There is an old legend at Appalachian State University, in Boone, NC. “Dave, the Ghost of I. G. Greer Music Hall.” I hope you’ll bear with me in the telling of this tale. I was taking a lot of drugs and alcohol at that time in my life, and my memory is not very reliable on any subject having to do with that era of my life. I’m still picking up the pieces of my broken memories, a lifetime later.
Dave, the Ghost, is reputed to have been a music student on campus, sometime before I was there. I was there from the fall of 1969, to the fall of 1972, I think, or maybe I was there a little longer. I don’t know. Maybe Dave was a student there in the 1950’s or the 1960’s. I don’t know any better way to categorize when Dave had been a student there. Anyway, the way I remember the story is that Dave had a girlfriend on campus, and their relationship didn’t work out. Dave was brokenhearted. Then, Dave was rejected by the Degree Granting College in the Music Education Department. Dave was counseled to consider another major, and was very upset all of a sudden, at all of his misfortune. He left campus in his car, possibly in a blizzard. I forget exactly. We had a lot of bad weather up there on that mountain. There were frequent blizzards.
Appalachian State University is deep in the Blue Ridge Mountains of western North Carolina, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway. It really was a very beautiful, picturesque place, when I was there, but I’m told it’s been badly over-run with real estate development since my time. The way the story goes, Dave wrecked his car in his distressed state of mind, having lost the love of his life, and his chance at a teaching certificate all at once. He somehow ran his car off the side of the mountain on the way home from campus, after all his misfortune, whether accidentally or on purpose, I don’t recall. The accident killed him. His spirit could not be satisfied to do anything but return to the I. G. Greer Music Hall Auditorium, and could not break free of the building, even though he had been dead and gone for quite awhile.
As far as I know, if I. G. Greer Music Hall is still there, Dave, the Ghost is still there, I would think. I’ve never heard anything about any kind of exorcism, or any such thing, being performed to get Dave to go on into the spirit world, and leave the music building behind. He’s a trapped, lost soul.
Dave has long been known to appear to certain people on certain occasions at night, if one would linger in the auditorium in the dark long enough, late at night. In fact, the legend was bringing students, whether music education majors or otherwise, to the dark auditorium hall quite frequently, and I was one of the students who would stand vigil there from time to time, watching for ole Dave to appear, while I was a student there, as many of the kids did.
My Mary was a pianist, and a very beautiful, sweetheart of a girl. She taught me how magical and wonderful the piano music of Chopin and Beethoven really are, as I stood over her piano during her rehearsals, turning pages for her rehearsals, striving to capture her dear, sweet heart. Why it was I wasn’t half so concerned with my own rehearsals and studies, I cannot account for. Why it was that I was not concerned about any of my own future as a young adult, I cannot say. I was only focused on the moment, trying to capture Mary’s heart, and partying as if there were no tomorrow. I realize that I was not a very healthy person in those days, to say the least.
Back when Mary and I had first gotten together, and were getting to know each other, in our sophomore year, there was a music major’s lounge in I. G. Greer at the time, where all the music students used to go to hang out, whenever we weren’t rehearsing or going to class. We would all sit around, talk, play cards, or smoke cigarettes; things like that. That lounge was too cozy to last very long, though. After a semester or so, the Powers That Be decided the room was far to valuable a piece of real estate to waste on a lounge for students. The room was quickly sequestered for another use, whatever that was. We students were left to fend for ourselves, going to the Bavarian Inn in all sorts of weather, for coffee and French fries.
But there was one day, in the late fall of that year, that a bunch of us went out into the mountains to some kind of rural academy, or some sort of place where there were people living, and we took them some musical entertainment for Christmas. It was the music fraternity and sister sorority that were doing some philanthropy that year. There were a whole group of us who went in separate cars, and performed Christmas music for whoever those people were. I really don’t remember the event very well.
I recall there was some snow falling while we were still there, but Mary and I managed to get back to campus just fine in the snow. On returning to campus, I simply got busy copping my buzz out in the woods somewhere, with some wayward party animal or other. Mary went to practice her piano. With the mountains all around us, it wasn’t difficult to find a place to party, or to find people to party with, in a town of 8,000 students, and Lord only knows how many faculty, etc, there were in the town in those days. It all seemed so intimate.
The very next day after the storm, there was all this talk in the music major’s lounge, that there had been one of the couples, a young man and woman in their senior year whom we all knew, who were both on the verge of graduation in the coming spring, planning to get married, who had suffered a terrible auto accident, driving home in the snow from that charity Christmas Caroling session. Both were severely injured, their bodies severely broken, and their lives were significantly changed forever, all because of one bad decision, while driving in the snow on that one day.
We all had a quiet awe for the whole idea that, in some sense, their lives were over and done, in the flower of their youth, because of that one error of the driver behind the wheel that one day.
I became a burnout on campus back in the day, by the time I started going out with Mary. I lost her, as well as losing my only chance at becoming accepted into the Degree Granting College in the Music Education Department. I was counseled to consider another major, too. All of it just like Dave. But I didn’t drive off the mountain and die somehow. No sir. I flipped out for your sins, that’s what I did. I ended up being sacrificed on the alter of Freedom in the Vietnam War Era. I almost cut my hair.
The jury of faculty told me that they only did one thing in that department of that university. They made teachers, and it had become painfully obvious to them that I would never be a teacher. The faculty told me that they had permitted me to go there, because they had gotten a letter of recommendation from my favorite high school teacher, saying that I had a significant musical talent. Furthermore, they said that some of my performance in the department had indicated that I did, indeed excel in music, in some ways. But I was summarily dismissed from the music department, as well as having to drop out of school, with just a few words from the professors, while I stood there looking on in disbelief, stoned to the gills on some kind of reefer I’d been blazing up on, just before I’d walked into the building that evening. The jury exam had caught me by surprise. I’d heard about the formal jury exam some time in 1970 or 1971, but had forgotten all about it, until they sprung it on me one evening, as I glibly walked down the hallway, utterly unprepared.
At the beginning of the year, before the jury exam happened, I had taken some sort of recreational drug, which my party buddy had called chocolate mescaline, and suffered an acute, toxic psychosis, or a severe nervous breakdown, on that same campus, at New Years, 1972. The way it all happened was that my strange behavior attracted Mary’s attention on campus just a few days after the holidays. She noticed that I had suddenly become very ill. Mary came to realize that I was not doing well at all, and took me to a phone booth, equipped with a roll of dimes, and called every official in Boone, NC. She alerted all of the authorities of my apparently dire condition, and I was taken to the state hospital in Morgonton, NC, the next day, in the back of the Sheriff’s car. They gave me some much needed, inpatient psychiatric treatment for awhile, at the old Broughton Hospital, down there on the Piedmont someplace.
I ended up going back home to Maryland, to my folks’ place, to convalesce.
Anyway, I returned to campus the next fall, after being in Broughton Hospital and being taken up home by my mother for several months. I was trying to regain my romantic relationship, which Mary had broken off during an interim visit to campus, and I was to have another shot at my teaching certificate, according to the line I fed my mother, to get another chance with Mary. Mother dutifully paid the tuition bills I so wantonly squandered. I had gone to Broughton Hospital in January, 1972, I think it was, and went back to school the next fall, taking classes and vying for Mary’s affection again, as usual. In fact, her affection turned out to be forthcoming. I also went to summer school sometime along in there, somehow. Well, I succeeded in winning back Mary’s affection alright, but the ground work had already been laid for me to go through an entire lifetime of schizophrenia, just because I had decided to drop mescaline and try out tripping, just once in my whole life. As my grandfather put it, later, I got something that was too strong for me.
During the time I was back in school after my breakdown, I ran out of money, long before the end of the semester. I had a friend who was a business major, who was inventing the most clever little folk songs, back when that was a very trendy thing to do. They were all such very cute little songs for guitar and voice. Since I was a music major, theoretically anyway, I was hired to try to write down his songs on staff paper, so he could file for copyrights. The poor fellow went over and over the songs for me, but I just couldn’t seem to get them down. My memory was badly disabled from all the drugs and alcohol I was using, (which turned out to be the main reason why I liked the stuff as much as I did, in the first place, as I came to understand, later). But I couldn’t remember the guy’s songs for two seconds, working with him until late into the night, even though he played them for me over and over again. I ended up leaving the guy in the lurch when I dropped out of school suddenly.
My friend gave me little bits of money, two or three times, so I was at least able to get something to eat now and then. I was barely able to kept body and soul together, while I waited for my folks to come get me in mid-semester, finally done with that one, last-ditch effort to make my indistinct dreams come true on that beautiful, picturesque campus, nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. I was very definitely ill, and needed to go home again, in relatively short order, after being in school just briefly, trying to do the impossible. I was trying to live someone else’s dream.
I ended up realizing I would never succeed as a husband, or as a music teacher either, and ended up breaking up with my dear Mary, and breaking her the lovely, sweet heart. I realized I’d lost her before I ever chose to drop out of school in utter defeat, starving as I was, and in bad shape all round, lost in those God-awful days of my youth.
But to get back to Dave…
I was in my third year at ASU, after I’d broken up with Mary. I went with a bunch of underclassmen upstairs to the auditorium, to see if Dave, the Ghost would come out and show himself to the wide-eyed freshmen. They were all just kids, straight out of high school. They couldn’t get enough of my stories about going to Broughton Hospital, and flipping out on campus. They could not get enough of turning me on to more reefer, either. So, there we sat, in the auditorium, looking at the seats and balcony in the dark.
That’s when I saw Dave, the Ghost.
We were all sitting on the precipice of the stage, with our legs hanging over, talking in whispers, watching the darkness of the recital hall for some tell-tale event, when I noticed an oddly darker, shapeless sort of fluctuation in the shadows up in the balcony. It was definitely an other-worldly sight. I told everybody, in a perfectly audible voice, pointing with my finger and my whole arm in the direction of the thing, and suddenly proceeded to pass out altogether, hyperventilating at my own excitement, slumping over on the stage onto my back, from the sitting position we’d all of us been sitting until then.
I gave those kids quite a start, thinking that poor ole Dave, the Ghost, had done something terrible to me, but I presently came to, with a host of concerned faces hovering all around me, feeling a bit more foolish than anything else.
Over the years that followed, I developed a bad habit of returning to campus, looking for something, long after I’d dropped out of school for the final time. I showed up on campus several times, until the campus cops finally kicked me out, threatening me with a trespassing charge, if I didn’t get on the bus and go home right away. They agreed to take me to the bus depot, which had changed location since I’d been a student there. I’d been wandering around Boone for a week or better, looking for the bus depot.
I can’t hardly blame the law for their displeasure at my visits. I was obviously a practicing drug addict, and was thoroughly at loose ends every time I went back there. I think I was looking for Mary, among other things, but I came to understand that all I was actually looking for was trouble, and stopped going to Boone altogether.
The music department has sent me invitations through the mail to join in the Alumni Band, more than once over the years, but I was asked to leave by the campus cops once. I wasn’t going to jail over the idea of being in the Alumni Band, or for any other reason. I find I don’t miss the place.