Bandana Dan (1965–2013) Remembered

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Bandana Dan.

Daniel G. Steer, better known as “Bandana Dan,” was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, on October 1, 1965. He lived in several places around the state, including North Andover, Lawrence, and North Reading, before moving to Windsor in 2005 and Worthington in 2007. He died Thursday, March 7, 2013 at his home on 211 West Street in Worthington; he was 47.

He is survived by his son, Corey Daniel Steer; his beloved Karen Mae Steer (“Aggie Mae”); his girls: Karen’s daughters, Alanah Mae Johnson and Daryl Laura Johnson, and Karen’s niece Leah Laura Lynn Callahan; his father, Robert W. Steer, Jr., and stepmother, Julia; his mother, Carol A. Ray; his brothers and sisters, Linda M. Steer, Mary S. Clark, R. Michael Steer, David K. Steer, Geoffrey R. Steer, and Kelli S. Parece; his many, many extended family members and friends; his cats Comet, Nova, and Colby; and with love and gratitude, his Worthington neighbors Carole Fisher and Mike Chermesino.

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Corey Daniel Steer and his father.

In the words of Karen Mae Steer, “Corey was his pride and joy. Dan would always say how Corey was undeniably his son, due to his identical looks (except his nose) and his musical talent. Dan said Corey had ‘a natural, bone-deep talent’ that Dan loved.”

It was a life dream of Dan’s to provide access to music education for children in need. On July 27, 2013, Liston’s Bar & Grill hosted an all-day celebration of Bandana’s life with live music, BBQ, $1.00 beers and a silent auction – the kind of party Dan would love – all to benefit the Bandana Dan Music Scholarship Fund.

The following speech by Michael Chermesino was delivered during the funeral service for Bandana Dan at the Pease and Gay funeral home in Northampton on Friday, March 15, 2013. Note that “Forrest” refers to Forrest Landry, who lived at 211 West Street before Bandana Dan replaced him as a tenant. Dan later bought the property, which he referred to as “Liston’s West.”

The first day I met Dan was the beginning of what would become for me an unforgettable friendship. I can just imagine what he was thinking he had gotten himself into as he drove up West Street with Forrest to see his new house. What greeted him instead was my car stuck vertically in a tree. I was running late that morning, and I was fumbling to click in my seatbelt, take a sip of coffee, and maybe a few other things. I was too distracted – and drove off my driveway and over a small cliff.

It was a rainy day and I was all mud from head to toe. I think the first thing I said to him was “I’m gonna be a bit late for work today.” They just sort of nervously laughed and drove off. I can only imagine what they were thinking.

I recall being excited that my new neighbor seemed to be mature and responsible. And that things might quiet down a bit on West Street. That was an impression I perceived due to his clean-shaven head, and Forrest had told me this older responsible musician friend might be moving in to take his place. Well, as it turns out I had a lot to learn about Dan. It wasn’t long after Dan moved in that he started cleaning up the place. He mowed the lawn, scrubbed and stained the siding, and really tried to make his place look nice. Almost instantly I noticed the sounds of people’s horns as they passed by my new neighbor’s home and I wondered, “Who is this popular guy?” But I also noticed that things weren’t all that quiet down there. Dan and his buddies were in the beginning stages of putting a band together, and practicing most weekends and a few weeknights as well. The sounds coming up the hill were loud and unorganized at first, but soon I found myself looking forward to my free weekly concerts and tapping along from afar.

The weeks and months rolled by, and Dan and I pretty much kept to ourselves. Dan was busy practicing with his band and working around town and I was in the final throes of a failing relationship. I can tell you that getting my car stuck in that tree didn’t help much with that, but pretty soon she was gone and I was in free-fall mode. As the empty bacon packages and whiskey bottles began to accumulate I decided that every surface my ex-wife touched would obviously have to be burned, and, so, I began to dismantle my house.

Help is not something we ask for too freely here in the Hilltowns. But in a moment of clarity I had the wisdom to crawl down the driveway and see if Dan could sort some electrical issues as live wires were dangling around the place from the spots where walls and ceilings used to be. Dan didn’t judge me, or try to stop me from acting irrationally. He just danced around me and tried to make me laugh, while ensuring that I worked safely, and helped me redirect my energy.

Soon the wires were all neatly tucked away, and you could just about see the floor again through the mess. Dan was coming over now not to work but to keep the drinks flowing. The rules for Dan were simple: We will laugh, we will drink, and we will make music. But we will not talk about politics, religion, taxes, health care or anything else that was a bummer. I soon learned the rules of the road and began to feel at home at what became known to me as Liston’s West.

Many times over the too few years to follow we would call on each other to assist in this, or hide this, or you didn’t see that, or spot me while cutting down this tree, or just hang out with me all day as we sipped whiskey mixed with fresh hot maple sap. He helped me when Cork Donovan left his excavator on my property with the keys in it but forgot to teach me how to use it. He helped me when I found the love of my life, and needed a band to help me celebrate. He helped me when I stuffed too many pieces of bacon in my mouth and needed the Heimlich maneuver – twice. He helped us build our dream home. He was always there when we went on vacation to keep the house warm and feed our pets. He loved Timmy the dog and Timmy loved Bandana. And we all loved how he inspired anyone with any musical ability to practice and play often. Especially my nephews.

Carole and I have often said to each other over the years “how lucky we are” to have such a great neighbor and friend. Dan wasn’t perfect but he was always able to make us laugh and remind us to enjoy and make the most of every day. He had a magical way of impacting everyone positively and making them feel appreciated. That’s why this room is so full today. We loved Dan. We count ourselves lucky to have known him and called him “friend.” Peace.

The following photographs of Dan being transformed into Mephistopheles were taken by Barbara Porter in the winter of 2010–2011 at the Worthington Historical Society building, during a joint WHS/Hilltown Arts Alive event showcasing the talents of Western Mass resident Beckie Kravetz, an accomplished sculptor, mask-maker, and opera artist.

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The following words by Dan’s fiancée Karen Mae Steer, who took his name after his passing, are a composite of speeches she gave at the funeral service on March 15 in Northampton and the memorial service on Saturday, March 30, at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Wakefield, Massachusetts.

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Dan and Karen.

Any loss sucks, but this isn’t the first time I’ve had to deal with the loss of my soul mate Daniel. The first time around at least I knew that he was walking and talking and laughing, and although we weren’t together he was just a phone call away. We spoke often that first year apart. Our phone conversations were loving, bittersweet and short. Eventually he made his decision and took his own path in life and had his son Corey. I went my way and had my daughters Alanah and Daryl. After a mere 23-year break and one phone call we were once again “Dan and Karen” or as Dan loved to put it, “We rekindled our love.” From the moment I laid eyes on Dan I lost my heart truly and forever to him. He was all of 17 and I a 21-year-old woman. He had the most gorgeous head full of long thick curly hair I’d ever seen – yes, he actually had hair back then – and his eyes of bright green twinkled with his inner light and that mischievous good humor that I adored.

When Dan and I reunited I had a habit of always wearing black or very dark colors. I had spent the previous twenty years of my life in emotionally dark situations so it seemed appropriate that I should let my attire imitate my mood. I don’t dress all in dark any longer. Dan loved the bright things of life, the smiles, the clothing, laughter and hope and especially the bright colors in nature. In the animals, plants and flowers. In Worthington in the summer of 2010 there was an amazing field of little yellow flowers on Old Post Road as far as the eye could see. On our way out to a friend’s home, Dan slowly pulled the car over at this field, shut off the engine, came around and helped me from the seat of the car and we walked into that field until we were surrounded by yellow blooms blowing in the breeze while we stood there holding hands and smiling like fools at one another for a long time. That was a good day.

Dan loved the way the green leaves of the trees would change to oranges and reds and yellows and the way the ferns that covered our back hill would go from light green shoots in the spring to medium green fans to a dark green cover moving in a dance of currents and sun beams. He loved them and would talk about them every day. The eyes of our three cats held all kinds of wonder for Daniel. He’d notice how the irises were layers and were one color one way and then the cat would blink or move and their eyes would be another color suddenly. He paid attention to every detail of his life. Like the color of snow, it amazed him in all its hues and shapes and the different sounds it made of softly falling flakes to the cool, crunchy stuff underfoot.

He also appreciated the color of insects; he knew the names of them too. I do not like insects, and in fact I’m terrified of them. Dan always joked that he was going to make a bug-proof “Aggie net suit” so I could enjoy the woods with him. He never had to, though, because I’d douse myself with bug spray just to sit for hours with him on our swing as he pointed out every pretty beetle, interesting ant, bumble bees, centipedes, jeweled dragonflies and every crawly thing he could to me with utter wonder. I was a bio-hazard of DEET but we didn’t mind because we were together.

One time he decided to take me to the old airfield strip in Worthington so we could look at the broken-down foundation. It was the height of summer and the hay fields on either side of the road towered over Dan’s Ford Escort. The windows were open and Dan pointed out the huge beautiful gleaming grasshoppers that were flying everywhere. Of course within moments one flew into the car and I freaked out and wanted Dan to pull right over, but he did not. I wanted to crawl through the vents because I was sure that giant creature was going to attack my neck at any moment. Dan calmly took my hand, smiled with that ever-present patience in the face of my insect terror, and said “Honey, it’s okay, he probably only needs a lift to the other end of the airfield road, maybe he’s got a girl there. He’s probably in the back seat smoking a butt with his legs crossed playing a tune and enjoying the ride.” And that was what my Daniel did for me, he calmed my fears and made me laugh and at the same time challenged me, encouraging me to find the surprise behind the scary things if I just looked a little beyond my first reaction to find something terrific and amazing and full of the wonderful colors of life. Plus he’d always find some way to make it hilarious, he was always satisfied when I was in hysterical laughter.

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Bandana Dan performing at Worthington’s Blackburn Inn on January 5, 2012.

But most of all in the past three years, My Love never, never let me or anyone else down unless it was for a damn good reason. On February 9, 2013, he and his new band mates were to perform at Liston’s for a friend’s birthday party. He was ill then and was having trouble breathing but the show must go on. So he did a few songs, badly he thought. The crowd thought different, but he apologized for “letting them down.” That was Bandana. The Dan who always treated me like a lady but knew instinctively I wasn’t offended by his flirtatious personality or his raunchy humor. My Daniel knew I accepted everything about him and wouldn’t ever try to impose my will on him, nor would he impose his will on mine. I got such a deeply satisfying contentment to see my Dan transform into Bandana Dan at outings, not that he was any different at home, but his spirit was fed by the energy of people’s beautiful spirits.

So I will continue to wear bright colors in honor of My Wonderful One, and I’ll be angry at him for being stubborn on March 7, 2013. I’ll be sad because he’s not here to hug any longer, I’ll be frustrated because his girls won’t have him around as a great example of what to look for in a man, but mostly I’ll be grateful I knew him at all. When I first met Dan he was tough and rebellious, trying to find his way in this world, and I’m so beyond happy and proud that I got to spend the last years of his life with the grown-up Daniel who shared his hopes and his dreams and fears and laughter and his devoted love with me, a man that found everything his heart desired and more.

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One Response to Bandana Dan (1965–2013) Remembered

  1. Jack Cennamo says:

    Only knew Dan a few years, but felt like I knew him all my life. Met him at his open Mikes, Played music with him at Jams, and formed a band with him just before his time of death. Our fun was only beginning, when it came to a swift end.

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