There will be a celebration of the life of David Olney in Nashville on March 9, 2020, at the Belcourt Cinema. I won't be able to be there. I met David early in 1973, a month or so after I got to town and maybe six months after he did. I've known him ever since, and like so many others who have posted about him, I miss him, and I can't believe he's gone.
Here is a version of what I would say if I could attend the memorial in March.
I ran into him at a gig in Northampton, Massachusetts several years ago. Gine, Redding, and Lilly were staying with David’s parents in Rhode Island while he toured in the region. The kids were small then. I asked him how the family was doing. He said, “Everyone’s sick. They’re throwing up all over the place.” I said, “That’s terrible”. He said, “Oh well, that’s what agents are for.”
The reason he could say that to me is because he knew that I knew how much he loved them.
Love is like a scatter gun. Wherever you direct it, it spreads out everywhere. We see this in his songs. David loved Judas, eternally unable to spend the 30 pieces of silver. He loved the iceberg calling to the Titanic. He specially loved the poor fool, who is every one of us, tagging along and heading for Jerusalem tomorrow.
David loved, and by loving he gave everyone around him permission to love, too. To love even ourselves. By being so totally David, he gave us permission to be ourselves. I’m so much better because of him. Not because I’m more like David, but because I’m more me, more Hugh, than I might have been. In this way, we all carry him forward with us, and---maybe---do the same for others.
And David was something that often seems out of style today. He was decent. That he was brilliant is well documented and will be commented on a lot by all of us as we go forward carrying him inside. It’s his decency, at the heart of everything, that I remember now.
David had crazy times, but he wasn’t crazy. He had drunken times, but he wasn’t a drunk. He had lonely times, but he wasn’t a loner. He knew old times, but he was never old. He had hard times, but he was never a hard man---edgy sometimes, offended by insincere foolishness, but ready to do the work necessary when called. He served on the board of directors of his children’s school and knew about making the hard, unglamorous decisions that actually make the world go ‘round.
We’re going to remember David for the rest of our lives, and others will remember him through his works and through us. I’m not qualified to tell his story, but I don’t have to. David wrote his own life story. It’s in “Roses”. The lightning strikes and...
The old oak tree began to shudder
But he held his ground like some old soldier
His ancient pride was burnt and shaken
But something deep inside did waken
He raised his limbs just like Moses
And blossomed roses
He blossomed roses