I was a college misfit. I went to a school that was a mix of (local) East LA kids on scholarship, and east coast boarding school kids. There were four of us from flyover land – two from Kansas, one from Detroit, and me. Scholarship kids, too. None of us could afford private school. And I soon learned I did not belong in LA.
One of the local kids befriended me and every weekend we hit the record stores in his blue Datsun pickup truck, where he would prowl the cutout bins. Sometimes the clerks would alert him to a new arrival. He listened to everything. He was a rock ‘n’ roll fan in a big way. While he never played a note, he moved on from college to working in record stores for the rest of his life.
He would have been 70 today but died in 2015, from complications of diabetes. I did not know until later, but he died with dear friends at his bedside. I wrote about him here. My eulogy wasn’t the only one. As the Coachella Valley Weekly noted about the 2015 Los Lobos release “Gates of Gold”, “the title track is a bucolic back-porch ramble tethered to a galloping gait. The melody is buoyed by honeyed guitar and loping Bajo Sexto notes. The lyrics look beyond the temporal pleasures of this world, focusing on more spiritual concerns. It serves as a sweet elegy for longtime pal, David Okuma who passed away in June.”
David and I traveled to San Francisco in that pickup. We hung out at the home of one of the rich kids from school at his home in Pacific Heights. Mom and dad had flown to LA for a party, so Gardner said we could sleep over. He sent me down to the kitchen for beers when his parents, dressed to the nines, walked in. Oops. I introduced myself and ran back up to his third floor aerie and told him what happened. Seconds later the phone rang. He said, “That’ll be Mom.” Somehow we passed muster and were allowed to stay. It was David’s first time out of LA. A few years later I convinced him to fly to Wisconsin to visit – his first time out of California. So much for my impression of all Los Angelenos being jet-setters. While he lived on the freeways of LA, he was a small-town kid at heart. His small town was the music world. His jet-setting was limited to chauffeuring his friends to the airport when they went on tour.
David Okuma, 1953-2015 – ¡Presente!