My friend Dave Campbell has died. I always called him Soup.
I often called him “my drummer” instead of “my friend,” though he was both. I often fretted about calling members of my band “my drummer” or “my guitarist.” Was I such an egomaniac that I claimed ownership of these players? What about the other bands they played in (In Soup's case Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith and The 99 Cent Dreams)? And did I see their role as pure utility, “drummer” versus “person” or “friend”? Yet I continue to say “my drummer.” Because we’re in a band together. What we do is make music together, a difficult and beautiful task, and these roles are more than utility. Any bandsman will tell you that a band is like a marriage, and you don’t call your wife a lady.
He played the drums like a juggler falling down the stairs, cart-wheeling into a somersault. He could go crazy and he could lock it down. He held a beat and he sang. Soup played jazz and punk rock and whatever you needed. I’d say he was more a Keith Moon than a Charlie Watts, but he wasn’t either of those guys. This was another guy.
Soup brought to a band that sense of simultaneous control and not-control--that sense that a band could do anything, and anything could happen. He could make that snare a firecracker and make those toms roll as if a wall of smoke were enveloping the stage. Soup got all red in the face when he played. He worked.
He took extensive notes on every song we played, and then never knew what song was what. He could obsess over details, musical or otherwise, refusing to let them go, or he could dismiss everything and veer off into another topic. He could complain about anything, yet never bitched about having cancer.
Yes, here’s another contradiction: He seemed exhausted, weary, worn out by the working week, yet he was always on a tear, always enthusing about some new collector’s rock film, some great food, some hockey game or golf tournament, or some political conspiracy. His talk was a mile a minute, his writing almost always a screed. He could be infuriating and hilarious, because he always spoke his mind and he always cared. Of course, try to coax answers from him, or try to get him to turn his many paragraphs into something as structured as a blog, and he’d clamp up like Michigan J. Frog.
He was funny. He was crazy. He was sweet.
I always saw Soup’s philosophy as wryly fatalistic. “The Man always wins,” he’d say. He didn’t have a lot of hope for the Iranian uprising that’s been holding on this last year, seeing Tiananmen Square rather than an Orange Revolution. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his thugs have been doing their best to prove him right. I think Soup was something of a believer, religiously speaking, but we didn’t talk much about that. So he might have had some hope for the next world, but he didn’t indicate too many Hollywood endings for this one. Still he struggled for the good, for the music, and for his friends. And to counter this reading of Soup as pessimist, of course, is Soup. Reading through one of his old "posts" (e-mails dressed up for the blog) I come across this: "I believe good will come. Sanity will win. And good people will win, in the short run, if possible."
In the short run, if possible. Of course, eventually, the Man always wins. The Man might always win, but this time he’s gone too far. The Man needs a good kick in the ass. He really took one of the good guys this time.
Soup called me from the hospital, to let me know he was going to miss a couple of rehearsals and the next show. A little ragged-sounding, but mostly laid-back about the situation. There was a blockage in his intestine, and they were pretty sure it was cancer, which meant it had moved from the lining of his lungs. He wasn’t taking in any food or drink, living on a drip.
Unfortunately, I’d seen something like that happen before, with my father. When the body stops taking nutrients, it’s not a good sign. I felt a chill and started making dire medical diagnoses to myself. Still, Soup was, while optimistic isn’t the word, certainly calm and determined to overcome. He did let a complaint slip through: “I just want to drink a glass of lemonade.”
The Sunday before he died I talked to him. Again, the prognosis didn’t seem good, but he’d talked to his doctors and urged them not to give up on him, and they did have a plan, with new tubes in his body and new chemo in the wings. Soup told me, “So then I said, can I have a glass of lemonade? And they said okay. So now I’m drinking a glass of lemonade.”
So he got that. That’s all we get in this life, people. So drink up. And think of my drummer, my friend, a good man whom words can’t adequately describe, Dave “Soup” Campbell.