The Gospel Of Joey

He opened up the world with his smile and you couldn’t help but feel a part of it. Almost as if he had a delightful secret he wanted to share with you. Even if no words were said, one smile and you knew you wanted to go along for the ride. That was his key strength, his superpower; because it wasn’t just the curl of his lips, it wasn’t just the electricity of his eyes, it was both of those things, but it was also the invisible, yet totally tangible, force field he exuded. He made you feel safe. He made you feel loved. He made you feel special. This is a story about Joseph Brady McNamer.

I first had the privilege of meeting Joey when I was 7, and he was 10, years old. We were both in Summer Camp at Clark College, taking an acting class for TV and theater. I couldn’t tell you much about any of the other kids there, but I can remember seeing Joey. He was good looking, as always, and he was already charming. He already had a presence. At 10 years old he was already commanding the room. I saw him and I thought, “That’s the kid.”

I don’t know how we ended up sitting next to each other, maybe the teacher placed us like that. Or maybe I made a mad dash for the seat next to his like it was a game of musical chairs. Probably the latter…

We were told to introduce ourselves, he turned and looked at me and confidently said, “Hi, I’m Joey McNamer.” I thought to myself, ‘Wow, what a cool name.”

I had only been living in the United States for a few years at that point and, in addition to not having many friends, I was a bit embarrassed of my foreign name. I shyly said, “Hi, I’m Christophe Duvivier.” I must’ve have barely whispered it because he asked, “What is it?”

I repeated it a bit louder, still nervous and afraid that he would maybe laugh and make fun of me. Quite the opposite, he said, “Wow, that’s a cool name. I’ve never met a Christophe.” I told him that I went by Chris but that I was born in Brazil and had a French father. I forget exactly what he said but, again, it was along the lines of ‘that’s cool.’ Thank the Lord. I was so relieved, I was shocked. Here was this kid who, in my young eyes, was the epitome of cool.

Just like that, we were buds and I felt accepted and special. All the other kids could have fucked themselves for all I cared, I was now friends with Joey. But he was never like that, it wasn’t ‘us vs. them’, we just had our own special pact within the group.

The class went on for 5 days, concluding with the students performing a play for the parents. While some things elude my memory, I remember always hanging by his side and doing the activities together. He was nice to everyone but whenever he would laugh or make a joke, he would look over to me and give me a wink.

Towards the end of the week we started having auditions for our little production of Fiddler On The Roof. There were only 10 or so kids in the class so everyone got a part. I was certain that Joey would be the lead and play the fiddler. We were allowed to pick what roles we wanted to try out for and, to my surprise, he chose one of the smaller roles. When I asked him why he didn’t want to be the fiddler, he told me, “Because you should be the fiddler.”

It came down to me and one other boy and Joey encouraged me and cheered for me to no end. He helped me audition my lines and when I got the part and he gave me a huge high-five. My God, how fucking cool… I can’t stress enough how monumental his support was. As a young kid, and a newcomer to America, I was always trying so hard to fit in to my new home and culture. While I adapted fairly well until that point, his acceptance was a huge boost. After the class ended we lost touch, I lived in East Dubuque at that time, and this was long before social media. It would be 7 years until I saw him again, yet, merely knowing that a kid like that existed, and that he liked me, gave me huge confidence.

Fast forward to my freshman year at Senior High… Having gone to St. Joes, I didn’t know too many kids at Senior, most of my friends went to Hempstead or Wahlert. After a few weeks I realized that he was there too. I remember seeing him, those curly locks, bright blue eyes, and his mischievous, but innocent, swagger. I saw him in the halls one day and thought, ‘My God, that’s the kid. That’s Joey McNamer.”

I instantly wanted to talk to him and blurt something out like, ‘Hey! Remember me from Clark Summer Camp.’ I refrained because again I was afraid of being rejected. He was, after all, a Junior at this point, with a driver’s license, beautiful girlfriend, and impressive, and also intimidating (to a freshman), group of friends. Maybe he had changed since I last saw him. Maybe now he was too cool for little old me.

Nonsense, he hadn’t changed. He was still sweet as could be but it was awhile before I had the chance to talk to him and bring it up. I don’t remember how it happened, but when it finally did, he remembered me. It was a brief moment, as we were around a large group of kids, but he said something like, “Oh hell yeah dude! What’s up?”

After that day he would always acknowledge me in the halls and nod, or say ‘hey’, or slap my hand, or give me that classic, million-dollar, wink-and-smile of his (you know what I’m talking about). My stock went up, which was a big thing in high school. As far as I was concerned, Joey was the coolest kid in the world. He was the bee’s knees.

As the years went by, our crews started to align more and more and we started hanging out fairly regularly. Jason had also become a best friend of mine and he, Dalton, Will, Wiebs, the crew, and I, raised mad hell. The bar had been set high by Joey & Co. but we did our damndest to carry the torch.

So much could be said about those years, and I now I wish I could relive every moment I ever had with those boys in those carefree years. All the back road cruises out in the country. All the random moments. All the late nights. All the days on the river. All parties at Jecklin’s house. All the parties at my house. All the keggers (at all the houses where the parents were out of town). All the running from cops. All the laughs.

I could write a novel about all of that and how Joe and Jason and all of our amazing friends played a role. But, for now, I’ll stick to a few stories…

The first took place on a glorious summer day. I had made plans to hang with Jason. Plans, of course, meant driving around, talking shit, and listening to music. While at his house, waiting to leave, Joey hollered and said he wanted to come with. He was supposed to hang with his girlfriend but realized he would rather hang with his lil bro. I hadn’t had too many hangs with Joe at that point so I was thrilled.

He walked out the front door looking stylish as fuck (even though he was probably just wearing sweats) and once he emerged into the sunlight something in his right hand lit up like a diamond. As he got closer I saw that it was a blank CD, freshly burned from his computer. It may as well have been a diamond.

He jogged the last bit to the car and yelled at Jason, who was in the driver’s seat, “Move over fucker, I’m driving!” He hopped in the car, with a huge grin on his face, and said, “Got some fresh beats for us.” All of a sudden I felt like I had two brothers and that we were embarking on a righteous journey.

And righteous it fucking was. We drove around for two hours and I had a blast. I mean this was the stuff that summers were made of…aimlessly cruising around looking for a good time. Joey’s mixtape was, naturally, awesome. I remember asking if I could have it after the ride. He said no because he had already promised it to a girl, but he said he would make one for me. Oh man was I stoked, a mixtape from Joey in high school was a sacred item, something worth it’s weight in gold.

On that drive he turned me on to the Beatles through their song “Dear Prudence”. It’s crazy to think that, since the Beatles are, after all, huge…but for some reason back then I thought they were uncool. Well 10 minutes with Joey (Jason, Paul, John, George, and Ringo) and my life changed, I was now in love with the Beatles. He did that with a lot of bands for me, ones that I had heard of, but never listened to. So I have him to thank for countless hours exploring the musical greats of the 20th century. He told me that “Dear Prudence” was about a reclusive New York socialite who locked herself in apartment for years until John and Paul went to her door and played the song and sang, “Dear Prudence, won’t you come out and play…”

(It was awhile before I eventually got my own mixtape, and damn did I play that shit start-to-finish, time and time again.)

Another monumental moment in my young life was losing my virginity (obviously a big deal in high school). I was 17, which felt like way too old, so I was beyond thrilled. While I didn’t lose it to Joey (I think he would laugh at that) he is involved in the story. I was driving home at around 7 am, high on life, when I got a text from him asking if I was up. I said yes and he immediately called me. “Yo dude I need a huge favor, can you come pick me up? I’ll give ya $20.”

“Don’t even worry about it dude. Where ya at?”

I made my way to some random gas station and he hopped in my Jeep, I laughed and asked, “What the fuck were you doing way out here?”

“I don’t know dude, it was a weird ass night. Thank you for getting me.”

“Of course dude…”

I listened to his wild story and was happy that I was able to come through for him. I was also dying to share my story. When he finished with his he finally asked, “So how was your night?”

“Well, do you promise you won’t tell anyone?”

“Yeah, for sure.”

“Seriously, you can’t tell anyone.”

He laughed and said, “Yeah. Jeeez dude, I promise. What, did you fuck someone or something?”

“Well, yeah. I lost my virginity last night…”

“No way! Thatta kid!” he yelled as we fist bumped. “About goddamn time, huh?! Who was it?”

Naturally, I told him. I’m sure I made him promise again to not tell anyone, and he teased me, but agreed to keep the secret. Little did I know that they had dated a few years earlier, and he didn’t tell then me either. He carried on excited for me while still giving me shit like, “Lil’ Doddsy boy is finally a man!” Once again, I felt special, like I had an older brother, one whom I could proudly share my adolescent triumph.

Sure enough, shortly after dropping him off, he called her and said, “So I heard…”

Later I got a text or call, “You fucking told Joey!?!”

I was never mad at Joey for it, I just felt like an absolute idiot that I didn’t know about their past. In the end she wasn’t really mad at me, because he wasn’t really mad at her, and he never gave me any shit for it. That’s a whole lot more than can be said for most people. She knew I would eventually tell someone, as I’m sure she told one of her friends that morning, because, if you don’t tell one person, did it even happen? At least that’s how I thought back then…

It was around that same time that I started to look like Joey. It wasn’t totally a conscious effort, I mean I eventually did try and dress like, and emulate, him, but, for the most part, it was puberty and genetics. I had started off high school chubby and overweight, with long curly hair (that I hid under a beanie), and glasses. In between my sophomore and junior year I shed nearly 40 pounds, cut my hair, and started wearing contacts.

I soon started to trade my skater style for more preppy gear (a la Joey). Abercrombie, Hollister, Polo, and Lacoste were my preferred new threads. Sure everyone was wearing collared shirts and light-washed jeans, but Joey pulled it off better than everyone and I wanted to be like him. Whenever someone compared me to him, it was like music to my ears. One time, at a party, a girl came up from behind me and gave me a huge hug and said, “Joey!” …God Damn did I feel cool.

He even started giving me his old ID’s so I could buy booze and get into bars. When standing next to each other we were far from twins, but our ID photos looked exactly the same. When I got to college I was the dude thanks to his ID. I could buy booze anywhere, even the notoriously strict Liquor Mart. I could get in the the 21+ sections at all the cool clubs and venues in Colorado. When I would run into older (over 21) friends at those places, they would look at me in shock and be like, ‘How the fuck did you get in here?’

“I have my ways…” I would say as I gave them the wink-and-smile and walk over to the bar for another drink.

While it’s obvious that I looked up to Joey, and regarded him as a confidant (cough cough virginity story), it was in the years after high school that the tables turned. We increasingly bonded with time, and I still totally idolized him, but one night he threw me for a total spin. It was a Saturday night, I was in Colorado, and he in Iowa, and he called me out of the blue. There was a bit of a party going on at my house but once I saw his name on the screen I ran upstairs to take the call.

“Christophe,” he yelled (he’s one of the only people to ever call me by my full name), “how the fuck are ya??”

“Good man. Better now that you called.” I said with a smile. I could hear voices in the background on his end and he kept ignoring them trying to find a quiet place to talk to me. We must’ve talked for two hours that night and throughout the entire call he was telling people to leave him alone because he, “was talking to Dodds.” That special feeling, that one that you get from being around Joey, transcended the hundreds of miles and was beaming loud and clear through my phone. I felt like a little kid at summer camp again.

We talked about a lot of shit that night, I guess one could call it “life”. Of all of it, one thing is still super vivid…it’s almost as if I can hear his sweet voice right now. He said something along the lines of, ‘…you know I always loved you and I still wonder how you did it…”

“Did what?”

‘How did you just be yourself and not give a fuck about what people thought? I always saw you as someone who was true to himself and didn’t let what other people thought get in the way.’

I was absolutely floored. Here was my childhood idol telling me exactly what I thought about him. I downplayed it because I didn’t necessarily feel that way, I had definitely struggled in high school. I struggled with finding the balance of being myself and being cool in the eyes of my peers. Truth be told, Joey made it easier. He was the one that I thought could walk that impossible line of “cool” and “genuine”. The dudes loved him. The girls loved him. Even the dudes that would typically hate such a rad dude couldn’t help but love him. Even the teachers (for the most part) loved him. I told him so, and he also downplayed it. He told me that even if he seemed that way, he worried about what people thought. I told him that I worried too, and brought up examples of when I bent to peer pressure. He said he didn’t buy it because I seemed so chill in the face of it all. I told him, “Joey, I smoke a bunch of weed. That’s how I did it.” We both laughed and he said, “Yeah me too buddy.”

That call, in many ways, was a turning point in our relationship. To me, it marked my place as his confidant and peer; something that would continue, usually in the form of late night calls, for years to come. I didn’t know it then but, unfortunately, it was also around the time that our relationship, no matter how much it grew over the phone, would remain physically distant. That phone call must have been around 2011, in the years since we only saw each other a handful of times. While they were regrettably few in number, they were still every bit as glorious… going all the way back to that fateful first encounter. The upside to it was that we talked all the time, and managed to grow closer in spite of the distance.

It was at least every month that we got on the phone, sometimes less, sometimes more. Not to mention all the texts and all the songs shared. We would always talk at night, usually when I was driving long-distance and he wanted to check in on ol’ Christophe. Joe was one to wear his heart on his sleeve and that came out in the calls. He would often try and apologize for calling me to vent, but I wasn’t having any of it. I was happy to take the call.

We would talk about whatever was on his mind, ranging from women and love, music and memories, plans and ideas, but most importantly, friends and family. Marty, Nancy, Jason, Will, Tony: he spoke endlessly of you and the eternal love he has for you.

If I could list all the names of everyone we talked about, everyone Joe cared about, it would wrap around the world 1,000 times. I can’t do that, but I can say that I know for a fact that he loved you all. Close your eyes and remember Joey, our beautiful and magical, brother, son, and friend, who loved with the fullest extent of his being. That is the Gospel of Joseph Brady McNamer. We will miss you brother. Yet we smile knowing that you are gracing heaven with your jams, your divine dance moves, your piercing eyes, and your beautiful, angelic smile.

May Your Soul Forever Rest In Peace Amongst The Gods, Angels, And The Stars. We Love You.