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Celebrating Dave Camp, Portland's Renaissance Artist

Dave Camp and his partner both in the band Stereovision and music publishing company Lift, Nancy Hess.

Dave Camp and his partner both in the band Stereovision and music publishing company Lift, Nancy Hess.

Nancy Hess

Last week, Portland lost someone who breathed glittering joy into the local music scene. Dave Camp passed on July 15 after a months-long, profoundly public struggle with stomach cancer that rallied a community around him. 

Camp was a renaissance artist, Portland style. He played and sang with a slew of bands, especially some of the more colorful, art rock projects like the Nowhere Band, which performed the Beatles’ ‘White Album’ every Christmas with seasonally themed hijinks, in addition to other concept albums. He composed music for commercials and documentaries like “Andy Warhol’s Factory People” and “The Wanteds” through his publishing company, Lift/Libertine Music. And he had his own band — a psychedelic, disco-glam extravaganza, Stereovision — with his business partner, Nancy Hess. 

“Dave was the person who said yes to everything, and then figured out how to do it,” said Hess. “Nike wanted a song that sounded like a ‘20s big band horn section. I was horrified, and he was like, ‘no problem.’ He pulled out his guitar and whipped out some chords. It was the kind of thing where he could play guitar, and you’d be like, ‘right, he’s a great country guitarist.’ Then he’d play drums, and it’s ‘right, he’s great disco drummer.’ ”

Camp was born in Denver, Colorado on May 30, 1968. He initially moved to Oregon to attend the University of Oregon, before leaving for New York City and Austin. After meeting Hess during a performance at the legendary punk club CBGB, Camp moved to Portland in 1999 to collaborate on music in her basement studio.

Once in Portland, Camp quickly endeared himself to local musicians.

“He was like a mad professor up there, trying to find his effects pedals for his guitar,” said John Averill, who played with Camp for more than a decade in the Nowhere Band. “But he always found the right tone.” 

Dave Camp with Sarah King at Mississippi Pizza during their last Inside Voices performance on April 10. It would be his final public performance.

Dave Camp with Sarah King at Mississippi Pizza during their last Inside Voices performance on April 10. It would be his final public performance.

Dan Herrick

ldquo;People don’t always make room for me to be soft on stage,” said Sarah King, whose throaty voice can rock a room when she’s with her band Love Gigantic. Camp, however, loved her softer side and proposed a series of intimate concerts in which they covered everything from Fleetwood Mac to Prince.

“He had such a sweet voice and could sing higher than I can, softly, and would sing the higher harmonies. And it was a really special opportunity for me to be in an acoustic session with someone who totally supported me doing that.” [Listen to the story above for the full interview with Averill and King.]

But nowhere was the love for Camp as clear as on his prolific Facebook feed. Beginning with his first suspicion that something was wrong on March 8, he documented his diagnosis of stomach cancer and then months-long struggle through treatment in candid detail, grace, and often with buoyant humor; his posts reading like the musings of a modern mystic.

A typical entry read like this one from March 24:

“I am strangely, comically thin currently. I look ‘like’ myself but not entirely like myself- like Shipwrecked or Japanese Prison Camp Dave, The thin white Dave, like Prince in the Orange outfit skinny- and I’m still at half speed, rebuilding after this whole stomach thing. (which keeps getting better). But I’ll be goddamned if every time I go into New Seasons or whatever some pretty young woman doesn’t smile right up at me and give me the spring flower look. I smile back but I look at them square in the face because I want to confirm that this unlikely thing is actually happening. It’s looking possible that “deaths door” is the look for me. Which is a shame because as soon as I can I’m going to eat some Mexican food in quantity.”

But while his weight waned, the outpouring of love grew into a deluge, exemplifying Facebook’s ability — at its best — to bring communities together. Dozens of friends, family, and even distant acquaintances, responded to every post. 

“Dave looked at this as not only an opportunity to write, because he was such a prolific writer, and to wordsmith, which was something he was so, so good at,” said King. “But I think also he wanted everyone else to be in the process and feel with him and laugh with him. It was like he was carrying us all through the process, whatever the end was going to be … It really brought people together to read these words that he would write, whether they were gut-wrenching or funny or both. He didn’t hold back at all.”

Camp left a series of unfinished projects that might still reach fans.

He and Hess had spent several years on the follow up to their Stereovision album — a trilogy of records, one art rock, one pop and one ambient — and Hess said there are some 80 tracks on the shelves that she might revisit.

Camp had also self-published the first volume in a graphic novel trilogy, also called “Stereovision.” And friends said there’s some movement to publish his Facebook and Tumblr posts chronicling his journey. 

“Stereovision was aptly named,” said Averill. “He had a vision for stuff. The graphic novels and albums he made were part of a bigger life’s work vision he wanted to manifest.”

Friends of Dave Camp are throwing an epic celebration of his life on Wednesday, July 22 at Refuge that is open to the public. It’s based on a five-page document he left behind, because that was the kind of guy he was, and it’s called Limitless Love. 

Camp is survived by his parents, Julie and Cooper, and a brother, Scott.

Dave Camp Stereovision

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