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Monday
Jan052009

Polaroids from a Year’s End

Lost Souls, New Friends, Frozen Moments, Playing Cards

He was standing on the street across from the House of Blues. Hands in pocket, hair falling in his eyes. It was cold. Just that sort of tentative street corner romeo who wasn't really where he was meant to be, yet   there was an invitation that made no sense in the air… the kind of invitation dreamers and crazy people can't turn down.

He smiled when I pulled up. A sophomore who knows he shouldn't be cutting class, but he wasn't gonna miss it. “Hi,” he said, sliding into the passenger side.

“Wanna just ride around a little bit?” I said, knowing there wasn't time enough to go anywhere, knowing this was a magic gift to unwrap.

“Yeah, yeah, sure,” he nodded and agreed. “I brought you something…”

Hand extended, two CDs and a novel. “I didn't bring them all. I didn't want to overwhelm you…”
Some people you just can't drown. But it's hard to tell from random email.

I nosed the Audi into traffic. Around and around the circle we would weave, talking about dreams and music, the crazy things that happen and the way stuff falls in place

A Different Kind of Wild the one solo record is called.

Indeed. From a man whose band   the Gathering Field was a dreamy affair of whispered truths about lost girls, old drifters and Hiroshima, North Dakota. It was a place losers went to drifter and the drifters somehow got by just beyond the fringes.

Bill Deasy had snuck out of sound-check. On the lam. With a girl he's never seen. Suits that part-pirate, part-poet, part-way-home and part-way-goner aspect of who he is

When he smiles the skies pour down sunshine, even when it's the greyest Cleveland afternoon. He has the easy company of the lifelong stranger, someone always from somewhere else - even on the block they grew up on. It's a gift and a curse, Kinda like the novel - Ransom Seaborn -- coming of age and falling apart and falling in love and coming undone. It is an intoxicating read, though sitting on the parking brake, it's just some handwritten script letters and a very detailed over-sized dragonfly.

“It was published by a publisher in Wales,” he volunteers. Then talks about having the “Good Morning America” there for two years. Invisible notoriety, almost in, but not quite there. The vexations and machinations of the music business… and he still smiles that smile of one who's okay where he is even as he knows he needs something more, needs to make it happen.

A few hundred yards from the edge of Lake Erie, in a Mexican restaurant owned by a couple locals where the salsa is fresh and made by hand, Alex Bevan beams, Thirty some years into weaving songs and stories for the Northern half of Ohio, he is a tireless friend who continues to illuminate the banks of the Grand River, Holiday Inn mornings that have been arrived at through too much laughter and a bit of brown liquid, girls with aquamarine eyes and the way autumn inevitably settles.

The place is packed. Families. Guitar players drown for the intricate fingerwork. A biker with a long thick ponytail. Empty nesters. A muse who anchors him in the turbulence. A gypsy blown in from the South… and they all turn their faces towards a makeshift stage, listening to songs not just about where they've been - rodeo riders and silver wings, street corner jazzbos and skinny little party animals - but where they are.

Those songs of love and hearth, escape, the weightlessness of being seen truly in another's eyes and the agony of not being able to melt another's pain. These are songs of real life, being lived by the man with the rainbow smile and the inner light that you could put in harbors.
Whatever it is, Alex Bevan isn't afraid… bring it.

In that he beckons the people a little too far into their lives to turn back, reminds them no decision - regardless of the outcome - is going to destroy you. There is beauty in your life, your living. Look at me and see it.

And Alex Bevan's had the kind of year most riders wouldn't get back on. But he just shakes out his wings a little, rolls his shoulders and gently spreads them open again. He knows that flying is in the heart, and that's where he's always navigated from, rising above the temporal and venal to remind the ones wise enough to listen that there is a shimmer across the top of even the coldest lakes - don't jump in, just watch it pass and marvel.

I am walking along the Chagrin River like I've done so many times. It is crisp and quiet, the grey hour of afternoon before sunset makes everything final. The snow has melted and frozen a few times, so it crunches beneath my LL Bean boots and gives with a Styrofoam ball solidity, but it still gives.

The Chagrin River Road has always had my answers. The way the old trees lean down to the water, whispering truths beyond time, things they've known for hundreds of years. The trees and the rocks and even that steal bridge from the 50s have seen more than two much. They are craggy witnesses who know.

I came here when I first arrived. Talked to my girlfriend Allison, admitted I was scared of what I'd find. What if this book I'd pinned so much hope, so much who I am on, wasn't very good? What if it was vanity and hubris? A case of bloated ego run amuck… and hamfisted editors missing the subtlety or recoiling from the pain of it?

Allison's husband is working on his first novel, too. He makes me look superficial. He is even more of a task master, a humorless defender of songs and poetry. A man who proclaims “Art is war…” and means it “Quit trying to pull it apart,” she says. “Just read it, just read…”

So I have… and there are only 30 pages left. The work has left me speechless.

It is why I've come to walk the banks again… here in Gates Mills, Ohio with the white clapboard and the black shutters, old Tudors and even quieter streets, a place where the river seems loud. I want to think about the journey. I want to think about letting go.

Lost in my thoughts I amble not just down the river as it doubles back, but through the abandoned town and into the stables and dog runs of the Hunt Club. One highbred fox hound comes out and looks at me, curious. It is not feeding time, no humans come here now. We meet each others eye. I am not a fox - or a feeder. The dog loses interest.

But not me, I watch him disappear into the bar that's peeling. I laugh. Sometimes it is that simple. Just read. You're not my feeder. The river keeps sweeping… and with the melting, it's churning foamy white caps into the swells that rise from the temperature difference.

Crossing the street, I return to the river's edge The grass is somehow still shamrock colored, but everything else has gone to that Egyptian clay color: not beige, not grey, not green. It was life once, could be life again. If not, it will be trampled into bricks, mixed with water.

I can see my breath, my own perfect little white cloud of life and purity, warmth and hope. I smile as the chill seeps a little further inside me. I look across the bank to where some of the water flowing from the rocks had turned to ice, slowly melting now an returning to the river. It always returns, I think and I rub my elbows with my gloved fingers.

Who knew there were this many shades of gray? Almost white, deep slate, practically black. Something in the middle deeper than coal dust.   Variations on stone. Shot through with hints of brown, of green, of tan. And there is always that silent velvet tone at the river bottom, the one you have to look all the way down to see.

I am alive. Wildly joyfully alive. My feet carry my body, the one that has begun to hurt in small ways,   the one that lets me know forever isn't for my kind - no matter what the mind and extreme flexibility suggest to me. It doesn't matter, though, I am here, now - and the cold air coming into my lungs is a bracing reminder of how good it is.

I laugh at myself. I look down. See what it bravely trying to poke up. There are the shattered remains of too many Halloween faces, not decaying yet from all the cold. There are naked sticks, brittle and contrasting the snowy carpeting. There is… a playing card, an orphan from a deck, slightly bent from the wet and cold.

Leaning over, I laugh a little more. Seven of hearts.   My father's lucky number. Heck, the license plate of his red Ford Mustang: 7 JG. It is an ultimate card of love and luck for me. A random talisman thrown into my path. A reason to believe, to rise, to bubble. I put it to my lips and kiss it, hold it backwards to the place between my eyes - and then I tuck it in my back pocket for whatever it may bring.

David Loomis was always one of the cutest boys in his class. He's brought that adorability with him as he's grown up. He remembers small details: the 5th floor ballroom of 4th grade dancing school, a gray dress that my mother loved, a boy who had a horrible crush on me. That's David Loomis: he sees the joy of details and he embraces the world from a wife open place.

He's teaching marketing at Case Western Reserve, doing a blog that marketing guru Seth Godin has commented on twice, living happily ever after with a woman he met at a New Year's Eve party - each there with other dates, but they knew in the instant. He sees what his hometown can be… and he's trying to find a way to use the arts to re-energize and bring people of various ages together.

But mostly he is chest deep in the river of life. A kind man who can talk about Deepak Chopra with sounding nu age vague, architectural points of Cleveland, records we grew up, friends long gone and reasons we believed. He is generous and willing; if he doesn't have the answers, he figures he can find them… or they'll appear.

Standing there in his plaid shirt, talking to the insurance man for the second time, he is witness to how completely a world can be inhabited, how many lives one can touch without moving very far. It is how one reaches out, not necessarily how far one runs.

We have never met, although we know each other. He is standing in line in Hamburger Heaven towards the end of the rush. He is tall, taller than I remembered and in the nicely pressed cotton shirt of a litigator, galaxies from the t-shirt clad, sweat-slinging guitar/howler who tore them apart at 27 Birds.

He is almost serene. Even back then, though, there was a definite blue collar solidity to his walk, his talk. Never the coiled snake or jungle cat waiting to strike or tear you apart. Just a man willing to answer the questions, maintain the gulch between you   The nature of being a journalist. You can interview people, but never truly register. The dance requires the distance - and some blur it immediately, some recognize their freedom is on keeping us across that gap.

Back when, though, he'd seethe, “If this is love, can I get my money back? I wanna see the man in charge!/ If this is love, I want my money back, I want an honorable discharge…” pure venom and Gilbys. It was a toxic chemical of vitriol, and not just the local girls, but Twin/Tone Records - home of the Replacements and pre-blowdry Soul Asylum - and REM's Pete Buck swept him up for the big time.

A van tour refugee, Charlie Pickett got so close by dousing the most vicious street blues with rancor, injustice and enough sexual charge to make him the reason to go out some nights. He remembers Trouser Press and why it mattered; he believed in stapled zeens; he kept the pilot light burning with Sterno when necessary and kept chunking away at the bedrock of rock & roll.

But he also got smart. Took that oversized brain and applied to the law. Figuring out how to sort justice a little better - because boys and girls, everyone knows justice is relative - and maybe figure out how to have a life after rock & roll.

Like a real man on a mission, though, he is still about the music, still about the why and the how. He still plays, he still writes, he still burns with the reasons to believe. He is quiet - as he's always been - and he understands being “in the room,” whichever room he finds himself.

In some ways, he's never quit believing in the spark of a great downstroke or vicious solo. He brings it with him when it's time to advocate for a client. He knows the difference. It's the line he walks - and he talks from a place of the gentlest curiosity. It's an amazing thing to see.

Just as it's amazing to hear a grown man admit, guitars are most interesting for what they attract: girls. It is the reason to do it. Meet'em, but just to be inspired by that other kind of kineticism. It is a charge and a pull, a whole other kind of chemistry and magnetic thrust.

There are a red formica countertop. Patty melts and ice tea melting into puddles. Vacationers talking too loud about what did and didn't happen. Huge truths about sex and life and drive and rock & roll shared with no one ever the wiser. A truly insurrectionist act in the most ordered land of perfection, and so in the open, none of the picture perfect Palm Beachers ever know.

”Hawwwww-leeeeeee?” It is Rodney Crowell, a fireworks blast of euphoria. “Girl, have I got you?”

Down the phone rumbles and rolls laughter. The boisterous kind of too many voices in too small a place and then the junkyard dog chorus raises its unholy tones, beating up that birthday standard, punctuating a New Year;'s Eve party somewhere in Tennessee.

Kathie Orrico is half on, half off her sister's couch in a short skirt and a t-shirt, going “whaaaaa…” cause she can tell this is an out of body reality based moment. Something mot like it might be, but probably just as good as better. I can feel my cheeks chipmunk from the smiling. The song is being lockstepped into a choppy rhythm, melody pulled like taffy at the shore.

The songs ends, the other side of my phone calls cheers and laughs. I do, too.

“We were at a party, and I wanted to wish you happy birthday,” the sparkling songwriter announces, telling me he has a pound of white tea for me from the foo-wah province somewhere in China. Finest needles. Just like pot, only antioxidantal.

We make the kind of rushed small talk you do in those moments, then I release him to the lake he was swimming in. We say “I love you” and hang up. It is the way friendship melts the phone lines like butter into maple syrup.

Kathie and Casey Orrico just laugh, too. They don't even know why. But that kind of happiness spreads without reason. It feels good. You want to hold it. It feels good. It makes you feel better.

I am looking at Lake Erie, through the abandoned beach shacks and businesses. Geneva on the Lake is a slightly smaller, lost in time Asbury Park. There are no legends here, only ghosts and gingerbread trim on some of the buildings. Alex Bevan knows the stories of everyone attached to every building… what they do well, what their dreams are, how it all fell apart, what treasons - sometimes at their own hand - crated the reality they now embrace.

It is furiously cold Mean and cutting. And what was once a purely seasonal town now has year-round dwellers, in houses never meant for it. You get a little further away from the beach and you see the windows with thick black plastic and blankets nailed over the windows. You realize there is no hear, only pernicious permeating cold. You turn up the heat and you still shiver at the thought.

Alex wife Diedre is a social worker. She's the woman who when they kick in the door of the meth lab grabs the children and reassures them it's going to be okay, who tries to get them warmed up a little, to calm them, to help them have a chance.

She doesn't talk much about the work. She doesn't have to. Sometimes you can see it in the corner of her eyes… because these are the things that once you see them, you can't forget and you can't just shake them off. Diedre is a gentle soul who makes and sells pickles to put that excess energy, and she loves Alex Bevan.

They are an amazing circuit of love. All that pain they've seen, yet that much love transformed out of it. They recycle the horror into something like hope, only warmer and more welcoming. They live St Francis of Assisi's prayer in a way that is seamless.

Though right now, all I hear are the echoes of the farfisa music, the bad transistor music that accompanies games of chance, the muffled whispers of lovers kissing and the high pitched squeals of kids on their own for a few hours. The churn of life being lived in the kernel of what could be, shiny moments of potential that might bring you every promise you wouldn't dare believe.

Alex noses down another empty street and smiles/
“It's very different in the summer…”

I wanna say “Aren't we all?” But I just smile through the exhaustion of up-all-night-talking and homemade waffles with frozen from the tree peaches slowly warmed with brown sugar, cinnamon and a slow, slow fire.

Kathie and I are in the half-empty Publix parking lot. It is Palm Beach in the height of season. She's closed after another crazy day in her store of providing pretty clothes for some of the world's great young beauties and soon to will be, their mothers, even the occasional grandmom. They come from the pretty colors, the timeless cuts, the way the Orricos know how to flatter every single person's form, face, life… and create so much more no matter how much is starting with.

She giggles. Her nephew has a bit of a flu. She's going to get him some Pimms cookies.

“Do you need a Goody, too?” she asks, as if the birthday gorging wasn't enough.

“Hmmmmmm….,,” this is the end of the goodie trail. It is one last chance before it's time to get serious about health and adulthood. “yeah…”
And I find them, right there on the shelf.   Tastykakes. Chocolate filled cupcakes. With a stripe.

Kathie has wandered off, I'm lost in the aisles trying to find her. It's that panic of being too little and not knowing where Mom is. Not because I can't get home - it's a 5 block walk - but just that losing your connection to the world before you.

“Hey, I'm checking out…

The voice is hard-wired to my DNA. POING! Recognition.   In flip-flops, I make that floor slapping sound as I rush over there. We gather our two plastic bags and head to the parking lot, to Chip her convertible and the entire celestial tent above us, pin prick lights flickering like God's private diamond show.
“Cuprcake?” I ask.

“Here?” Kathie says.

Seeing the Tastykakes she gasp/laughs. “Where do you COME from? Tastykakes? That is so NOT a Cleveland thing… That is so Jersey Shore!”
The Jersey Shore is where Kathie and her sisters fell in love with the ocean. It is where they came alive. It is their Cleveland. For me, I had a fiancée… from Philly… but right now, I'm not into explanations, I'm peeling back the plastic wrap and passing my friend a striped cupcake. A talisman of what was, what is, what should always be…

Like junior high school girls sneaking cigarettes, we are consumed by what we're consuming.

Blake Hanley has been coming into his own for 6 years. Lithe, dark-headed, sleepy-eyed, he is conservatively beyond good looking. Unfortunately, it pales to what's inside him.   Beyond his decency and sensitivity, there are songs. Multi-culti songs that cut and paste reggae and rock, world music, folk, techno and the naked voice. He is on the brink.

But right now, he is home for a few days. To toe touch who he is, where he comes from in a place that may or may not understand his gift. He's “Blaaaake,” the surfer kid who's a mystery. He's the son of a longtime family with lifetime friends who revel and blow it up and celebrate. It is a world where the band gets shut away, never spoken of, acknowledged only in the most removed moments.

Blake, however, lives in the now. He is reaching for something most of them don't know exists. He is patient. He is focused. He knows how to understand his place and his timing. He also knows how he feels when he sings, plays, especially when he writes.

In a world where young people are flung with a centrifugal for of exponential proportions, expectations, entitlements and little of lasting value, there is a need for Blake. Not because he's pretty, but because like U2 - back when - he's not above their world, he just sees a little higher and he's able to reach back and give people a hand up to see beyond the obvious.

This is an artist on the verge. Nobody else seems to see it. Except Blake.

The quiet self-possession and striving. The wanting to be better, more as an artist, it drives him… into what is going to make 2009 a very good year.

Right now I'm in a coffee shop, owned by the guy who owned the bar I grew up in, Bruce Springsteen is moaning that “the screen door slams and Mary's dress waves…” I am lost in a reverie of what was, laughing at how I somehow got trapped by the songs I loved… the ghosts of all the lovers I sent away, living better as a memory than as your girl, knowing there's always another hill to rise and fall away.

There is a re-entry reality that comes from hurling oneself through the holidays, the quick hit travel   and the bursts of friends and faces. So many people, you hardly ever see. So much to share, to catch up on, to impart. It is revelry and reveille You wish to miss nothing, you gulp down as much as you can, you bask and you laugh… and then it's time to return to how it was.

How it was is how it is. A manuscript to key in the changes. A life with too many friends, so much love, truths to sell and songs to write. There are blessings upon blessings upon the tricky things that plague you… and there are more rivers to walk, roads to ride and dreams to dream.

Before disappearing into the new, though, there is that moment to consider the moments before it all begins again. As year's end, that was a good one. That was so much magic and rapture and sharing, it's hard to begin to say good-bye, but the beauty of every goodbye is the next hello.

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