Monday, July 22, 2013


Stunned. Just found out that Will passed away.

I first met Will Dalgard when I was 18 years old. I was driving up to Dayton once a month to compete in poetry slams held at Canal Street Tavern. Sunday evenings, without fail. Will was the door guy at Canal Street. The first time I saw him he was wearing a black tshirt. I remember that because I instantly had a crush on him. He exuded that perfect amount of bored/smart/asshole. That's the only way to describe it.

He was 31 years old and I thought he had the coolest job in the world. He kept whatever book he was reading tucked under the register and read it in between checking IDs. He advised me to read Bukowski, was proud to be in recovery, and always had a kind word for my poetry. I developed a habit in the early days of looking for the shadow of his head when I was onstage. Sometimes he was half-lit by the small lamp at his post by the door, and it was nice to know he took the time to listen.

I had a huge stupid crush on him. It was kind of silly. I was a young college student, diving into my first real poetry scene. Canal Street became my home away from home, my most favorite place. I was there every weekend for shows. I would get up from my seat often and talk to Will. Cigarettes and book talk.

We hung out a few times outside of the bar. The first time I went to his apartment on Wayne Ave, this great triangular building on the corner. We sat on his couch and listened to music. He pulled out a copy of one of his published poems, The Junkie and the Italian Princess. He read it to me, filling my head with scenes of a strung out guy on his knees in a store, begging his italian princess to forgive and return to him. He wrote from the heart. I noticed a giant Italian flag hanging on the wall and I asked him where he got it from. The navy, he said. I couldn't believe it, responding with: you were in the navy?! He nodded. I was kicked out. I asked the question cautiously: what for? His answer: Being an asshole, doing drugs.

When I left that night he hugged me goodbye in a way that was new to me. He pulled me close to him and rested both hands right at my tailbone, as if considering. A small peck goodbye and I left, confused as to why he didn't try for more(but over time understanding/appreciating that he didn't).

I went to one of his shows, showed up foolishly early to his apartment where he was loading equipment with bandmates. I sat at their table at the bar and a few of them chuckled and gave Will a couple looks over my head. It was obviously that I was way too young to be there, pretending that I belonged and it was totally normal. I don't know--looking back it felt normal, and that's what drove me then...whatever I felt. I cared about Will tremendously. I pinned his show flyers to my mantel in the bedroom and daydreamed about being something more to him. In class I wrote poems about him, terribly smitten. A girl in my class knew him and cautioned me against more hang-outs, reasoning he was "trouble." Other times we got together to watch X-Files or I would just hang around by his post at the bar door, talking literature.

Seeing him fall off the wagon was scary and confusing. I approached him where he sat slumped over and he seemed to stare right through me. To see him go from one extreme to the other was shocking and sad. In sobriety he told stories of scraping together pennies to buy a drink, rattling off the details matter-of-factly but seemingly at peace with it. When he fell he fell hard, disappearing for a while, coming back. He stopped working at Canal Street for a while...came back to leave again. I started waitressing there and I distinctly remember the night he had to body slam an unruly customer. Another night he came in so completely out of it that we were able to serve him water with a straw and convince him it was booze, in effort to appease his demands. Again he sat there, sipping and staring straight through anyone that tried to talk to him. One night he showed up to the Co-Op and played a song called "Too Much Blood in my Alcohol." I remember him strumming that guitar as if trying to catch it on fire, yelling out the chorus. I lost track of him briefly when he quit the bar again and I moved out of state.

Will had an issue with booze, a serious one. He was an addict. I guess I kind of gloss over that in the previous paragraph...I met him sober and always held onto who he was as that. He was still an asshole but he had himself together. When he started drinking again he wasn't that person. That switch left me so confused and hurt. I'm not sure what else to say about it...

We kept in touch on and off over the years. Will headed for the west coast and started playing music out there on the streets. The man loved playing. That's all he wanted to do--play music. And he did. He said fuck off to the system and meant it--becoming a street musician. He was part of a documentary project on street musicians in Portland/San are some clips from that. Will shows up a few times--the first at the 2:00 mark. I'll know that voice forever.

'Artbeat of the City: Select Scenes from Mary Anne Benner Ailgif Studios on Vimeo.

He wasn't perfect. He wasn't always nice--in fact he pissed a lot of people off, and burned a lot of bridges. But he was human, and lived how he wanted to live. He stuck to his values when it came to steering clear of The Man. He lived hard and fast and full of rock n roll. He was a great door guy because he didn't take any shit. He wasn't shy about his mistakes. No matter how many years have passed, I still remember that goodlooking stubborn fella in the black tshirt. Or the guy reading me his poetry on the couch in his efficiency. I feel lucky that I met him when he was sober, that I got to know a bit about his heart. I'll always think of Will as music, the true and tough spirt of it. Presence unmatched. May he rest in noise.

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