October is the month of transformation. It’s the period when seasonal blooms of red and gold become spectacular reminders that the present days grow shorter, darker and different. It’s the heralding of change that turns its back on the past and tugs at the sleeve of our future. But that past becomes part of our collective experience as we delve into the next phase of our unexpected lives.
With that change comes the precarious presence of life’s never-ending lottery. David Gresham, better known as “Pockets,” passed away last month, and it has left an indelible mark on all who knew him. Kind and generous to a fault, Gresham leaves a legacy of peace, love and a community bond not commonly felt between the different cultural groups of Asbury Park.
In his way, Gresham was an unknowing diplomat, a selfless troubadour who demonstrated that people can come together under the singular focus of music and celebrate the journey of life as a whole.
An avid fan of local original offerings, Gresham was best known for his rousing rendition of an ancient jailhouse poem called “Honky Tonk Bud.” Gresham would sit on the stage; head cocked and cane in hand, and dazzle the sold-out audiences with his jovial interpretation of the traditional poem. His fun-filled recollections would mix with the story and encourage hoots and hollers from the pony faithful. And though he had ceased performing that poem live the last few years, Pockets was never bashful about giving a curious individual a private performance.
David’s mother, Toby DaCosta, told me how David got his nickname “Pockets.” She says, “His older brothers were always putting treats in their pockets for him to find. They would get home and he would come running to play the game of searching through jackets to find out the goodies they would bring him. After that became the norm, my mother started calling him ‘Pockets,’ and the name just stuck all these years.”
Like all of us, David had his ups and downs; he had major health issues and did the best he could. Sometimes that led to frustrations. You either got along with the guy or you didn’t. As Toby fondly remembers, “Not everything is cut-and-dried. He was a good man, the people that liked him, loved him, and the people that didn’t like him, really didn’t like him at all.”
But in reality, I never saw that other side. Throughout his bouts with everyday living and medical tribulations, which included total hip replacement, Gresham was always kind toward his many friends, and we never heard him utter a bad word about anyone at any time.
Gresham logged several years as a Stone Pony employee. He first came to the Asbury institution after a move from Long Branch back in the last decade where he worked at an area pizza parlor. He took to the local music scene like a fish takes to water, making quick friends and getting involved in everything from jam-based shows to benefits and food drives. He would often sacrifice his needs to make sure a complete stranger had food and shelter. Many local performers knew Pockets on a personal level and treated him with brotherly kindness.
His favorite group was Karmic Juggernaut, and he went to just about every one of their shows. The band spoke about David on Gresham’s Facebook support page. “Words cannot express the sadness of the loss of our friend, brother, and original Karmic Juggernaut fan, Pockets. Since our very first show (when we were just wee tadpoles), he has been a major inspiration and guided force in all of our lives. There never has been, nor will there be, another person such as David and we were truly honored to be able to call him our friend for the last decade.”
Pockets’ niece, Giovanna DaCosta, told me, “When I saw all the posts on Facebook from all the people that loved him so much, it was just extremely heart-warming. It just helped me know that all that night after he passed away during all that rain that came I knew that he was getting his heavenly wings. It poured all into the next day, and I knew that he was up there laughing and talking to god about the book of life and I know he’s in a good place now. Every time I think about him, I still see his beautiful smile. I can still hear him laughing, and I see his shoulders going up because he’s about to tell me something funny.”
David was remembered at The Stone Pony on Oct. 26 with a profound showing of friends and family gathered to celebrate the life of yet another Asbury original. Spearheaded by Stone Pony engineer John DiCapua, the night featured performers such as Rick Barry, Karmic Juggernaut, Outside The Box, James Dalton, Colie Brice (who came all the way from Maine), Colton Kayser and Last Perfect Thing. Each band took to the famed stage to pay tribute to their long-time friend. The night was more about fond memory than the sadness of loss and I’m sure that Pockets would have been tickled to know so many loved him. As each band stepped up to give performance and remembered thought, the outpouring of empathy was overwhelming. It was truly amazing to see the impact this Asbury original had left on both the musical community and the town at large.
Giovanna summed it up as she said, “I’m sitting here, and I don’t know if you can hear me smiling, but my eyes are closed and I can see him as if he were standing in front of me. And I can hear him telling his jokes, I can hear him cracking on people and talking about his love of sci-fi movies. Shuffling and doing his thing. He was a very non-complicated type of guy. He was an old hippie but so very young at heart. He loved music and taught himself how to play the piano. He was a brilliant man, but it was all about peace, love and happiness within the community.”
David Gresham was born on Feb. 26, 1946, in Long Branch, New Jersey, and was 68 at the time of his passing. He is survived by two brothers, as well as his mother and various nieces and nephews.