THAT’S WHY

I can’t tell you how much I relate to this cartoon. It confirms to me that I am not the only one that has found himself in this situation. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt.

I was a gear hound in my production days. I bought so many esoteric/vintage microphones, pre-amps, transformers, speakers, compressors, equalizers, monitoring systems, etc., it would make your head swim. It was my audio palette, and I used it ferociously. Racks and racks of gear were the aural foodstuff of my musical existence.

One time I might of pushed the boundaries a little too far. I heard a friend play a wonderful piano at a concert one night. I stuck around afterwards and put my fingers on the keys. It was a beautiful instrument, evenly tempered and sonically pleasing through every octave. It was a special artist series piano that was tweaked to the max.

When the Baldwin franchise here in Nashville went belly up, they remembered that I was interested in this particular piano, they called me and gave me an opportunity to purchase it…and I did just that. HOWEVER, I didn’t have enough in the “filch fund” that I used to buy equipment when Pam wouldn’t let me take any more money out of our checking account. (She knew about that fund too, and sometimes would say, “Why don’t you take it out of your “filch” fund?”) it was like she had eyes in the back of her head!!!

..I somehow finagled the purchase, but had to wait for a couple of months before it was more safe to tell Pam. They hoisted it up and into my 4th floor office/studio with a crane, because the elevator could not handle a 9-ft grand. When I finally did tell Pam, she said…”HAVE YOU LOST YOUR MIND!!!”

I told her that in fact I had lost my mind…but unfortunately, that wasn’t the kind of levity that was resonating with her just then, For her, it was like a joke without the humor.

Let me just say this to every young musician everywhere…If you wrong your wife, hide anything from your wife, misinform your wife, omit any facts from your wife….in any way whatsoever ….they have a special antenna…an alien-like antenna that reports to a “wife center” in their heads…After that, they get the IB (Intuition Bulletin) from their subconscious. What follows next is this. They don’t seem to talk much to you… there is little eye contact…but when they do look at you..they just stare at you in a real uncomfortable way. …This is the beginning of the end of any happiness you once knew.

Here’s the VERY BAD NEWS PART…You can’t possibly win or get back to how things were, no matter how you frame it, unless you fess up to it.And even that’s a long road back home too. Yah…and they have a myriad of ways to make your life miserable….and I’m not talking kinda miserable….I mean, REALLY REALLY MISERABLE.!!!! Why do they do this you ask me?. Because if you’ve forgotten…YOU DESERVE IT…THAT’S WHY!!!!! 😮

PEOPLE LIKE ME

There are seven hills in Rome, but I can’t pronounce them because they’re all like, well you know, in Italian….But I can pronounce the river that runs through it. The Tiber River. Pam and I had a wonderful time in Italy a couple years ago on a trip with my sister and her husband, Bob. We took a trip to Rome this weekend. It has seven hills, but this one has three rivers around and through it. Yep, it was Rome, Georgia. It is a beautiful city that has seven hills like Rome, Italy, but no Tiber River.

We were visiting dear friends, Amber and Charles Maxwell…and I spoke to the music students at Shorter University. We attended a lovely recital by five musical theater students and then I gave my presentation, which was followed by a Q and A session. I am grateful to Dr. Alan Wingard, Dean Emeritus of the School of Fine Arts and Performing Arts along with Dr. John McCluskey, the Chair of the Music Department for being so extremely welcoming. John is a very close family friend.

Afterwards, we drove around the city and toured the Seven (redneck) Hills of Rome. Later that afternoon, we visited their home place in the country, had a great time with extended family, ate some great hamburgers and finished it off with banana puddin’!! The next day we headed out to a beautiful rock garden behind a church near Calhoun, Georgia. Before we left for home on Sunday, we worshipped together, listened to Amber, her mother and father sing together, and heard a stirring message on gratefulness from Charles. 

Our love for Amber, Charles and their four boys were the genesis for traveling there. I first met Amber when she friended me on Facebook and later contacted me about some of her songs. I told her I’d be glad to help her, though I had never met her. I saw great promise in the songs she wrote and long story short, her husband, Charles and she came to Nashville to talk about songwriting. Later, they brought their four boys to Nashville as well. Pam and I were smitten with this family. They came to New York for the 25th Anniversary of Saviour performance at Carnegie Hall. Ambers first plane ride. SCARY!!!!

Charles is a bi-vocational pastor and works in the insurance business as well. He is ADHD and can fix anything. That’s just weird. Their boys include: Morgan, a bright, well-spoken college age student bound for medical school, Grant, a blossoming music producer/songwriter, Parker, who loves the way things are engineered (i.e., rockets) and classical music. The last is little Charlie. He’s five years old. Master Charlie is full of questions, sweet, loving and in perpetual motion. The common denominator of these boys is that they are extremely articulate, intelligent, respectful and a wellspring of theology.

Amber has homeschooled each one, maintains her home, serves in her church and still has time to write. Her background is singing traditional and southern gospel music with her mom and dad in the church. She is a fireball of energy and has a prolific output of songs. It is a joy to get to work with her. She has this background in one genre of music, but her heart and hands go to sounds that are more artful and elicit deep emotion. She’s had measured success in traditional music, but now finds the music she writes finding a home in mainstream denominational publishing, not southern gospel.

She’s met with a lot of rejection. Her husband, Charles, who’s one of the most impressive men I have met in a long time, also had his share of rejection as a young boy. As he detailed his growing up years, it was unbelievable to me what he’d faced. We talked about it. I shared with them about rejection in the music business.

When I first came to Nashville, a record executive told me to go straight back to North Dakota, because I did not belong in the music business, much less Nashville. I was told that one early record I did was the worst record that executive had ever heard. When people say things to you like this…it sends you reeling. Initially it makes you feel worthless and off balance. But you have to stop, take stock and learn from each set back. You weigh what is being said, adjust and move on…not backwards. I was sure of a couple things. I knew without a doubt that God had sent me out from His Kingdom, and He didn’t send me out to fail. I had been prepared since birth for what I was doing now. I would just dust my shoes off and keep going.

I told Amber that each publisher looked out the creative window differently…she just had to find the right window. It was important that she go back to the basics of writing a solid song. Even if you have spent long hours, days and months writing a song…it doesn’t mean that it will have wide acceptance. But at it’s worst; it will be solid and structurally sound. Sometimes a song will take years for others to come to it. Any songwriter will tell you they have experienced the same thing. We think everything we write is pretty darn good…but three days later we ask ourselves, “What in the wide world of sports was I thinking???”

I have learned something very special in these days. My life is not about music…the music only brings me to people and let’s me express my soul to people I may never meet, or people I meet along the way, people who give me a hand or I give them mine. Not fame, not money, not stature, not power…. People…..People like me.

NO ONE TIME DEAL

There is nothing that represents The musical essence of gospel music better than a B3 Hammond organ. The other night I had the opportunity to work with a few members from our church choir and two other black churches in Nashville. It was a milestone evening for me.

I get very emotional when I see the tension of race in the media. I feel kind of helpless and want to do my part in making a difference. The other night I got that chance. There was an invitation to Bob Farrell, Daniel Bondaczuk and me to premiere a song from a work that we are currently developing.

This song is one of a group of songs about coming together in the multi-cultural biblical unity we share as Christians. This includes tearing down walls of racial disposition, and most certainly includes the importance of not making judgments on others who do not share our beliefs, but to love one another and be light in a world that now finds itself in a tumultuous state.

After we rehearsed, Bob Farrell shot these segments as we worshipped together for about a half hour around the piano, bass, guitar and a beautifully honed B-3 delivered by my friend, the impresario of all things Hammond, Murph Wanca. It was all spontaneous, but everyone was on the same page. I live for moments like these. The Spirit of something like this can’t be rehearsed or replicated… I wanted it to last for days. It’s inexplicably infectious, but you have to be in the midst of it to fully appreciate the energy.

Keesha Rainey led the way and sang her heart out, Maestro Denzel Bester, Shane Cooper, Saiid Lewis and the B-3 stylings of Alton Gibson took us to as close to the throne room as we could get. Delando Smith brought his wonderful choir joining with the Simeon and Judson choirs. Blessings upon blessings!!! All I can tell you is this. Jesus was there.

One other thing. What you see and hear cannot be approximated or purchased at a store. These sounds come from deep deep waters. The music these musicians play and sing was first heard from their mother’s womb and growing up in the church. It is authentic, and comes about like slow cooked ribs. When these believers sing and play, they’re not thinking about notes, because it is as natural to them as drinking a glass of water. They sing with abandon of the faith that is in them. I do too.

As writers, we lay the foundation of the song, but these brothers and sisters bring the work into a cultural reality. They decorate the melody lines and stylize the feel…the soul…and the essence of gospel music. Apart from that, all we can really do is go to school, take notes and stand amazed at the beauty of culture.

Our humanness is life’s common denominator, to yearn for freedom, safety, acceptance and love. Culture is the world’s story expressing those feelings in music, art, dance, architecture, systems, customs and traditions. They are unique, and those differences are one of God’s most beautiful gifts to us.

(I speak for me, and me only in these next sentences. I know there are many people with varying views on religious or non-religious beliefs.)

Love at best can only be recommended. Hate only tempered. Whether by prescription or law, society struggles with both. My personal belief is that Jesus Christ gives me the ability to love, because in and of myself, I am incapable of the love He requires. When I listen to His voice, His love is at my disposal. When I don’t, ugliness raises its head. Faith is not just about living eternally, it is in part, about intentionally caring for the needs of the poor, orphans, widows… and seeking justice in the here and now as well. I believe in the constructs of the Bible. It is what has seen me through great difficulties in my life, and is the essence of the music I write.

I may be 71, but I keep looking for new friends, new opportunities, and my pursuit and participation in all of this endeavor is ongoing. This is no one-time deal.

COUNT ON IT

There is no more important man in my life then my son, Benjamin Gregory Nelson. He is the last of our family to carry the Nelson name. He has my first name as well. Names matter. They have tremendous meaning, and from the beginning of time they are the fingerprints of our life.

Ben is a leader, extremely bright, hard working and responsible. You can take his word to the bank. Meticulous in everything to which he sets his hand, he understands the balance of work and family. Intentional in the continuum of maintaining that difficult balance, Ben is lovingly supportive of his wife, Emily, and their daughter, Maya. He is also an amazing musician, well versed as a drummer (majored in percussion), bass and keyboard player. Ben played in the renowned indoor drum-line, Music City Mystique, that won the World Championship in two of the years he participated. He also drove his sister crazy when they were growing up….They’re still crazy about each other….a great feeling for any parent.

I particularly enjoy his agile humor, and secretly love all of the teasing he issues me. I learned a lot about his love of family in one particular incident. When my niece, Holly Nelson went missing in what turned out to be a tragic boating accident, Ben was in his first days of training for his company in Florida. They pursued him through a barrage of interviews and flew him to another city to determine if he was the right fit for them. He was, they hired him and his initial training was to follow immediately. This is exactly when he found out his cousin was missing.

He spoke to the company representative and told them the situation, but the training was imperative. He made a decision to look for Holly, even though it could cost him this wonderful opportunity of a newfound job. He came to Nashville and searched for her until she was found. The company kept him. They saw the same thing we do…His love and loyalty to family…. for that is precisely the qualities they want for their company.

Pam and I are proud of Ben for so many reasons. We pray that God would watch over both of our children and their families. The last thing I told Ben every night after praying for him as a young boy was,”You have my blessing, Benjamin.”

There are a lot of important things for Ben to know throughout his life, but I think this is possibly one of the most significant assurances I can give him. He will always have that from me… and he can count on it.

THE BEST WAY

She’s my only daughter. Sarah Nelson Mingle. I need no other. She is enough. She is complete. Sarah is as strong a person as she is kind, and has never given Pam and me one day of grief, and always the one you can count on. (Oh, and one more thing..two really. She talks with her hands and is truly, the fun kind of funny.)

There are no words in the English language or any other mode of communication that adequately describe the love and respect I have for Sarah, or the gratefulness to God I have for giving me this priceless gift. I have only to hold her hand at every opportunity, be a good listener, give her my warmest hugs and whisper my best attempts to tell her how much she means to me. Oh, and yes, I can do one more very important thing .

I can endeavor to be a man after God’s own heart, continue to listen to His voice and understand that as I live my life, I am not making choices that affect only myself, but decisions that will shape Sarah, her children, and their children. And finally, as I love others well, she will realize all the more how much she is loved….It’s the best way for her to feel the truth of these words, “I love you, Sarah Mae. ❤️

FOR NOW

It was 5:00 am, and our bedroom was just getting a glimpse of sunrise as I lay under my warm covers. I could make out Pam’s shadowy outline as she sat up on the edge of the bed, pausing briefly before she continued. As I watched her in those moments, I was so thankful for her and filled with loving thoughts. But just as quickly as those thoughts came to me, a sudden image of my sister, Sigrid, flashed in my mind, and my smile dissolved to tears.

I had just come back from Minnesota where I was helping care for my brother-in-law, Bob Johnson, who is in the final stages of ALS. He is an extraordinary man with a strong resolve in the midst of great health opposition. He is many things, a visionary, Emmy Award winner and a lover of people no matter their position in life…but most of all…a man of impeccable integrity.

Now he struggles to breathe. The combination of medications he takes is hard to regulate from day to day because his condition is continually deteriorating. The simplest of physical transactions are accomplished with great difficulty, and he sleeps a lot. He doesn’t have much of an appetite; there is understandable anxiety and confusion to some degree. He’s lost all ability to handle even his most personal needs and it is disconcerting to him. . His emotions are mercurial. He doesn’t want to linger, but fights to keep active and engaged. I say all of this to tell you that I have no idea what he is experiencing.

Bob is my age, seventy one and it seems to me that it’s too soon for something like this to happen…. After all, I’m the same age; I’m young aren’t I? He was just fine a few months ago…. and then this. It’s too abrupt, and it’s “not supposed to happen like this”, “this stuff happens to other people, not my family.”

Then the stark reality… I’m not in charge of arrangements. Death is as sure as life, and everyone gets their turn…I’ll get mine. People pray for those who are sick, and that’s important…praying against illness…but if God wants you; Honey…you’re goin’.

So what’s the big surprise? You know I never thought about dying when I was young….because I was going to live forever. As I grew older, and dying came to mind, I mused about how strong I’d be. I just didn’t want to hurt when I died…so I much preferred dying in my sleep or something easy like that. When I had cancer and the potential of a less convenient way to get my jet pack came in to view….my heart better understood the lyrics to an old hymn …”Whatever my lot thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

Bob has the family title of brother-in-law, but for my brother, Corliss and me…he is our brother. We worked in overlapping shifts for about ten days to help my sister and their two sons care for Bob. It’s a constantly evolving experience. You have this confluence of hospice workers, ministers, nurses, schedules, equipment, family and friends wanting to extend their love and concern with phone calls, emails, visits…and of course scheduling meals to be delivered. There’s an issue with the air conditioner and workman add to the contained bedlam, the cleaning lady is there to clean, and someone is always at the door. There are technicians to help with equipment for Bob, the switching of machines due to insurance protocols…and all this along with Bob’s great desire to plan the funeral. Oddly enough, that process invigorates him because planning is what he’s done his entire life. This silent storm is continual and there is no such thing as sleeping all night for Sigrid. After a few days you’re in a survival mode and it can be periodically overwhelming.

I have the treasure of Pam…but soon, for my sister, there will be no one to look after, no one to snuggle up to, to feel the warmth of their hands, their smile, there hugs, their presence, their kiss. There are years of knowing this life and the familiar patterns…but then suddenly…. no more. I can’t imagine it…For now, all I can do is pray and weep.

BEAUTIFUL WORDS

We were childhood friends, and did everything together. There were football games, swim team, school activities, dances, movies and getting into trouble. We majored in getting into trouble, it was a special skill set we developed at a doctoral level in our youth. Greg Larson was my buddy then, and he and his wife, Diane Larson are our buddies now. Pam and I had a beautiful time with them during their visit to Tennessee.

It was the first time in years we got to spend quality time together, getting to know about each other in more depth. As children and adolescents, you really only know each other on a “what you see is what you get“ basis, but for many, there were deeper, familial issues going on just below the surface. Some problems we knew about, but it was too personal to tell anyone.. .so we didn’t. And there was also disfunction we didn’t realize was going on until later in life. We shared some of those realities and difficulties we experienced growing up, as well as the joy and abundance with which we are now blessed. God and time heals.

These are two very bright and caring hearts. I learned so many interesting things from both of them. They are leaders in their respective areas and it is a rich experience to be in their company.

They came to church with us and spent time together in our home. The next day, Pam and Diane visited historic Franklin and the Carnton House, which of course included perusing the downtown shops (i.e. buying stuff). While Greg was in his final day of meetings at the Opryland hotel, Pam, Diane and I had brunch at the iconic Pancake Pantry and afterwards, toured the Capitol of Tennessee. Diane, a North Dakota state senator, got a picture with Tennessee secretary of state, Tre Hargett.

We picked up from where we left off in life….Didn’t skip a beat.

Debbie Smith wrote these lines to the music of her husband, Michael W. Smith for his recording entitled, “Friends”…

“friends are friends forever

If the Lord’s the Lord of them

And a friend will not say never

‘Cause the welcome will not end

Though it’s hard to let you go

In the Father’s hands we know

That a lifetime’s not too long

To live as friends.”

I know these words are true….they are beautiful words.