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Hot on the Web

Human connections and the 'Net

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on April 28, 2006
(Issue 2417, A Little Patch of Heaven)

We still seem to see those stories in the media every now and again about how folks who spend too much time on their computers have social issues. About how online dating isn't as good as the real thing. Claiming that time spent interacting over the 'Net just isn't the same.

Let me offer some evidence to the contrary.

Exhibit A: Buddy Seigal, aka Buddy Blue.

San Diegans knew Buddy as either a member of the hugely popular local rock band The Beat Farmers / The Farmers, or as the crazed music columnist for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Buddy was one of the most influential local musicians in our area's history. But he also promoted other local bands, booked local clubs and in general tried to cultivate San Diego's local music scene.

He was a tremendous writer, too, particularly about music. As a musician, he was able to bring that knowledge of being in a band, of being on stage, to his writing – especially in his interviews with other musicians.

But beyond all that, there was Buddy Blue, online host of

And when Buddy died of a ruptured aorta at his La Mesa home on Sunday, April 2, the Buddy Blue Guestbook, or BBGB as he liked to call it, became the central gathering point for all whose lives had been touched by Buddy in one of his many roles.

Creating an online home

Longtime readers of this column, going back to when it was called On-Line San Diego when I first took over from Ron Dippold in the early 1990s (before a couple of short-lived departures of my own), may recall my nostalgic longing for the halcyon days of the dial-up bulletin board systems. Over the years, the comparison of the sense of community found on BBSs vs. the lack of same on Web sites has been a recurring theme in this space.

Back in the mid-1980s, I made quite a few friends on a local San Diego board, PdBMS, which had grown out of the previous PMS and later became P-NET. They are friends I am still in contact with, friends I am still blessed to have in my life.

And I never found that same sense of "place" on any Web site since.

A year ago, while interviewing Buddy and his fellow Farmers bandmates for a story in the North County Times about their pending album release, I went to Buddy's Web site to get some biographical background.

I noticed he had a Guestbook, which is basically a forums area – what we used to call "subs" or "subgroups" back in the day.

Buddy's forums were geared toward music, sports and scatological humor. Hey – better than the Star Trek topics we were stuck with in the '80s!

After I'd finished the story, I nevertheless found myself returning to Buddy's forums – soon on a daily basis. Just as with PdMBS/PMS/P-NET, there was a cast of characters who had created a community around this online destination.

It all revolved around Buddy, of course, but there was crazy Georgie from Germany, the impossible-to-understand Jocko from Scotland, Bix and Lance trading political jabs with Buddy, Bard weighing in from Norway, Hippo jumping in now and again, also from Scotland.

Nearly all of us posted on a daily basis, and nobody more than Buddy. It was like family, or maybe like a pub in a small town.

Except our town spanned Europe and the Western Hemisphere.

Getting to know you

Buddy's death obviously hit us all hard. As I write this, it is only a few days since his unexpected passing and plans are still being made for a memorial service in a couple days. Out-of-town friends and fans are looking for nearby hotel rooms or places to crash, a memorial fund for Buddy's wife, Annie, and their sweet little daughter Lulu has been set up.

And folks from around the world are posting their remembrances of Buddy on – something Lulu can look back on someday while trying to get to know the father taken from her so very, very early.

What is most remarkable about this is the sense of grief being felt by people who keep remarking, "And I never even met him."

But they did meet him, even if not in the flesh.

Look, I'd known Buddy since first seeing the Beat Farmers in 1984 or so at Bodie's over by San Diego State. Followed his career through mine as a writer about music. Reviewed most of his albums through the years. Saw him in concert numerous times. Took my kids to a taping of Michael Feldman's "Whad'Ya Know" radio program at the California Center for the Arts when Buddy's band played.

We chatted on the phone from time to time, ran into each. Shared a passion for and breadth of taste in music I didn't find in too many other people. Buddy loved everything from bop jazz to deep country blues to rock 'n' roll to bluegrass. Every time I talked to him, I learned something.

Despite all these real-world interactions, I can't say I ever really knew him, though. Buddy was an intensely private man, and it was only in the last year, in our online exchanges on his site, that I really got to know him.

I knew him better through his Guestbook than I ever did in person.

In his posts there, he revealed his political passions, his love for his wife and daughter, his deep appreciation for boxing.

So, yes, Jocko, you did know Buddy as well as most anyone. Georgie, too, and Jayhawks, Bard and Hippo.

You all shared a friendship with Buddy as real, as meaningful as any of those he had with his high school, college or music pals. The last time I saw Buddy in the flesh, he and I sat out in his garage shooting the breeze, and it didn't long for the Guestbook regulars to pop up as a topic. To Buddy, his online friends were every bit as much a part of his life as the fans that came to his shows.

And if the experts think that's unhealthy, then they're missing out on a really neat part of living.