An Epistle to Dave Noyes

by Dave Gutter

Dave Noyes. photo/Matt Crosby

Hey Dave,

It’s been a couple weeks since you passed away in your sleep and it feels impossible to describe how much we miss you.

Around nine-thirty the morning you died, Tony woke me with a phone call. He sounded very upset and he told me to come to the studio. Twenty minutes later, I walked through the door and saw Jon and Tony sitting at the sound console, crying. Tony looked up. “Dave Noyes is dead,” he blurted, then continued to sob. I didn’t believe him.

You were still there. You were in the walls, I could picture your fingers on every keyboard. Your small coffee cups and granola bar wrappers were still peeking out of the trash bag. An envelope with the rent check taped inside the door. We just missed you.

The studio, our shrine, was too dark. I hated the remnants of you and denied everything. These are now the relics I cherish most.

I went home and slept, my normal response to stress. And I was already exhausted because I’d just pulled an all-nighter, editing video and working on a documentary about Rustic’s three decades together. Specifically, I’d spent a good chunk of that evening searching through stacks of old photos, looking for pictures of you to scan for the film. A tough task, because you always had a knack for avoiding the camera. That hour at the studio, earlier, blended into the footage — another scene you were not in. I tried waking up again. And it was still real.

A few hours later all your friends were together at a pub. Everyone met each other with hugs so forceful, our squeezed voices were barely audible. Your passing sunk in deeper with each condolence, but it felt good to be surrounded by loved ones.

Spencer pointed at me and shouted. “It should have been you!” We all laughed, then cried. For you. For us. We cried for your beautiful wife and your little boys. Your parents and siblings. Your family and friends. As the news spread around town, more and more people joined us, telling stories about albums, books and movies you recommended that made them laugh or changed their worldview. And even some tales I’d never heard about you. Like the time you dressed as a clown, got drunk and bopped Old Port bros and meatheads on the noggin with a mallet, for what youcalled an “art installation.” And so many people described how your smile made them feel joy. The subtleties of you were magnified and I felt like I was seeing the world as you did, through some indie-film lens. Quaint and honest. Your preference for laughter rather than fury, always cutting slack and forgiving those who sinned.

Only once, many years ago, did I ever see you really angry. You were slightly drunk, which itself was unusual, and climbed atop the bar after one of our shows. From your high perch, you chastised George W. Bush and lamented the state of America. And that, as far as I could tell, was the extent of your wrath and ire. Stories like this are rare because you were never one to impose, offend or judge.

By seven that evening, there were hundreds of us gathered together embracing and sharing our disbelief. You had changed us all. Our group of friends was suddenly softer, united in camaraderie. And grief. Any random and petty disputes dissolved. Portland’s most inflated egos just sighed. The blatant became sublime. More gentle. More humble. These hordes of people were in the excruciating stages of a transformation. Uncalculated and unconscious, your influence and love was a quiet power.

We all wished we were more like you. The realization of your life and its effects were celebrated. Solemnized. Restrained, altruistic, kind and devoted, this felt like martyrdom to those closest to you, and there were murmurs of parallels to Jesus.

Musically, your influence will live on. You were the moral and melodious compass for so much of the Portland music scene. Our selfless guide. We always strove to meet your expectations and trusted your wisdom implicitly. If you disliked a song I wrote, I’d destroy it. Even when you weren’t physically in our presence, we strove for your approval and used your judgment as a measure. “Dave wouldn’t like that,” we’d say, before abandoning a riff or a lyric. You were our unacknowledged boss and, despite your demise, that will continue.

Over the next few days we celebrated, grieved and played music together. No time for rehearsals, “feeling” was the only thing that mattered. This was the blues. The stage was our altar, adorned with your open case, your trombone laid peaceful. Never had death been this profound to me. Your ghost was indelible and washed over all who knew you. My tears weren’t from sadness, but admiration. And in fond memory, shaped by your beauty. For me, the life and death of Dave Noyes was cathartic.

Concerns for ourselves became secondary. Soon the community of artists you had brought together was working to help your bereaved family. They are one of us. Your widow, Anna Maria, is leading our string section and we will celebrate your body of work together. We’ll be there for your sons. We’ll let them know we worshipped you and will tell them tales of your greatness. Their inheritance is love. And there is plenty to go around.

This is my singular experience of your death and a perspective that’s helped me. Everyone deals with loss differently. Like Gary said, “we were the lucky ones.” And I agree, lucky to have spent so much time with you. Every day, I see your face and hear your voice and sing your song.

I love you forever, my friend and savior.

LONG LIVE DAVE NOYES!


Good Grief: A Celebration of the Life and Music of Dave Noyes, takes place April 3 at the State Theatre (609 Congress St., Portland) at 7 p.m., featuring performances by Rustic Overtones, The Fogcutters, Royal Hammer, Kenya Hall, Jaw Gems, The Ghost of Paul Revere, Spencer Albee, Tony McNaboe, Lyle Divinsky, Micromassé and more. Tix: $20 (all ages). An after party follows at Portland House of Music (25 Temple St.), featuring music by Model Airplane, Raging Brass, and Gina and The Red Eye Flight Crew, at 11 p.m. Tix: $5 (with State Theatre ticket), $10 (without; 21+). Proceeds from both shows benefit Dave Noyes’ family.