In Winter 2006-7, philanthropist Lynn Schusterman brought an international group of young Jewish leaders to the Galilee to help “repair” what the Second Lebanon War had destroyed. Because we lacked painting experience, we imparted way more personality than artistry – illustrating bomb shelter walls with images we believed to be calming, inspiring or uplifting. Fish in an ocean. Flowers and animals frolicking in a sunny field. And my friend Dave Burnett, who had joined us from Australia, drew a hospital with a helipad on the roof – he second-guessed it, saying that maybe that wasn’t a calming image. But we decided it was good – it was an image that said, “help is coming.”
As we worked, we listened to the one radio station with reception, and sang along with what we knew, Hebrew, English or Spanish. But with all our backgrounds so different, there was only one song that we all seemed to know from its opening chords. Its minimal musicality encroached on near-atonality, with lyrics that looped in waves of surface simplicity. And the chorus seemed to vibrate with our collective voices:
[...]And all the roads we have to walk are winding
And all the lights that lead us there are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you
But I don't know how
You're gonna be the one that saves me
And after all
You're my wonderwall
Penned and sung by Oasis, a literal band of brothers known for sometimes-violent rivalry, 1995’s “Wonderwall” is instantly identifiable from its opening chords. According to Wikipedia, "Wonderwall" is one of the most covered songs of all time, with versions ranging in musical style from death metal and acoustic to dance and swing. In a recent episode of “Girls,” when Lena Dunham started singing the song in the bathtub, her lonely voice echoing against bathroom tile and bouncing off bathwater, I was not at all surprised.
We were there because of a war, on a trip meant to bring support to Israelis who were under fire. We were supposed to infuse the region with hope. This song always makes me think of that time, and of Dave, and the jubilation with which he sang it. But really, Dave did everything jubilantly, living out loud and with a whole heart, until he died in January 2008, of injuries sustained during a fall while he was vacationing in Petra, Jordan. He was 23.
There is always a temptation to idealize those who leave us too soon, remembering their attributes as more perfect than they actually were. But anyone who knew him can attest that Dave was an outgoing, endlessly enthusiastic, vibrant personality – pure energy contained only barely, and all too briefly, by a human form. Dave saw every person as an entire world of possibility, strength, personality and fun. He was the life force personified – for his friends and family, left behind, the loss was (and continues to be) incomprehensible.