Bowie, Pride & David

by Albert Berkshire

David didn't even know it was us. He didn't care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.
David didn’t even know it was us. He didn’t care. A celebration was a celebration, no matter what you were wearing.

Bad news is bad news.

I don’t know that I’ve ever really paid much attention to the practice of qualifying the level of badness. Terrible. Horrible. Worst possible news. And the new internet-of-things triple-period emphatic overstatement: Worst. News. Ever.

In this case, It. Is.

An old friend died. We only hung out on a handful of occasions over the 13 or so years that I’d known him. We talked a lot on the phone, but only saw each other in person every couple of years. We’d meet up at concerts, football games, and once at a figure skating event. I knew he was passionate about figure skating, but I thought it was more of a business passion – until I read the condolences attached to his online obituary. A representative from Skate Canada had left a message expressing how great a loss his passing was to their sport.

David Ash and I first met when I was assigned to write some radio commercials for him. Over time, and after I left my day job at a radio station, he kept in touch. I continued on as his writer and producer for his radio commercials for his sports tours, concert promotions, and pretty much everything else he wanted to advertise – including the radio campaign to sell his over home at Big Valley Acres in Saskatchewan. We did a lot of work together over the years.

David was one of those clients who got away with phoning me at home – at ten o’clock at night. He didn’t seem to have an off switch for work. Mostly, as I recall, because he loved his work. He was, after all, The D Ash of Dash Tours. I swear, I was working for him for about eight years before it registered with me that D Ash made up Dash Tours. Sometimes, I guess, we writers are a little too close to the product.

And what a product, was he!

David was delightfully generous. He would send me concert tickets, football game tickets, invite me to the VIP parties, and always wanted to feed us. And we – my wife, my friends, my colleagues – all had some crazy times and some wonderful times with him. His generosity never ceased to amaze. Everyone left with a smile.

Years ago, we found ourselves in Vancouver with David. Irish rockers U2 we on tour, and we were there with David. My friend flew out from Newfoundland to come to the concert because we promised him his $1000 seat would only be $250 and he’d have the time of his life. Of course, this friend also trusted me the time I told him we had a condo in Whistler that turned out to be a basement studio apartment. At least this time, with David, he was guaranteed there would be a band…possibly a drum solo, too.

After hammering back a couple Red Bull knock offs (I highly recommend against this activity, and have never had one since), we headed to Vancouver’s GM Place to see U2. Turns out, our tickets were behind the stage. But the that “behind the stage” was in the Vancouver Canucks’ private owners’ box. Yup. David had a connection, and we had the box! And that’s when the real David started to shine. About 35 of his guests were treated to a full hot buffet; we had a waitress and a bartender; a private washroom; and we had David. And throughout the course of the night, the 14 or so rum and Cokes (again, on top of the upper drinks that started the night), David invited every single person down to the front row of the box to get a close up look at the band, to hang out and chat with him, and to hear his stories. And they were great. He was incredibly generous, inclusive, and everyone there – many who had known him for many years – loved him.

I credit David with sending me to the best concert I have every seen in my life. Back in the 1995, David Bowie was going through his “don’t talk about the past” phase. He would never play anything in concert except his current album. So years later when David Ash sent me tickets to see David Bowie in Kelowna, BC, I figured, “Well, Reality is a pretty good album. I should go see Bowie.” That night, Bowie played everything from Reality – all the way back to Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. It was brilliant. He was engaging, funny and everything I hoped he would be. And to this day, when we old dogs who are now coat tailing the baby boomers, sit around and tell our own concert stores, I still tell people about the concert David sent me to see. And all he said when he told me he was sending tickets was what he always said, “You make me sound good. It’s my way of saying thanks.”

A couple years later, I called David looking for Neil Diamond tickets for my wife. At the time, $200 got you in the upper levels at Neil Diamond concert. The nosebleed section. But she was determined and David said he’d send her tickets to the middle deck. She was thrilled. When the tickets arrived, she was on the floor – third row from the stage. I called David, and all he said was, “Tell her to have a great time.” Again…unbelievable generosity from a man we rarely spent any time with in the course of the average year.

I can’t say I’ve ever been a football fan. David, as anyone who knew him, was the ultimate – and original – Super Fan. He was the original Gainer The Gopher for the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. The man lived and breathed Canadian Football. He was known in every circle of the CFL. And when he invited us to sit Centre Field at a Riders vs. Lions game in Vancouver, we thought it was a great idea. And really, a chance to head down to VanGroovy for a weekend, stay downtown and shop and dine was a great getaway at a great time. It was, of course, Halloween.

And that’s where it got a little bit weird. At least for David.

My wife loves to dress up. She has a robust Tickle Trunk. She loves costumes. And loves to stick a wig on me. We also had made YipYip costumes the year prior for a Halloween party at our house. You may know where this is going. We stuffed the two YipYip costumes in the back seat of our car, put seat belts on them, and drove to Vancouver. The poor valet at our place in Vancouver had no idea what was happening. He thought we left our kids (we don’t have any) in the car. And that should have been a hint that our humour was not as recognizable as we thought it might be.

Sir? You've left your...children(?) in the car.
Sir? You’ve left your…children(?) in the car.

Maybe I should explain…again. YipYips, if you aren’t familiar, are big furry alien characters from the TV show Sesame Street. They come to earth, discover a house with an open window, a phone rings and they assume it is intelligent life and try to communicate with it. “Burrrrrrrrr-ring!”

It’s okay. David didn’t know either.

So we dressed up as YipYips for the game, sat next to David for the entire game – right on the 55 yard line (Yes, in the CFL, the field is 110 yards long, though being Canadian, one would think is should be 110 metres), and David never had a clue who we were or why we were sitting in the seats he had reserved for us! And still, he didn’t ask these furry aliens to leave. He just let them have fun.

And we did. A lot of it. We were also the darlings of Chinatown that day, being stopped for a lot of photo ops on our way back to the hotel. But that wasn’t a surprise – we were furry cartoon-like creatures in Vancouver. Statistically speaking, it was a social inevitability.

That evening, we met David for dinner with a number of his other tour guests. We were late (I should clarify here, in case my wife reads this, that I was the cause of us being late.) And when we arrived at the restaurant – a steak house (we are vegetarians), David greeted us, told us he was sorry but they didn’t have a big enough table for us to join them, but he had the owner reserve a booth for us, and took the liberty of ordering some Alaskan crab legs for us as a starter. I hadn’t eaten crab in 20 years. It’s shellfish, bottom-of-the-ocean hangup to which I like to cling. My wife asked me if I was going to eat the crab, and I said, “Of course. David ordered it.”

And that was the thing; people wanted David to know they appreciated his generosity. He never sought praise or recognition. But he certainly earned it.

Over the next few years, I, along with a couple of friends, were his guest at a couple private parties at the top of the CN Tower, and at that same event, he took the time to talk to everyone. There must have been over 200 people there, and most he knew by name. We did photos with David, we had laughs, drinks, dinners, and we had access to everything during the 100th Grey Cup weekend. We were travelling with David.

David, as some know, was that guy in the crowd at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games in Vancouver, BC, who handed off the giant Canadian flag to Sidney Crosby so that it could be skated around the ice with Team Canada when they won the Gold Medal for Men’s Ice Hockey. He was the crazy guy in the stands who had the flashing red light on his head that he turned on every time Team Canada scored – in both Women’s and Men’s ice hockey. (He even had a green one for Rider’s games!) Incidentally, he donated that flag to the Canadian Hockey Hall of Fame. Personally, I think it should have been draped over his coffin and buried with him.

It was because of David I saw Bowie. It was because of David I got to understand Rider Pride. It was because of David that I realized just how great crab legs really are, that one should never drink two Red Bull thingy drinks and then finish the night with a diet of rum and cokes. (I think my dilated eyes really concerned him that night). It was because of David that Neil Diamond pointed at wife and sang to her – and they had their “moment” – as she describes it. And it’s because of David that I have so many crazy stories about so many crazy people I met in the stands – everywhere we went with him.

I can only imagine the stories David had – that he wouldn’t dare tell us.

He was, after all, the Original Super Fan.

The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.
The author with David Ash of Dash Tours at the Riders In the Sky Kickoff Party during the 100th Grey Cup celebrations. David is now the biggest Rider in the sky.

David Ash died on February 28th, 2016 in Regina, Saskatchewan – fittingly, the home of the Saskatchewan Rough Riders. He was the most generous person I have ever known. A friend whose phone call I will forever miss. His memory, however, will always warm my heart.

Albert Berkshire is an author and storyteller. This one is true. For a much shorter, and less frequent rambling, Albert is found on Twitter @albertberkshire, and semi-socially at www.facebook.com/AlbertThomasBerkshire

Leave a Reply