A memory of Burning Dan

By Nathan

The first time I met Daniel Gordon-Levitt in person was last year at Sundance. I remember stumbling into the REC room and noticing his larger-than-life smile and his warm greeting. A greeting one usually reserves for old friends, but one that he had generously just given to me. I suspect that was how Dan greeted everyone, based on the way he carried himself that week. With so much going on, most of the Hit Record team worked nearly around-the-clock without much thought of food or sleep, but Dan would consistently show up handing out sandwiches, drinks, and smiles as if it were his personal mission to look after the whole crew.

As I’ve thought about Dan’s life and death, one memory from that time at Sundance has jumped out in particular. I was using a recently gifted melodica for the main melody in the developing score for Morgan M. Morgansen’s Date With Destiny. One evening (or morning - who knows), Dan popped in to see me with a question about the melodica. He disappeared with it for a while and soon returned with the proud discovery that it could be played using circular breathing. Circular breathing is what wind instrumentalists (or didgeridoo players, I suspect, in Dan’s case) use to produce a theoretically endless note. The idea is that you breathe in through your nose while simultaneously pushing built-up air out of your mouth. Recently, a saxophonist set the world record for a 45-minute sustained E-flat. As you can imagine, it is a rather tricky endeavor.

So Dan excitedly asked if I wanted to learn, and although I was pretty sure it would be a wasted effort, I agreed. I once had a homemade didgeridoo in high school and I already knew that the circular breathing trick wasn’t easy, no matter how excited about it Dan seemed to be. I know many people have been struck by Dan’s belief that anyone can be awesome. He seemed to believe that anyone could accomplish anything they set out to do. What I am struck by is that for Dan, this wasn’t just a hollow platitude. It was backed up by his innate gift as a teacher and his ability (and availability) to help or teach you to do what you didn’t think you could.

So there I stood with Dan offering me the melodica and sort of smiling and bouncing in his shoes.

In the three minutes that followed, Dan proceeded to give me the only clear, concise tutorial in circular breathing I’ve ever heard. And then, in the following minute (and to his great delight), I actually surprised myself. Thanks to Dan’s explanation, I immediately (and finally) understood exactly how to move my muscles and when to breathe in. I can still picture that glint in his eye - the one I imagine was there every time he successfully taught a teenager or a businessman how to spin poi or play with fire.

He was someone who loved seeing people become more than they thought was possible, and more importantly, someone who was ready to help out wherever he could along the way.

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A memory of Burning Dan

Created: Oct 07, 2010

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