(Owl at the 2009 National Rainbow Gathering in New Mexico)
I’m still writing this and inviting comments so come back and check again soon as this memorial expands in content. Jonathan 9:30 am 2/19/12
David “Owl” Kopelman 1963-2012
Owl was, above all, an unforgettable character, and since there was always a level of performance art about the way he lived his life, he was an outstanding success in leaving an indelible tie-dye colored impression in the minds of a great many people. Since he was also a no-holds-barred, in-your-face kind of a person it would be absurd to memorialize him with sentimental idealization instead of how he actually was—-a funny, brilliant, appalling, offensive, intense, hilarious, abrasive, hygiene-challenged, imaginative, grandiose, gregarious, exaggerator, story-teller, door-to-door cartoon salesman, serial true believer in multi-level marketing schemes, political iconoclast, singer-songwriter guitarist, Ron Paul-debunking, social networking, extremely loud and opinionated, networked video game playing, gas-station-microwave-burrito-eating kind of a guy.
Strangely, I had just written about Owl anonymously on New Year’s Day in An Eyes Wide Shut/ Burning Man Descent into New Year’s 2012. Owl was the friend who invited me to the party and we left early because we were both worried that he forgot to bring his inhaler with him. (Owl had many near death experience asthma attacks, so his death from an asthma attack on Feb. 18, 2012 was not unexpected. I lectured him about his health that very New Year’s Eve and suggested to him that he take his anxiety about not having the inhaler with him as a portent and use it to form New Year’s resolutions regarding his health and especially his bad eating habits.)
Owl was one of the first friends I made when I came to Boulder in 1995. I met Owl at Greenpeace and within the first minutes of meeting we discovered that we were both Jews from the same avenue in the Bronx. From that moment on I knew that, for better or worst, we were soul brothers. Especially in those days, it often was for worse, because Owl, especially the younger Owl, was one of the most socially disruptive people I’d ever met. He could take a bunch of smiling hippies sitting in a circle of agreement and turn that scene into Maury Povich show. Since I came from Owl’s identical cultural background and am a somewhat more restrained confrontationist, Owl was like an alter-ego for me. Sometimes he served as my shadow reminding me by comically contrasting example of the value of restraint and decorum. At other times, Owl was a kind of muse, reminding me that sometimes it was totally legitimate to do outrageous things and to be unafraid of embarrassment.
Owl was a truly individuated person. No one who knew him can look back on him and find his face blurring with similarity to many other guys just like him. He was as distinctly individual and eccentric as it gets. I sometimes joked with him about television commercials that began with the familiar refrain—-”Millions of people just like you…” We knew that was an approach that didn’t work for either of us—neither of us had met a single Owl or Zap clone anywhere.
Owl’s death does not seem tragic. Owl’s dad, an accomplished biologist, had died young, probably about Owl’s age, and we often talked about the likelihood that Owl would die young as well. The way Owl wanted to live his life was not very sustainable and we both knew it. All things considered, a clean exit, rather than protracted illness was the way to go. Owl had many intense spiritual experiences and I think he was in good shape to move on to the next plane of existence. I talked to him many times about my research on near-death experiences and evidence for an after life. See (Life Lessons from the Living Dead) This was another level on which I felt a strong alliance with Owl. Although we both often ridiculed New Age bliss ninnies and evangelical fundamentalists, we also had a strong sense of the reality of the spiritual dimension and this was an implicit context in all our communications. If you think back on any Owl conversation you will see that there was always a strong, implicitly moral set of beliefs. One of his most frequent rejoinders to my often cynical observations about people—such as at the New Year’s Party—-was that he was interested in only one thing about people—did they have a good heart? Owl, did have a good heart. Despite all his eccentricities, his consistent emphasis was that we had a moral responsibility as citizens of the planet and should be as informed as possible about history, politics, ecology, etc. and then act in accord with those beliefs. We both came from an intellectual New York Jewish socialist background where rigorous in-your-face moral debate about politics and history was part of the air we breathed. We both had experienced bullies and thugs on the street level and saw the parallels to the collective level from the Nazis and the holocaust—-a dark atmosphere we breathed growing up with parents who lived through it—to many contemporary forms of facism and propaganda. My last communication with Owl was just four days ago on Facebook and directly related to this:
I don’t completely agree with this psychotherapist’s perspective, but think you’ll find this interesting: http://www.serendipity.li/
Owl responded: ”I was just over at the Humanoids site telling them what’s what….I go to Tea Party sites and respond to rightist rants”
We never know what exchange might be the last one we have with someone. This one was about our shared insights into the nature of political evil and Owl’s response was a snapshot of him cheerfully playing a classic role for him—-in-your-face confrontation with people who had politically ignorant and dangerous positions.
I’m sure I’ll have more to say about Owl later, but I want to throw this open for people to post comments or stories about Owl. But please don’t edit those to soften Owl’s outrageousness—that would be a disservice to his memory. Here’s one to give an example that the outrageous moments were often the most memorable: In 1995/96 a young, highly intelligent hippie couple I was friends—Sarah and Jordie came to see me in Boulder and ended up living in the same group home and to also working at Greenpeace. Jordie, who wasn’t cut out for canvassing, decided he had to quit Greenpeace. Later that night, at a veggie potluck party, Owl, with his outrageous, heavy-handed persuasiveness was trying to coerce Jordie into staying with it. He proceeded, with pseudo-scientific exactitude, to calculate for Jordie (he was always good at tumbling numbers through his head whether they related to reality or not) exactly how many dolphins per day would die as a result of Jordie’s leaving Greenpeace. That was a classic Owl moment.
I also wrote about Owl in a story about going to Burning Man with him in 2008: Incendiary Person in the High Desert Carnival :
I noticed that Owl, who was from the same avenue in the Bronx that I was, and who knew a thing or two about living in a genuinely hazardous environment, was mocking aloud what I had only been mocking in my mind, the excessively dire water drill we were getting from Eric. Owl had been to the last year’s Burn and said he didn’t drink half the water he had been told to bring. I was again told about the philosophy of “Radical Self-Reliance,” a phrase that had been pounded into my head from every Burning Man web page. For example the preparation page is emblazoned with:
“RADICAL SELF RELIANCE
Your survival depends on your reading and following these lists:”
But now, with a fellow Bronxite going in, I couldn’t resist that school yard tendency to tag team someone who was already getting it.
“But Eric,” I intoned with tastefully muted sarcasm, “didn’t you say that I can buy all the bags of ice I want there?”
“Yes, they will have several ice distribution centers.”
“OK, because from what I understand, in the hot desert—and by a fairly easy to master, low-tech process—ice can easily be converted into water.”
As George Bernard Shaw said, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Owl was a classic unreasonable man and he often succeeded in getting the world to adapt itself to him. How many people have the chutzpah to make a living selling their cartoons door-to-door? Whether it was his invention of surrealized, satirical political parties or his continual invention of himself as unique, outrageous character, Owl was always a force in the progress of novelty.
I miss you brother and hope you figure out a way to keep updating your Facebook from the other side. I was expecting to continue hearing from you about the 2012 election. Best wishes for an asthma-free journey to the great Rainbow Gathering we are all heading toward. As usual you got there before most of us.