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In Memory of Papa Juan

"Papa Juan" was Dane Wagge, a treasured member of the Elvis Costello e-mail list and essential contributor to the Brilliant Mistakes tribute recording. Known for his frequent and thought-provoking messages, Papa Juan possessed a wit as rare as it was gentle. Everyone considered him- or herself Papa Juan's friend, and he took special care in helping new members to feel welcome on our freewheeling e-mail list.

Costello-l enjoys a tangible sense of community, due in large measure to the tone set by Papa Juan's pithy, humorous, and always warm-hearted messages. Sadly, that community was united in mourning the death of Dane Wagge in early October 1996. A freshman at the University of Louisville, he died suddenly at age 18 from unknown causes, leaving behind his parents (Steve and Deborah), a sister (Jordan), and so many friends. He was a National Merit Scholar and a talented musician with high hopes of a career in the music business.

In August 1996, Dane attended his first Elvis Costello concert at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. This very happy occasion was the only chance for a lucky few of us to meet him, and he was even more impressive in person -- funny, polite, charming, and amazingly self-possessed for someone so young. His memory is no less indelible, however, for the hundreds of Internet friends he made via the Elvis Costello list. They miss him terribly and send deepest sympathies to his family.

And now you say that you've got to go
Well if you must you must
I suppose that you need the Sleep of the Just
D.P.A. MacManus (Elvis Costello)

An educational fund has been established in Dane Wagge's memory. Contributions may be sent to:

Kenton County Scholarship Fund
in the name of Dane Wagge
20 Kenton Lands Rd.
Erlanger, KY 41018

Text for this page provided by Tom Garritano (garritan@deep13.ra.utk.edu).

Below is an article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on March 9, 1997.


by Anne Y. Meyers

Online friends pay tribute after family brings news of death

More than 800 people attended a memorial service to eulogize Dane Wagge, while a worldwide cyber-community awaited his next message, unaware their friend was dead. In the weeks following his death, Dane Wagge's family not only contacted his online friends, they found comfort.

Wagge's mailing address was in Edgewood, Ky, but to his online friends he was known by his screen nickname PapaJuan and by the comments he made in the Internet group of fans-called a mailing list-of the musician Elvis Costello.

Like any typical 17-year-old, Dane Wagge's greatest passions included music and his friendships. According to his mother Deborah, those two loves were brought together in his enjoyment of the Internet mailing list. Although Wagge's family knew of his participation on the mailing list, they hadn't considered notifying the virtual community of his death right away and weren't sure how to do it. Nearly one week after the teen's death from a heart condition, his parents and sister enlisted the help of a friend to post a message to the Internet mailing list.

"Hello, my name is Matthew McLean," read the message. "I am Dane Wagge's best friend. I have some very sad news about Dane. This past Sunday evening, Dane passed away while at the University of Louisville."

McLean's message included the address of a memorial scholarship fund. Most importantly, he included the e-mail addresses of the Wagge family.

"My reaction to Matthew's post was a sense of unreality, of the world slipping away," said Bruce White, an Atlanta list member. "I had to read it a couple of times before the realization could hit me."

Dane Wagge was an enthusiastic member of the list cyber-community for 16 months. He performed on a CD produced by the list and created t-shirts for more than 60 members. The list members branched out into occasional in-person gatherings. In August, 25 list members met in Nashville to see Costello perform.

White met Dane Wagge in Nashville after exchanging ideas with him on the list and through private e-mail for over a year. "E-mail is the great equalizer," White said. "Where else can a 41-year-old man be close friends with a 17 year old?"

Of meeting his friend in person, White said, "Perhaps that's the irony of the electronic relationship-the steps of the friendship are in a different order, but the result is the same."

The story of how easily the friendships that Wagge made in cyberspace offers a dissenting opinion to the notion e-mail and computer chats are cold and emotionless by nature.

People From 15 Countries

The Elvis Costello Mailing List is an Internet discussion group of approximately 450 people, from 15 countries. Some days the list receives up to 100 messages.

Wagge's mother estimates the family received cards, mail and e-mail from more than 200 people from the Internet list. "We are now tied emotionally to so many people. Our personal loss is also the loss of so many that never met him."

She added, "Immediately, I felt warm, and the tears from others blended with mine and lifted me. It is so difficult to explain why words from total strangers would have that effect. Those e-mails will be kept forever."

After hearing the news of his friend's death, White suggested a tribute to the list. "I proposed that we have a day where we didn't post at all to the EC list," White said. "The thought was that maybe it could be the equivalent of a jet formation flying overhead with the one plane missing from the formation."

According to White, the tribute day was heart-rending. "Cathy [White's wife] and I broke down as header [a header is the equivalent of a headline or a summary] appeared on the screen," White said. "I Loooooooovvvveee You, Man ... Adios, Papa ... Requiescat in Pace, Dane ... Papa, I'm Sorry I Never Got To Talk To You ... Farewell, Papa ... PapaJuan@Heaven.Org"

White feels that cyber-friendships are no less important than any others:

"All my friends are there, and we discuss and trade opinions and agree and disagree and grow and learn together."

Wagge agrees with White, "The relationship that Dane had with his list friends was just as personal and just as close as his actual relationships," she said.

According to White, the list community was shaken by the news of their friend's death. "Grown men had posted openly about crying at work upon reading of his passing," White said. "And for the first time, I grasped the enormous reach of the Internet."

In December, the Wagge family spread Dane Wagge's ashes at a small ceremony in Cincinnati. They invited his close friends. The Whites were invited by e-mail.

The interaction between the hundreds of list members and Dane Wagge's family has bridged the gap between the impersonal keyboard conversation and the indelible impression made by a real human.

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