BEGINNINGS

It’s a contemplative feeling I have as I look at the trees outside. From my chair in the family room, I see the towering magnolia in our courtyard softly sway as the wind gently brushes through her branches….and I’m listening to the music of one very dear to me.

In my earliest days of the music business, I began working in a small recording studio with Bill Townsend in Bismarck, North Dakota. It was called Tri-Art Recording. We recorded jingles, custom albums and did remote recordings in the local area. At the same time, I had the high school orchestra as well as teaching music appreciation and theory.

One day my partner was contacted by a fellow from Aberdeen, South Dakota. He was a Catholic farm boy of Irish persuasion, who was an aspiring singer songwriter. His name was Phill McHugh. I worked on his first album, and in those days I had to wear a lot of hats. I played piano and bass, bringing high school students in to play drums as well as for string and brass sessions. It was crude but workable, and we managed.

Then on his second album, we recorded strings at Pinebrook studios in Alexandria, Indiana. It was my first professional orchestration. and as I conducted these real studio musicians, I was scared silly. That album, “Canvas For The Sun” was picked up for distribution on Lamb and Lion Records by Billy Ray Hearn in Canoga Park, California.

Phil is a phenomenal lyricist and songwriter. He moved to Nashville, and we worked for a time together. Over the years, we have not been in touch but for a few ever so brief meetings. I remember that season with him. I spend little time living in the past, but I do miss that maiden voyage, our primitive ways, the unspoiled excitement and unbridled passion we felt as we created together in those early dreaming years.

One of my favorite songs that Phill wrote was “I Am Stone”. I so enjoyed him singing that song back in the day. That day is gone now….but not from my heart. Those were the days of my beginnings.

I AM STONE

You’ll be water you’ll be fire

You will meet my souls desire

As with all creatures on your earth

Your love sustains my birth

Lord of Jacob, Lord of Paul,

Lord to me and of us all

I am stone please use your tool

To make my life a jewel

I find life and love and more

As I follow you my lord

Holy one of Israel

No human tongue could ever tell

The glories of your majesty

And yet you walk with me

A BEAUTIFUL RIDE

I had a pre-op appointment at St. Thomas Midtown today and was scheduled for early morning, so I decided to Uber downtown. My driver picked me up in front of my house, and we were on our way.

He was very quiet, I asked him a few questions, but he just nodded and smiled. As we continued, I asked him, What country?” He told me he was from Venezuela, had been in the country for just one year with his wife and his name was Jorge (George).

He turned to me and said, “I speak not so English.” He asked me if I liked music, and I told him I did. He turned his music up…it was “Radio Ga Ga” and he got this big smile. We talked of living in Franklin and how much nicer it was then as he said, crazy cities”like Miami and Orlando, where he lived briefly. He told me he was starting a new Mexican restaurant and I told him about an instrument called a

charango I bought up in the mountains of Argentina.

I told him that I spent three weeks in South America, in Quito, Ecuador, Salta, Argentina, Bogotá, Columbia and Caracas, Venezuela. I also informed him that the only phrase in Spanish I really knew well from that trip. was, “Donde esta el bano?”(Where is the bathroom?) He laughed out loud! I learned that phrase in Mrs. Francis Spanish class. I think she would’ve been proud of how much I remembered.

We talked of music, I spoke of my love for Antonio Carlos Jobim, He told me he liked Hawaiian ukulele music and proceeded to play me “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” by an Hawaiian artist.

As we were listening, he looked at me and said, “Good music, good people, good conversation, good trip” We smiled at each other. It was truly a beautiful moment.

When we got to the hospital, I thanked him. and shook his hand….as I gave him my hand…he pulled me over and gave me a big hug. I bid him “Vaya con dios” and he nodded, “Amén.”

It was church on a beautiful ride.

ABOUT LOST THINGS

Sometimes life is an oceanic blur.

Pam and my days are always in full tilt boogie. We love opening our home to friends and those who need a “lift up” in life.

Since Christmas it seems to have been non-stop. A week with Russian friends, then those from Belarus, 9 days with our Guatemalan painters, a few days with our very precious Minnesotan relatives and grandchildren sleepovers.

Just last week, we were supposed to babysit our littlest grandy In Winston-Salem, but Pam got a 101 temperature and we could not go. Around that same time, I had two unsuccessful epidural shots for a damaged vertebrae and Pam soon having surgery for her knee was bringing me to the brink.

So I’m watching the Oscars, and seeing one of my favorite singers, Bette Midler singing “The Place Where The Lost Things Go.” She sang beautifully, but she looked older to me and all of a sudden I felt older, tired….and kind of lost in the moment. That notion was a combination of medication, concern for Pam, the whirlwind of people and just a lotta stuff…..The feeling lingered in me.

It was just one of those tunnels in life that you pass through….and it is what it is.

I didn’t crawl out of that vortex on my own. It was realizing all of the vested relationships I had through the years that slowly lifted me out of the mire. As I slept in the chair next to Pam’s hospital bed last night, I rubbed her hand…my eyes burning…..comforted knowing there were people praying, people concerned, people caring and people in action for us…. reminded once again of that powerful antidote….Friends.

Pam and I are far beyond grateful to our friends, their posts and words of encouragement that help us make sense of those times when we get momentarily overwhelmed and lost. It is through these intersections that God moves…He knows about lost things.

FRIEND FINDERS

“Words have meaning. Lies have consequences.”

I’ve had to wrangle with the demon at times, no matter how how white or venial. ….To clear my head I had to spill the beans. It was awkward, humbling and painful. But when fear of what people will say rules in me, others will surely be lost in the shuffle…including myself. it’s a life raft, this honesty is. If gives my life back to me.

In “Empires Of My Mind,” Jacob Dylan sings his father’s metaphoric song about wrong and right. Here’s a couple snippets, but you should check out the entire lyric.

“There is trouble in my mind

There is dark

There is dark and there is light”

(Dylan goes on later in his address)

“There is no order

And there is chaos

And there is crime

There is no one to hold on tonite

In the empire of my mind”

We all know the drill. I’ve found in my feeble experience, that usually the strongest antagonistic voices don’t care anything about me in the first place. Moreover, I’ve found that colossal failures, mistakes and brokenness are wonderful “long haul” friend finders.

“ No legacy is so rich as honesty.“

(Shakespeare)

THE QUIET SIREN

No one goes unscathed in life.

There is a certain experiential brutality somewhere along the way. For some, there is no end to the arduous complexities of struggle. For others there are mercurial up and downs.We imagine some do escape, but if we really knew….no one does.

So what do we do? There’s plenty of, “well why don’t they just” to go around. We only have guesses at what people endure unless we walk with them. We can’t walk with everyone and we’re overwhelmed by the massive avalanche of need.

Everything we see and hear tells us that we should be comfortable, because we deserve it, and quite frankly, we just don’t want to deal with someone else’s drama. But we have a reckoning with that strong man in us. Are we doing enough ….are we doing too little? There’s a tension there, so to ease our stress, we ask convenience to draw up the statutes on how we handle our benevolence …it’s easier that way…and we engrave that on our resolve. Usually, prayer has little to do with it, and God gets pushed out of the mix. Our strictures are in place and we imagine God should be good with them…even without a consultation.

There’s a litany of explanations for non-action. I love this quote by Publilius Syrus, a Syrian slave who was educated by his Italian master..and then freed. He wrote…”Every vice has its excuse ready.”

When we allow ourselves to become numb to our quiet siren…that still small voice…I think we lose some depth of our soul. I am not saying we should walk around feeling guilty all day. There is much good being done in this world, and of course, we tend to align ourselves with those things as well. Even though we’ve had nothing to do with them, It just makes us feel so much better about ourselves.

Anne Frank said It gloriously. “No one becomes poor by giving.” Maybe we shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss what to us feels discomfited….a thoughtfulness I sense in this current cultural milieu, is far off ….adrift.

”Non nobis solum nati sumus”

(not for ourselves are we born)

THE TOUCHSTONE

I know I’m an emotional guy, but why was I so sad on hearing the news of the passing of Michel Legrand? I couldn’t stop the tears as I tried explaining my connection with him to Pam.

I first heard him at the Dakota Theater in Bismarck. I was watching The Thomas Crown Affair and was introduced to “The Windmills Of Your Mind” It seemed as it was written just for me. I watched little of the movie, but listened intently to his score. It touched me…deeply. His creativity spoke life into my understanding of prosody and word painting. His lyrics knew me…and each twist and turn of his beautifully angular melody breathed a tender poignancy.

I had an opportunity to meet Michel when I was working In Los Angeles. A musician friend who knew him well, told me he could arrange a meeting. Many times I’ve been approached by acquaintances, asking as a favor, to introduce them to an artist or musician of public significance. That’s a line I simply don’t cross. It’s an imposition and feels wooden, infelicitous. I wanted to meet him…but I decided against it, and it never happened.

I’m moved by many creative offerings, whether music, poetry, art or dance. But there are few “touchstone” moments. Mr. LeGrand was honored with three Oscars and wrote other important award winning songs and scores. I was 19…..This one won my heart.

LOVE THAT WON’T LET GO

I guess on your anniversary, you’re supposed to write something about how wonderful life has been with your partner in crime. Life truly has been a great adventure. It has not been without its difficulties, not without its challenges, not without it’s disappointments and not without its setbacks…but what good thing isn’t?

The day of our wedding, we made a meaningfully intentional decision that involved perseverance, teamwork and pushing through the mire of conflict. Love finds it’s way out of the bowels of contention, eased by mercy, forgiveness, surrender and coming to realize the unimaginable gift God has presented us.

Pam is my champion, confidante and a most highly venerated mother and grandmother. She is the Matriarch, revered by her children, a mentor to her grandchildren , and the cord that ties our families together. We all understand it, and are blessed in the settled peace she brings to us all. She is a friend to her friends, and continually vests herself by pouring encouragement into their lives.

Pam has a wisdom that has cost her a great deal. Conversely that same attribute has protected her and watched over her. She is well acquainted with suffering and is a balm to many who struggle.

This is a very special day to me….Not because of the number of years…but for the beauty of the one with whom I celebrate.

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.”

This is a love that won’t let go.