Note: One week ago, Daniel Doyle passed away. He was a true journalist, a talented musician, devoted lifelong patron of the AR and Memphis music scenes, friend to all, and one of Hexbeat’s first contributors. He is missed by many, and longtime friend Trip Cook has shared a heartfelt tribute to him.
Cover photo courtesy of Brandi Rinks
Daniel Doyle is the only person I’ve ever wanted to pay for existing. I met Daniel while working as a part-time sports writer at The Sun, a newspaper in Jonesboro, Ark. He was strikingly unique, smart, full of life, a staunch defender of underdogs and totally unafraid to be himself at all times. He never asked for any money, but he played in a band I really liked. I had this idea that if I gave him a thousand dollars or so, it could maybe help him tour and fulfill all of the greatness I saw in the group. It was more than just a passing thought. Unbeknownst to Daniel or anyone else, I had serious conversations with my wife about giving him more than half the money we had in the bank.
My big idea started during myspace’s salad days, when I received a friend request from a user named Jocko. The profile photo was of a Realtor who advertised regularly in the Jonesboro newspaper. The About Me section warned friends to “ready yourselves for my poetry” and asked for leads on Guess Who bootlegs from the Canadian years. It was hilarious, odd and strangely good-natured. Eventually, I discovered the profile was Daniel’s creation. Of course it was. Even his myspace/musical alter-egos were hilarious, odd and strangely good-natured. Daniel told me about Berenstein Band and his idea to create concept records based on Jocko, this fictional character inspired by the Devo song “Jocko Homo.” He gave me a copy of Jocko Homo 1, a brilliantly literate, sweet and funny album he created with friends. When he sent me a copy in 2006, he told me he had “all these plans to royally stomp ass all over.” I knew he could.
I kept in contact with Daniel after he left Jonesboro, stopped playing music and took a reporter job with a newspaper in Conway, Ark. I would search for his name in the archives to read his stories. He covered police and courts, which in the wrong hands can be some of the most dry, lifeless copy in a newspaper. Reporters who cover police and courts for years can become cynical, entrenched in the culture of police departments, numb to the suffering around them and blind to the occasional flickering light of humanity that occasionally shines in tragic situations. That would never be a problem for Daniel, who was too intuitive, smart and fiercely independent to fall prey to the things many of us who worked in journalism have. He told me once that he thought he was horrible at the job, which was ridiculous. I’ll never forget a story Daniel wrote that featured the awesome headline “Country club builder charged with two-by-four assault.” It was this perfect encapsulation of Daniel Doyle; smart, joyous and overflowing with humanity. When he interviewed the victim of the two-by-four assault, Daniel got what may be my favorite newspaper quote of all-time: “I then dropped my two-by-four, grabbed my phone and said, ‘That’s it Miller. It’s cop time.'” God, what a perfect quote. He finished the story with another gem of a quote by the two-by-four attacker: “I didn’t mind to spend the night in jail, because I’ve never been in jail in my life and I thought, ‘Well, before I die, I’d like to spend one night in jail.’ But before the night was over, I wish I’d never had.” I loved it so much, I wrote Daniel to thank him.
I grew even closer to Daniel when he moved back to Arkansas a couple years ago. We stayed in contact through email and saw each other pretty regularly at rock shows in Memphis. It was always such a thrill to see him. I’d spent so much time thinking about him over the years, it felt like I was seeing someone famous. We talked about punk rock, journalism, Steely Dan, basketball, capitalism and professional wrestling. Daniel occasionally apologized the next day for talking so much, but I cherished those conversations. It provided such a jolt to my spirit to talk with someone who was so passionate about so many of the same issues as me.
I regularly pestered him to start playing music again. Eventually, he told me he was working on putting a band together and he wanted to go on tour soon. It sounded like a great band. One night, he told me about a song he’d been working on. We were outside at Gonerfest around a big crowd, but Daniel got so excited talking about the song that he just started screaming it out. I can’t remember the exact words, but it was wonderfully heartfelt and defiant. Naturally, the screaming drew its share of attention. I never felt Daniel wanted that kind of attention. He just had something inside he wanted to express and genuinely didn’t care what those people thought. It’s a beautiful characteristic that I wish I had.
A few weeks ago, I read the Hexbeat year-end lists. I was reading Daniel’s 2013 predictions when I noticed my name. It was a funny little mention about me guest hosting a wrestling podcast I like. I can’t pinpoint exactly why, but seeing that made me smile and tear up a little. Maybe it was just nice to be mentioned or know someone I cared about was thinking about me. I’d never talked with Daniel about the podcast, so the only way he could have known I liked the show was if he read this short review I wrote several weeks before. The prediction meant he was taking the time to search for and read my writing, like I’d done with him a few years before. He regularly encouraged me with really nice comments about my writing. Because it was Daniel saying it, I never questioned the sincerity of those comments. But that prediction cemented it. That short sentence meant a lot to me and I’m glad I got to tell him so.
The last time I talked with Daniel was about a week ago. He started working for the newspaper in Jonesboro, where he covered a high school basketball tournament that featured a high school sophomore jumping incredibly high in the air and dunking over another kid. The video of the dunk received more than 1 million views and became a highlight shown every few minutes on ESPN for a day or two. Daniel sent me a message saying that he’d blown it in his game story because he didn’t go into any detail about the dunk. He told me that the kid who had been knocked down by the dunk had a history of concussions and he was so concerned about the kid, he didn’t make much of a note about the dunk. It feels like a perfect Daniel Doyle, Defender of the Underdog, moment. While everyone else in the world was busy watching this crazy, memorable sports moment, Daniel was worried about the kid who got knocked down.
I didn’t end up following through on the idea to give Daniel the money. Maybe I should have. He probably wouldn’t have accepted it anyway. Of course, as time went by, I realized that the greatness I saw had a little to do with music and a lot to do with Daniel Doyle. It didn’t seem right that someone so funny, smart and brimming with creativity should be stuck working for small, withering newspapers like me. He was the first person I’ve known who truly seemed destined for something great and I have absolutely no doubt that he was on his way. Daniel wasn’t like the rest of us. His spirit was more full, his mind moved faster. I was amazed by his fearlessness, intelligence and decency. I think I just wanted to be a part of that in some way. I wanted him in a position to use those qualities where thousands of other people could see what I saw. Selfishly, I probably also hoped that some of Daniel’s amazing qualities would rub off on me. If you spent very much time around Daniel, you probably felt the same way.
Here’s a very short video of Daniel performing with Berenstein Band:
Please feel welcome to leave kind thoughts about your memories of Daniel Doyle in the comments below. Thank you.