Nashville punk/lounge legend, Gospel of Power singer, actor in Gummo and Trash Humpers, Murakami of pickup artists, force of nature, and king of karaoke night at the Springwater Supper Club Dave Cloud passed away last night due to complications from cancer. Sources close to him say he passed calmly surrounded by friends and family. He was 58 years old.
Dave appeared on two episodes of Theatre Intangible, two of our best: the episode that got us banned permanently from WRVU and the Fourth Annual Halloween Extravaganza. Whenever I ran into Dave after that final WRVU episode, he told me he felt terrible and guilty about getting my show banned. And then I would reassure him that it was not his fault. He was very careful to avoid the FCC dirty words and to replace anything objectionable with surrealistic placeholders. The objectionable material came from the callers, who we monitored (unsatisfactorily, apparently) with a three-second delay. I would then tell Dave that were it not for Theatre Intangible getting banned from WRVU, I would never have started the website and podcast version. I guess I owe all that to Dave and everyone involved with the episode Get It On with Dave Cloud.
Then he would ask me to buy him a beer, and I would. Dave was a drinker and a chain-smoker. While we were taping Get It On, he would excuse himself for “quick” smoke breaks that ended up lasting 20 minutes. The other performers just kept improvising music until Dave returned. When it was time to record the Halloween Extravaganza, I had learned my lesson. At this point, I was recording the episodes in my basement, and when Dave asked to take a smoke break, I told him he could smoke while performing. Before long, other performers were lighting up, and my house smelled like cigarette smoke for two weeks. But the recording is better for it.
I didn’t know Dave very well, and I don’t feel qualified to write a eulogy for him. We only had a handful of conversations at the Springwater and Betty’s, and, of course, we had the live tapings. One thing that I do know is that Dave possessed a rare magnetism that made his performances (and pickup lines, rants, boasts) hypnotic. And that has me thinking about the parallels between Dave and other outsider musicians like Daniel Johnston, Frank Sidebottom, and Wesley Willis. Magnetism such as Dave’s often comes with depression and mental illness, and I wonder if we enabled Dave with our attention and admiration. We were always willing to buy him a beer in exchange for a song. Jon Ronson writes about the magnetism / mental illness duality beautifully in Frank: The True Story That Inspired the Movie. In an interview with the The Wire about his time performing with the Frank Sidebottom Oh Blimey Big Band, Ronson writes,
… it just interested me so much, that kind of beautiful naïveté when you’re young and see the tortured artist as being fabulous, and then when you’re faced with the reality of being with a tortured person and it’s not at all fabulous. It’s not fabulous to the person and it’s not fabulous to the people around the person. I’ve known that from my own life, and also this brilliant documentary The Devil and Daniel Johnston talks about that too, about how awful it is to be Daniel Johnston’s parents, the hand they’ve been dealt. It’s heartbreaking, and there’s nothing romanticizing about mental illness in that documentary.
Dave lived with his parents for most of his adult life, and right now I’m thinking about them. I am sorry for their loss. I will never know Dave, in all his unvarnished glory, the way they did. I will never know the struggles Dave and his family faced. I only know the Dave behind the microphone. But that is enough.