2014 started with my car getting destroyed by a collision with a dump truck, and it only got worse from there. I was already grappling with various existential crises at the time. Then came nauseating whiplash between hope and despair that ended with a miscarriage, some truly grim epiphanies, and an extended stay in the emotional wilderness.
I muddled through it as I’ve always muddled through rough patches — inelegantly and poorly — but something happened at the end of that shitshow of a year which would eventually help me claw my way out of that hole.
Daniel “Dee” Butler drifted into my social media circle, along with a slew of other cool folks, around the height of the Ultimate Powers Jam days (though he never contributed an entry). He weren’t particularly close pals, but did commission a very nifty portrait of myself for him (which I still use as my default userpic) and we chatted about the Dr. Phibes flicks and he’d make fun about my unwillingness to smile in photos. I knew he was having some tough of things, but I was still shocked when he abruptly shuttered his online presence and dropped off the face of the earth. (I did occasionally ponder if he had the right idea, however.)
Dee turned up again at the end of 2014, quietly making his presence known to a handful of folks including yours truly. It was good to have him back, even if he seemed a bit more subdued than before. Before his disappearance, he would fill his feed with a gallery of amazing sketches and doodles. After his return, he talked about his art projects in the part tense. I didn’t press him on it, because it wasn’t any of my business, but I did discover that he had been playing Destiny on the reg.
I was also a fan of the game, as its repetitive feedback loops of fun gameplay and (usually) shitty random rewards made for an ideal distraction from the real world shit that had been gnawing at my skull. Much of Destiny’s best content required having pals to play with, so Dee and I added each other to our PSN friends lists so we could tackle that stuff together. It soon became a shared obsession of ours, marked by long hours of raiding with pick-up groups found via third-party sites and boasting whenever one of us scored some coveted rare drop.
There was a stretch where the pair of us would wake up at six on a Tuesday in order to beat the super-hard weekly “Nightfall” mission immediately after the weekly game-world “reset” or grind the competitive “Iron Banner” PvP event until our fingers bled.
We were each other’s wingmen when we brought down the Kell of Kells in the Prison of Elders, which remains the most fist-pumping moment I’ve ever experienced in a videogame.
And while we were blasting our way through hordes of hostile aliens, we talked about shit — goofy shit, geeky shit, and sometimes serious shit. We discussed the crap we had gone (and were still going through), our creative anxieties, and other heavy topics. We couldn’t offer each other more than a sympathetic ear and some encouragement, but it was good to have someone to talk to as we worked towards more frivolous and achievable goals in Destiny‘s virtual world.
When we first met up in the game, Dee had given up on his art and I was on the verge of giving up on writing. A year later, a pitch of mine got accepted for Boo: Halloween Stories and Dee was the person I asked to illustrate it. It wasn’t a stress-free experience for either of us, but the final product was damn near perfect. I tend to be pretty ambivalent about my creative projects after the fact, but I have nothing but pride for what we accomplished with that story — and we followed it up with another Boo collaboration a year later.
After I got my turntable and started shopping around for items on my “essential favorites” list, I complained to Dee about the asking prices on used copies of certain multi-platinum releases. Even accounting for attrition, entropy, and the principle of supply and demand, it seemed bizarre that someone would ask upwards of thirty bucks for stuff that had shifted millions of units across multiple decades.
Dee, who works in a place that sells old records, agreed the prices I mentioned were ludicrous and told me to shoot him a list of albums I was searching for. None of them were currently in stock at the time, but he said he’d keep an eye out for them. I let the matter drop, because I don’t believe in leaning on folks where kind favors are involved.
Sometime near the end of the 2016 holiday season, Dee sent a message telling me to expect a package shortly. He wouldn’t say what it is, except that it was something I’d been looking for and he hoped that I wouldn’t mind if it was in less than pristine condition.
A few days later, I came home to find this in my porch.
Of all the items on the list I send Dee, All Things Must Pass was the one I’d least expected him to find. The 1970 George Harrison release was a triple-album box set by a former Beatle, all which presented multiple hurdles towards scoring an affordable secondhand copy. But Dee managed to make it happen, and it was the best gifts I’ve ever received.
No triple LP is fee of filler cuts. All Things Must Pass is no exception to that, but the ratio still leans overwhelmingly toward the killer side of the spectrum — a testament to Harrison’s talents given free rein after a decade of being hemmed in by the Lennon-McCartney juggernaut. Side two is utterly perfect, from the uplifting affirmation of “What Is Life” to the somber atonement of “Run of the Mill.”
It was a form of audio therapy I’ve returned to again and again in this absurd shitshow the world has become in the past few years. Listening to it never fails to buoy my spirits, warm my heart, and restore a glimmer of hope. That it was a gift from a friend, that particular friend only adds an additional layer of poignancy to the mix.
Lord knows I’m not the easiest person to get along with, which makes me all the more grateful I have a pal like Daniel Butler.