Really Real. Celebrating Don Freeman, 1947-2015.

Don Freemandon and jo-anneDon Freeman April 21, 2012

My friend Don died a week ago today. We only met a handful of times, but were cyber-buddies for more than a decade. Internet friendships tend to involve carefully edited versions of ourselves that wouldn’t fit so firmly in real life, but, had we not lived 4,600 miles away from each other, I suspect that we’d have been good friends. He was very supportive of my fiction, sometimes posting rave reviews on Amazon under quirky aliases (ie Joey Kludge). Three years ago, when I dedicated the second Bone and Cane novel to Don and his crime loving wife, Jo-Anne, he was touchingly flattered and at first convinced I’d just sent them some sort of specially personalised proof copy.

I met Don through a Usenet newsgroup about Bob Dylan. I sent him a copy of a UK only magazine compilation CD he was after. This began a regular, mainly music obsessed correspondence, with many more cds exchanged, that we both enjoyed a great deal. We’d often have conversations that spread through the day, despite the huge time difference. Every year I’d send him my best of year CD and he would send me that year’s latest all music issue of the Oxford American, which he’d introduced me to. It’s funny how you picture people via their online persona. Don, who, after a while took to calling himself Really Real, combined posting about music with acting as a kind of gatekeeper, taking up arguments with some of the more nutty members of the Dylan fan community, always happy to play Devil’s Advocate to get a discussion going.

Don’s online persona was much more curmudgeonly & comic than the real Don, who I got to meet when he and Jo-Anne were visiting Paris at the same time as Sue and I were over from the UK. We later visited them in Vancouver, where they were terrific hosts. Don was a very sweet, quite straight looking guy with a great sense of humour, as well as being an old hippy who never entirely grew up. On our Vancouver visit, I particularly recall Don showing me his original Beatles butcher sleeve, our being surprised by a van full of armed cops arriving in a back alley when we were on our way to see the Hold Steady, and a luxurious woodland picnic. A former schoolteacher, Don came from a prosperous family and was able to retire early, so at least he got to spend a long time doing the things he loved most, which included travelling with Jo-Anne, seeing a lot of movies and, until recently, going to plenty of gigs. His massive interest in music, especially Dylan, was demonstrated by the amount of time he continued to spend on the Dylan newsgroup, long after newsgroups were a thing (I stopped using it when my newsgroup software would no longer update, although it’s easy to access through Google groups).

From time to time, though, Don would keep me up to date with what was going on there, and when Jo-Anne wrote to tell me that he had succumbed to pancreatitis, the day after his 68th birthday, I offered to write a post there, telling the group, which I did last Friday (this blog is an expanded version of what I wrote there). The outpouring of love and fascinated comments about Don was staggering: far too many great comments to summarise here, but I do want to mention one particular guy who goes by the name, Just Walkin’, who wrote to tell me how, inspired by Don, he packed in being a software entrepreneur to become a high school teacher. In his sixties.

Don was a great maker of compilations, often on themes. I have loads of them. He also made 35 ‘great year to be born’ CDs, compilations of the best music (from a Canadian perspective) of every year from 1951-1986. I have a full set, and he’d often send me updated, improved versions. He’d post his theme compilation lists on RMD, asking for suggestions. Over on the group now, a bunch of people are putting together the tracklisting in his honour, Heaven. Ironic, of course, as Don was well known to be a staunch atheist. He hated funerals and there won’t be one. One frequent request I got from members of the newsgroup was for a photograph of Don, which I can understand. Before I met Don, based on his online persona, I had a kind of cartoon image of a bearded unabomber type. I asked Jo-Anne for some she liked and post them above, for the people in the group, and as a memorial to my friend.

I’ve missed Don’s witty repartee for the last few weeks. He was too ill to hear the best of year CD that I sent him, never mind tell me which tracks he loved and hated. We’ll never discuss the book about Dylanologists my brother gave me for Christmas, or the complete Basement Tapes. But music I got from him is all over our house, and he’ll remain a constant presence. Sitting in front of me is a magazine that arrived in the last post, the 2014 Oxford American Southern Music issue: Texas, which Don, who had great difficulty communicating at that stage, asked Jo-Anne to buy for me, and she posted after his death. I’m off downstairs to open it now. Thanks, buddy. It was real.

Bob Dylan – Tryin’ To Get To Heaven (live in Budapest, 2003)


5 Replies to “Really Real. Celebrating Don Freeman, 1947-2015.”

  1. Thanks, David for your touching comments. I’m an old school mate of Don’s and really enjoyed your thoughts. Don had a great sense of humour that almost everyone enjoyed in High School, except the school admin. The fact he went into teaching is almost unbelieveable. He was a generous host who worked very hard getting his School class together for a reunion in 2003…the first they’d ever had. And he did it again this past September for our 50th.
    Thanks very much.

  2. Thanks, David, for the beautiful rememberance of Don. He was a very good guy, someone I wish I’d gotten to know better.

    I didn’t know Don as well as you did, but he and I did correspond occasionally and exchanged some music — I have a couple of his discs within reach right now — and he invited my wife and me to visit if we were ever near Vancouver. That sadly won’t be able to happen now, so I’ll never have the pleasure of meeting him in person, but I’m pretty certain based on our email exchanges (and his contributions to the Dylan group) that we would have had a lot to talk about. Our interests in music and movies, as well as our political views, overlapped in many ways, and I wish he were still around to talk about those things, and anything else that came to mind.

    My condolences to Don’s family and friends. His departure leaves a noticeable gap in the world.

  3. Hello David,

    Just read your wonderful tribute to Don and wanted to pass on my regards. I’ve been a cyber pen-pal of Don’s for some time. I met him at my cousin David Wilson’s 60th birthday party at the Sons of Norway Hall off Broadway here in Vancouver, so that makes it about seven years ago. It was suggested by David and his partner Lynn that I be introduced to Don, as we shared an interest in music. We exchanged email addresses and my wife and I then returned to Vancouver Island. As I knew little of Don’s taste in music I decided to test him by choosing a song from an obscure rockabilly artist named Sleepy LaBeef,figuring that if he knew anything about Sleepy,I’d know he was a serious music buff. This was late at night, and his reply came back by six the next morning. It turned out he knew more about Sleepy La Beef than anyone should know, maybe even Sleepy’s wife. This was the start of it. As time went on I began to realize that Don was an encyclopedia of music lore. His knowledge of pop music took in generally the beginnings of rock and roll and on to the present day. As you say, he was like an old hippy, but he was never mired in the fifties or sixties. He listened to pretty much everything, and turned me on to countless musicians I would never have known otherwise. He was always excited about his latest compilation cd, and would send me track lists. He might threaten to have a compilation of songs by guys named Bobby, or something silly like that.
    He owned many IPods. One was his bathpod. Another was the Bobpod containing only material by Bob Dylan. Sixty gigs of Bob Dylan.
    In our daily correspondence we were often sidetracked by politics or world events. Don’s left-leaning views were often at odds with mine, but we learned to live with that over time. We’d sometimes argue but next day we were back to discussions of the music. He never held a grudge.
    He would mock my interest in music from the twenties and thirties, and tried to outdo me by sending me a file recorded in, like, 1905 or something. He referred to it as being “exquisitely old”. He was always funny and witty.
    It felt odd to meet and speak with him in person, which my wife Jan and I did last year on a trip to Vancouver. He and Jo-Anne were gracious hosts, and I got to see the “War Room”, where he had his CD collection and computer setup.
    It’ll be hard to not be able to write to Don anymore. My kindest regards to Jo-Anne and all his friends.

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