Dan Ellis and I played music in this town at the same time, in the very same clubs, but never in the same band. I didn't even really know him then, except by reputation, as his drumming with the Flies, Bellyful of Lead and others was legendary. We were obsessed with the same music, too -- punk, new wave, underground -- but we never smacked into one another at a house party. We also shared a love of local history, architecture and B-movies, but I didn't know about that connection -- or any of our other weird connections -- until about five years ago.
Around that time, as a regular customer of the bar he had built, the Blue Spark, I got to know Dan pretty well. From the beginning, I considered the Blue Spark my personal urban oasis, the only pub in this town in which I felt totally comfortable. So I became a regular. Back then it was a quieter watering hole than it is today, with excellent taps and thoughtful conversation murmuring at every table. That's how Dan wanted it. When he was working behind the bar, he seemed to be completely in his element, personally greeting everyone who walked in the place and goofing around with regulars. The Blue Spark also had not only the best jukebox in town, but the best jukebox I'd seen anywhere. Dan filled it with CDs from his own collection. It was like a dream -- and I plugged the hell out of it. I used to tell him all the time -- and it was the truth, not just the beer in me -- that if I had a jukebox to fill, his was the stuff I would fill it with.
With very little provocation, Dan could and I would talk both of your ears completely off about music, history, politics and beer. I'm pretty sure he was an expert in at least those four areas, probably more. He struck me as either brilliant or the best B.S.er I'd ever met. Actually, the more I think about it, I'm pretty sure he was both. You know how some people just can't tell a joke? Dan was just the reverse. In fact, he was a master of the well-placed quip and the rambling yarn. He was hilarious. His comic timing was impeccable.
I could never figure out where he found his energy. And he always seemed far more sharp and focused and excited about things than I ever was. It might sound clich & eacute;d, but to me, Dan really seemed larger than life. He was a soldier in the war against boredom.
That's why it was so awful when he got sick. Here he was, this health food nut, this fireball of enthusiasm and motivation, and -- What? He's got what? Some bad-ass form of cancer that no one, not even his doctors, could fully understand? No way.
Now life isn't fair, that's a fact. Anyone telling you otherwise is either delusional or trying to pull a fast one on you. So when bad things happen to good people, you just kind of have to accept it as the way of this cold, indifferent universe. But cancer? Dan Ellis has cancer? It didn't seem right. Yet it was true.
Throughout the many ups, downs and hairpin turns of his illness, Dan remained in good spirits and seemed determined to beat the crap out of the crud that had him prematurely sidelined. In the end, though, the crud got the better of him. He passed on last Saturday. He was only 39 years old. Those closest to him report that he went out quietly with family, friends and a whole lotta love packed into his hospital room. Spokane and the whole human race lost a good one there.
I got a kick out of Dan and always had a lot of fun in his company. And I wasn't the only one, because Dan had lots of friends. I'm very glad to have been counted among them. But they can tell his story far better than I can, so I'm putting this one to bed.
Except to say that the next time I bring a finely crafted beer to my lips (don't worry, Dan, no Budweiser), I'm gonna take a moment, clink my glass with a buddy and toast Mr. Ellis. I suggest you all do the same -- not only because it seems fitting, but also because that's probably the only sort of tribute Dan himself ever would have tolerated.
All right, then, here we go. To Dan Ellis. Cheers.
Publication date: 08/19/04