I've lost a dear friend. Chip Dunbar died on Nov. 26. 2006.
Chip and I were very close, but dozens of others can say the same. That's how Chip was; most people he knew felt especially close to him. His given name was Patrick, but no one ever called him that. He was Chip long before computers came into his life, but it turned out to be an appropriate nickname.
Most musicians with common stylistic interests tend to cross paths and know of one another, making it elusive to pinpoint just when they first met. So it was with me and Chip. I do remember one particular evening, though, in 1986, during the first year after my wife and I had moved to Sonoma County. I went to a bluegrass jam session at Jasper O'Farrell's Pub in Sebastopol, with the idea of finding out what was up with the local bluegrass scene. The scene here was smaller than the one I'd moved away from, but warm and friendly, and seemed to revolve around this guy, Chip.
The playing was already in progress when I took out my banjo and joined in. Chip already knew my name, and his face was familiar to me, so we had met before; neither of us knew where or when. The subtle give and take of a jam session can be a form of communication, and that night Chip's mandolin expressed both respect and welcome to me.
Shortly after that night we got together again and played some more, and continued a musical relationship for years. While we were never officially bandmates, I was invited to sit in occasionally with Chip and his wife, Sara Winge, and sometimes bassist Ted Dutcher. It was always a rewarding experience; good music, and a chance to spend time with good friends.
When I still had not know Chip for very long, computers were beginning to become more of a factor in all of our lives. He had recently gotten his first Macintosh, and recommended that I should follow suit. A few months later Chip, rapidly becoming an expert, guided me through the purchase of my first Mac. It came with an 80 MB hard drive, but Chip advised me that I would want a 100 MB drive instead. The salesman seemed puzzled as to why I would want all that hard drive space.
The mysteries of computers, especially the Mac OS, were not mysteries to Chip. They were exciting adventures. He taught me to not be daunted, but to jump in and deal with whatever issues might arise in using my Mac. The enthusiasm with which he absorbed the latest advances in software and hardware was infectious, and I found myself often calling him up to discuss what features might be included in Photoshop 3, or what the rumor mill said about the next PowerBook ...for hours on end.
I always looked to Chip for the next direction in tech, and one day he became infatuated with this new thing called the world wide web. Nowadays it's a given, like air, but then it was in its infancy. He was so excited he could barely contain himself "...and you can just follow link, after link..." he went on. I was unimpressed at first, but he continued to regale me with the wonders of this new phenomenon until I finally started paying attention. There were no web authoring applications yet, so we downloaded pages and learned to write HTML. He learned, I should say. I mostly just copied code and substituted my own text and images. But in this manner we plugged away and created our websites years before others jumped on the bandwagon.
Eventually the application that gave us the most opportunity for collaboration on computer projects was FileMaker. I had developed some skill at FileMaker, and Chip, by this time had become well known throughout Sonoma County as the main Mac consultant, troubleshooter, and developer. He had occasion to support FileMaker, or to create new solutions based on it. We spent hundreds of hours building or repairing database solutions, sometimes getting pretty punchy and silly in the process, and usually longing for the next version upgrade, when everything we were trying to do would surely become so much easier.
Passion for music, a love of computers (particularly Macs) ...these are good common interests for a friendship. But it was so much more than that. What we shared was a special blend of cynicism and optimism — cynicism for fun, optimism for real — that made time spent together a joy.
I learned from Chip that you don't have to be twenty-something to be hip. At our age, some people will actively eschew keeping up with what's new, opting to settle into comfortable, familiar thoughts and values. Not Chip. He was always on top of the latest developments in technology and culture, always continuing to hone his mind and his world view. I have tried, and will continue to try to let him be an example to me, although I am by nature far more of a fuddy-duddy.
I can't believe he's gone. But of course, a truly unique individual like Chip remains with us. Whenever I need to solve a computer problem, he'll be by my side. When I eat at one of his favorite restaurants, he'll be there. When I play a tune we played together, his mandolin will be chopping chords. Be sure to love your friends while they are here, and then keep on loving them when they've moved on. Later, Chip.