Saturday at Canterbury Park, one of the voices of the Minnesota media was given a heartfelt final sendoff. To the “real world” he was known as George Chapple. To those in the sports (or political/late-night argumentative) radio world, he was known as Dark Star.
Better eulogizers than I have paid tribute to D – I never felt comfortable calling him “Dark,” which I attribute to my own personal “fake radio name” bias. I also never felt comfortable calling him George. I never knew him as George.
Ours was a relationship of moments. He always called me “Johnny.” For a long time, the only person who could ever call me Johnny was my mom. Hated it bad if it came from anyone else. I strongly dissuaded people from making a habit of calling me Johnny. Somehow, when I introduced myself to D and he called me Johnny – from that point forward – I was Johnny. Ayyight. A lot more people call me Johnny now. I don’t fight it. I’ve learned to actually like it. D was the first one who got away with it sans complaint. To the 99 percent, that may not mean much. To me, it was huge. From that point on, memories of D were in pen – he earned his spot.
I’ve been blessed by my personal Row 2 status in the Vikings press box. In my time with Viking Update, I had the privilege of spending multiple seasons sitting shoulder to shoulder with Tony Parker, Steve Cannon and Dark Star. If you were to carve a Vikings media Mount Rushmore, those three would be on the short list of candidates – you have to include Sid Hartman, but he’s going to outlive us all. Hell don’t want him and heaven’s afraid he’d have too many “close personal friends” that he could potentially take over.
George wasn’t controversial. Dark was. He ruffled feathers and took sweet glee in watching the downy snowstorm that ensued. He was the guy that would stir the chili pot and make it bubble when it was previously simmering. That’s a skill. The guy I knew as D was much closer to George than Dark. Few people could dominate late-night radio like Dark. Anyone who has done it (typically 300 pounds and pasty) will attest that overnight talk radio on a wattage giant is a freak show of insomniacs, drunks and those who are likely better off sleeping when the rest of the world is conducting commerce. For my short attention span, there were three late-night radio guys that could hold my interest on talk-based radio– Adam Carolla, Art Bell and Dark Star. Each mastered his niche in that business in very different ways, but each took ownership of that niche and all that have followed in their wake are either pale imitators or those who aspire at best to reach equal status.
When D and I first met, he didn’t think much of me. He was a columnist for VU, but Lurtsie (Bob Lurtsema) thought he was just too negative. No! Really? In what can best be described as an edited transcript of a conversation reading, “(Expletive deleted) me? (Expletive deleted) you!” his column writing days with VU were done. I replaced him. The phrase “walking on eggshells” comes to mind. Dyed in the wool gentiles said “Oy!” Lurts had instructed me to use a nom de plume in case things got ugly. I expected a harsh critique at best, general long-term saltiness at worst. It never came. Instead, I would consistently get a “Good read” or “You nailed that” type of praise. That was George. That was D. That’s why Saturday hurt for those who knew George when the red light was off.
It seems fitting that D will be memorialized at Canterbury Park. When the race track opened, native Minnesotans feared that the Mafia was going to stick its oily hand into the state’s hot dish. They weren’t completely inaccurate in that fear, but the Outfit really never found Minnesota to be a good breeding ground for its ancillary business interests and quickly said, “Fuggetaboutit.” Yet, the perception remained. Canterbury needed someone with a vocal presence to “make Minnesota Nice.” It desperately needed a champion to take up its cause and let Minnesotans see the light. Dark was that guy. So was George. So was D. He was “the guy” long before Chilly chided, “Don’t be the guy.”
My friendship with D evolved when I was going through the slow, incremental deaths of my parents. D could take one look at me – a process that literally took a scant two or three seconds – and ask, “What’s wrong?” It’s a human skill you can’t teach. He had it. Few do. I don’t. I wish I did. It was one of components that made George/Dark/D who he was.
Our last visit was a typical exchange between two people nobody else on the planet called “Johnny” and “D.” He asked me for a pen because he had a hot tip on a 3:15 game and we talked about the content of my most recent Christmas CD compilation. He was a music fan at heart and always appreciated a non-mainstream take on classic Christmas songs. When he got his annual CD, he’d listen to it a dozen times and give an informed critique – always positive. We conducted our press box walk-and-talk business in front of the soda machine and shared a perfunctory one-armed bro-hug, with D saying, “I loved it, Johnny. Love you too.”
Instinctively, I asked, “Which song really sucked?” He was quick to point out “O Come All Ye Faithful” by Twisted Sister. In hindsight, a salient choice. I bowed in deference and said, “Love you too, D” and gave him a non-perfunctory two-armed “bring it in” man-hug that was legit.
“I love you too, D.”
If you’re going to have a last conversation with somebody whose footprint won’t quickly get washed away in your mind or heart, that’s a good one.
Gonna miss you, D. Tell Tony and Cannon I say “hi,” that I miss them and to put their hands on their wallets. I’m sure my mom is keeping the table civil and Pops is diverting you to a “fish” table, but the word is out – price of poker just went up, fellas. R.I.P., my friend. Sports fans of Minnesota have lost a voice in Dark Star. Those who knew George, they’ve lost a little more. The guy who called you “D” says gone, but never forgotten.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.