Praise Day for David Walley
A little backstory: David was briefly my boyfriend in 1968 and my friend forever after, probably the closest friend I have ever had (even though we periodically drove each other up the wall). Certainly the longest-running… After we broke up, I met Jim (David always dramatically claimed I dumped him for the Lizard King...not true, David!) and married him, and then he died, and David and I both continued to live in the East Village, where I am still ensconced. He went out to LA for a couple of years, then came back to NYC, then got married to the love of his life, Geli Pearson, his only wife, and moved with her (and ultimately four children: Melissa, Linzy, Sean and K.C), to Stephentown NY, Williamstown MA and on to York, Maine, where he died while writing at the computer.
He is one of the original Sixties rock critics, severely underappreciated for his work, and wrote for many underground newspapers, most notably the East Village Other.
He is the author of “No Commercial Potential”, the first Frank Zappa bio ever published (and a hoot and a half, though humorless Mr. Zappa hated it) and other books, including an Ernie Kovacs bio and a series of essays on the Sixties, “Teenage Nervous Breakdown.” All of which are well worth the reading.
David’s friend at Rutgers University (who closed their undefeated football season that same night! Go Scarlet Knights!) back in those days was Lenny Kaye. When David started to write for me at Jazz & Pop (we met in July 1968; he had inherited my former job at the publishing company Macmillan, after I went to Jazz & Pop earlier that year), he promptly introduced me to Lenny, and Lenny too started to review and interview (his interview with Arthur Lee of Love is a psychedelic classic). Then Lenny wrote a brilliant piece on doo-wop for the magazine and Patti Smith read it and contacted him, and the rest is of course rock history.
David was no slouch either in the critic department: his interview with the MC5 (can be read on their website; Rob Tyner’s wife asked if she could post it a couple of years ago, lest it be lost) stands as maybe the quintessential Sixties tract ever. Genius. He also interviewed Alvin Lee, Zappa, Jeff Beck, Ian Anderson, Iggy Stooge (as he then was) and a bunch more. They recognized and responded to a brother head and kindred spirit, and he got great stuff out of them all.
A few years later, when I was copy director of the ad department at CBS Records, I hired Gary Lucas, who had been a guitarist with Captain Beefheart. He brought his wild hair and wilder sensibilities to writing record ads, and now has his band Gods and Monsters, familiar to audiences from the East Village to Eastern Europe. David and Lenny and Gary and I stayed friends all these years: it’s nice to have that kind of history with people, even if you don’t see them all that often. There’s always the knowledge that you can walk right in and pick up exactly where you left off. And those boys were, of course, a trip and a half to work with.
So I am the boss of all of them! (Well, okay, I'm not the boss of Patti. But I do feel somewhat responsible for her connection to Link…)
Anyway, Lenny and Gary organized this small celebration of David and his supreme craziness and dearness to us all. Geli Walley and their lovely eldest daughter, Melissa, attended, and it felt great to have them there.
I was there, of course (Time Out New York for this week kindly billed Lenny, Gary and me as “downtown legends”, soooo cool). I read two poems (“Dirge without Music”, Edna St. Vincent Millay; and some lines from “Lastwords,” a poem Jim left for me in the event of his death, unpublished and never before read in public); and recited from memory the first poem I ever recited to David, “Jabberwocky”. And I talked a bit about him, how we met, how we stayed close friends, how he met Jim and the two of them hit it off, how David protected Jim and me, as our beard to help keep our relationship out of the public eye…
For a while there I actually thought I was going to stroke out onstage, which would have been quite perfect, really---VERY rock and roll. As I started to speak (which I wish I could have done more eloquently, I had all sorts of funny David stories prepared and they completely deserted me), all of a sudden this enormous fullness or pressure zoomed up the back of my head and just sat there throbbing. Not a headache. It felt like a helm, or a crest, or a crown. Something, anyway. Pisces energy. The only other time it’s happened was when my beloved maternal grandma died in 1998, at age 102, and I was reading some ancient Celtic prayers at her Mass. She was born on March 18, like David, and she never failed to send fond greetings to him on their birthday (and he felt great affection for her in return). Anyway, I figure it was the two of them making their presence known to me as I read for them; at least that’s what it felt like.
This all took place at the Bowery Poetry Club, right across from the now-gone CBGB’s, a tiny room with a tiny stage. Gary and Lenny played like the guitar gods they are: the Rutgers University college song, “Trouble Coming Every Day” (the only Mothers of Invention song I like), “Help I’m A Rock”, the Nairobi Trio skit (from Ernie Kovacs’ TV show, and they did it IN GORILLA MASKS, joined by another friend of David likewise attired---I was on the floor with laughter), couple more things.
At my request, because it’s my favorite Patti Smith Band song EVER, Lenny sang “Ghost Dance” as the closer, and dedicated it to David and to me, because I’d given them both their first jobs in rock and roll. It was a lovely, lovely moment, and a lovely, lovely night.
I went home after the gig and David came and hung out for a while, as he did at Samhain. I could never mistake his energy.
One of the things I liked best about our friendship was when I was able to make him really laugh (well, I like that with all my friends, actually), and I tried every chance I got. It was such a joyful place he got to when he was really tickled, you couldn’t not laugh along with him, and it makes me smile now. Makes me cry too, but mostly it makes me smile, as he always did. He occasionally annoyed the hell out of me (as I did him), and we had a couple of HUGE unresolved issues dating from when we were, well, dating, and we were on a break from our friendship when he died.
But I truly treasured him, and though I often told him that, I never told him that often enough.
Rock on, Mishkin!