Children of the night take their own kind of communion at neon-stained altars in the lost hours when everyone else is home. They chase the darkness, search for answers and consider the metaphysics of the human condition in the name of shooting out the lights or drowning the memories.
If Willie Nelson wrote "the night life ain't no good life, but it's my life…" as an apology or an explanation, we may never know. But there is a crack in the midnight where truths can crawl out, people can shed their bravado and being vulnerable is a whole other kind of armor.
And so it is that I was in a basement bar, watching a few songwriters with an angle work through a handful of their best - nursing a Jack neat, thinking about the poetry in songs, wondering why the lateness always makes me feel most alive.
The thing about these places of convergence - you're never alone, though are if you want to. Pull up a stool, cast a shadow, hunker down into the rocks and the poison. Fix you stare and determine your arc. But those are the nights I usually stay home, girl alone at her computer, hunting and pecking my way to clarity or celebration.
Still music remains the best bait to lure me from the tower - and there's always too much fun to be had once you're out in it. All those people you forget how much you like, how they share your passion and your vision - and they magnify all the things that are good about you to the point where the things you hate hardly seem to matter.
My friend Bob is just that way. Addicted to music - and only the best stuff: Emmylou, Buddy & Julie Miller, killer jazz, Dylan - and quick to talk about the nuance of a track, the turn of a lyric, the way a melody just melts into itself. Bob is one of the ones who's sick with music.
But his illness has carried him across the country, brought him in contact with everyone from underground jam-rockers Widespread Panic to bluegrass demon Ricky Skaggs. Music has taken him on an adventure where he always falls face down in it and swims all the way across the pool, before returning to give us a full report of what he saw and heard and tasted. If you're gonna be taken by a song, there is no fuller emotional spectrum to experience - something that my friend Bob loves most of all.
Not that he would ever warrant the derisive tag music geek. He is smart and sensitive and passionate about it. He reads and he thinks, and he dreams of what it all might mean. Somewhere in that gumbo that is always simmering, there's a poet whose medium is the way he lives his life.
My friend Bob - always quick with a smile, a kind word, a bit of philosophy or bromide that makes you think. With his dark frames and his silvering hair. With his gentle way of looking at the world. He's evolving at a pace that laps most of us.
And this night, leaning against a bar tossing back a bit of gossip with a couple other pals, Bob turned up. His gospel wasn't necessarily music - though he'd want you to know about Nikka Costa, daughter of Don Costa who was one of Sinatra's key arrangers - but it centered on life's turns and bends and shocking wake-up calls.
A mutual friend had been having health problems. They say doing well. This was a mutual friend who'd been a bumpy ride for both of us, someone whose actions didn't always mirror the love in his heart - but then everyone gets sideways as they make their way up the mountain.
Rather than being resigned, shaking one's head in a "oh, well, whatever" kind of way, my friend Bob bypassed the highroad and went straight to the gates of heaven. "Just goes to show you how petty life is," he shrugged, sipping on a high-powered European beer I'd never heard of. "Put it all aside man, he's a great guy… and a good friend, the rest of it don't matter."
Knowing the story, it mattered. But it don't matter now.
And that's Bob.
Bob, who's probably not getting carded anymore. Bob, whose marriage to an incredibly dynamic crazy amazing woman - like so many - busted up. Bob, who's got a big heart that isn't afraid to open up, a psyche that lets him not only respect women but appreciate that which makes them women.
Sure, Bob's charming. Got that in spades. But he's not charming in the predatory lounge lizard sweet-word-panty-removal-system so prevalent amongst the club crawlers and lost angels. No, he just digs people - and people dig Bob.
Chicks, especially, dig Bob. Because he's not a hustler. Quick to tell you the dress is working or the shoes rock. Always ready to listen and willing to share what's on his mind. Bob is the kinda guy every girl dreams of - and has turned into catnip for the 20-something set.
Girls who've never had a man really listen, hear what they're saying and open windows to whole other perspectives they might never have considered otherwise. Girls who maybe have never experienced someone who can talk about Freud as easily as football, who seeks adventure for the sake of the learning curve not the mere thrill, who's probably a lot more concerned about their arrival than his. Girls who've never had a man appreciate the singular things about them.
Shaking his head over his beer, Bob almost blushes. And he'll admit that there are certain aerobic benefits - the kind of benefits a committed practitioner of yoga is supremely poised to appreciate - of having girls that age attracted to you. But there's always a catch to the seeming perfection.
"They just haven't figured it out yet," he confesses. "There's so much angst and drama. The worrying about , well, who they're gonna be."
This is a man who recognizes the truth. He doesn't wanna seem mean, he just doesn't wanna get all caught up in that, either. Because Bob has done the time and he knows who he is.
My friend Bob flaunts every conventional wisdom about men of a certain age. He's not looking for some young girl to validate his eternal youth, plump his flagging libido nor is he chasing what he's already had because it's frivilous and familiar. Bob, also, doesn't drive a Corvette or back comb his chest hair…
He's an anomaly: a man looking for a real live grown-up woman. Someone who's lived and loved and learned about the things that matter. Someone who's an equal and a peer. Someone who can inspire new levels of discovery and awareness.
In a world where Kenny Chesney's upcoming album contains a song he wrote for his mother called "Dreams," inspired by a late night phone call following the break-up with her boyfriend which contained the heartbreaking confession, "It seems all the men my age want someone younger…," men who are entering their grown-up, and even what should be their distinguished years, want anything but women their age. Except for Bob.
Bob is the kind of man who's not afraid of a few lines, a bit of gray. He's the kind of guy who recognizes that a woman who's led and lived her life, as opposed to having it either before her - or else something that just kinda passed her by is the most erotic creature there is. And he's gonna find that woman, wherever she is.
A lesson to all those unhappy middle-agers and beyond, who lead lonely lives of disconnection in the name of "she's so hot." Bob understands the value in knowing, and while he appreciates the sparkle of the transitory he also recognized he wants something that's gonna last as opposed to inevitably unravel.
Because he's willing to look beyond the surface, he has no trouble seeing inside people's hearts. That's where the magic lies. And that's where Bob wants to start - with the magic. He knows there may be mis-starts, balking beginnings, faltering stumbled, maybe even some dents in his already well-worn heart, but that's okay. Because if you don't fall, you don't get hurt… but you don't get to fly, either.