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Friday
Feb152008

Guy Clark Was Right

It's just before the 4th of July and it's late in the Ritz Carlton bar… The plane from West Palm Beach had been tremendously late, so we were trying to figure out how much we should order in lieu of a real dinner. Atlanta, Georgia on a holiday weekend -- a reunion of girlfriends in the name of Kenny Chesney and a wild 4th of July party back in the 6-1-5.

Amid the laughter and chicken tenders and shared ironies, we were drowning in common happiness. It doesn't get any better -- and we knew it. Until I saw that face, framed in ebony window-paning colored hair with the lead framed glasses and the rumpled expensive suit.

Kyle Young, executive director of the Country Music Foundation, had wandered into the bar, looking for a nightcap with a friend. Kyle Young, the dashing expatriated Mississipian who'd poured tequila into me one CMJ Convention to kill the sting of being dissed through an artist I adored courtesy of a vindictive old boyfriend. Kyle Young, who was as Hemingway meets Fitzgerald at Sam Shephard's motel as anyone I'd ever encountered.

He was introduced, swooned over a bit. Big smiles for the common miles and the moments shared. It was one of those encounters that reminds us folks who live in the wind: our kind is never much further than our fingertips… never beyond the sound of a voice or the wink of an eye.

Growing up, my father couldn't change planes without someone asking, "Aren't you… John Gleason?" The same thing happened at golf courses, good restaurants, hopsitals and churches. Never mind the state or time of day -- and I marveled at the depth of my father's acquaintances, intimidated by his breadth of human contact.

Until that moment. Dissolving into giggles as Kyle walked away, smirking at the cute intellectual boy who shared a history, albeit one based in brevity. Because that is the beauty of life in the wind.

Like my girlfriends Kathie and Binny, two hotties who have no interest in that sort of thing. Give them snacks and Starbucks -- and they're sated. Maybe the occasional walk on the backstage side. And don't forget to back up a truckload of laughter. That's what matters to the arbiter of Palm Beach style and the wonderful muralist who tosses off the most spiritually connected watercolors you've ever seen.

Kathie is Cinderella, the one who gets us all together then recedes, who laughs with more joy than should be allowed, smiles with a devilish glee. All blond and shiny and stylish in that Lauren Bacall way. Binny is the Alice in Wonderland with the dark hair swept back, a bunny's face and a breathy soul that bleeds poetry. In their eyes, the world is all it can be -- and while they can't physically transform that which is, they can take you for a ride on the possibilities.

They, too, have charm bracelets hung with those who've passed through, who have yet to land. They take in the world, bathe in the here and now -- and believe in the magic of common experience. They are generous women who need nothing and take less, leaving laughter and light in their wake.

They are the kind of people we all, or most of us, would like to think we are in our best moments. And if you've got friends like Binny and Kathie, you can be in their presence. But the gift that is comrades and confidantes of the sparkling ray of sunlight variety, the ones who turn your dust ball into a dancing bit of golden ether twirling in their beam, doesn't happen once… It's the kind of thing that falls across one's life like logs in the path, if you're paying attention.

Precious cargo that we carry with us -- even when they're nowhere to be found. The kind of friends that don't require physical manifestation to have their footprints make a mark that makes a difference, whether we know it or not. Just as it is for us, so, too, it can be for those we encounter along the way.

A sobering truth, one that brings the blood to the cheeks like a rush of cherries in the snow or roses across typing paper. Well into my 30s before I experienced the phenomenon, I was riding in the back of a girlfriend from high school's Lincoln, and she was trying to explain to a client about who I was back then.

"Oh, Holly… she had a double life," she explained with all the drama implied. "We'd all be splitting a six pack between eight of us, and she'd be there, then she'd be gone. You wouldn't even realize, until you recognized she'd disappeared -- just gone! into the night, to some bar most likely, with some band. We all wondered about what she was doing out there, leading that other life."

REALLY? Me? The quiet geeky (okay, preppy) one who lived in her books and her records?

Sure, the golf pros got me into bars when I was 13. And by befriending the local musicians who were delighted to have insight into their music from a sober, seemingly knowledgeable (albeit sawed off) source, my girlhood was spent as countless people's nieces, daughters, next door neighbors…all in the name of a guest list and the threat of my telling the band.

But for all the ones for whom I was mystery, there were the ones who understood. Not necessarily girls (or boys) who'd partake of the lost hours with me -- for that was a solitary pursuit -- but the ones who got it. Like the darling Carl Byron, as close to a knight as I ever encountered, so committed to my dreams and my stories that I smile just thinking of him.

Or my young girlhood friend Lynn, the one who was thigh-to-thigh with me through all the channels of growing up as a private school girl in Cleveland, Ohio. A sister in plaid skirts and knee highs, seeking to figure it out without so much adult insight. We had all the same teachers, ate all the same tastefree lunches and ran up and down the same field in the name of soccer and track and whatever else they were calling physical education.

Far headier, though, were the common bonds that created definition for young lives desparate to be defined. We fell in love with horses at the same time -- whether it was pretending on the playground to be Beauty or Flicka or Secretariat or surrendering to the rhythms of the ride at Red Raider Day Camp. We were carted back and forth to Mrs. Batzer's Dancing School, where all the right single sex school kids mingled in the name of what was meant to eventually be heterosexual orientation -- wearing our white gloves and anklets and bruises from the little boys who couldn't master the box step or jitterbug to save themselves.

We shared school dances. We talked about the boys and the girls and the couples and the moments of horror that came from the melting of our reserves. Even more importantly, we shared music. The bond that was rock and roll… especially the Knights In Satan's Service. Those demonic masters of the comic reality and booming backbeat.

KISS! The band, not the action. Painted faces, leather cod pieces, platforms that defied nosebleeds, puking blood and breathing fire.

If they were beyond Ringling Brothers and they served up hackneyed cliches -- "Cold Gin," "Strutter," "Deuce" -- they understood the ultimate youthcentric fantasy manifesto: "Rock & Roll All Night (Party Every Day)." We were there almost at the beginning, primal troglodyte reality that was knuckle dragging rock and roll.

We were there at the Richfield Coliseum, in a loge for the tour where the Cat (Peter Criss) strangled out that one ballad "Beth" to imbue a sense of humanity into the debauchery. And there in the next loge was Graham Button, the boy who made my palms sweat, who ran his hands through my hair slow dancing to the very same song, who should've been more aggressive… but was too lost in the mystery to get much beyond the gentle swaying.

We saw it all, Lynn and I. We laughed and lapped it up. Until Lynn's mom married a plastic surgeon and moved to Beverly Hills. Even over the miles, the friendship didn't die. There were letters about the Cramps, bars called the Lingerie and wild nights that could've been cut from the Jodie Foster/Cheri Curie teen angst treatise "Foxes."

Though the distance was bigger than two kids -- and the connection eventually faded and failed. Young girls pushing out in their own directions. Finding their way no doubt, thriving and seeking their dreams at a breakneck pace, the speed of seeking one's fate.

Never to speak again… but never to lose the mark of innocence and passion strewn across freezing Midwestern nights, where the chilled breath and bright eyes took it all in and owned that which excited them.

Friendships like that: the ones that won't die just because current of life dictated distant, different places set the tone for what's to come. Being able to sustain without the physical manifestation lets later intensity appear and grow and wave. Kathie was an immediate best friend; Binny the same. That we shared nothing common in our past didn't matter… just as Lynn's physical remove did nothing to lessen how she shapes me.

From a distance. In a moment. Passion for people is all the same. They get it or they don't. They get you or they won't. And you laugh and you eat onion rings and you whisper about what you see and you wince for the things that suck. It's pretty basic. The lost girl and the right now and even the passing by person who you know even if you don't immerse in will still define who you are.

It's the Kyle Youngs and the Lynn Steingass Mandels, the Kathie Orricos and Binny Jollys, just as it's the Eddie Montgomerys, the James Walter Brown the Thirds, the Alex Bevans, the Emily Woods and the Jack Metzgers. To the reader, names on the paper; to the woman living the life, comfort and joy and jokes and songs and advisement and whatever else was needed in the moment -- including the occasional electric french kiss, hard truth, deep disappointment and tossed off wave.

It's the thing about life… which Kathie and Binny and I all acknowledged, rolling north out of Atlanta for Nashville and a barn party in honor of our country's birthday at Ronnie Dunn's ramshackle George O'Keefe construction… even when it doesn't seem profound, it's pretty definitive stuff. The time killed is often the sweetest, the friends who just are, the ones most potent.

As Guy Clark once professed, "Old friends, they shine like diamonds…"

Guy Clark, so tall and broad and solid. A Texan who can build a mandolin, string a moment, eviscerate an ill-tempered suitor and bathe emotions in the golden glow of illumination. Like the others, they bring their truth, they mix with your moments and they leave you richer than you imagined. Richer than diamonds even, which is what the song is all about.

-- Holly Gleason

July 20, August 18 Nov. 10, 11,12 Atlanta/Cleveland/LA/Nashville

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