Categories
Articles
Social
tags
Holly Gleason Bonnaroo #vivaroo death Prada Dada The Zelda Chronicles Zelda Guy Clark pet loss Alex Bevan the Wonderspaniel Aerosmith Ali Berlow Bruce Springsteen Dwight Yoakam Emmylou Harris John Oates Matraca Berg Vince Gill Andy Langer Cleveland Dan Baird disco Donna Summer Earl Scruggs Ed Helms James Taylor Jim James Johnny Cash Kenny Chesney Lyle Lovett Michael Stanley Music Patty Loveless Reggie Watts Ronnie Dunn Sam Bush Steve Popovich Tim McGraw Tom Petty 27 Club 9/11 addiction Akron Allison Krauss Allman Brothers Amy Winehouse Andy Parker Anna Nicole Smith Ashley Capps Atlanta Rhythm Section Authenticity Beatles BeeGees Big K.R.I.T. Bill Bentley Bill Johnson Billy idol Black Prairie bluegrass Bluegrass Situation Bob Seger Brenwtood Vets Britney Spears Buddy & Julie Miller C. Orrico Carnival Music Cat Powers CBGBs Celebrity Culture Chris Stapleton Chris Whitley Christopher Hanna Clash Clive Davis Cobain cowpunk Cultural Icons Cyrinda Fox Dan Einstein Dan Fogelberg Dan Tyminski Danny Joe Brown Danny Morrison David Byrne death of a pet Del McCoury Del McCoury Band Dennis Kucinich Dick Clark Dignity Doobies Doug Dillard driving Dylan Eddie Montgomery ESQUIRE facing the inevitable Fame Whores father fathers & daughters Feank Yankovic Fellini feminism Flatt + Scruggs Foals Funk Brothers Garth Brooks Gary Stewart Gary Wells George Harrison George Jones George Strait Gerald LeVert Gil Scott-Heron golf Grammy Awards Grammy mourning Guitar Town heartland hippies Hot Chelle Rae I Will Always Love You iconic death integrity Jack Johnson janet jackson Jason Isbell Jeff Bates Jeff Hanna Jewly Hight Jim Halsey Jimmy Webb Joe Diffie Joe Ely John Bassette John Fullbright John Hiatt John Hobbs John Prine Joni Mitchell Joplin Keith Knudsen Kentucky Headhunters Lee Ann Womack Levon Helm Life Lilly Pulitzer loss Lou Reed Marshall Chapman Matt and Kim Meatloaf Midway Midwest moonshiners Morrison Mumford & Sons music festivals Music Row My Friend Bob Nas Nathan Bell Nei Young nihilism in pop music Nitty Gritty Dirt Band Of Monsters and Men old huard Nashville Palm Beach passion Patsi Bale Cox Patsi Cox Patti Davis Paul McCartney Paul William Phil Walden places polka pop culture pop music Preservation Hall Jazz Band press conferences Radnor Lake Ramones Rayland Baxter Retirement Richard Pryor Robin Gibb Rock & Soul Superjam Rodney Crowell Rust Belt Sarah Godinez scenes Scooter Caruso Sherman Halsey smells Solange Knowles songs songwriiter spoiled rock stars Springsteen Steve Earle Steven Tyler Stevie Nicks stinky goodness Tangiers THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN The Bluegrass Situation The Bodyguard The Dreaming Fields the Hermit Club the Kentucky Headhunters the Players the Shaker Heights Country Club the things that matter the wonder spaniel thoughts Tim Hensley Townes Van Zandt Trixie Whitley untimely death Waffle House Wendy Pearl Whitney Houston Whitney Houston death Wilco Willie Nelson Wonderspaniel Wu Tang Clan

Entries in Guy Clark (5)

Monday
Feb252008

The Desert’s Quiet, Cleveland’s Cold

It's cold. Damn cold. The biting, frozen from the marrow out kinda cold that chills you 'til you shake, lips turning just the slightest bit purple. When the wind whips off the lake, down Euclid or Prospect or Carnegie Avenues, the arteries of commute from the East Side in, it tears your flesh -- without even making an incision. Cleveland, Ohio on a winter's day is just that cold. Brittle. Brutal. Kinda like the way a diamond sparkles. And yet, vicious as that cold might be, Cleveland -- even in the winter -- is my home. Or rather where I come from, steel money and grand old buildings and ethnic neighborhoods that still are. Where I was forged... born and raised. And so it is, that I'm in pink sweater and a pale blue scarf scratching at bus doors, trying to find an old friend in the name of a song. Not that he didn't know I was coming -- just that the cell phone wasn't working, and there was a merge between my past and farther back past that was fixing to be present, and sometimes it just ain't worth the chance of something going sideways. It was an almost "as if" diesel sniffing moment, the kind where you know there's nothing you can say or do, knowing it doesn't matter that you're on the up and up - in an "Almost Famous" for everything moment, it's a rejoinder of "Top of the ramp with the other girls." Only there aren't any other girls. It's too cold even to be stalking the names on the ticket. Still when you are as you are, you know in the end, it'll be okay. Give it a minute, it'll right itself; everything'll be fine. Give it a minute, and even a girl with vertigo can find the calibration -- because there's safe harbor in songs and old friends, the reasons to believe the human condition transcends, if you'll cast after the truly great writers. Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Joe Ely, Guy Clark -- in reverse alphabetical order -- are that. Each a voice distinctly, uniquely their own, and yet utterly embodying some facet of America that is universally noble, even if it's only in how it captures our imagination. Joe Ely the rogue drifter, Someone who wandered up from "The Wild Ones," hellbent on making Mexico under a moon barely more than a sliver with a horse that's spent or hidden on top of a railcar. Rough hewn, a bit torn about the edges, intense and restless. Not for the faint of heart -- writing songs with a stiletto or straight razor across a heart of Spanish leather. Guy Clark, the manliest of poets. Reserved and dignified in a way that makes a denim shirt seem formal, and rolling one's own cigarettes regal. He pulls truths from common things, shines light on grand realizations that seem like just another moment, offers heroism and sweeping love across moments so like our very own. John Hiatt, the soul-grinder with the Ozzy Nelson touch. A voice like dredging the Mississippi, leaning into songs like it's the final turn -- and tempering the chunky funky zealous noise of the joyful perk with a turpentine soaked barn-board beauty of relentless fidelity, cavernous loss and devotion that makes a dog look fickle. And Lyle Lovett, the quirky hipster haiku painter. With that low slung growl, courtly prowl and the ability to capture the most ephemeral feelings like fireflies in glass jars, he warps the lens, exaggerates the rhythms and rolls us along with him. Doleful like black Irish mourners, wry like Dorothy Parker and quick to connect dots that seemed like stars across the heavens, he can sail a magical tapestry of characters, details and truths as if he were merely breathing. Together. Again, Just like the first time -- at the now long gone Bottomline in New York City, brought together by the then head of the Country Music Foundation, eventually to be the Director of the National Endowment of the Arts Bill Ivey almost almost two decades ago. Two decades. Almost. These men intertwining the lives already lived so fully. Three Texans and a Hoosier. All "critically acclaimed." Legends pretty much to people who follow that stuff. Clark being, of course, the eminence grise -- and standard by which all other Texas singer/songwriters are measured; and Ely, the rocker from Lubbock who'd opened for the Clash when they first hit big, whose Honky Tonk Masquerade was a fierce insurrectionist treatise that captured ears but somehow never quite made him the rocker he wanted to be. Hiatt, a veteran of the LA punk/country rock scene and a writer of merit -- even from a different side of the tracks, moved to Nashville to slow down and created the magical Bring The Family with its truth in the Norman Rockwell reality-based sketches. Lovett was the kid, a jazz merged with Texas songwriter aesthetics that had a sweetness that got in your veins and made you yearn for an innocence that was so blithely aware of what was around. Even then, they all had lives and stories. Even then, they'd covered continents and miles. Even then, they'd dream and laugh and drink and wander -- wondering about how it all held together, seeking insight with their details and lost nights with those mornings that somehow always broke your heart. If Guy Clark, Joe Ely, John Hiatt and Lyle Lovett were bound by anything, it was their willingness to see the truth, to own their stuff, to be willing to own up to what hurt, what stung, what brought them to their knees. In leather pants and a concho belt, Ely understood swagger -- and Hiatt's flannel shirt and khaki pants suburban camouflage was comfortably reassuring; Lyle was the uptown chic sleek sheik in his well cut suits and cowboy boots and well, Clark was a pressed white shirt, black vest, black jacket man most nights -- utterly elegant in his understated being. Way too different, yet strikingly the same. Always ones to unravel the threads and then twist them together again, sometimes in lost bars in strange nations with all kinds of people inhaling the tales like air. And they talked even better, it must be said. And their act -- though more the gracious easiness with which they open up their souls like guitar cases waiting for thrown money -- has gotten better with the passage of time. Or maybe it's that we've all had more time to find experiences that've been inside these songs, so we've learned them to be true, to have felt their core settle on moments all their own. Which is how I found myself in Cleveland, in the bitter cold. I had come to pay off debts, seeking something I didn't know could be sought. Yet, as so often is when you live in the wind, it's not the roots that hold you up but the currents that blow you from place to place -- if you'll relax enough to ride them. There was a singer once, a folkie. From my hometown, too. Had a quasi-rave-up spoken-word party vamp about being "a skinny little boy from Cleveland, Ohio, come to chase your women & drink your beer." It was quite festive and the party hearty college boys liked chanting it with staggeringly eroded grasp of the consonants anywhere cheap Pabst or whatever 3-2 was being tapped could be found. And the rallying cry was fine, but it didn't tell the story. No, no; this man crafted intricate little gems of exquisite detail, and put them together on actual vinyl records for his own Fiddler's Wynde label. I was beguiled by bridges that soothed, "Sweet child I hear you been crying, leave your sorrow far behind when you're through/ Each mile, no matter how winding, leads me/ Home is where my heart is, my heart stays with you" and songs about "Gunfighters Smile"s that summed up everything about the way that I'd come to live beyond the shadows, somehow forgotten in the far corners of the night. "Gunfighter's Smile" was a celebration and an elegy and a manifesto by which I seemed to live, a kid with licorice whip legs and a ponytail whipping around as that golf club swept up, scrapped the sky and finished high. A grown-up kid, chasing a dream I didn't quite understand, traveling around and playing golf tournaments I was never quite equipped to win. "Here's a song from a bottle of whiskey, here's a song from a Holiday Inn/ Here's a song for anyone who's ever watched the daylight sweeping in/ Let it come from the other side of morning, let it go to the other side of night/ It's where your dreams are, they're only what you make 'em, you only make 'em if you try, So close your eyes, let it all come back, one by one let the images files Gone, but not forgotten, through the eyes of autumn, I can still see your, gunfighter's smile" Alex Bevan wrote those words about bravery and beauty, chasing things you don't understand, squaring up and squaring off, shoulders back, head held high. It haunted me for years -- and led me along on a course of reading the credits, knowing that the singers don't always write the songs, but sometimes the writers sing, And he kept the pilot light lit for that notion -- me, a capricious kid with a good hustle sneaking into bars and college coffee houses in a pink buttondown shirt and slate colored Levi corduroys. A 13-, 14-year old girl, who looked about 10, figuring the same clothes would help raise the recognition factor -- forgetting the pictures of me in the newspaper, the ardor of my devotion and the fact that I was just so young going to communion with a sacrament of songs. It set me up for a life of finding clarity in the hollow spaces within the chords, understanding in the words. It was a good trade for a girl a little too old for her peers, a little too wise for the bars and far too young to get lost the way grown-ups do. Then there came Emmylou Harris. Rodney Crowell. It led to Guy Clark. Joe Ely, a flickering blue hot flame opening for Tom Petty at the Lakeland Civic Center, pressed against the stage at a General Admission Show -- having cut a day of my Freshman year of college to see Petty's homecoming concert and finding something else in the bargain. Rosanne Cash was a line into Hiatt, and Crowell. The Geffen Records so smart, yet so obscure- - a guy who had an old soulman's voice, wrote almost by dragging a hook across the curtains, ripping away that which would obscure and letting light pour over it all, and all of it wasn't pretty. Not that I really knew these people, just knew their music. Lived between the grooves on their records. Found things to laugh about, weep about, open up the veins of frustration, pump my fist and whoop with glory for. So it was, in Boynton Beach, Winter Park, Coral Gables, Florida. But along the way, I picked up a pen, started writing -- about music. Showed an insight beyond my years and a knowledge far beyond casual. And The Miami Herald needed a country writer, and so it was I came to start knowing the rogues of the road, the poets and pirates who stole songs from what they encountered and gave back perhaps even greater truths than they even found. "Don't make friends with the rock stars," the late great gonzo rock critic Lester Bangs cautions young William Miller in Cameron Crowe's memoir movie about coming of age as a baby rock critic "Almost Famous." Draw close to the flame is what he means, but it's your job to keep them honest, to remind them of what really matters, to keep them making music over money, not just money from music. Still, it's hard. They are, so, shiny. And they break your heart, sometimes. The venality of vanity and ego obscuring whatever tender -- or hormonal in the lust sense -- place that song came from. Their honest experience crushed and eradicated under the tonnage of fame and fawning. Yet, you can't help but want the music to matter, to mean more, to connect to the people who need it. Like that kid in a pink bedroom with a canopy bed, breathing the heavy night air and the rock & roll pouring out of WMMS in the lost hours, bathed in that odd glowing blue from the radio. She was saved by the songs and the FM dial, the records she'd spend hours pouring over and seeking. There were others like her -- and the mission was to make their mission easier. If you shared insight and wisdom, laughter and occasionally tears, not to mention good meals and whiskey, or tequila, red wine or whatever with the spinners of yarns, then so be it. It heightened the insight, the ability to conjure the essence of where the songs emerged. And so it came to be, in all kinds of countrys, with good conversations and spun notes that could just take your breath away. Tower Records was vital then, a force. Their Pulse, working off the premise "we listen to a lot of records, we write about the ones we like," was a magazine that shared my taste, letting me write about so many of the artists I loved and lived for. It was Pulse that put me in Clark's line of fire. An interview in a garret office in the top of a rambling office building that had once been a house on Music Row, a farflung discussion of discipline and influences, Townes Van Zandt and dignity, reasons to and the things that matter, for an album called Old Friends that creaked in the right places and turned truth to pure elixir with an oaken voice, a gravitas of old libraries and a warmth that drew you closer. Lovett came before even his big time national record debut, a quirky quilt of jazz rhythms, minor keys and sketches of people and places the Texas Tom Waits might've followed. But swiped with wonder and a dearness that drew you in, and that shock of hair, that tilted smile that was as much a part of his "aw shucks" self-deprecation when you'd shake your head, marveling at how he put you "there" at "Closing Time," when you should "unplug those people" or on "This Ole Porch" where moments pass like "a plate of greasy enchiladas, with guacamole salad." Lovett was most unconventional. Capable of such delicate intricacy, yet also able to engage arousal without seeming dirty. "You Can't Resist It" had such self-awareness of pheromones bursting in air, you could get dizzy from the frisson, while "God Will" recognized the humanity that fires jealousy and disgusted indictment in matters of love and straying nether regions. Always unassuming, Lovett sometimes felt like the most erudite Hansel to my Gretel in the valley of the infamous, turning up where I'd be chasing stories, singing songs that made faraway places, people I'd never known real. The other kid seeking -- or rather not quite knowing he had -- a place at the table, but having one by virtue of his gifts as much as his desire to be there. Ely had just kept slugging. A rootless tumble cactus, determined to be heard. Did his time in the hardscrabble LA rock fringe, opening for the Clash and trying to understand how Lubbock fits in with all of that, like so many ravaged post-Hollywood refugees, he finally figured home is what set him apart, and so the honky tonk ferocity of Lone Sar juke joints infused his insurrectionista refusal to fall in line with MTV, Instead he seceded, putting out the fierce Lord of the Highway on the label that gave the world smooth newblueser Robert Cray. At the Hyatt House on Sunset -- far above what becomes the nightly river of the starving to be famous, where Led Zeppelin would decamp during much of their Stateside conquest -- we talked about running away with the circus, vast horizons and the need to burn for music. A few hours later, in bolero tie and black close-cut denim jacket with a lean mean band, he would singe the Roxy with no frills, take-no-prisoners rock & roll. It was a commanding commando performance. A burst of guitar, a blaze of glory and into the night. Ely seemed to like it that way, Hiatt remained more elusive. But he had a way of showing up in corners. Everyone knew he was brilliant, but like Ely, it was an unconventional record -- actually pulled together by John Chelew, one of the guys from McCabe's Guitar Shop -- that had a pilot light that turned home fires into mirrors of "me, too" and "Lipstick Sunsets" into sigh-inducing moments of romantic rapture everyone wants to see their own lives smeared into. Whimsical, as well as mournful and insightful, Hiatt's soulstew would find its dawn with Bring The Family -- and just keep churning. Slow Turning bringing even more. And then there would be the hits for Bonnie Raitt, Rodney Crowell, Rosanne Cash -- and lots more, People who knew, who reveled in their lives would get the joke, ride the updraft and melt into the pools of feeling that offered temerity with the wheeeeee! Thanksgivings spent with each and every one of them, Dinners eaten, field trips taken, dressing rooms passed through, All part of the journey to a place where I didn't ever know I was going, to a moment where it all turned around and the path had seemed to be blown clean. Only the memories and the moments, and the laughter, and the songs. And the funny thing about songs is they often have three dimensions. There is the song itself, a thing of perfect creation that tells a story all its own The keys, the pauses, the way the words seem to ride the progressions and the images they leave. Perhaps they show you things, paint pictures, reveal hidden places or carry you further inside your own heart with what they express about the writers own life, emotions, past or hopes. The song itself is potent, but then there's the song and how you hear it: where you are and what you're doing, what those moments hold (or don't). It is the collaborative part of loving music -- the place where you bring your own reality and fuse it onto it. Then whenever you hear that song, it puts you in your own truth, your own reality -- deepening or tempering. An alchemy unanticipated, yet powerful beyond reason. And then there is the song transformed: play it for someone else, share it if you dare. See how it hits your friends, or someone across a bar. Watch the shifts, wonder -- or ask -- what they're feeling, getting from it. Share your stories, your reactions, find things you'd never seen, or merely cement what you have: in the song, in the friendship, in the recognition of yourself in someone else. The bonds forged over music are some of the strongest I've ever seen. Unlikely alliances, too, because of artists, voices, writers, songs, all bound up in truths most people would never articulate, yet knowing that "you got that, too" is the sturdiest bridge I know. Living in the wind, roots are not a terre firme proposition. It is what you grasp as you fall, fly or hurl by -- and you cling to the things that are weightless. Like songs. In moments when it all falls apart, it's the music that often puts it all back together. Don't know why, just know that's how it seems to always happen. Like sitting at my mother's grave, Clark's "Let Him Roll" rising like the rumble of far off summer thunder. Low, serious, strong, yet reassuring. And "The Randall Knife: following me around, like a ghost of consolation, an old friend who -- though unseen for almost a decade -- has the ability without doing a thing to remind you of your core strength, even as you're haunted by the jagged sense of what has happened. And so it was. Time melted. It was then, and it was not. The past and future turning into one. Alex Bevan, the singer who raised me right, to revere the singers of their own songs, had given up a weekend with his new bride to sing at my mother's funeral. For a woman best described as "a force of nature." A woman he barely knew, but a child he'd seen grow up. Alex, with that dimpled precious smile, still a student of the game and a believer in how good it could get, someone who would love this night as much as anyone on the face of the earth. Of course, it made sense to take him to this show, to introduce him to the people who picked up when I'd wandered off to Florida, then LA. It was a holy duty. And a delightful task. A reason to reach out, seek out these people who I knew from long before I midwifed dreams, made bold-faced music matter in ways most people missed. And if John Hiatt couldn't resist changing Ronnie Milsap to Kenny Chesney in his Nashville decompression rave "Memphis in the Meantime," no one laughed harder than the people in my row -- a swap to honor a decision I'm still not quite sure I made. And yet, I did. Somehow, not even quite sure why. Just did. Just wandered off the path, into the jungle of great big show business. Football stadiums, magazine covers, red carpets, cloaks, daggers, awards and private jets. Not for me, mind you, I just spin the plates, keep the time, toe the line, and watch the stars rise. Still for all the contretemps at the bus, some things never change. Old friends who have stories to tell, who laugh at your jokes, who smile just 'cause -- and who sing songs that still take you apart from the inside out. It's like Lego's with bent notes, "Introduce us," Lovett says. "They don't know me here," I respond. "But we do," Indeed, we do. Know each other like the back of our hands, even with all the mysteries and missing years. Remembering things, polaroids no one should've noticed about days or nights or minutes that overlapped somewhere out there in the wind. That's the kind of knowledge that brings you home when you can't find stars to steer by. Whatever is tangled or whirling, somehow eases up enough to poke through for the answers you can't quite find. For these are the people who love you even when you're missing, and who're happy to see you when you finally reappear. Onstage, they pour their hearts out. But it's as much about the faces in the crowd who see their own realities, conflicts, conquests in those songs. The fans are there to genuflect at the altar of the songwriters, but they're also there to have communion with the ones who sanctified their reasons and recognized their doubts and pain. It is a powerful exchange, but a little lonely for the ones up on the stage. Even as they're seen, they're never really known. Except occasionally, when a lost girl from the past who's asked far too many questions to ever be polite, who's trolled the docks and sidewalks of their lives seeking where it all comes from. Earlier that evening, at dinner in a linen tableclothed restaurant, the waitress leaned over to Lovett and whispered in his ear. Ely had been telling us about his roadpoemjournal that was about to come out -- Bonfire of Roadmaps, shipped on his birthday from the University of Texas Press -- and talk of the dates and the length of time they'd been doing these shows, the kind of easy catch-up banter that marked the passing of time before a show, A little girl at the next table, not much more than 8 years old, didn't wanna bother, but had seen him, and the waitress had said she'd see, And so Lyle Lovett got up, walked over, knelt down by the child and talked a few moments. She was, of course, coming to the show; and yes, she had a favorite song, and absolutely sure he'd play it. "If I Had A Pony" is whimsical. It is a prelude to a freedom a child couldn't quite know they'd one day truly yearn for. It stood as a contrast to my own request -- for "LA County" about a jilted lover who drives all night to slaughter the girl on the altar of her wedding, an insistent bit of strummage that contrasted that bit of ghastly against the beauty of the vast scattered sparkling lights of LA from above. Dark though it was, the beauty in the misery balmed me when I'd first moved to LA, and didn't have the sense of humor to fit in. Too Midwestern, too serious, too tender, it made no sense to me -- and so I could drive Laurel Canyon and Mulholland Drive, staring out at the diamond vastness and cry. I knew just how he felt, that guy with the gun. And yet, I also knew there are some obsessions from which you can't run. Kinda like the prodigal woman in "Let Him Roll," and the song's object loving a girl about town named Alice, who used to be a whore in Dallas, it doesn't matter where you run, the truth will always find you. Looking down the row at Alex Bevan and his new bride, my dear friend from before First Communion Bridgett Bowden, now McWilliams, and her husband Jarvis, who to me shall always be Jarvie, I saw the glow. They saw what I saw, they were moved by the hollow point bullets of Ely and Clark's fugitives pleas of "Letter To Laredo" and "Magdalene," the piety of Haitt's quavering "Have A Little Faith" or Lovett's courtly erosion of same with the jazzy slink of "What Do You Do." Towards the very end, Lovett talked about Guy Clark's impact -- Old No. 1 being the album every young wanna be writer would listen to until it became part of the double helix geentic coding that defined their mind -- and being able to gather up stories of those who'd known Clark back when. From that place of reverence, Lovett introduced a song that his forebear had written, but never recorded -- a song he let the young Texan have called Step Inside This House, a song that held up the dreary every day items as treasures beyond price because of the memories they held. It is a quiet song. A talking tour to someone you're trying to engage with, offering the meaning behind a painting someone gave you when they couldn't return the ten, a book of poems read cover to cover -- dearly loved, a gift from a girl you couldn't quite get there with. It's a soothing song that shows what truly matters with an intimacy that's almost blush-inducing... and it evokes everything about why they, their songs, this night matters. They are conjurers, these men. They put you in all kinds of places, feelings, scenes -- and then they bring you home. They know how to go deep, to startle, to brush you off, to make you smile. They leave you feeling more: alive, aware, clear. It is a gift. Looking at my oldest friends, looking at my old friends, I couldn't help but marvel. Of late, the path has been overgrown and tangled. Not much makes sense, and yet, still I walk on. Sometimes there's no other choice. Keep walking, look around, maybe something will look familiar as you make your stations of the cross through life, And so it was in an old theater in Cleveland, Ohio. Clark's wife Susanna wrote a song with Carlene Carter once called "Easy From Now On" that embraced the notion of shedding the trauma and drama, relinquishing one's need to save the world or at least someone hell bent on drowning and taking you under -- that let it all go by "getting off where the crossroads meet," Sometimes, though, it's at the crossroads where it all comes together. "Saturday night, I'm gonna make myself a name," the song, which has been sung in full gossamer glory by Emmylou Harris, continues, "take a month of Sundays to try and explain," There is freedom -- one way or another -- at the crossroads. On a Saturday night, in the chill of a loading dock, watching my friends mount a bus and settle in for the night, I smiled. Inside the venue, a few more friends, still trying to process what had truly happened, waited. Right in the middle of them all, I turned. Everyone walked away with something different, hopefully something more. I would drive and drive all night, past the places where I became the girl who would become the woman I am now. A woman I wouldn't be without all of them, and hopefully, for anyone else who can ever find their reason in the music, it is a truth that brings them even when they don't know why. The men would head to Louisville. Set up those 4 chairs, 4 mics, 12 bottles of water -- and conjure more people's lives with their tales. My friends would go back to their worlds, smiling and wondering how it happened, so much could be said in so very few songs. And me, I'll sit up again too late, marveling at what I have been blessed to see, the way my life seemed to go and the people I've met along the way, It ain't that what I do will ever be noticed, but more what I notice as I go. Sometimes what you recognize is more than enough reason. These days, beyond the footlights, that's how it seems. And so it was in Townes Van Zant's sparely beautiful "Pancho & Lefty," the notion of the ending of two explosive lives wound down: "The desert's quiet, Cleveland's cold/ So the story ends we're told.." But stories like these, well, stories like these go on and on. That is the wonder of them -- like the road, they do go on forever. It's just a matter of showing up and looking on.

Click to read more ...

Thursday
Feb212008

“Let Him Roll”, Guy Clark

“Guy Clark. ” The voice had no charge, just the flat announcement of someone putting a call through. It was day one on a new job - and I was sitting with the publisher, editor and central nervous center of this inside-the-beltway-real-deal, down-low, those-who-know music trade magazine talking about editorial trajectory… “THE Guy Clark? ” asked the incredulous managing editor. “Well, uh, no, uhm, yeah, ” I stammered. I mean, what do you say? Then in the interest of clarity, I tried explaining, “I mean, he's not THE to me. He's just, you know, Guy…” Yes, he was the kind of songwriter who cast short stories in a matter of moments, picked with an exactitude a surgeon would envy and sang with a unfaltering half-spoken delivery that gave a veracity to his words that was pure hollow-point -- it'd go in clean, the emotions would start taking hold, then broaden out as they passed through you, taking ever widening chunks of your soul in the transit. Not that most people in Los Angeles even knew who my friend was. The pause that was pregnant grew even more pendulous. Then it split open, cavernously gaping and swallowed the moment whole. “WHY…” came the plussed response, “would HE… be calling… you? ” When I impressed upon the receptionist that I needed that call from Guy Clark, she at first thought it was from “some guy, ” and still didn't really understand. Beyond -- in this time before cell phones --- I wouldn't be able to return the call due to his travel constraints. “I don't know, exactly, ” I hedged, blushing at the attention. When I said I had to have the call, I'd not considered this scenario. There were three impatient powerful men looking at me. I wanted to die. I wanted to freeze time, deal and step back in. “I can pick up and find out. ” All four of us looked at the blinking red light, suspended in time like some lighthouse in the fog. Unable to stand the moment, I reached for it. “Hi, ” I said into the receiver while the rest of the room smirked. “No… yeah… of course.. no… absolutely… no, I'd be delighted. The usual then? Okay. I have to go. Long story. ” Guy Clark was changing planes. He didn't have much time either. “The usual? ” The editor said, his delight palpable. “Yeah… he's staying at the hotel he always does…” No one said anything. “I'm picking him up for dinner. ” Hardly call-out brothel service, but sadly the truth. Dinner. Like so many meals in so many cities, in so many nations, in so many states of being. Guy Clark, the Hemingway of Texas and a singer/songwriter who could hew a line to the leanest bit of truth and beauty, anchored with details and shivering with the barest emotions, was capable of far-flung and soul-stirring conversation, and heaven knows we had 'em,. And he didn't need a ride from the airport. “You're having dinner with Guy Clark? ” The managing editor flummoxed, unable to get over it. “Yes, we're friends, ” I said, still too off-kilter to be vexed. “I've known him for years. ” Knowing someone for years is an odd thing when you're 26, and yet… I'd been writing about music in a national level since I was 19… went on the road to report on Neil Young's Old Ways for Tower Records' Pulse magazine at 20… It was the kind of life that wasn't real, and yet, it most certainly was. Late nights often twined around songs, stories told, deep philosophy and old red wine. It was a world beyond imagination; it was the plains where I found my home. You could argue that when someone writes songs like “Instant Coffee Blues, ” “Desparados Waiting For A Train, ” “LA Freeway, ” intimacy is immediate. It's not quite like that, but there is a notion of when you're seen, you're seen deeply -- and when you make friends, it's a fast bond. Dignified. Courtly. Chivalrous. Everything it means to be a man, a man in full. Broad shoulders, broader view of the world. Not one to judge -- too much effort, but also not one to suffer fools gladly. And so, like lacing, he had threaded in and out of my life. And so, like part of the twisted double helix that is the basic genetic code, his melodies ran through my life whenever they suited the moment. Whether I saw him or not, shared a few lost minutes in a late night bar or watching him charm someone I had business with, then wink over their head at me to say “Now they know…, ” he was always just part of who I was and how I rolled. And so, like it always seemed to bubble up from the ground without notice, I wasn't even surprised when his hushed oak baritone began moving through my mind real slow like a freight trains laying off cars in a midnight switching yard in the wake of my mother's death. Strange that. Freefall into shock and mourning, find out how hard-wired you are for song… Sitting at my mother's grave, not quite two decades later, hearing somewhere within that most knowing voice, those utterly clear finger-picked notes of “Let Him Roll” -- a song about a prodigal love that returns for the final good bye -- ran around my head like electric current. Clark's voice like the bellows of a furnace, smelting the regret about a life lived a bit too fully that left frayed edges and cracked moments, soothing me through an odd pain that couldn't be defined and wouldn't leave. Later, upon returning to the house that's been my home for almost a decade and half, that voice that is all strength, musk and wisdom migrated back again, through the verses of “The Randall Knife” to hone in on the verse about returning to the family residence post-casting the-ashes-and-the-roses-to- the-wake, in search of the talisman that's symbolic of it all: “the thing that's haunted. ” A knife that had been through the war, been through the world -- and in spite of it all, found its compromise on a Boy Scout camping trip. A half inch broken off the tip “when I tried to stick it in a tree, ” put up by the father without a word -- and left in a bottom drawer, untouched by light from that day forward. “The thing that's haunted…” All those nights on all those stages, melting into one stretchy surreal moment. Guy Clark, so often in a starched white shirt, black vest, black jacket… Standing straight and resolute, sketching truths and moments, stories and insight, that sweep of hair making him seem a bit like a rogue, those facile fingers saying “detail work is just the beginning. ” Tiny pieces of lyric resonating like the sound of one's own heart, beating between the ears. So thunderously loud, echoing, reminding one of the power and potency of life. Because in the end, that's all there is: the way we embrace what's before us. Tragically, sometimes it means holding onto the painful for all that it's worth. Spending those salty tears -- the ones that burn and seer our flesh -- like it's Saturday night. Just toss 'em out, let 'em flow, let 'em fall like there's no end in sight. Because just as it seems time to build an arc and start gathering animals two-by-two from this endless flood of sorrow tangible, something shifts. You may still be numb, disoriented, punch-drunk, throbbing, but even in all of that, the notion that there's a limit dawns. Not that the sky slams open, the sun pours down and a rainbow turns neon bright. No, it may still be grey and cold and shuddering, but you know that it, too, will pass. Guy Clark is just that alive. Rippling with the force that illuminates -- and animates -- us. The man who reveled about “Homegrown Tomatos, ” who staccatoed through “Texas Cooking, ” who cast a spell of faraway places and interlocked, if disconnected famous faces in “Cold Dog Soup” knows how to put a match to the fuse. Even in the depths of it, the looking up through the rotting leaves collected at the bottom of the cistern, there's the notion that something up there is worth swimming for. There's a sense that once you break the surface, gravity will merely anchor you here, not be a force of destruction; from there, joy will slowly thaw and grow. To hear guitarist, high-tenor moon-beam voice and co-conspirator Verlon Thompson rain down droplets of light as he embroiders the time-honed melodies that're always somewhere between split rail and plain dirt, but utterly breaded in stick-with-you. Laying in the harmony above the sturdy songwriter, the silver-haired guitarist draws the shimmer from inside his acoustic guitar -- and makes that which is already inviting glow. That is part of that gift of Guy Clark: the luminescence of moments. It is common things uncommonly viewed, given a steady, slow examination and rendered from the core out. Craftsmanship to honor the insight more than the sheer execution… because the more elevated and tenderly turned the playing, the more the revelatory nature of the lyrics are set off. The Station Inn is the same kind of place: posters and photos of bands and shows that couldn't even be faded memories, they're so long gone. Mismatched chairs and tables, a counter bar where they sling beer, cardboard pizza, coffee for a dollar -- NO refills, and yet, it feels like home. Shaking off the chill, you find a place, settle in, settle up with how transformative music played well can be. And the people who play here are all business in the celebratory, how well can we play -- versus how much will they pay -- way. No matter who's playing, something good will transpire. But Guy Clark, in a denim shirt, that rebellious shock of hair swooping across his forehead is in the zone. On the brink of releasing Workbench Songs, which is as vital as any collection he's ever made, he has come to both play and savor the gifts of his fellow musicians. Gracious, seasoned, celebrated, aged. He knows he's good; he's content with that, he's wholly present in what he's doing in any given moment, really sinking into what's before him, and yet… He always watches the horizon for what else might be there. Yet… It's not just sorrow, I'm marinating in it. <p>And I know that. Just as I know I'm tired of being tired, lost, sad. And like the man who wrote “The Randall Knife” about the demon blade that broke, then glowed with all the unspoken recriminations, hurt and need for healing, I am drawn to this place -- hand-tooled book of red leather emblazoned with a flaming heart poised for action. I am here to think about what was and what wasn't, what remains and what rises to the top. Somewhere in the past, there are ghosts and there are demons, there are angels and there are saints. They don't always look as they did then, emerging and turning in ways you'd never ever seen them before. <p>Except Guy Clark, who remains valiant, strong, unapologetic. He is a man who has always lived beyond the rules of polite custom, in large part because he bows to the higher authority of his definition of being a man. There are places the lines blur -- for the very reasons lines blur -- but he always measures twice, cuts once and exactingly and paints with a clear-eye and measured stroke. It is the same thing when he writes. That way when he sings, he just has to open his throat; his soul will take care of the rest. And it is the same -- whether singing “Old Friends” nearly two decades ago around a too-close Thanksgiving dinner table to people he'd know almost that long before, or bouncing the ever-elusive, cousin Willard-taunting “Rita Ballou” on his knee in a dry field at an all-day country festival at the turn of the '90s, picking “LA Freeway” as holy as it gets to a hushed over-packed room of Texas refugees at McCabe's Instrument Store's back room performance space or whispering the final verse of “Let Him Roll” to another too-full room of East Coast hipsters at Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey. No matter the place, the man remained unchanged. A temple of consistency and consumption, no matter what the cause. There is Dublin, a relationship starting to blow up in my face… and Guy suggesting that perhaps a drink might help take the edge off, evenly waiting for me to decide while probably dreading the notion of ordering me a pink squirrel. <p>The relief when I said “tequila, straight, no salt” was palpable. And then I ran upstairs to check on the state of my clothes… that they were indeed still inside the closet of the room I was sharing with the man who was on his early stages of becoming my ex-fiancee. I returned a little more grounded, and the guitar pull that was teetering out was now gathering steam. Guy was singing, “Instant Coffee Blues, ” I believe, and the chair next to him was open, a rocks glass more than half full beside it. It smelled exceptionally brutal, acrid and punishing. “What is this? ” I whispered, holding the glass before me. An empty stare is what I got. Not three hours before, this was the man who refused to leave me in a pub in Dublin to wait for the now-aggressively-offending beau who'd been in a huff that I'd had dinner with the songwriter that night with the simple argument, “This is a strange country you have no sense of direction in; it's late and you're alone. If he shows up here, he'll show up at the hotel. ” He not only showed up at the hotel. He was already there… and that was when the fight began. <p>But back at my chair, glass of clear liquid held in the air, Clark only looked at me with a suspended inscrutability and ennui that made me seem dense. He knew I knew it was tequila. What could the problem be? And why would he dignify it? <p>The move was clearly mine. <p>“This… is… a double, ” I protested. <p>Absolutely no traction. “A DOUBLE, ” I said a little more emphatically. He continued to look, just the tiniest bit of amusement wrinkling the corner of his eyes. “It is, ” he confirmed. “What are you trying to do…, ” I asked, a veteran of too many sleazy guys in too many bars to suffer the obvious well. “Well, Holly… No one said you had to drink it all. But the way I see it: it's late and we don't know when we'll see a waitress again. So it's best to have enough than to go wanting… and if they come for another round, I'd recommend getting another double. ” And that was it. It was done. Over. End of discussion. That was Guy Clark's gift. Practical. Unruffled. Whatever, and then what. It wasn't that he didn't care. He'd not left me in that bar alone, with no boyfriend coming to meet me. He knew what I needed, and he'd held steadfast to the sense of it suddenly hit me. And, frankly, over the years, several other not quite worthy potential suitors were dispatched quickly and brusquely, smoke curling around the ultimate gun fighter who chuckled at the weak knees and liver of the dismissed. Guy Clark. He didn't even bother judging. He just was. Still just is. Take him. Leave him. He'll be right there. Singing songs that're better written than most of The New York Times Best Seller List. Not as some kind of flexing struttage, but because Guy Clark has intractable standards: about how to live, how to stand, how to love, how to be there… and naturally, the writing followed. It's the reason he's so damn courtly. As a young publicist for a label not his own, he once sat down with us after a show -- standing mountain tall upon approach and asking if the seat next to me was taken. He then proceeded to regale a tableful of writers I was entertaining with talk of people he and I knew, tales of artists they revered, jokes about things that made them feel included. And then when we were done, he paid the check, had myself and one of the writers join him in the town car and sent us back on into Manhattan in it… Guy Clark didn't even act like he was being a gentleman. That was too obvious. No, not for him gestures for gesture sake, but rather walking as you were meant to. It was just how he rolled. Which is why his songs have a way of gently rising from the morass when trouble hits. He doesn't mean to intone the words in a way that makes them glow like embers forgotten in a fireplace for too long, but still enough fire to flame and catch again. It's just why and how it is. And so the casket lowered and the dirt filled in. The finality of my mother's death concrete and absolute, somehow those songs pulsed and beckoned. They can't undo what's happened… and they can't remove the stains of what was spilt in the name of life lived to another's specifications. Yet somehow, hearing him sing those songs - sing the songs that've been a constant companion since discovering him shortly after realizing Rodney Crowell was a young man, and there were all these spokes extending from Crowell's hub of creativity -- offered some sense of what the future looks like. Gleaming, really, like a charmed jewel beneath the loam… some kind of treasure symbolic of something more. You don't always know what things mean in the moment. Why we are drawn to many of the things that we are… unthinkingly tractor-beamed to the warm, the shiny, the musky. And then there we are, trying to make sense of what happened next. Guy Clark is ever steady. And this night -- in spite of the dance with lymphoma, the continuing standards of execution and excellence, the notion that some of these very songs were older than some of the people sitting on cheap plastic molded or nuagahyde upholstered chairs -- would be no different. It was a show to celebrate 'Workbench Songs', and he played just about all of them. A song about a rodeo clown whose love denied broke his funny bone -- with the simple statement that tears and grease paint do not mix, he wrote volumes in those few short words -- and another about an outlaw who needed to run, but needed his amour to run with him without questions or reservations, and a snapshot of the too-late-routine of any overlooked beer joint's exterior with the drunks, the fights and the carnal mergings all in full rut and revel… and there was more. But equally potent was the respect that honored the songs that came before. Where some artists don't look back or feel imprisoned by the ones that brought them, Clark gave his well-loved classics the same care and concern he gave is newest -- and in that, perhaps the pilot light of creativity stays stoked. For it is rare to encounter an artist whose work is as vital and visceral approaching five decades in as it is to find a master whose early work both holds up and is still give the tender ministrations normally reserved for new loves. So it is, though, that Guy Clark sets a standard, writes definitions of people lives, offers solace in the stumble, heroism in the halting crash of loss, beaming smiles for what's been found. If there is a gift to what Guy does it's that: in every day commonality, he gives us a knighthood that can settle on flannel shoulders or heels clicking along the ground. It is a mantle that sees how well we shore up to the challenges, gives us something more than we perhaps see, even as he strips away the goop and gunk that clogs up how it is. Guy Clark's world is planks to be shaved away into what's within. Like Michelangelo, who sees David in the flawed and rejected marble, he marvels at what's before him… he continues on unflapped, but appreciating what there is. And he invests those who listen with the same compass to navigate this world in which we bump and bruise and spin and whirl. It's not that it's never changing. It's that his response never seems to change. As the winds of experience shift, that's a gift to cling to. Even from 8 rows out, unseen for shadows and footlights, there's plenty to take with you. With grief and tangled stories wrapped around my soul, it is just getting by -- and hoping for the mist to clear. It is the songs that steer me, though, when I cannot steer myself. This night, onstage, an old voice that has echoed down the corridors of moments lived in the world, or perhaps within the decision to be somehow removed from it, it is clear. We all survive. We make of it what we will. If we try to consider the way that Guy does, there's always the opportunity -- within the pain, the loss, the joy, the cost -- to make it something more. With an unwaveringly good band, that is what this moment is: something more. It is playing with sensitivity and gusto; it is singing and story-telling for the sake of being as good as what's been created; it's the man loving what is happening around his songs with a slow-burning smile that is everything we could ever hope to feel about appreciating all that we've been given. And night's like this, what we've been given is more we should expect, indeed.

Click to read more ...

Tuesday
Feb192008

Wings of Warmth, Pools of Sorrow…

The day after my mother died, I woke disoriented. We had been estranged for years, so it wasn't the loss of a day-to-day presence in my life -- or even someone who'd been part of my thoughts. And yet, I had to grasp the notion that I now really, truly, absolutely was an orphan… the end of the line… the last of the vein.Somehow, numbly and without thinking, I drifted through the day. A day I recollect almost nothing about -- except my best friend's sister's second child was christened, it seemed like there were no chaise lounges at the Colony Hotel's Florida shaped pool and I did some laps across the street at their quiet pool when the sun wasn't searing my flesh in that slightly cool, definitely blunted, but deadly way of early fall. Lying there limp, it was another one of those moments -- in a cranberries-strung-on-fishwire-holiday-garland kind of way -- a moment unnoticeable, yet defining of who I'd come to be. Suspended with no expectation, not even the passage of time registering, and yet it was a moment full of every moment to that point. There is nothing to do. Beyond stay in the moment. And that is how I've come to live these last few weeks. Stay in the moment. Know there's nowhere to go where anything will change. Do what is required. Be hypervigilant for joy and beauty. Seek what is good. Hope it will lift. Have faith that it will. In the blur of what has passed since, much has past. Recognitions of what had to go unseen -- and the wreckage of every moment shattered by the knowledge. It is an almost nails scraping flesh from one's bones sensation, but the numbing that sets in holds, so it's more a heightened state of shock. A zombie-like existence with polaroids and postcards dangling before one's eyes and in the back of one's mind… It is a deal made with the conscious to survive the shock and the pain, an order out of chaos that is neither wanted nor invited, yet must be endured to be survived. There are -- in the wake -- moments of reclamation along the way. People who emerge or return, found like buttons in the deep pocket of a coat, fallen off, but kept to be reattached {rather than merely lost or forgotten about) when a moment presents itself to do so… The riches emerging from sorrow, offering solace and the sparkle of renewed friendship. My friend Ben, always audacious, appearing at the front door with a bottle of French red and a wry smile. He knew my mother, had had an ongoing relationship with her -- one that may've included miles of missed details, but certainly a definite appreciation of the force of her personality. This was a man introduced to me more than two decades ago at my very first Fan Fair, a once downhome gathering of the hillbilly stars and the tribes who adore them out at the hot and dusty Tennessee State Fairgrounds, by a talented not-quite-popped-yet musician named Vince Gill who said, “Anything you won't say, she will… and anything she won't say, you will.” Vince Gill was soothsayer. Though my friend Ben and I have less than no sexual attraction, we have had adventures, Christmas shopped, commiserated, been thrown out of bars (we were so much younger then), been used as bait (well, me) and bodyguard (well, him) on more than one occasion. Our lives interwoven, our truths polemic, our intense passion for living defining. But Ben grew up and became a wine broker. I remained a polisher of stars, a confidant of the famous, a writer of all that I saw. In the gap, the friendship faltered -- not out of indifference, but just the actual physical demands of demand, schedules and location. One draw of the cork, though, and two lives pour from the bottle with the bruised/blood colored liquid. Sorrow binds people together. Nothing quite like the valley of the disconsolate to learn about surrender -- and floating to the top when there's no fight left inside. My friend Ben, whose father died in the past year, understood… and he appeared. As did seeming strangers with deep intimacy and phone calls from friends who recognized the abyss-depths of my emotions. Seeming polarities, intertwined in the notion of finding some refuge from the storm -- or the offer of haven unknown until it arose in a moment. Once upon a time, golf pros would take me to Nighttown , a boite in the intellectual stronghold of Cleveland Heights, to make me feel grown-up. But somehow I ended up there with a man my own age, trying to recapture some innocence and youth lost -- tales spun of the gaps between what was seen, what was known and what was imagined. Cavernous distances that can't quite be closed with red wine and stories, laughter and tears. Yet somewhere in all of that, there is enough genuine hope and a willingness to show and be seen that a connection can be forged, one that embodies the notion of who someone might have been with the courage of getting to where they are today. In the midst of it all, a phone call… from a singer of songs, a dreamer of dreams and a companion of the farthest reaches checking in. Knowing all that had transpired with the death and the loss, Rodney Crowell had battled his own raging flu -- and was now emerging from the miasma to see how his “dear one” was coping, to remind the woman who'd closed down her father's house a few years before with a last letter written from his favorite chair listening to the Grammy-winning songwriter's “I Know Love Is All I Need” with its opening line of “I am an orphan now…” and the recognition that it is in dying that we are set free from our mortal shackles. Indeed, it is. And it is in living, breathing, loving each other that we become so much more vibrant. In our pain and that ache that throbs our veins, makes breathing such an iron-forged-act of will, that we recognize the power of those things we feel. With lunch over, there are still a few hours to be killed. Moments to waste in a way that makes them precious -- recapturing what wasn't with a net of what is ephemerally permanent. It is the actualization of a line by never-quite-huge-rocker-yet-local-hopesafe Michael Stanley that reminds us to be present in the minutes and the seconds: “All you get to keep are the memories/ So you better make the good ones last.” Cold sweat on a green glass bottle, five dollars fed into the jukebox. In a bar with picnic tables littering the floor, scuffed felt pool tables and neon behind the bottles, it is confessions of doubts and what ifs, you didn't knows? and oh, you're kiddings. It is the innocence of Hansel & Gretel, a time reclaimed that wasn't quite lost, just never actually experienced. It is Aerosmith's “Dream On” played through tinny speakers, and the hollow sound of a cue ball striking a 7-ball. In that suspended time, nothing is important, everything resonates and the years wash themselves of everything but what matters. What matters… That's what death shows you. The things that end up being erased and the things that come to the top are object lessons in truth and value. It is the nightmares that shiver you in your sleep, the things that go unseen that become absolute “don't”s in how we walk through the world, but also burdens that become too heavy to continue to carry and too intense to continue to hold back. Sometimes marinating in innocence and wonder, the easy sweetness of nothing more than right now, there is a clarity that emerges. There is an intense past of shared memories -- the roll of a fairway, the feel of a wood floor in a school cafeteria, the bands that were raging, the way being young and not knowing was so thrilling… and that is plenty. As the miles and years roll by, that basic reality gets lost. It's not something you can hold on to, nor something that can exist beyond those rare suspended moments. But it was real -- and it can come to life in the shared recollection, shine and shimmer with the mother of pearl essence of something truly precious. In a pool of grief, those moments are refuges from the anguish. In that clearing of the sorrow, you realize how lucky you are to be able to even see it, taste it, touch it. You're thankful for that beaming smile, that nod of recognition -- and you know that you can somehow go on. It's like putting in The Houston Kid, listening to “I Know Love Is All I Need” again. It is a song that releases the pain and keeps the best intentions. It offers a notion that whatever torture there was, it's over -- and the lost soul is, perhaps, getting the peace they dreamed of. It reminds you, too, that love is something that is created out of appreciation, recognition and embrace. We find love along the way… companions for the journey who see us as our better selves and inspire us to grow in that gentle glow. What we find, we sow… We harvest crops of people who make our lives tender when it hurts, and we try to offer what we have in turn. For Rodney Crowell, calling from Nashville in the wake of the funeral for a friend's mother, it was one more cobblestone in a journey that had been co-mingled most of my adult life… and yet, it was a milestone as much as a rock used as paving. If Guy Clark sang “old friends they shine like diamonds,” it is so. Not much needs to be said in those moments. It is understood -- and just the sound of a voice that is known by heart is plenty. The profundity is as simple as the lost soul turned up: it is understanding that without words, this person understands your pain, your heart, your reason -- and they want you to be okay. Faith in the falter. Faith in the other's ability to rise. They know, and you know they know. Like when Pooh reaches for Christopher Robin's hand only because “I just want to be sure is all…” There is something about the concrete, the tangible that is more than plenty. Nothing more is really needed. Just the there. And in the there, there is everything. Perfectly absolutely all of the solace, the compassion, the mercy that salves us 'til we can make it on our own. And so more time and tears have passed. Sorrow rises and falls, ebbs and flows. It is what it is, and as the tides recede again, it becomes more an act of knowledge than blind faith -- but, whether it's knowing or believing, there's the trust that this, too, shall be weathered with grace, dignity and love. In that, one can let whatever happen however it needs to. That is the greatest truth of all in a valley that seemingly has no end.

Click to read more ...

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

Click to read more ...

Saturday
Feb092008

Waving Good-Bye To A Friend, Learning The Here Is Stronger Than The Gone

One gets to an age where certain friendships glow like slow embers - charcoals that're just a little bit golden, throwing comforting warmth and unspoken understanding. Those companions who follow us from youth or college forward through life, the ones who know even before the story is rolled out are the greatest treasure we amass. New friends are thrilling. Colleagues inspiring. Compadres quick to help you shoot out the lights. But old friends as the Texas expatriate poet Guy Clark has always sung "shine like diamonds." The first time I heard Guy Clark sing "Old Friends," it was in Dublin. At a Thanksgiving dinner table surrounded by his peers - John Prine and Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Marty Stuart, Kieran Kane and Jamie O'Hara (then working as a spare Appalachian duo called the O'Kanes), Rosie Flores and Flaco Jimenez. It was a benediction for the collected and divergent roads these storytellers and gypsies had traveled, and it was sung to Bonnie Garner, who'd managed Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris amongst so many. At the time I marveled at the intensity of what was unspoken. To have friendships that deep, that strong, that defied time and miles and moments… it was something a young woman couldn't know empirically, but would have to take on faith. Blind faith…something I once wrote "keeps you believing whenever things get too rough, but when you live in the street and all your dreams shatter, is blind faith really enough?" Watching them, though, a-glow from the conversation, the Guinness, the fellowship, there was something so comforting about it all, there seemed no safer harbor. With the softness and familiarity of awell-worn flannel shirt, the shadows whose friendship ran deeper than veins of iron ore were the most intoxicating thing of all. What you don't know when you're young and washed in promise, though, is the fires that forge those friendships can sometimes be too intense to withstand. On one's way to adulthood or knowing or just the passage of enough years and shared memories to transcend the basic plane, there are casualties - of misunderstandings, selfishness, cross-purposes, bad timing or merely outgrowing each other. The weeding process, though painful, is an attrition of the heart. You genuflect before what you believe to be common passions or singular moments - and you believe that they do, too. It is plaited with laughter and tears, lost nights and early mornings, standing by and standing beside and standing up for. And as time passes, you need less to feel more. It is a given. It is a gift. You take the memories with you and you smile at the little triggers life litters across your path. There may be estrangements, but they pass. The friendship is larger than both of you - and time will flow across the wounds and ultimately draw you back together. Every now and then, though, a friendship falls on the rocks. Shattered by doubts or recriminations or outside influences, especially outside influences, there is nothing left but tattered memories and jagged pieces of feelings; it's an ache like a broken rib or the slicing pain of a papercut on the tip of one's finger. In the wake and the wreckage of what was, the abandoned looks around, blinks, wonders what the hell happened. It is a bitter mixture of betrayal and sadness and an emptiness where this faith and friendship had lived quietly for years and years and years. Trying to rub the sand or dust from one's eyes, mistakenly believing it will offer some kind of clarity, some sense of what was done wrong, only makes the tired eyes redder - and leaves nothing but more confusion in its trail. The older one gets, the less it happens. And it's a strange thing with the passage of years: a numbness sets in to offset the loss once you've been to this rodeo a few times. The memories go into softer focus, the feelings mute - and while whatever was precious remains so, there is no pain for what was gone. If someone had told me that this year, perhaps I'd have wrinkled my nose, rolled my eyes and offered an "oh, yeah…" in dubious Minnie Mouse tones. How do you survive the loss of someone whose been there since almost before you can remember? who embodied St. Francis' prayer, especially sowing the gentlest forms of love and kindness to a kid looking for answers and dreams? But you do. You realize how ephemeral it all is. It makes you that much more fierce about telling the people in your life, the ones who choose to be here, the ones who refuse to relinquish the joy and the faith, that you love them, that you miss them, that they matter. There are certain truths to living in the wind and falling through space - which is a job requirement for the way I chose to make my way in this world - and one is that you're always gone, always moving on to the next mountain or moment. It gives you a richness of friendships, but it makes roots something that must anchor in the air. So you tell the people in your life. You invoke the things that make them special, remind them they're precious, leave nothing understood. And you find out people like knowing their place in your world, seeing that sparkle when they view their reflection refracted in your eyes. You stop taking the people who've been there always, or even for however long, for granted. You let 'em know. Celebrate that which is here. It may be gone tomorrow. Whether it's fate's hand, human caprice or petty jealousy. lost a friend like that this year. A quarter century washed away over insecurity, a small light held for poetry and melody snuffed out in the name of terror over a loss of something they believed to be greater. What can be greater than old friends I do not know… But this year I learned, while you mourn those friends who should always be there to hear how rich they make you, the insight they give you, the wisdom and the laughter they bring you, they are gone. Loss is part of life, no doubt. The greater truth, though, is choice - and that which remains. Don't waste time on those who have left by their decision. Invest your heart, your emotions, your sparkle and your passion on those who continue, companions of what it is to come. The friends who bring you diamonds with a few quick words on a stolen late night call or evoke a cheap bottle of something in a couple dashed off lines in cyberspace are the ones who are here - even when their somewhere else, a million miles from your conscious. Postcards from the edge it isn't. But don't think those postcards don't get sent from wherever with nothing much to say, except "I love you." Because old friends shine like diamonds and rubies and saphires - and a candle in the window when you're trying to get home. 29 December 2001

Click to read more ...