Growing up Catholic, I was doomed to start out too late and always being a step too slow. For as obsessed with death as the Catholic Church is, they sure don’t provide much in the way of coping tools for an impressionable angst-ridden lad during his weekday catechism class. Oh sure, they are great with the guilt and the perpetual promise of suffering for any moment of pleasure. But they are too busy cranking out rural route martyrs like they have an open purchase order and making life as miserable as possible, to offer any possible help to get through this thing called life.
I’ll take my own share of the blame for not getting better at it as an adult. I certainly had enough experience, but somehow getting through the grieving, understanding, accepting of death, was a skill I never developed. The vocabulary of therapy was foreign to me and the language was just so much speaking in tongues. I barely heard it, much less listened. I was only too willing to shortcut the process, getting through the sadness as quickly as possible and either burying it all, or just simply cutting and running and leaving it all behind. Forgetting was always my acceptance which was no acceptance at all. I am aware that perhaps that drug isn’t working anymore.
But there is hope. For all of my purposeful forgetting, there are three things I never forget, and music is one of them. Like the man says in “Sunken Treasure, “ Music is my savior, so maybe sharing a couple musical memories about some of the departed is a small step in the right direction. And although it’s gonna take some time this time, music is gonna see me through.
I met Joni my freshman year at the University of Minnesota. She was the librarian at Southeast Community Library right across the street from my dorm, Sanford Hall. With her appreciation of pop culture and absurdity, and a devoted love of books, we became friends immediately. She quickly figured out my nascent musical taste and started selecting albums for me to complement and develop my musical palate, tossing all kinds of works mainstream (Dylan, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell) and obscure (Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa) my way and insisting that I read Lester Bangs (who was this guy writing about music---and also, how in the world did I not become a music critic?). And of course, after I’d read each week’s Billboard, we’d discuss upcoming releases and take my lists of albums she should buy for her next batch of library purchases.
The one act she loved above all others was Paul Simon, either with or without Art. We both loved “Hearts and Bones” and talked about it for weeks as we first got to know each other. I loved it; she liked it, but was annoyed that Paul thought his listeners needed to be told the Sangre de Cristo Mountains were the Blood of Christ Mountains. For a melody so lovely and lyrics so heartfelt (other than that obvious (child) misstep, I still think she should have given Paul a pass. There was no quibbling about “Graceland.” She loved it to the moon, and I was easily upper stratosphere and cultural approbation aside. Joni was originally from Kansas, but she could have been a child of Tucson (she sure liked her Linda Rondstat). Give her the wings to fly through harmony and her passing won’t bother me no more.
I could write forever about Joni and how much she meant to that dorky music hound of a kid she befriended.
Tom was an avid biker. By avid biker, I mean complete and total madman biker and I gave him the wrong impression right away. I met him on the Sakatah Singing Hills Trail between Faribault and Mankato one early fall day while I was going to school at Mankato State. Now I was just riding this trail on a whim and had zero intention of going for more than a couple miles (preferably downhill) on my beat up bike with a slipping chain as far from Aerodynamik as mechanically possible. Along came this wheeled warrior gang. You know that feeling when you are feeling daring and stand really close to cars whizzing by on an overpass? That was this times 5. As they all zipped by me, I was pretty sure I started moved backwards, even though I was still pedaling my merry way along. As they zoomed down the bend in front of me (very Tour de France, btw), a guy to the front of the pack turned his head my way and gave me a wave before disappearing into a point on the curve. 30 or so minutes later, a little after I’d turned around and headed right back to where I started from, I hear the ominous buzz of a hundred thousand ferocious bees. I turned around and wouldn’t you know it, there was that pack of pros again. They gave me a little more leeway this time and once they’d all passed me, one of the guys pulled out and rode beside me. He introduced himself and we biked back to my car and chatted all the way; him asking me how many miles I biked a week and giving tips and advice on how to get my endurance and miles up. I never really had the heart correct him and just say that I hadn’t biked in years before that day and I would ache for a week once I got back to Mankato, promising myself I was done biking forever. But having passed out my phone number, Tom took full advantage and cajoled me into biking time after time and a really great friendship happened along the way that transcended biking. Tom was a big classical music fan and he had the (annoying, I thought at the time) habit of humming random classical music themes while we biked. Funny how my classical music knowledge came from warner brothers cartoons and Tom’s random humming while we were biking along. Also, I noticed that when I was invited to ride with the pack, Tom did not hum. Just sayin. He wasn’t particularly operatic but I still associate him most with Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries (probably because that was one of the tunes I was actually familiar with, but also because it suited biking and Tom always added orchestration).
Ride on, my friend, ride on.
Shawn’s uncle Mark was a great guy with an amazing encyclopedic mind with regard to cars, history and music. He shared my appreciation (mania) for boxed sets and regaled me with details of every little variation on every take of every song Duane Allman recorded, and I was enraptured. And I didn’t even care for the Allman brothers! You’d think he was just an album rockhead, caught up in the 60’s rock explosion, but I was also surprised at how diverse his musical tastes were and how he continued to find new music to listen to even in his last years (along with spending perhaps way too much on boxed sets that he already had in other forms). I was amazed to find all the recent indie rock in his record collection after he passed and kick myself for not loading him up with stuff from my collection (although I do have to say, he kind of disdained mixed tapes and pretty much ignored any burned cd of 60’s artists I ever gave him. If there was ever a record industries best friend, it was Mark. I know the beatles weren’t his most favorite band, and we never sat and listened to it together, but we sure talked about that first disc of the while album a bunch of times and Rocky Raccoon just has a western history feel that makes me think of Mark every time.
I’d like to order one large rare steak, Caesar salad (extra anchovies) with a super cold beer glass and a bottle of Duvel, please. And let’s listen to some music.
I didn’t really have music in common with Jeff. Although he was pretty amused by my shelves upon shelves of cds (I think I might have showed him only one of the secret racks too, but that raised eyebrow was enough to keep me from sharing more) music for him was just part of a fun time and it wasn’t at all what we bonded over.
Which is a little bit funny cos we were the same age and we shared pretty much the same frame of reference; growing up in small towns in the farmland in the 80’s, cue “Footlose” here. We both got the heck out of dodge (him being the BMOC with much fonder memories and lifetime connections) and set our sights on going somewhere (which isn’t really what we bonded over either), and he succeeded fantastically (and had no small part in mentoring me to whatever success I have these days). And I’m pretty sure his taste in those days ran to Journey and Styx and probably a little Genesis (and whatever weepy ballads a sweetheart tossed his way) more than the Peter Gabriels and Elvis Costellos and my beloved M’s of the day.
And even on those rare occasions when we talked contemporary music in the times and places we crossed paths, he was always more of a bar band, blues rock kind of guy. I never got the chance to ask, but I’m sure he would have been a big Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats kind of guy, so we’d have had that one.
One time when we were hanging out, I was teasing him about going to see Cowboy Mouth (at the Varsity, my formerly second favorite place in the whole world to see a show) and he was insisting that they were a lot better band that I gave them credit for being. I was not having it (and this was years after whatever brief heyday they ever had). He told me he was gonna take me to see them sometime and I kinda laughed it off. I dunno why I didn’t agree. I’ve seen plenty of other worse bands and it would have been a lot of fun kick back with him with a beer and a show. That’s not going to happen now, but I’ll be going on my own now, just to see if he was right.
I still can’t quite get my head around this one. He was a month younger than me. How’m I gonna sleep? I know it had been awhile and who knows when we’d have crossed paths again, but I was so sure we would. More fool me for leaving it to chance instead of trying to make it happen.
I just went on a trip north to Grand Marais for the weekend. I can’t say he wasn’t on my mind even during a pretty fun weekend. Before the trip, I filled up a memory stick with all sorts of random songs for our listening pleasure on the drive. Kinda rushed and willy nilly pulling from the magic hard drive and maybe not really paying attention to what I was putting on there, other than the blood orange album (which was only sorta meh, but I’m not sure where my head was at so, I’m not writing it off yet). When I got home, I rustled about for a half hour, and although I really needed a nap, I realized that the trip up north was just a diversion (albeit, a super fun diversion with a mountain hike and a moose sighting) and what I really needed to do was drive south and visit the cemetery where Jeff was buried.
I didn’t have the music playing for most of the way, but when I started getting close, I plugged the jump drive in. Probably mostly kinda sorta to distract me from whatever I might be thinking feeling remembering. Of all the bands that could come up, the waterboys came on first. A band I didn’t even recall putting on the memory stick and if you can imagine a perfectly beautiful summer evening, driving through the rolling farmhills of southern Minnesota, with a song from Fisherman’s Blues ringing out, I think you know what I was feeling. And then the very next song to come up was “Last Stop: This Town”. ”I’m gonna fly on down for the last stop to this town. What? I’m gonna fly on down then fly away.”
I had to pull off to the side of the road to settle a bit before I made my way to the cemetery.
So long, my friend. I miss you already.
I send you all my love, with a bang on the ear……