Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Banning Tragedy

Humans have the ability to see faces in clouds, but not clouds in faces.  Therefore, when I think of a planet or asteroid or moon orbiting through space, I can picture a space rock on a cell phone distracted, texting, grumbling about the solar weather, and suddenly, be jolted and smashed by another unexpected event, or, rock, hurtling through space.  

  I was just this planet (definitely in outer space this week!) going about my business of running my orbit, when BAM - an official-looking email:  "announcing the passing of a volunteer."

"Huh?  What?  Wait, I recognize that guy.

I know him.

Knew him."

Wobbling, reading, out of orbit now.  Between a gig and traffic as unforgiving as casual acquaintances debating politics on Facebook, I read the news.  He was gone at 24.  The email was kind and professional, and, as this is a real life thing, the following is my guess, not a fact.  I'm suspecting this distant friend might have accidentally overdosed.  

  When I was a kid, I thought bad people did drugs, and good people did not.  It's the low-resolution view of childhood that works for a bit, at least in the fact of keeping one away from potentially fatal situations, but as time goes by, this theory obviously must be replaced.  I was a sober member of a band of addicts when I was 18.  The music was OK, but the lessons were better. One of the guys had made it to sobriety, and the other two did not.  I've lost touch with them, and they could very well be dead, or will be soon, walking around like kind-hearted zombies, slave to chemistry, unable to break the atomic bonds that shackle them.  (And certainly not for lack of trying.)  

  And so, countless times a cloud of seriousness has passed over my face as I leaned forward, hunched over my guitar, talking with my teenage students about the guys in the band, with their good hearts and great chops and sticky ends of their own making.  My message:  keep your mind your own, and strive upward.  Study hard.  Make something of yourself.  

  I don't know about you, but when somebody dies, I want to do something.  Ban something.  Pass a law.  Start a program.  Talk to people.  Lift them up, toss them a life preserver, rescue them from a stormy sea that flickers behind their eyes when they say "I'm good - can't complain."  

  Immediately, I heard the boarding call for that familiar train of thought.  "Man, we need a program for young people to teach them to value themselves and build leadership and...."

  Suddenly, it came to a crashing halt.  That's exactly where I had met him.  At a leadership program. He wasn't a musician struggling through the lower strata of society, a creature of the haze of dive bars and missed opportunities.  Nope.  

  He was a 15 year old when I met him, and I was 27 or so,  a facilitator at his leadership program.  I took great glee in pounding on this dorm door each morning, "GET UP, PUNKS!  RISE AND SHINE!"  That was our strange male bonding, how guys say "Hey man, you're alright." (You can't do that if the guy isn't alright.) There's a picture of a group of us, all looking out of place in our business casual wear, trying to ignore the summer swelter.  We had sat for three days learning about leadership, character development, and how to make a positive impact on the world.  He returned, year after year, volunteering, growing up, starting to find himself, getting a spiffy haircut, ready to open doors that many people don't even know exist.  

  Then he went to Lollapoolza and died.  

  I went over to Twitter to see what was up.  All I saw were endless selfies and faceless crowds, breathless musicians promoting how cool they are.  And, I mean, sure, they are.  But what a contrast.  The neon colors hurt my eyes today.  

 Sitting in traffic last night, I had to open the window and breathe real.  He's gone.  That fact sat on me like the muggy soup that we call Air in DC.  

  I don't know what happened.  This is all a guess.  Maybe it was a freak accident.  But suddenly, in a flash, all of those protective thought processes of "how can we prevent this?" and "what program can I start?" were seared away, leaving the bones of the matter, and that is, Tragedy.  

  What do you do with that weight, that inescapable fact?  Sit with it, I guess?  You can bet your life that I'll be working harder than ever to lift people up, to show them and myself that we all matter (to borrow a brilliant phrase from my mom.) I think this guy knew that, though.  Sometimes, things happen.  And you can't ban Tragedy.  

  This certainly has altered my orbit.  I'm OK, but changed.  I barely knew him, but will certainly miss him.  He leaves me with much to think about.  

  The Moon has many scars from collisions, fiery cataclysms when something hit it so hard, molten rock was splattered across it's surface.  Some of these were so dramatic, we don't even need a telescope to see the remnants of these events.   And, it shines down on us, with the pockmarked face of a goofy teenager.  I don't know the answer.  But, with this light, I can keep looking.  

  Miss ya, buddy.  



Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Project Vignette

Hey folks!

  Well, it's time to start blogging again.  Have you ever had that feeling where you cared much more about other things, but one "insignificant" item kept raising it's hand from the back of the class?  You know how it goes - you try to answer it once, but then it has another question, leaning it's arm on it's other hand for support.  "I'm not going anywhere." 

  For me, that's writing.  As a musician, writing is a support for songwriting.  I keep sitting down to write songs, and these other things keep popping up.  Untamed, meandering as the grapevines on the fence by the road, and often completely goofy, these "vignettes" won't leave me alone.  So, here you go, stories.  Here's your home.  I hope you guys enjoy 'em.  I don't know where they're coming from, but boy are they insistent. 


Zoom, zip, twist.  He flits along, catching the morning sun with his buttery butterfly wings, as elusive as a settled feeling on a bad day.  He zooms around the corner of the house, doubtlessly alighting on a big block of letters people like to pose with, but instead of LOVE, it says “Where did the summer go?”  

Old Light

A shimmer and a dance, the wind holds out it’s hand, and the trees say “sure, I’d love to”, and off they go, nimbly across the floor, scattering sparkles of sunlight that strikes my drowsy eye.  Like a hot air balloon sneaking off towards where it yearns, silently casting off it’s ropes and floating skyward, so too my gaze drifts up into the distance, and my mind floats freely. It’s a sepia sky, gazing down on starched dresses and poses for the camera, hands firmly at sides, the Past blown in on a summer breeze.  You wonder what it was like, and if they could have known how it would turn out, and what they would have done differently. If I could, would I stroll beside myself enjoying a popsicle in the old neighborhood, or perhaps stop to help my grandma fix her ‘32 Chevy with the loose battery cable in 50’s Hartford? What would I say besides “you’re welcome, ma’am”?  With a start, I’m back. Who was that sitting beside me for coffee? There’s nobody there - just the ancient light from the sun, turning this sky Sepia.  

Tick Tock

Summer has it’s first gray hair.  It always happens, sooner, or, later in the case of today’s August morning.  I was once on a date, and this August day happened there, too. Suddenly, the watch on my wrist tapped my shoulder and said “hey buddy, all good things must come to an end, so let me cut in here.”  The cicadas sing like there’s tomorrow, but you know they’ll be winding down before too long. That hairline crack blows in on the breeze, ninety degrees today but start splitting wood. I obey the order, kachunk in the early morning, my t-shirt asking “are you sure about this, buddy?” as it wipes it’s brow.  It’s easy to write off the red leaves on the gum tree as drought-related as the forest gears up for a busy day, but if you listen close, you can hear it. Tick tock.