing through bullshit and he was already gone when I arrived but it was said he´d be soon “coming back”. I don´t know if he had credits left over to finish, if he had simply wandered off for a period or even, truth be told, if he just lived off campus and was going to rejoin the core of his friends in our craziest of all dorms on campus, Kappa Complex. Either way, the anticipation was high and I looked forward to meeting him. When we finally met it was probably just low-key with a well of beer and a smoke pit of herb in Weed´s room (he, another story I will get to someday) amid the frantic conversations of of our grouping, but I know my frenetic manner and infectious punk enthusiasm caught his attention and he asked me about the groups I was seriously into and spreading the gospel of on campus with ferocity. Groups like the Clash, Buzzcocks, The Jam, Gang of Four, Joy Division in addition to the ones people there had heard about though few had heard much of (their music) like the Sex Pistols. I had lugged my own collection to school and was eagerly (and loudly and constantly and irritatingly for many) playing them and talking about it all. All the time. It was the times, OK?
In any case, this was around Halloween 1980 and I got word that one of those groups, Gang of Four, would be playing in upstate Florida. I was desperate. No car, no license, little means; I wanted desperately to go and my roommate also was enthused (another “legendary” figure who had brought his red-tailed hawk to campus as a pet and whose enthusiasm for some of the weirder punkish groups and neo-punk sounds–electronica being his forté- matched my own. He´s now in jail, but that´s another odd story). We couldn´t find a ride and then Bill offered to go as he was interested in the music and lyrics I´d been sharing. The day was set and I was firm about leaving with plenty of time alloted – I was NOT going to miss this show and as the afternoon progressed and my roommate hadn´t shown up despite my firm promise that we were going to leave at XX o´clock, “no matter what”, I said to Bill and Weed, “Alright, fuck it, he said he´d be here but it´s getting late” so we left.
Disclosure: OK, I´ll admit it, I don´t remember if it was Tallahassee or Gainesville. It could have been New Smyrna for all I cared. It was one of those big schools a few hours away and, in any case, I was exploding with enthusiasm as we drove to an outdoor fest which was supposed to feature the Psychedelic Furs (who´d only had a first album) and Gang of Four. We heard that POF cancelled and we pushed our way to the front, surrounded by what seemed like every punk to be found in a three hundred mile radius and large groups of curious assholes in baseball uniforms (and some with bats) who were eager to see the freak show and, as a few said loudly and with pride , to “kick some punk ass”. Right. Gang of Four put on a spectacular show that night, songs where they changed instruments all, colored lights menacingly highlighting their faces from below, Jon King´s wild dancing, Andy Gill´s screeching dissonance, Hugo Burnham´s staccato drumming intensity and Dave Allen´s punk funk bass lines threw me into a state of ecstasy which I keep as a highlight of my many years of concert-going. One of 4 or 5 of the best concerts I have ever seen (and I have seen hundreds, with everybody – yet another story).
After the show we asked around if there was a “punk club” nearby (“No. But XX´s sometimes has local bands playing punk music”) so floating on pink punk clouds we made our way into a part of town relatively dead that night and found a dive and a small wooden dance floor occupied by a couple of garishly clad dancers and a so-so garage-cover band. We got beers and shared our enthusiasm. After about 10 minutes, Jon King, Dave Allen and Andy Gill walked in. I was stunned! I ran up to Andy and began a conversation that lasted till early the next morning. We talked of Eric Satie and James Brown, about how the Sex Pistols were the giants for attitude but The Clash were the real kings. He wrote the set list they played in order for me (which I still have) and eventually we all laughed as Dave Allen got so drunk we had to literally carry him up the stairs to his room and put him to bed like a kid. All of us enjoyed the talks and by the time we left (finding Allen´s pink shirt left on the bushes in front of the hotel (which I took and kept for a number of years. Ahem.) we were exhausted and thrilled both. When we walked back to Bill´s car, we were glowing and speaking in tongues practically.
The drive was tiring but our energy stayed high; Bill was impressed and pleased that I had told him about the concert and in the times we met after that, at school or in one of the dorms, there was this bond of excitement at seeing a premier experimental and wildly influential band at a point in their career when few knew them so they were fiendishly fighting for glory onstage. Which they attained.
Billy D. later got into Wah! and Jah Wobble, and we shared new music we were into off and on for a year or so until he left again and all that remained were the high energy talks and memories of one of the best concerts and surprisingly meaningful nights, of my youth, maybe my life. Bill drove that day – I wouldn´t have been there if it weren´t for him, but he wouldn´t have gone, he said, if it weren´t for me. I´m happy I got to introduce him to something he ended up liking so much. I´m happy we talked about Life and music, about Buddhism and philosophy and I´m happiest that at one time I knew him.
Bill has died and I am so sorry about that. A part of my history has died, too. I wish him well, wherever “he” is and I know the memory of that night will bind us karmically so that hopefully some day, we can reminisce about the occasion, somewhere.
Goodbye Bill. Rest in Peace.
I penned this for him:
A MORE DISTANT REUNION
(On hearing of Bill Dwyer´s death Feb. 6th, 2015)
One, by one, by one at a time they die.
Another friend is dead.
The loose circle shrinks;
the tidy order shakes.
A rough order, unspoken:
so long as they remain out there,
we remain insulated.
Though 30+ years between
that last late nighter
(with Gang of Four
or wash among the rains of celebration
each one is fresh,
remembered (you are remembered)
They go so quickly, now
one, by one, by one at a time.
My vistas grow gradually opaque
the sounds, so odd.
Nothing recalls familiarity.
Strangers are the new friends.
Strange the new surrounding circle.
Until one by one by one moment at a time
I approach dear old friends for
a more distant reunion.