Thursday, January 06, 2011

So long, Dave

Dave Kocka, front row, second from left
I received word this morning that my friend, bandmate, and travel companion Dave Kocka passed last night as a result of organ failure.  He was 16 days short of his 43rd birthday.

The last time I saw Dave was in 2004.  He was standing on the corner of SE 34th and Hawthorne, eyes and mouth drooping in a thousand-yard-stare.  He was moseying along in that lugubrious way of his, coattails dragging, backpack hanging off one shoulder.  (He took his backpack and coat everywhere, even in the warm weather.)

My girlfriend (of the time) and I were having lunch in the pasta restaurant and so I didn't get the chance to greet him.  But we watched him walk by.  "There goes Dave," I said, pointing to him through the glass facade.

When we got home, I learned that Dave had only just left my house.  My roommate informed me that we just missed him. He had come to say goodbye; he was leaving Portland to go back to Fresno, where his family lived.

A week or so later, Dave was gone.  We never did get a face-to-face goodbye.  

Dave and I met in 1995.  He was part of the social circle that I joined in the wake of my divorce.  Just as with so many of my friendships, my friendship with Dave had its genesis in music.  Dave was a guitar-player, like me.  We started playing together just for fun at parties and social gatherings and eventually worked up to playing open mics at the Laurelthirst Public House and other similar venues around town.

Our last joint musical venture was to play a James Taylor cover at the wedding of my friends (perennial Multnomah County Sheriff candidate) Andre and Vicky Danielson in 1998.  Dave always did have a problem with stage fright and this occasion proved no exception.  On the day of the wedding, Dave "forgot" his guitar, leaving me with the challenge of doing a solo performance.  But, almost as if to atone for his lapse, Dave provided me with ample nerve-settling Jack Daniels pre-performance such that I was able to pull it off without too much trouble.

Which, of course, hints at part of Dave's darker side.  The man had a drinking problem, and I will just go ahead and say it.  The backpack that he carried everywhere with him always had a fifth of whiskey tucked away in one pocket, the which he would nip at throughout the day and well into the night.  His drinking, predictably enough led to flaky behavior.  Although he was always well-intentioned, Dave was notorious for his unreliability and utter lack of punctuality.  I broached the subject of his drinking with him on more than one occasion, but his response was always the same.  "I'm aware of the problem.  Thank you for caring."  And that was it.

Dave was a kind soul.  I will attest to that until the day that I make the journey myself.  He never turned away a hand offered in friendship, nor held anything to himself if someone was in need.   He and I had many good times together, including a trip to Europe and many hours of playing guitar and singing.  It is with shock and sadness that I receive the news of his passing.

Dave and friends at the Eiffel Tower in Paris
Dave, my friend, go with God.


Dan Binmore said...

I got the news today myself. I spent several years with Dave in a band, The Apologists, a name that fit Dave to a t. The number one thing I will remember about Dave, the first thing that came to me and the memory I will always keep, is that Dave was an absolute sweetheart. A kind, gentle soul with a deep, deep love of people.

Dave's great problem, as I found through being his chauffeur for a couple of years, was that he had enormous social anxiety. It was a trial of enormous difficulty for him to get out and spend time with the people he loved. That's why he had to drink all the time, so that he could leave the house. The hours I waited for him to arrive at places are almost uncounted, but over time I came to the realization that the annoyance I found was nothing to the courage he was showing by arriving at all.

Is there anyone who met Dave who didn't like him? I doubt it.

PapaK said...

Like many others, I met King Dave at the REACH Center, which is a lot like going to boot camp together. I honestly can't remember if he was hired before I became the manager, or if I hired him myself. He was made to work with those kids, however. On more than one occasion, his overbearing tendency to give actually led me to tell the HR person to refrain from calling him when someone else called in sick. The man needed to sleep at some point, but he didn't know how to say no.

I will never forget how Mr. Koc'ka rallied the troops, on a weeknight, to drink with me at the old Biddy McGraw's on my 30th birthday -- three days after I had been laid off from the publishing company. Cath made a call to Dave, unbeknownst to me, and the man came through, much like we all wish we would do for one another. The act was powerful to me as an individual. I'd spent the previous days laying around, doing nothing but feeling sorry for myself. The next day, hungover as I was, I woke and took care of business. To me, that exemplifies what Dave did for so many of us.

A few years later, Dave took the first two parts of a three part A & P class with me. I had just begun to work toward the program that led me to my current employment, and Dave was working toward nursing school. Uh, that was a bit redundant, but... I will always cherish the car pool drives to class. Dave seemed to become more comfortable, as time went on, and would show himself and his insight (which I had seen at REACH) sans alcohol. When he decided not to join me for the summer course (the third part of the class series), I was bummed, but I hoped he'd get back with the nursing plan. He would have been amazing in certain environments.


I could go on and on, as could most anyone who knew the man. I best stop now.