A Taste of My Old Life

From random blog photos

Let your voice ring back my memories

Sing my songs to me

– Jackson Browne

It’s a strange thing to suddenly be a student. My life is filled with writing papers and reading articles and books, other people’s schedules and agendas.

That’s very, very different from the last eighteen years of living very much on my own schedule. And though there were no shortage of deadlines in the old days, they were of a different nature.

The funny thing is that it all seems quite natural, and that I’m thoroughly enjoying it. The classes are tough and head-stretching, but that’s good news, not bad. I’m enjoying the reading and the writing and even enjoying the public transportation most of the time, though it takes much more time to get from place to place.

Still, I miss singing songs for people. I miss long road trips, believe it or not. I’ve never minded long drives. It’s a good opportunity for solitude, to muse and ponder and be still in motion; it’s a good balance to the intensely interactive and open time around and during concerts. Of course I’m happy to have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than I used to, but I can’t pretend I don’t miss long hours on the highway.

On a deeper level, I miss connecting with others’ hearts in that particular way and sometimes seeing a tear in someone’s eye; I miss the conversations after the show when I hear the stories that people need to tell that were stirred up by certain songs. And I especially miss staying up to ridiculous hours of the night (or morning) after shows are done, passing guitars around with other musicians (since musicians tend to hang out at places where music is played) and letting others’ songs flow through my own heart, as so often happens after a show. Sharing music isn’t just entertainment to me; it’s catharsis and healing, whether I’m on stage or in the audience. It’s how I sweep out my heart.

So when I got an invitation last weekend to come downtown to hear a folk show that a woman I know, Maree, had helped organize, I was excited to accept. It was being held at a Catholic church here in Brisbane that’s been in the news given their troubles with the Church over their ecumenicism and progressive politics, and I was interested to check it out.

Maree and her beau David picked us up, and we all got there quite early. As it turned out, the church service was still going on, so I got to join them, and it was nourishing to be there. Deanna, meanwhile, took Mason for a stroll, as he was tired and a little too fussy for church.
Then the service broke up and the concert began. Mason was having a hard time, and we reluctantly decided that Deanna would take him on home, but I stayed to hear the rest of the show, and one song in particular.

From random blog photos

Tommy Leonard singing at the concert

The concert was a fundraiser for mental health projects, and Maree had explained that she had been putting on similar shows for about five years, some in Melbourne and some in Brisbane, and that at each one she had performed my song Hold On. As she explained it, she had encountered the song years before at a time when she really needed it, and she claims that it literally saved her life.

So at the end of the night, as the first encore, four other musicians joined her on stage and they played a lovely version of my song while I sat in the audience and listened with a homeless African man named Immanuel who had wandered in and joined me. The song had just the right feel as well as the right notes, and all the more depth for his company. What an extraordinary thing to hear it in this foreign country, and to know that it had been sung here for years, on nights like this one, while I was far away and unaware.

And then the concert was over, Immanuel left and pockets of conversation formed briefly before people went their separate ways. One of the guys who had performed that night, Tommy Leonard, mentioned that a few of the musicians and their friends were going down the street to an art gallery a few blocks away. There was another musician who is also a painter and had an opening at the gallery, and they were going to go see if he was still there and up for a song.

So suddenly I found myself in a circle of songslingers with a couple of guitars being passed around, and bottle of wine on the table, a keyboard over to one side and laughter and music flowing freely. The lights on the paintings made things too bright, so they were exchanged for the ambient light of streetlights and stoplights through the requisite large gallery windows, open to the night air.

I played four or five songs over the course of the night, and listened to many more than that. Two Irishmen, two Brits several Aussies and me, the token Yank (I know, it sounds like I’m setting up a joke…), spoke poems and sang to each other and with each other until we made our way into the hours with just one digit instead of two.

It was good to be home among my tribe.

I’ve been writing a little, and playing some around the house, and I’m trading guitar lessons for babysitting with a doctoral student at the university, and I’m sure I’m not done playing music for people. Still, I think it’s good for me to take a break and give my full attention to the study. It certainly demands my full attention.

But it sure was good to have a long night of real music and all the nourishing time that surrounds it.

Now back to that paper on the moral significance of boundaries in the Realist and Cosmopolitan traditions of Political Science…

From random blog photos
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10 Comments on “A Taste of My Old Life”

  1. Cecil Jividen Says:

    Well, ole “songslinger”; so music is a catharsis for you. I have always said that music was the window to my very soul…all kinds of music. I guess good stuff can go in and out of the window. I also wonder at your study as mind work blowing your categories of thought, providing ingredients of spiritwork, the sifting process of which having a trickle-down effect of that which is really good. Par. To hear one’s song knowing it saved one’s life and gave hope to the homeless soul next to you, what a catharsis that must have been…icing on the cake being visual and then aural art shared among a few.Par. Hope Deana and Mason are enjoying moments of sacred sympatico (sp?)Good old Scott had it right: “Some feelings are to mortals given/With less of earth in them than heaven.”
    And for Mason to hear your voice, talking, singing, humming (do you snore?) all of that “not-on-the-road-part of your life is building a cauldron of trust in his life. Par. Thanks so much for your gracious bday greeting. I treasure you and it. Peace and Joy! Cecil

  2. Sandy Says:

    Great Work.
    Keep up the good Posts and I look forward to more of your work.
    Sandy Woo

  3. feistync Says:

    we miss you, too.

  4. Wow. What an experience that must have been! Thanks for sharing it.

  5. Eric Bannan Says:

    Hmm.. Trading songs till the wee hours.

    Still one of life’s greatest joys.

    BTW: It is really hard to read black letters on a blue background.


  6. Yin needs yang, the shifting of priorities doesn’t mean that something has to fall away. The blood runs through the veins and the arteries, a time and place for both.

    I was kinda wondering how long it’d take you to write that…

    Much love, Kenny

  7. Andrea W. Says:

    “It’s how I sweep out my heart.” Nice. Not exactly how I feel about music, but I get it, I think. For me it’s, hmm, maybe sort of like a good, warm wind blowing in and expanding my heart. Same thing, I think. One of those things, like God, that you just have to use inadequate metaphors to describe – all metaphors being just as valid as the others; and all falling similarly just a bit short.

    To change the tone completely, two of the posts that WordPress thinks might be related to this are: “What makes a Gay Song?” and “What’s Your Favorite Makeout Music?” Somehow I think those posts are not all that closely related to this one, although it is possible they are related to “moral significance of boundaries in the Realist and Cosmopolitan traditions of Political Science” since I really don’t know what that means.

    Much love to all y’all.

  8. Joyce Tianello Snodgrass Says:

    Great to read of your life again–I’ve sort of missed the blog because it is hard for me to find these things and remember to find them.

    Hold on has been a *very special* song for me too, and I’m pleased to see it traveling through the world. Your desire to not perform now makes it that much more important for me to try to really really DO so. Pray that I will manage to do so.

  9. Ben Foxworth Says:

    I have not forgotten that I owe you a blog response, but life has fully intervened. I am sure you understand. 🙂 (I do intend to write that to completion, but have not yet done so.)

    I am commenting here because I think and hope you understand that your ‘past’ vocation was itself dramatically and dynamically peaceful. You sowed seeds of peace in every note and lyric. As one who hopes to be fertile soil for those seeds, I wanted to be sure to tell you that. I have a number of David LaMotte cds, and I share them eagerly with receptive friends, or I’ll play a few songs for them on the iPod. There is no way to know where and how those seeds will find purchase, but I know without reservation that they do and will continue to.

    When you were here in Greenville once, my sister and I told you of one of our favorite quotations, from Jonathan Larson’s remarkable Broadway musical, RENT.

    The opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation.

    I never cease to be amazed at the wisdom of that remarkable lyric. I think one reason peace initiatives are sometimes less successful than we might wish is because peace isn’t the diametrical opposite of war, creation is.

    As a musician, as a song-writer, as a performer, you created. You inspired creativity in others (do you remember ‘Good Tar?‘ 😉 ). Creating is peace in evolution, peace made contagious, peace shared, peace active, peace at its most dynamic. I want you to do precisely what you think you should do with your life, today, tomorrow and always. But my private belief is that your appreciation for the peace work you have already done will grow as you learn and age and grow, yourself. You may find that you have travelled a very long way only to get back to yourself and one of the most creatively stimulating loves of your life. Music is a part of you, it is a part of me, it is a part of everyone we know, always will be, I hope. Engaging in it is not, in my opinion, a contradiction of the path you have embarked upon. I hope you know you are welcome to participate in it any time you wish, as much as you wish, as intensely as you wish. That’s free will.

    I remember your last concert here in Greenville, at Coffee Underground, with Ray Gunthner and Chip Radford, my friends. I sat with Kathy in the front row. You may not have seen my tears, but I cried and cried at the thought that I might be experiencing your brilliant creativity and pacifism active in person for the last time in this lifetime. Please forgive me for holding out hope that it might not be so.

    Bless you and your fine family in these last days before Memorial Day, and please feel the seeds you have left in others happily growing and glowing and spreading.

  10. liz frencham Says:

    Be careful who you sing your songs too- they may just keep spreading them further afield & you never know when you’ll meet them again on their journey through peoples hearts!

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