On the morning of August 26th, Greg Gibbs wrote the following on his Facebook profile:
"what is in store for me today? Recording? Pool? drinky drink? Silkscreening? Ebay? too many choices...make money? hell no!"
Later that day, Greg died. For a number of reasons, that event passed without my notice. Tuesday was Greg’s birthday, and I dutifully left a short note on his Facebook page before learning what had happened just over two months ago.
The active portion of my friendship with Greg lasted just four months and was born of mutual loathing of Rexburg, Idaho where both of us somehow found ourselves attending college. He had come from Ohio, I had just arrived from upstate New York. We were on the same floor in the dorms and two of a small handful of students there not from either Utah or Idaho. In a place like Rexburg, that’s enough to base a friendship on.
Turns out, we had other things in common, too. We both liked the type of hardcore punk coming from Los Angeles in the late 1980s (it was the late 1980s, so it wasn’t a nostalgia thing), and he was actually dating a girl I was friends with back in Rochester.
So we became fast friends and spent a lot of time together that semester. We made something of an odd pair with Greg typically wearing all black and sporting a look that split the difference between goth and punk, while I was all northeastern preppie with thick, floppy bangs, docksiders, and an extensive collection of rugby shirts. But, even in the terrible stinkhole of Rexburg, we had fun. He got me to stand on skateboard for pretty much the only time in my life (also the only time I was ever busted by the police for skateboarding) and introduced me to a lot of cool people, one of whom would become my first girlfriend.
The apex (if you can call it that) of our collaboration was The Buttwhalers… also known as the Phallic 5. It started one afternoon after Greg got home from guitar class. He walked into my dorm room with his black (of course) electric guitar around his neck and said, “come on, everybody, let’s sing a song!” Then he started playing the Mormon children’s classic “Give, Said the Little Stream.” I joined in, shouting the lyrics in my best Johnny Rotten impersonation. This apparently amused Greg, and moments later we were recording the song into his cassette recorder.
Other recordings followed. Not surprisingly, most were adaptations of songs Greg had to learn for his class. The classic of the bunch was probably “Go Tell Dean Sessions,” set to the tune of “Go Tell Aunt Rhody.” Greg wrote it after the Dean of Student Life, who really was a pretty despicable person, tried to get him kicked out of school for… well, for nothing really, he just didn’t like Greg. The dean’s attempt at character assassination failed, and this song is Greg’s revenge. He posted a recording of it, and two other songs on his Facebook page. I tried listening several months ago and was so horrified at hearing my 18-year-old self try to sing that I’ve never been able to get all the way through the recording.
The semester ended and I went back to New York and Greg went back to Ohio. And that was that. A few years later, I met a friend of my older sister’s who had dated Greg for a little while, but other than that I had basically no contact or knowledge of what he was up to.
Then came Facebook and, all of the sudden, old friends were coming out of the woodwork. One day, I get a friend request from Greg and we share the 3-4 emails it usually takes to catch up before settling into the low-touch, low-impact sort of friendship that Facebook makes possible. In time, he would post the requisite embarrassing photos and, of course that horrific audio recording.
So, with the exception of the Facebook stuff, I hadn’t really had any contact with Greg in 22 years, but learning he had died hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve spent some time trying to figure out exactly why I’m having this reaction, and I don’t know if I’ve drawn any firm conclusions. I’m sure the closeness in age has something to do with it. He was about six months older than me and the first friend so close to my age who has died.
Maybe it’s the time in my life that we were friends that made such an impact. Those four months in Idaho were not so great. Having friends like Greg helped make that time much less dismal. I’ve looked back at his Facebook page and seen tributes from people who had only met him once, and one who had only talked to him on the phone on one occasion. So maybe it didn’t take much for Greg to make a big impression on a person, an impression that you didn’t even know existed until you learned its source was gone.
I don’t know the answers to any of those questions. All I know is that a long-lost (and newly rediscovered) friend is dead, and the world is a little poorer for it.