In memory of Lloyd Dykk

Word count: 740 words

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Lloyd Dykk:  Oct 15, 1945 – Feb. 7, 2012

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My good friend writer Lloyd Dykk died last week. This is not an obituary. Nor is it a paean to him. He would have hated that. Lloyd was not a perfect person. He was funny and kind but he frequently isolated himself and he cut off some friends like Sweeney Todd dispatching a client.

He was also deeply private. As he lay dying of a stroke at age 67, colleagues were arguing about the particulars of his life. Did he have one brother or two? Had his father been a school teacher or farmer? Did Lloyd really play the cello and, if not, how did this small town Prairie boy develop such a profound knowledge of music?

I met Lloyd in 1984, when I became an editor at the Vancouver Sun. He was so improbably handsome and charming he came off as a Hollywood actor playing a reporter. Until you read his writing. Then you knew he was the real deal. Lloyd understood reviewing better than anyone I’ve ever met.

What made his writing so good?

1) He always used the right word. When I was in my late twenties, I became his boss. As features editor of a fiendishly clever department, I never quite shook the feeling that I was the blind, mysteriously leading the sighted. To this day, I remember that Lloyd taught me the words palimpsest (a manuscript on which two or more successive texts have been written) and amanuensis (a person who takes dictation or who copies manuscripts). I wish my memory were good enough to quote exactly how he used these words because, undoubtedly, he did so metaphorically, cleverly. I generally dislike writers who send me to the dictionary, but I never minded with Lloyd because he always made the trip worthwhile.

2) He was screamingly funny. The humour rolled from Lloyd’s fingers like marbles released across a waxed floor. Here’s what he said when reviewing a Martha Stewart Christmas special: “My favorite segment was when she was somehow joined by cuisine’s practical queen, the aged Julia Child,” he wrote. “Together, they were constructing twin croque-en-bouches — 300 cream puffs glued by caramel into metre-high pyramids and then swathed in a hurricane of spun-sugar filaments (something Martha said she liked to do “at the last minute”). Julia looked particularly frightened, but got off a good one. “You could do it yourself … if you didn’t want to go to bed,” she noted drily.”

3) He wrote with a unified voice. Many reviewers seem to divide their writing into two parts: (i) a description of what they’re reviewing, followed by (ii) their opinion of it. Lloyd understood that professionals always commingle these two aspects. Like a racehorse, he charged out of the gate with his opinion — never shy, never holding back — and gave the background description at more or less the same time. Anyone who wants to write reviews should read his articles for inspiration and instruction.

4) He knew his subject, deeply. When Lloyd reviewed a piece of theatre, he read the play first. When he reviewed a symphony orchestra performance it seemed he read — and understood — the score. (I was of the view that he must  have played the cello because he wrote with the authority of a sensitive, well-trained musician.) Lloyd was not only thorough with his research, he also read widely. He studied and enjoyed the work of playwright Alan Bennett, novelist Nicholson Baker and essayist Clive James.

5) He cared about art. I was interviewed for the obituary my former paper ran about him and I deeply regret using the word “vicious” to describe his writing. I should have said “acerbic.” You never had the sense he was enjoying a bad show so he’d get the chance to make fun of it. (The same cannot be said for many other reviewers –Dorothy Parker springs to mind.) Instead, it made him mad when art didn’t live up to its potential. He wanted the music, the play or the artwork to delight, challenge and provoke. He was unconcerned about the feelings of the people who produced the art — not because he was mean but because he cared more for the art itself.

This week, I read an excellent piece in the New Yorker  written by pianist Jeremy Denk, about recording the Charles Ives Concord Sonata. My first thought? Lloyd would have loved this piece. My fingers ached to send him an email about it.