David Noble

The first thing I remember about David was him having to buy a dead cat for a pre-med anatomy class. Maybe this is what turned him off from medicine. I suspect that he was following the unfulfilled wishes of his parents: My Son the Doctor. His parents were Miami Beach jewish. I lived in North Miami and David lived in Miami Beach. But where we met was at the University of Florida. This was the early sixties.  1964 was it? Things were changing, but there was still a strong redneck factor. The University Cafeteria (not affiliated) was still segregated. In certain circles, it was frowned upon to “mix” with blacks (“nigras” they were called) and certainly they did not date. One fellow who did (dated an African-American girl) was so ostracized and harassed, that he hung himself. David, being “jewish” (though he never embraced the “identity”) probably had his fair share of stories, but he never made a big deal about them. David made a big deal about larger issues than his personal “identity.” David was never a member of the Me Generation.

I played jazz piano and David played a baroque recorder. When I saw him again this summer, he was still playing it. Having lost some use of my right hand, I no longer played, but David wanted to jam anyway. A baroque recorder and a one-handed pianist.

Before David  threw medicine overboard, he got a job at Tufts in Boston – a summer job. This was the summer of the US release of Revolver and Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde. Just for historical perspective. I, without a summer job, accompanied him to Boston, where his elder brother Henry was  working at the time. We rented a small apartment on Hemenway Street and I got a job across the bridge into Cambridge at a plastics factory. 3-11 shift, humping plastic pellets into molding machines at Morningstar Plastics in Kendall Square. The birthplace of Revlon compact shells. It was there I led the working class life, accompanying the crew to a bar down the street and learned the art of quaffing boiler-makers. David was the guy who introduced me to Boston (with the help of Henry) and I thought that this was the place I wanted to be. In fact, David was the person who introduced me to a lot of things. In many ways, I learned more from David than my Professors at UofF.

Bob Marley and the I-Threes at Paul’s Mall, Miles Davis at Harvard stadium, playing with his back to the audience, his long purple scarf blowing in the wind at the outdoor dusk concert. The be-ins and sit-ins on the Cambridge Common. It was an exciting time. David would put on his copy of Sketches of Spain and we’d chill on the small balcony. Miles syncopated by the traffic horns and the delivery trucks backing up beep beep beep.

Back at school, David changed to history and was to begin his life-long passion for truth-telling. David wielded truth like a sword and some people felt they were bled in the process. David was always In the American Grain. Truth be told.

“[America] has become ‘the most lawless country in the civilized world,’ a panorama of murders, perversions, a terrific ungoverned strength, excusable only because of the horrid beauty of its machines. To-day it is a generation of gross know-nothingism, of blackened churches where hymns groan like chants from stupefied jungles, a generation universally eager to barter permanent values (the hope of an aristocracy) in return for opportunist material advantages, a generation hating those whom it obeys.” [William Carlos Williams]

He ended up in Canada. David was passionate about everything and I was more naturally circumspect. David went into academia (I went in the heart of darkness) and wrote several detailed and ground breaking critiques of American society, especially as it related to the co-opting of academic freedom and academics itself. Business and Technology was the John. Universities were the whore. David would have none of it.

In early 1970, I left Vietnam and headed for Wisconsin to study Shakespeare. I read Will’s entire body of work (and Paradise Lost as well). My grade was incomplete and Paradise was certainly lost. I packed up and drove from Wisconsin straight to Boston where I hooked up with David again and his wife Cheddi. They (along with Behemoth the dog) were living at the corner of Beacon and Hereford Street on the ground level. These were two of the most brilliant people I’ve ever known, and I have the tape to prove it. One night we got stoned and tape recorded an impromptu performance of Ionesco’s Rhinoceros. I say I have the tape to prove it, but alas, it was lost somewhere along the way. As many things are lost. Somehow we all drifted apart: David, his wife Ched and myself. Life happens. Some call it shit. But in this wormhole world sometimes paths cross again.

I hooked up again (after a hiatus of some thirty years??) with David and his new wife Sarah last summer. Actually when I first visited them at their very lovely farmhouse in Vermont, they weren’t as yet married. They did get married between the time I first visited and the second visit of that summer. We had long talks and several laughs. David was always the Henny Youngman of Historians, with an uncanny recall for jokes. One to fit every moment, every situation. I think this was maybe the third marriage – or the fourth? – for David, but Sarah was something special. One could tell that right off. He listened to her. Respected her. Every bit as funny as David, yet in a completely different vein. They made each other laugh. It was a joy to see them together. David was in a good place. I’d never seen him so…”happy” is not the right word (though he was) and “content” doesn’t do their relationship justice. I marvelled at how much they seemed to complement each other. Only Sarah could have turned David into a farmer, tilling the land, self-sufficient, self-sustaining, canning for the winter. David just needed to tie up some loose ends, and they were home free.

David died Monday. Suddenly and shockingly.

David was 65. I won’t say that David is in a better place, because he would not cotton to such tripe. He left the best place of his life for that black uncertainty which we all will encounter one day. Farewell, my friend.

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3 Comments

Filed under Sketches

3 responses to “David Noble

  1. Charlie, I’m so sorry. I’m glad you had the chance to reconnect with him over the summer, but… yeah.

  2. PatD

    Lovely tribute, Charlie. Thank you for sharing that.

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