Afterimage

Chris and Lea Walls and their two young children were all killed in a terrible car crash last Friday. Chris was 36. Lea was 34. I’m ashamed to say that I’m not sure exactly how old their kids were.

I’d known Chris for most of his life. He and I grew up together in Enterprise, Alabama, where he was my neighbor and my classmate and my friend. We’d lost touch over the years, but still swapped emails on too-rare occasions. The last time I saw him and his wife was at our tenth high school reunion in 1997. Their children hadn’t been born yet, and they were living in Nashville at the time.

Chris was a drummer, the simple statement of which does not do him or his talent justice. By his junior year of high school, he’d taken over the lead of the marching band’s drum section (it was a huge band, over 200 strong) and arranged intricate drum features based on the work of his idol, Rush’s Neil Peart. In college, Chris was a talented jazz percussionist who could play virtually anything, up to and including pieces by virtuosos like Dave Weckl.

While in Nashville, he played session work when he could find it, but like many other artists past, present and future, he had to have day jobs to support his family. I hadn’t heard that he’d moved to Phoenix until I got the awful news last Saturday. I was not at all surprised to read Chris’s pastor saying, “I think his heart’s desire more than anything was to work in music. His heartbeat was music.”

The first place I ever picked up a guitar was in Chris’s bedroom. It was December of 1987, and a mutual friend of ours had gotten a Strat knockoff and amp for Christmas. I’d never played before, but I got bored and picked up the guitar, asked its owner to show me a chord (D). Chris jumped behind his kit, and somebody mashed “record” on a boom box. This was the result.

It was so much fun that I bought a guitar for myself a few days later. I didn’t get much better that the vain thrashing on that old tape, but I loved (and still love) to play. I never had more fun playing than with Chris’s drum symphony thundering behind me.

And now that old tape is all I have left.

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19 Responses to “Afterimage”

  1. Bob Says:

    Dang, that sucks. I didn’t know Mr Walls, nor his family, but if you’ve spoken well of him, that’s good enough for me. I’m sure I’m not the only one “out here” who feels the same. My condolences, Will.

  2. Larry Says:

    My best friend and I agree “started a band” in 8th grade before we knew how to play instruments. He took up drums (a huge fan of Neal Peart and Dave Weckl) and I chose guitar. We’ve played in bands together ever since (and still do today). I can’t imagine music/life without him. I’m so sorry for your loss.

  3. Pursuit Says:

    Will,

    I am very sorry for your loss.

    Pursuit

  4. Paula Says:

    Will,

    I am so, so sorry for this devastating loss. The families of Chris, Lea, and their children will be in my prayers.

  5. geezer Says:

    Will, so sorry for your loss and the same to all these lives have touched.

    Having dealt with death far too many times to bring up here, all I can say is that tape you have is nothing compared to your memories. I prefer to think that nobody ever really dies, which means I can still enjoy the company of my dad, RR, John Lennon, Jimmy Cagney, … you get the picture. None of them are ever more than a nanosecond away.

    Be well, brother.

  6. Mitch Says:

    I was driving down Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd in Scottsdale on Friday evening when I saw a column of smoke rising a few blocks away. Later, I learned a family of four had been rear-ended by a SUV and was killed. I’m sorry to hear that they were your friends. Your post helps remove the anonymity that is all too frequent when we read, hear or even witness such things.

    My condolences.

  7. Tim P Says:

    Will,
    So very sorry to read of the loss of your friend,his wife and their two small children.
    Truely a tragedy.

  8. El Duderino Says:

    Sorry for your loss.

  9. Lexington Green Says:

    May God have mercy on their souls, and on their families and friends who remain behind.

  10. surf Says:

    Condolences Will…

  11. Jim Says:

    Will,

    Sorry for your loss.

  12. james Says:

    I haven’t thought of Enterprise, Alabama in years. I went to college at Troy State University in Alabama, and had several friends from Enterprise. I actually commuted to Enterprise one summer to take Chemistry III at Enterprise Junior College (The professor there was great. The one at Troy hardly spoke English). My roomate was from Enterprise and happens to be Al Gore’s nephew. And Enterprise does have a great band. I went to high school at Tate High in Pensacola, FL. I was in the band and Enterprise was our nemesis. It’s a small world.

  13. Nancy Says:

    I’m very sorry to hear of your friends’ passing. Take care.

  14. Joshua Says:

    Given Chris’s affinity for Neil Peart, I assume the title of your post refers to the Rush song:

    Suddenly you were gone
    From all the lives you left your mark upon…

    I feel the way you would
    This just can’t be understood

    That pretty much says it all.

  15. Triple Says:

    Thank you for putting a human face on those who died. We didn’t know them and they were just another set of statistics and a reason to say “Well, life sometimes sucks”. Not anymore. Thank you for the reminder that every statistic has a story and every person in the obituaries leave someone behind.

    My condolences for your loss, as it were, and good day.

    From Phoenix, AZ
    -Triple

  16. S. H. Says:

    Mr. Collier, are you interested in having a copy of The Sun? This is the copy which has an article about your friend and his family.

    If so, please email me.

  17. Mikey Says:

    “All I have left”? I beg to differ, sir. You have memories of your friend, which you described honestly and gracefully. Would that a eulogy such as yours, filled with warmth yet tinged with heartfelt loss, be offered upon my passing.

    Your servant, sir.

  18. Sailorette Says:

    *hug*

  19. Jefiner Says:

    My thoughts and prayers are with you and with the family of those who were lost . . .

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