Colorado History

Tyler Marchant Despres: A Celebration of Life and Friendship

The memorial event for musician Tyler Marchant Despres, who died on November 1, 2016, was held Saturday afternoon at Larimer Lounge. It began with speakers who talked about Despres's life and his impact on them and the world around him. Speakers included relatives and friends like Jonathan Bitz, who booked the Meadowlark during Despres's tenure co-running the open-mic night with Maria Kohler and others. That open-mic night fostered a section of Denver's underground music scene that allowed for a wide spectrum of musicians to have an accepting place to try out new material and develop their art. One of those bands was the Lumineers.

Despres's impact on people went beyond that musical underground, and he was known to be a regular at Handy Diner in Five Points, run by Terry Font, who remembered him fondly.

The tone of the event was more like a wake, because that's really how Despres would want people to remember him — for his music, his wonderful sense of humor, his kindness and his willingness to engage in anything fun. The event brought together people who maybe haven't been as engaged in the music scene as they once were, like former Westword contributor and Steal This Track host Eryc Eyl and music superfan Lance Stack, who does The Flat Response, a website with an extensive library of quality live recordings, especially of local bands. Everyone had stories about Despres. That's how you know you've changed lives.

Despres's former bandmates from the Dualistics, Science Partner and Gin Doctors appeared on stage. During the Gin Doctors set, there were guest singers including Danny Aranow of Sugar Skulls & Marigolds. He recounted the story of doing the covers show of Pearl Jam's Ten with Gin Doctors and how Despres asked to sing the second verse of “Black,” Despres's mom's favorite song by that band. Former Achille Lauro frontman Matt Close sang the Fugees' cover of Roberta Flack's "Killing Me Softly" cover, and told how the last show he saw in Denver was a solo Despres set. Close, who worked with Despres at a sandwich shop, got to see the musician multiple times and was always struck by how he could play complex guitar riffs while telling a joke.

The show ended with Gin Doctors performing Despres's favorite song, “Dreams” by the Cranberries, joined by former Science Partner bandmates Maria Kohler and Jess DiNicola, as well as their friend, singer and songwriter Jen Korte.

Prior to that, one of Despres's bandmates said that the second-to-last message received before Despres passed was regarding "Smooth Robinson," a kind of mashup of "Smooth Criminal," by Michael Jackson and "Mrs. Robinson," by Simon & Garfunkel. “That sounds like a good lotion company,” Despres said. Few people are that endearingly funny on their best day, much less on one of their last. And that, as much as so many great songs, is what many of us will remember about Despres: a truly clever sense of humor that may have messed with your head but never at your expense, speaking with an uncommon grace and sensitivity to the human condition. What follows are more scenes from the event, as well as some photos from my personal archives over the years.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.