Editor's Note: If you've ever cracked open a Brian Doyle novel or one of his essays in Orion, The Sun, or (and it bursts me with editorial pride to write this) Camas, you might understand what a loss we felt on Saturday, when Brian passed away at sixty after suffering from a brain tumor over the last year. Brian's prose was a huge salad, expertly tossed: every bite surprised, unlikely flavors and smells and combinations stacking upon one another until you couldn't help but shout with joy for the sensory miracle of the world. I started reading his Oregon Coast novel Mink River during my first winter in the Columbia Basin. If it hadn't been for the damn course load, I might not have put it down. I finished it by headlamp on a clear night in early April, sitting on the beach in Yachats, Oregon. I won't say the book was all that compelled me to drive eleven hours from Missoula to the Pacific over spring break, but it was certainly a factor. Between the stars and crashing waves, the bitter dregs of a growler from Yachats Brewing, and Brian's storytelling, the rocky coast became a thing more mystic than measurable that night, a force of place and spirit that, for a moment, showed its guts to me. Brian's work showed the guts of life in all its weird and tragic and precious beauty. The biggest gut-punch, now, comes in wondering what his next tale might have been. After his diagnosis a year ago, his directive to readers was simple: "You want to help me? Be tender and laugh." Even as we mourn a bitingly cruel loss, the task seems doable knowing that Brian's abundant spirit endures in the stories he left behind. Here's one of them, which we had the honor of publishing in the Winter 2016-17 issue of Camas.
--Matt Hart, 2016-17 Senior Co-Editor
The Summeriest Concert Ever
By Brian Doyle
The summeriest concert I ever attended, or survived, was at a rambling old hotel called the Club Casino, in New Hampshire, so close to the beach that people would run out of the surf and into the huge ballroom when they heard a band open its set with a resounding crash.
The Casino was a rambling old wooden castle built in the nineteenth century and only fitfully renovated since; it has tremendous pharaonic pillars in front and the biggest rickety ballroom I had or have ever seen. The ballroom was crammed with a thousand battered tables with their battered complements of battered chairs, and the tables were so uniformly unstable and teetering that many patrons believed that the management deliberately never repaired the tables for fear of lost beer sales. This may well have been true; the Casino in general was a rough and roughly run place; people could and did slip in through the windows, bribe the ticket-takers, smuggle in seas of whiskey, and brawl unheeded in dark corners; I remember one fistfight in particular between a slight calm Golden Gloves finalist and a furious burly guy in motorcycle gear which drew dozens of patrons interested in how a slight guy who could box could dismantle a guy easily twice his size, which he did. I asked the bartender later what the fight was about and he said a girl, of course, what else?
The band on the night of the summeriest concert ever was Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, which I still think is the quintessential American bar band, raucous and loud but experienced masters of the pace and rhythm of a show where people are out to have a wild good time dancing and drinking and shouting; a Jukes show was, and probably still is, as far from a polite sit-down-and-peacefully-enjoy-the music event as you can imagine. Even when they played an occasional slow ballad people would be standing and swaying and kissing and guzzling until the band shifted gears and slammed into the next roaring song.
It had been blazing hot that day, and the ballroom was muggy and thick and dense with smoke and heat; muscle cars could be heard rumbling up and down the brief strip along the beach outside; the sharp scent of bad whiskey and the sour friendly scent of sloshed beer filled the room to the brim; people were wearing shorts and flipflops and headbands and tank tops and boots and denim shirts and sunglasses; shirts advertising every college and sports team imaginable were soaked with sweat and beer; people were cheering and laughing and shouting and singing along at the top of their voices; here and there whole knots of people were hanging onto each other’s shoulders as they sang along; Southside Johnny bellowed hoarsely and conducted the drunken chorus with aplomb and skill and what sure seemed like utterly genuine delight; the drummer appeared to hammer louder and louder as the night went on, though I do not know how that could be; the guitars snaked and wailed and preened and wheedled and sneered; and most of all, best of all, the horn section swung and shrieked and rattled the windows with a collective explosive sound like a stupendous brassy fist. I still have never heard a horn section so perfectly synchronized at such a ferocious pitch. I loved the music, marveled at the musicians, relished the wild cacophony of the room and my friends, but it is that astonishing horn section that I remember best. It was utterly wild and wonderfully organized at once; it was both piercing and embracing; it was part of the collective even as it was adamantly itself, brothers in brass; and somehow, even then, even in the hilarious maelstrom of the show in the ballroom on the beach, it seemed particularly and essentially American.
I suppose the show ended finally, after many encores, and I suppose we all filed out and filled the streets and the beach for a while, herded by cops, and I suppose eventually Hampton Beach was quiet, until the first surfcasters appeared again on the beach at dawn. But I don’t remember any of that. I only remember the show, the horns, the rough joy, the subtle Americanness of it all. I remember that vividly. I remember how one great thing can hint gently but unmistakably at another deeper great thing. It was only a summer concert, years ago, in a rattling old wooden castle on the beach; but somehow, mysteriously, it was also a wild rough showy loud beery joyous story about something else. Youth, certainly, and summerness, and rock and soul music; but something else that has to do with who we are as a collective, as brassy brothers and sisters, as citizens of a place that still might be unlike any other country that ever was. There is a country beyond this country that we still might get to if we sing together, as loud as we can, swaying and laughing and hanging onto each other’s shoulders with heedless glee.