Tom Petty

So I’ve come to the conclusion, based on almost two weeks’ worth of introspection and careful consideration, and…I’ve decided that – during the course of my lifetime, anyway, that there have been three deaths within the realm of rock and roll that, within my world, could be considered seismic in nature.

Ronnie Van Zant, Jerry Garcia, and…Tom Petty.

Certainly, there have been deaths that affected me more deeply on an emotional level (Dan Fogelberg, T-Bone Wolk, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Gregg Allman, Michael Hedges), and there have been people who’ve passed that would be considered more influential (John Lennon, Bowie, George Harrison, Prince, Kurt Cobain), but – from the perspective offered from my own view of the world, these three mark significant, distinct turning points.

Ronnie Van Zant and the infamous Skynyrd Plane Crash happened when I was twelve years old and literally just discovering rock and roll from my perch in rural western Tennessee, and their importance within my peer group couldn’t possibly be overstated. Southern Rock was at its zenith at the time – I hadn’t been around for Duane and Berry…or Hendrix, Joplin and Morrison, even…and The Day The Music Died happened years before I was born – so the first death within this new world I was just discovering was the grim and grisly events of October 20th, 1977…now almost exactly forty years ago.

It was surreal for a 12 year old kid to hear music coming out of the radio played and sung by folks who’d shuffled off this mortal coil. I’d experienced Elvis’ passing, but – no disrespect – his music didn’t speak to me at all. Elvis’ music didn’t belong to me, it belonged to “old people”. I didn’t have the respect for history then that I have now, clearly. In retrospect, it’s odd to think that Elvis passed away barely more than 60 days before the Crash, but the two events affected me completely differently.

The Skynyrd Crash was a perpetual subject of discussion among all the kids I knew who were remotely into music…and even the ones who weren’t. And it’s interesting to realize now, all these years later, that my first memories of the music that I was discovering, the specific stuff that I related to was already inextricably married to tragedy. It’s a thread that’s run through almost everything that I’ve been musically attracted to ever since, somehow. If there’s a self-destructive tortured artist involved somewhere in the mix, I’m sold. Gram Parsons, Chris Bell, Ted Hawkins – I’m all in. But with Ronnie, his songs and voice were literally everywhere. And, as has been thoroughly chronicled in the time since in print and documentary alike (the BBC alone has done Song of the South and Sweet Home Alabama: The Southern Rock Saga to cover the subject), the Skynyrd Crash was the bellwether that foretold the end of the dominance of Southern Rock as a microcosm of rock and roll in general. Obviously, I had no way of knowing it at the time, but in retrospect, the turning of the tide is undeniable. The shift was bigger than just the music, through…times were changing all around us, and music was just a means by which to measure the direction. But by the time the wave had crested and broken on the shore, I had ventured well past the Point of No Return. I was coming home from school and plopping down behind the drums and playing until my mom told me that everyone else was going to bed and I had to cut it out. I was gone, and there was no coming back for me…and the footprint left on my impressionable palette by Ronnie Van Zant, Steve Gaines and the lost Skynyrd brothers was permanent.

Time went by, my focus drifted from the drums to the desire to write songs…I saw Dan Fogelberg at the Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis in 1983 shortly before leaving my hometown to join the military, and – it wasn’t that I lost interest in playing drums as much as I felt like there was an entire world that had opened up to me, and I intended to learn to play guitar and learn to write songs. The future, as it’s said, was wide open.

Rock and Roll was my identity. In a lot of ways, it still is. I learned to play guitar. I became a pretty decent singer. I learned how to record myself. I made demos of my amateur songs and taught myself how to sing harmony by singing along to those homemade Portastudio recordings. Music was all I thought about. Sure, I had a job, I had shit that I had to take care of, bills to pay, groceries to buy – but any sense of purpose I had at all was related to my identity as a musician.

My first wife was a self-professed “deadhead” – and I’d heard the Grateful Dead in fits and starts prior to meeting her, but it was one of thousands of blips on a huge radar screen, and my attention was focused on what I thought were bigger, more important dots around the radius. But she hipped me to the fact that the Grateful Dead Experience wasn’t just about buying the records and listening to the music, it was much, much bigger than that – and that, in fact, “The Dead” didn’t really give a shit about making records. Making records was, to them, an afterthought…and their tours and live performances were not only their bread and butter, but the lifeblood to an entire counterculture that found its way into their orbit as the Sixties became the Seventies and the tectonic plates shifted beneath our collective feet.

Still, my path went in another direction and it didn’t really intersect – at the time – with what the Grateful Dead were about. It took some years of absorbing their music and a gradual understanding of their work ethic for it to sink in. To this day, I’m still more a fan of their songs than I am the extended, improvisational jams that were their trademark…I’ll listen to American Beauty and Workingmans’ Dead all day long before I’ll put on a tape of a show from 1971 with an extended “drums and space” segment. I’m a song guy. That’s just where my head’s at.

In August of 1995, I was playing a lunchtime show on an outdoor stage in Hershey, PA – and a buddy of mine tended bar during the day at a club in town that I played at on a regular basis, so I went over to pop in and visit before I turned around to head home. When I walked in, everybody in the room was morose and Brokedown Palace was playing on the jukebox. I sat down and ordered a Rolling Rock and opened a volley of small talk. “Yeah, kind of a bummer of a day,” he volunteered.

“Garcia died today.”

I sat there, silent, for a minute…he filled in the details, but I don’t know that I really heard him. I don’t think I stayed for more than another five or ten minutes before I got in the truck to drive home…I was as much stunned as I was saddened by his passing – it very much felt like the final nail in the coffin of an era that – without Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead, couldn’t possibly forestall its demise any longer. Sure, the sixties, hippie culture – it had been over for fifteen years by then, but you could still go to a Dead show and forget, even for a few hours, about Ronald Reagan and the collective sellout of the Hippie Ideal. Jerry was a musical and visual representation of something that, I came to learn later, he quietly resented – he never set out to carry the burden of being the Shepherd of the Anti-Flock…and all he ever wanted to do, from the beginning, was to Play In The Band.
I’m not sure which demons eventually consumed him, but he was gone.

I drove home and grabbed a blank VHS tape and popped it into the VCR and spent the rest of the night watching and recording news reports of Jerry’s passing. I called off sick at work for the next two days…I was both saddened beyond belief and – honestly, very much surprised by how affected I was by his passing. For years afterward, I would mark the anniversary of his passing by watching that tape with a six pack of Rolling Rock.

I’ve come to learn a lot more about the clouds that surrounded the band in the final days, and I’ve also come to appreciate the improvisational nature of the band to an extent, as well – but I still feel a deep sadness that I didn’t appreciate Jerry and his contributions while he was here as much as I do now. And I’ve had opportunities to dip my toes into the DeadHead waters as a musician and a bystander to what still exists of Deadhead Nation, and I’ll be eternally grateful for his spirit for the rest of my days.

In the years since, there have been legions of talented musicians, writers, and “rock stars” who’ve left us…and again, this isn’t to catalog our fallen brethren by net worth or cultural relevance or any other means of measurement other than their significance as signposts in my life. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Time passed.

I matured as a musician, I wrote songs, I recorded my own songs, I played my own songs for other people, and…I eventually found a path I was comfortable travelling that was much more centered on being a sideman and contributing to other peoples’ visions than trying to force my own works on people. I put tens of thousands of miles behind me, played hundreds of hours’ worth of shows….changed a LOT of strings, played a lot of sessions, made a LOT of friends, had a lot of experiences I’ll never forget, and I’ll be thankful for the road I’ve taken until the day I draw my last breath.

It really has been a Wonderful Life.

So I suppose it’s fitting in a sense that, at this point in my life – as I’m reaching the twilight of my own musical career and looking down the road to a point that I can begin to identify as The End Of The Road that we would lose someone like Tom Petty.

Goddamnit.

For me, there was literally never a point in my musical life that Tom Petty wasn’t a part of.

My mother got me a clock radio for Christmas in 1977, and that bullshit little $15 radio became my tether to the world that existed outside my ridiculously limited view. The following summer, the movie FM came out, with Breakdown on the soundtrack and an actual appearance by the band in the movie, so – as far as I was concerned, they were part of the echelon. They weren’t one of those bands that I stumbled upon later that I got the privilege of going back and rediscovering their back catalog after they’d already done a handful of records….they were there from the outset, and they just NEVER. FUCKING. WENT. AWAY.

I need to admit a couple of things, though.

They were never my favorite band. I never put them at the top of my personal musical food chain, and – truth be told, there were periods of his career that I wasn’t particularly fond of.

But then again, I’d be willing to bet there are fans of Neil Young and Bob Dylan who would admit the same thing if they were willing to be completely honest.

I didn’t care much for the Jeff Lynne method of making records where it applied to Tom’s music…I had become too much of a fan of the records they made in a largely live setting, and the Jeff Lynne process just didn’t resonate with me. Obviously, I’m in the minority there, as they were some of his most successful recordings, but – as I’ve said multiple times, your mileage may vary.

For me, the Holy Trinity of Tom Petty albums are:

Damn the Torpedoes
Hard Promises
Long After Dark

As with Bob Seger, he had the good fortune of having a three album run that – for me – really perfectly represented his artistic identity. For Seger, it was Night Moves, Stranger in Town, and Against the Wind…for Petty (again, in my opinion), it was those three records.

I know Tom wasn’t fond of Long After Dark – I think it was made with waning interest from Jimmy Iovine, and there were a lot of distractions that didn’t fuel the creative process, but – man, it’s a fucking great record. The singles were phenomenal, and the album tracks that most folks aren’t familiar with could easily be cornerstone material for a lesser band – Deliver Me, I’m Finding Out, Straight Into Darkness…seriously, those songs are just plain unbelievable, and I wish the record had been successful enough that more people heard those songs.

As I fell deeper and deeper under the spell of the electric guitar, Mike Campbell became one of the faces on my personal Mount Olympus, and those records were textbooks.

And as I started to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, they were a huge dot on the map for me…and, thankfully, towards the end, they rediscovered the mojo (pardon the pun) that they seemed to have lost for a moment there, when they were making records instrument by instrument for those years between Long After Dark and Highway Companion.

Too often, when we’ve lost important, influential artists, we look at their work in a typical creative curve with low points at the front and back and an apex in the middle…but I feel like they were really doing some of their best work on Highway Companion and Mojo…and their live shows over the past decade have been Springsteenesque tours through not only their own discography, but through the history of rock and roll in general.

To me, that’s one of the biggest tragedies of Tom’s passing.

I feel as though we’ve lost a thread that connected us all to the very seeds of rock and roll. Tom still had the fire, right up until the very end. Tom came from The South, just as Ronnie Van Zant had – he had that particular soulfulness that seems to emanate from this particular plot of land down here in the Southeastern quadrant of the US…and he carried that spark with him, in varying degrees, right to the bitter fucking end. It’s to his credit that he went out with all his sensibilities intact. Maybe he couldn’t hit the high notes of Refugee or Here Comes My Girl anymore, but he still played like he fucking meant it, and he still brought it, ALL of it, every night, right up through the last show of their 40th Anniversary Tour at the Hollywood Bowl, just a week before he died.

Now, that tether that tied us to the genesis of rock and roll is gone.

And maybe to much of the world – the world that’s enamored with Real Housewives, Bullshit YouTube channels, and InstaCelebrities like Nicki Minaj and the like – maybe they won’t notice so much. They’ll hear some fuckskillet like Jason Aldean when he turns up on SNL and do one of Tom’s chestnuts and that’ll be the extent of what they know about any of this. They didn’t live through it, it didn’t comprise any of the rings inside the tree for them…they know his name, they know the video with the top hat or the video with Johnny Depp or the video with Kim Basinger and that’s about the extent of what they know or can relate to.

I find myself often thinking about Johnny Carson in the days since Tom died, and how he was just Always There. No matter what else might be going on in the world at large, you could turn on the TV after the evening news and Johnny and Ed would put a smile on your face. Likewise, where TP was concerned…it could be said that some albums were better than others, he had peaks and valleys…but you always knew that he had another great record in him. Or that if you went to a show, you were going to leave with a smile on your face and a memory that no one could take from you.

We’re riding out the waning moments of 2017, and there are quite a few folks still walking among us that, frankly, I’d have expected to have preceded Tom Petty. And there are still others who I can’t really allow myself to consider the thought of losing at the moment.

Springsteen. McCartney. Dylan. Any of the CSN principles. James Taylor.

And God help me when either Jackson or David Lindley passes. It ain’t gonna be fuckin’ pretty in my neighborhood, folks.

I remember an Idlewheel show from 2010 or so in New Jersey….we were sitting at dinner between soundcheck and showtime, and Craig said something about the notion that, at some point in the not too distant future, we were gonna hit a slick in the road and all our heroes and musical icons were gonna start dropping like flies. I still think about that conversation all the time…as if I’d know when we’d arrived at that point. But I think I’ve come to realize that it’s not an impending landslide, it’s a constant, undulating erosion of the landscape. And it’s getting harder and harder to maintain a foothold.

But I’ll try to remain grateful for the fact that I got to walk the earth before so much of the musical topsoil washed away.

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a look around the neighborhood

”money trickles up. give it to the poor fellow and the rich fellow will have it in his pocket by nightfall – but at least it will have passed through the poor fellow’s hands.”

-Will Rogers

There’s something you need to understand before reading much further, and that is simply this: I have the absolute best landlord in East Nashville. Hands down, easily several laps around the track from pretty much any landlord I’ve ever had – my rear view mirror is essentially a collection of long-distance, absentees who only really wanted a check in their mailbox every month and couldn’t be bothered to hear about much else…with the odd property management company and overly nosy micromanager sprinkled in here and there.

My current guy is the SHIT.

But – having put the miles on my odometer that I have, and becoming intimately familiar with the impermanence of these little snapshots of life that – once you’ve learned to recognize them – you can actually catch yourself looking around you from time to time and thinking to yourself, “I need to soak this in and remember as much of it as I can, as best as I can, because I’m gonna want to smile about this a few years down the line, and I don’t wanna forget the details.”

I think I’ve known for a long time that this whole Nashville adventure was a vacation stop, a layover on a longer trip…but I’ve actually enjoyed a lot about my time here in my current circumstances – with my son hunkered down in the basement apartment and my daughter less than a mile down the road. Even though I don’t see either of them as much as you might think I would under the circumstances, just knowing they’re within arms’ reach has been a source of comfort.

My landlord has an easy smile, he doesn’t sweat the small shit, he’s a great hang, and he’s extended me an extra day or two on the two occasions when I’ve needed it with barely a shrug.

Now, though, Nashville – in the midst of a sweaty fervor to destroy everything that brought people into its tax base in the first place – has rewarded folks like my landlord with a record property tax increase. A Google search of the phrase “Nashville Property Tax Increase 2017” will induce what’s become a familiar blend of rage and cynicism – alongside stories from April reporting “an average increase of 37 percent”, there are stories from January with headlines reading “Barry: No Property Tax Increase in 2017” (quite Trumpian, in retrospect…although I’m actually quite fond of our mayor and understand enough about how these processes work to know that it’s not the work of a lone assassin at the top of the political food chain. Still, best not to talk shit about things you don’t have control over.)

In talking to my landlord today, he pointed out that there are pitchforks on both ends of the handle of this club…because he’s getting calls from his insurance company now, saying that “gee, man…your property is actually worth THIS much? you’re underinsured…so we’re gonna need to raise your rates to get you up to where you need to be.”

He was incredibly gracious, and I could tell he was uncomfortable even having the conversation. “Hey, listen, man…I knew this day was coming as soon as I heard about this. I know the rent’s gotta go up. If you need to take some time to come up with a number, that’s fine, but I’ll try to be ok with whatever you come up with.” In the end, we actually came up with a number on the spot, and it was less than I expected it to be, frankly…but it feels like a sign of things to come.

I’ve perhaps been avoiding the subject internally, or fooling myself about it, or maybe just ignoring it altogether…

…but this is not sustainable in the long term.

I don’t know if it ever really was.

I’m waving goodbye to friends like Paul Griffith, who’s moving to the west coast, and will probably be gone by the time I get back to Nashville from a week of gigs and sessions in Philadelphia. I’m saying goodbye to places I’d fallen in love with – Charlie Bob’s, the perfect marriage of roadside diner and beer joint, a 5 minute drive from my house…Savarino’s, the closest thing to passable Italian food I’d encountered since I got here.

There’s still a lot to love about Nashville. It took me a minute to figure that out, but it’s not dead yet. My kids love it here, and that makes me happy. Having them close by makes me happy. The burgers at the Family Wash make me happy. Brown’s Diner makes me happy. Bumping into Phil Kaufman around town makes me happy. Carter Vintage and Fanny’s and Eastside Music Supply makes me happy. Dino’s makes me happy.

There’s a lot of good left around here.

But it’s definitely time to start thinking about what lies further down the road.

the past as prologue

Hello Blogness, my old friend…I’ve come to rant with you again…

It’s been a minute, ain’t it?

This thing is long in the tooth, to be certain.  It was here before social media, it’s been quietly preserving the posts left here during the reign of social media, and – at this point, I think it may be time to revert back to leaving certain things here, just because…well, just because.

Mainly because there’s just too much shit to keep up with these days…and this seems like a good place to start cataloging the insanity.

Grab something sturdy…

 

Two Years…and counting.

Two years ago today, I woke up at Rob Snyder’s house in Nashville with four other people in tow and a 26 foot U-Haul truck with a 12 foot trailer parked along the curb, having driven the entire previous day to get here from Philadelphia.

The trip got off to an ominous start when I managed to bottom out the trailer hitch on the truck by burrowing it into the asphalt at the bottom of a hill before I’d even gotten onto the interstate – and had to have a neighbor with a forklift actually raise the trailer off the hitch until I could get the truck turned onto the street – then actually drop the tongue of the trailer back onto the ball with the forklift. Which in and of itself was miraculous enough…but it’s easy to miss the Big Miracle in this scenario, which is: WHO THE HELL HAS A FORKLIFT IN THEIR SHED WHEN SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS?

There were already some stressors built into this exodus – I’d gotten a job offer before returning to Philadelphia from my initial trip to town, only to have it rescinded because I wasn’t available to start when they wanted me to. At that point, though, we were committed to our exit strategy, and there was no turning back. We’d given our notice, the lease had been signed for the Nashville house, and this was happening…job or no job.

So I arrived in Nashville on this day, two years ago, with my ex-wife, a five year old and twenty-two year old son, and Ramon – Dylan’s friend who came along for the ride. No concrete job offer, a limited amount of cash on hand, and a house full of folks to feed.

This time two years ago, we were unpacking the truck when Wendy got word of Robin Williams’ death by his own hand…and sure, I didn’t know him personally, and there was so much going on that there was no time to dwell on it…but it cast a shadow over the day, and quite a few of the days to come. There was news from home that I won’t discuss here that weighed much heavier than this, as well.

That night, my friend Andrea Zonn – fresh off the road from a summer tour with James Taylor – stopped over with her son, Leonard, as well as pizza and a modest grocery run. We actually managed to sit down and exhale for a moment and enjoy each others’ company amidst the stress of trying to unload a ridiculous amount of crap off the trucks that it seemed like we’d just finished loading a few hours before. (I’d hired some additional muscle off Craigslist, but they ended up bailing on me before the truck was half unloaded. Lazy bastards.)

The next day, after gallons of sweat and a personal mini-meltdown while unloading the last of the stuff off the truck, we finally emptied it out and drove it to the U-Haul yard on Wedgewood Avenue and began to deconstruct the piles of boxes into some semblance of order…

…it was a job that we never finished.

Wendy didn’t last out the year.

Simply put, it was too much. Too little to go around, too much responsibility on one person to underwrite the whole operation, too many places for too many people to be with too few wheels to get everyone there, too little support and too much blame and resentment, and too many things gone wrong over such a short period of time for anyone to sustain anything resembling a normal existence.

It should’ve been the best year of my life…with three children ranging in ages from 24 to 5, the likelihood of all of them living under the same roof is almost nonexistent, but I had all my kids in the house with me at the same time. But instead of making the most of that, it felt like everyone was up each others’ asses on a perpetual basis, and everyone did their best to hide from one another by whatever means available. In retrospect, I don’t think it had to feel that way, and I think the jury is still out on how much of the blame for that lies at my door – but I do know that I didn’t do nearly as much as I could have to try to counter it. So on that front alone, I blew an opportunity that I know I’ll never have again.

I could say that I slept through the whole thing and that wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration.

That Memorial Day weekend, Wendy and Danny left to return to Maine…and barely a week or so later, Jayda and John (who’d moved south not long after we arrived and took up residence in the front bedroom) moved into their own place just up Gallatin Road from where we were.

To catalog everything that went wrong during the first year here is probably impossible at this point, because I’ve probably forgotten more than I remember. But – as with so much in life, it becomes less important as it fades into the rear view mirror.

Ramon returned to Pennsylvania not long after everything blew up on Cardinal Avenue, and Dylan and I ended up moving into a new, smaller, cheaper place tucked away behind Shelby Park near the river. I had started a new job in February, and decided to accept an offer to move to second shift a few months later, and have been “the night guy” ever since. It’s crippled any musical aspirations I might’ve harbored in moving here, but – and maybe this is a subject for another conversation – that hasn’t really bothered me as much as it feels like it should.

In the meantime, I’ve lost myself in movies and adult beverages and long bike rides and walks on the greenway outside my office window and sleeping until whenever I damn well please. I’ve amassed a burdgeoning collection of vintage TV shows that I may never watch, but time will tell. I’ve been rooting through all the stuff that I’ve moved countless times but never read or listened to or watched or worn – and have been reducing my footprint in the interest of being able to pull up stakes and relocate at some point down the road, when the time comes.

Because of my work schedule, I’ve found it very easy to make excuses not to leave the house unless it’s for work, the gym, or basic necessities like the supermarket. The few times I have accepted invitations to shows or something similarly musical, I’ve tried to navigate the outskirts and avoid feeling like a total fraud for being there in the first place. I feel almost zero connection with the musical community here, and that’s one hundred percent my own doing. I haven’t been the least bit proactive in forming any relationships or playing around town, and – again, that should bother me more than it does, but it doesn’t seem to.

I’ve become content to make my Nashville World as small as possible, to simply exist here rather than to actually live here. Considering that most of my motivation to move here in the first place was to try to cut my overhead and maximize my earning potential, the notion of remaining musically active was a secondary concern to begin with…Nashville became a possibility more because there were friends here than because of some vague notion of playing guitar for some douchebag with a chain wallet, which never appealed to me in the first place.

Everything I’ve used as an excuse NOT to move to Nashville in musical circles for the past twenty-plus years is absolutely true. It was then, and it still is now. But I’m not bitter about any of that – my eyes were open coming into all this. I’ve made as much money in one trip to Philadelphia for gigs and sessions as I could make in a year of playing one-off gigs or shifts on Lower Broadway, and that never once came as a shock to me.

So the second year of The Nashville Experiment found me settling into a loose routine of living an almost exclusively solitary existence here – Dylan lives with me, but he works during the day while I work at night, and he spends most of his weekend time with his awesome girlfriend Carley…so our paths only really cross if it’s planned in advance. Jayda and John are moving into a new house with their pal “Stove” (Michael Stovall) at the end of this month, where we’ll all share a landlord. John’s mother fell ill some time ago, and he’s been back home for a while…and in the time since, Jayda and I have taken to weekly meetups to do laundry and run errands during the day. I hate that it’s happened under the circumstances that brought it on, but I’ll forever be thankful for the gift of time that it’s given the two of us.

There’s a new chapter beginning as Year Three kicks off.

Wendy and Danny returned to Nashville for Christmas last year, and we had a wonderful visit – full of promise for us as a family, but a subsequent visit on neutral territory (back in Philadelphia) in April wasn’t quite so full of promise, and found us returning to familiar territory that cast the final shadows on any notion of a future for us as a couple. We’ve been navigating the aftermath of that in the time since – the difficulty of which is compounded when the notion of having a conversation about anything heavier than how weird it is to see Cole Hamels in a Texas Rangers uniform is completely off the table.

Still, while the writing on the wall may have been in washable ink sixteen months ago, it’s dried into the paint at this point…and there’s no washing it away.

Mourning the loss of a relationship comes in waves – and I feel as though the largest of them washed over me a summer ago, but nurturing the notion of possibility has been something akin to emotional waterboarding, I think. Coming to terms with the finality of it, and negotiating the harrowing task of Parenting Via FaceTime isn’t going to come and go in one tide, I don’t believe.

Meeting someone new – someone who offers a wealth of promise – has been an interesting cocktail of emotions, in that there’s excitement and infatuation and a fresh breath of optimism washing over me in waves that alternate with rushes of regret and guilt, mostly swirling around accepting the finality of the fact that there isn’t going to come a day when Danny and I will sleep under the same roof again. I’m not sure that I ever fully believed that to be a possibility in the time since watching them pull out of the driveway of that cursed house we shared, but there’s still a significant difference in thinking of something as vaguely possible and accepting that it really isn’t…and maybe never was.

So I find myself on a bit of an emotional seesaw, in that respect – being swallowed up just by looking into the eyes of this woman I’m welcoming into my life now, and tripping over little reminders of what I’ve said goodbye to at various points on my path.

I’ve walked this path before – but I stayed as close by Jayda and Dylan as I could, in order to continue to see them, to be as much a part of their lives as they’d allow. We had two nights a week and every other weekend, we had “mallwork” (where we’d go to the food court at the mall and do our homework over pizza or burgers or whatever), we had road trips to nowhere in particular, we had fun and we had rough patches, but we had relationships.

Danny and I have…FaceTime.

I’m going to have to wrap my head around that gradually, because I don’t really know how I’m going to navigate this moving forward…but I’ll figure it out.

The sun is going down on the Cumberland river, right outside my office window…the building has mostly emptied out, and the typical quiet has settled in.

Tomorrow will be Day One of Year Three – full of promise, with a taste of nostalgia sprinkled here and there…and while regret or guilt isn’t on the list of ingredients, every once in a while I’ll be able to taste it in there somewhere.

Will there be a Year Four?

I feel completely ill-equipped to think that far ahead right now…but that notion doesn’t repulse me the way it might have this time last year.

There’s a Light Beyond These Woods…

Back at my desk after spending literally 26 of the 60 hours between the end of my worknight on Friday and the beginning of the day behind the wheel of the car…so I’m feeling as though today, I wanna break with my usual barrage of nostalgia and quirky, ironic photos to actually use social media for the purpose it was always intended:

To share intimate, borderline awkward and uncomfortable information and observations about people around you in a potentially unsettling manner.

Or, as we used to call it before the Internet – observing life.

In fact, I’m not even gonna single out the folks mentioned by name. If you know the song from the link below, or if you’re a glutton for punishment and choose to invest even MORE time in this diatribe by watching the video, then we’ll just refer to them as “Nanci” and “Mary Margaret”. (If you know me even a little, though, then figuring out whos’ who will pose about the same intellectual challenge as one of those eight piece alphabet puzzles they make for infants with chewable pieces the size of your palm.)

So let’s begin, shall we?

If you use this platform – social media – for anything other than political rants or cat videos, it can’t help but expand your world. It makes the space you inhabit a little bigger, whether you notice it or not. It strengthens threads that might grow thin over time without such a means of keeping in touch with people.

One of my least favorite things about myself is that, where friends are concerned, I’m something of an “eat what’s on your plate” person. I tend to focus on what’s presented to me by my life as I’m living it, and when my circumstances change – people tend to drift off into the sunset. It’s never about them, nor is it a reflection of my esteem for them…it’s just how things have always ended up working for me. I focus on what – and who – is in front of me at a given time. Before this cyber-social phenomena existed, there were folks I loved with all my heart that faded off into the mists of history because I lacked the basic ability to maintain long distance friendships. There were exceptions, sure…but very few.

This platform has given us a tool to make those connections easier, and I’m thankful for that. It’s put me back in touch with folks from my hometown, Navy buddies, fellow nomadic musicians who land in different cities on a regular basis…and it’s made maintaining those connections easier – even if it’s a far cry from actual personal contact.

But I’ve always admired people who had the ability to nurture those threads without the need for a status update or a photo of their dinner…old school, as it were. It says something about their character and about the value they place on the people in their lives.

I’ve known the “Nanci” in this story for a number of years…since before she became the mother to the two amazing daughters that are perennial highlights of my Instagram feed. Her children epitomize what children their age should be – a living, breathing highlight reel of wonder and imagination. They have an inherited respect for nature and they wear their innocence on their sleeves in a way that dares you not to fall in love with them.

This weekend, though – I got to meet “Mary Margaret”.

Somehow, in the exchange of a few minutes’ conversation, Mary Margaret became an instant friend…the kind of instant friend that you find yourself willingly and comfortably volunteering information to, during conversations about things that aren’t always easy to talk about. She has a kind demeanor and empathetic eyes that convey a deep well of gentle understanding.  Right away, she felt familiar and comfortable to me.

We were all in Philadelphia…I was there for a show, Nanci was in town visiting her parents from her home down the road from me in the Nashville area, and Mary Margaret – long ago relocated to Texas – came there to Philadelphia to visit her old childhood friend for a few days of Grownup Girls’ Adventuring… or, as they initially framed it, “looking for rich guys in the bars in Chester County.”

They were best friends as children…and while it’s entirely possible that Nanci’s demeanor during the telling of their story was an exaggeration for effect, it wasn’t hard to get the impression that she never really got over losing Mary Margaret.

But the thing that left the deepest impression on me, as I’d see the two of them exploring the park, talking and laughing with one another, and just bearing witness to their friendship was – well, quite literally just that. Bearing witness to their friendship.

Yeah, yeah, I know…startin’ to sound like Crazy Stalker Talk. Stay with me and ride along to the next stop. I promise it ain’t like that.

Over the years, both Nanci and Mary Margaret grew up. Separately and together.

They’ve both had families of their own…A pair of daughters in Nashville, and four children between 10 and 2 in Texas.

Yet watching them together yesterday, even casually in brief fits and starts between trying not to fluster the soundman and making sure everything was in tune…was an oddly spiritual experience. For reasons that weren’t immediately apparent, it affected me deeply.

It was almost as if – in seeing the two of them together that afternoon that I was stealing a glimpse of the two of them as children, in tiny summer dresses, climbing trees in the woods like a pair of budding tomboys, or trying to walk across the shallow ebb of the creek without getting their clothes wet…

I saw two lifelong friends who refused to let something so trivial as time or geography erode the genuine love they had for one another…who valued each other enough to remain connected as they’ve grown up and into their own separate lives, as they’ve started their own families. Nanci and Mary Margaret love each other enough to become children again when they land on the same patch of grass a thousand miles away from the separate places they each call home.

I’ve known Nanci a good while.

Today, I feel like I know Nanci a lot better than I did a short time ago.

And Mary Margaret will take a tiny, souvenir-edition shard of my heart with her back to Texas.

 

“It’s nice to see your family growing, Margaret…
Your daughter and your husband there, they really treat you right
But we’ve talked all night….
And what about that light that glowed beyond our woods when we were ten?
…there’ll never be two friends like you and me….”

 

The End Of The Summer Breakup Letter

 My Dearest Metrocenter Levee Greenway,

 

 We need to talk. And I think you know why.

 Look, I’m not going to beat around the bush. We’ve been growing apart for weeks now, and I think it’s time we both acknowledged that we might be coming to the end of our run…sorry, bad pun. I think we need to go our separate ways.

We had a great ride – sheesh, sorry again.

 The puns are kinda unavoidable. 

 Let me start over.

 We spent some great times together these past few months, and you made a potentially unbearable summer not only bearable, but brighter by being there for me when I needed you. I know that’s probably little consolation now, but hey – the fact is, I think the writing was on the wall when the Nashville B-Cycle folks moved the bike kiosk away from the Greenway entrance. It was almost as if they were trying to come between us, and as much as I hate to admit it – I think they pulled it off.

 At the beginning of the summer, when I needed a safe place, you gave it to me…and you grew with me when my needs changed and i took to biking instead of the evening walks we used to share. You were there when I got the worst sunburn of my life…you were there for my first 10+ mile bike ride…you were there when I needed a friend. I’ll always remember that.

 But when the bikes went away, it was hard to go back to just walking with you…it felt like we were going backward.

 And…well, the BUGS. There were always the bugs. Every night, the damn bugs. 

I know, I know…they were there before you were, and there was nothing you could do about them…but that didn’t change anything. They came between us from day one – those tiny little swarming bastards were constantly trying to create friction between us, and it worked.

 But even so, it’s not just that.

 The summer’s over, and we both know it…and soon, the weather is going to get colder, and the days will get shorter, and – well, I just don’t think we were meant to be anything but a summer affair. We’re just not built for the whole year ’round, under the circumstances.

And…I don’t want to hurt you, but I’m going to be completely honest, here.

There’s someone else. Actually, there are a couple of “someone elses”.

When the bikes went away, I started seeing Shelby Park.

 Yeah, that Shelby Park. The one that everybody else loves, the one that you’re probably a little jealous of in the first place…but you have to understand – this was a practical decision. It was never about you, not as much as it was about the bikes and the greenway trails and the lack of the beating sun and…well, look – Shelby just made sense for me. She’s closer to where I live, where you’re in the backyard of my job…and Shelby has the bikes.

Yeah, at the end of the day, it comes down to the bikes. I really am that superficial.

 Maybe that shouldn’t be a big deal, but it is. For me.

 Hey, listen – you’re wonderful without bikes. Really, you are.

Well, except for the bugs. 

I’m sorry, I know I promised I wouldn’t keep bringing up the bugs, but it’s a big deal to me. I wish it were different, but that’s just who I am.

But you know, your hands aren’t clean here, either. I mean, there were other people biking and running on your asphalt almost EVERY time we spent time together…so it’s not as if I was the only unfaithful one. But what really hurt was seeing other people walking on you at sunset. I mean, that was OUR THING! The running and the biking, OK…but you had to share OUR thing, too?

That was hard to watch.

If it makes you feel better, I’ll share this with you…I’m probably going to be breaking up with Shelby Park soon, too.

I haven’t told her yet, so I’m not sure why I’m telling you…but I thought you should know.

The fact that Shelby Park has the bikes now doesn’t change the fact that winter is coming, nor the fact that it’s soon going to be dark for a big chunk of the day. You two have that in common.

So I decided to join a gym.

Don’t get angry, please. Hear me out. I’m trying to explain myself.

 I joined the Planet Fitness in Madison.

 We both know that I’ve been growing in this direction for a while, and I need to be with someone who’s going to grow with me, and I feel good about my relationship with Planet Fitness. I know, a lot of you hate her, you think she’s cheap and vanilla and boring – and I guess I can understand why you’d see her that way…you’re not alone.

But I have needs. And Planet Fitness doesn’t have the obstacles that you have in meeting my needs. 

 She’s just plain better for me, and I have to honor that.

I realize that there’s nothing I can say to lessen the pain of this…and frankly, it cuts both ways. When we first got together, I couldn’t see a time in the future when it wouldn’t be you and me, at sunset on the Cumberland River, watching the barges crawl along the waterline and listening to the traffic humming over the interstate.

But love is blind that way. When you first connect, all you see are possibilities – but when you settle into getting to know one another, the pitfalls of a relationship always end up showing themselves sooner or later.

I’m sure there’ll come a time at some point in the future when I’ll outgrow Planet Fitness, too…but right now, she’s what I need.

I’m sorry we’ve come to this. I’d really like to remain friends, if that’s not too painful or awkward. I think we’d still be able to enjoy the occasional get-together, once the cellophane wears thin and we’re able to hang out like normal people. You don’t have to answer that right now…it’s just something I’d like you to think about.

Good luck, OK? and thanks for everything. You earned a pretty important place in my life by being in it when you were…but I have to move on now.

Here’s lookin’ at you, kid.
T

Jerry Opdycke, 1953 – 2014

(Jerry’s official, self-penned obituary can be found here.)

once upon a time, in a land far, far away...
Jerry Opdycke at far right in the rear…behind the guy with the afro in the red hoodie.

Instead of offering any additional commentary on my friend, I’ll share with you what I shared with the folks at his memorial service earlier today.

I’ve had a week to grieve, and I feel like I’m just getting warmed up.


(I didn’t have any prepared comments…I made notes before I left – which I glanced at and then sat down beside me and forgot about.  This is from memory, and isn’t exactly as I recited it, but it’s pretty close.)

Hi, Everybody…

It’s been 32 years since I’ve been here – this room wasn’t even here when I graduated in 1983.  I actually had to use my GPS to find the high school…it’s been that long since I’ve been here.

it’s been that long since I was in a band with Opie, too, but that relationship went beyond Jerry’s talents as a musician.  The few times I came back to town, I always sought him out.

Jerry was the person who broke the news to me that David Philips died a few years ago…I know a lot of you knew David as the co-owner of Maxine’s House of Music on Florence Road that I used to haunt as a teenager.  I remember telling Jerry that day that I could count the people in Savannah that I went out of my way to keep in touch with on my testicles, and now that David was gone he was gonna have to be careful or he was gonna leave me in a hell of a bind.

Well, folks, I stand before you today as a man with no testicles.

Jerry has left us – and some of us may have expected it, but after him battling back from everything that life’s thrown at him, I fully expected him to battle back from this, too, and I’m sorry to have been wrong about that.

At almost 50, I think I’d rather be without my testicles than to be without Opie.

I see a few faces here that I know, but a lot more that I don’t, so let me introduce myself – as Debbie told you, my name is Tom Hampton.  I doubt many of you know me, but I met Jerry when I was a teenager and we played in a band together called the New Hope Music Project.

When I was 14 years old, I had the audacity to dial a number I heard on the radio to call the studio that Jerry shared with the band because I’d heard them on the radio, talking about a 45 they’d just released, and I called to ask if they ever needed session musicians.  I was 14 – I didn’t know if that was how it worked or not, but they actually told me that if I wanted to come down and try out, that I was welcome to.

I think I knew even then that they were probably just being nice to a green kid who’d never been in a band before – but my aunt took me to the studio, i went in and played three songs with them, and they took my number and wrote it on a card and hung it on the wall in the control room.  and time went by…a lot of time…and one afternoon i got a phone call from the band, because their drummer had taken a job out of town and had to leave the band – so would I be interested in coming in and auditioning for their band?

It was the beginning of a two year run playing drums behind Jerry with a group of musicians who were all at least a decade older than i was…and in bands, there are inevitably cliques that emerge – Pat and Frankie were longtime friends, and Ricky the soundguy was dating the lead singer, so Jerry and I were the last two left.  If we were gigging in town, Jerry would drive me to the gig in his turd-brown Toyota Tercel hatchback and he’d brainwash me on the way to and from the gigs by playing Little Feat incessantly in the car.  We’d go back to Jerry’s house after shows and he and I would rifle through his album collection and he forced me to fall in love with Karla Bonoff…we covered her song “Trouble Again” and I had to hear where that came from.

I talk about Jerry and David Phillips in the same breath because just about everything good that’s happened to me in my life since crossing paths with them was made possible by the fact that they took an interest in me. I was a dirt poor kid, living in Walnut Grove with my mother, brother and sister, and if those two hadn’t shown me the possibility that there was something else life had to offer, there’s absolutely no way that I’d have had the experiences I’ve had. It might sound cliche’ to say it, but it’s absolutely true that Jerry changed my life.

I joined the Navy and left town, and took my guitar with me because it was impossible to travel with drums…and Jerry’s ghost followed me too.  In fact, I listen to recordings of myself playing guitar during the years that I was “graduating” to playing lead, and if you listen to him and listen to those tapes back to back, the influence is undeniable.

When I came back to Savannah the first time after having left, I looked Jerry up and he told me to meet him at the old drive-in…I thought he was nuts, as it had been closed for ages, but Jerry had helped convert the refreshment stand at the old drive-in to the first Elks Club in town, and we talked for hours and hours…I remember snippets of the conversation, and I remember him saying several times that “your money ain’t no good here” when I’d try to pay for drinks.   After a while, I don’t really remember much else about that night…or leaving…or how i got home.

Our paths crossed time and time again over the years – he came to Nashville to see me play with my band, he came to Nashville to pick me up at the airport when my car crapped out on the way to a gig with Daryle Singletary…and he was always a phone call away.  I’ve still got voicemails on my phone from him.  I talked to him at 9 o’clock the night before he died.  Even after all that he’d been through, he was a rock.  I truly believed that we had a lot of miles left on our odometer.

About a month ago, I came to town with my friend Bert, who’s here today, to visit with Jerry…I brought my wife and 5 year old son, neither of whom he’d ever met, and we spent the afternoon together. Capped it off with a shot of Jack, his favorite drink. And I remember thinking on the way home that we should’ve taken a picture…but that we could do that next time.

One of the things I find a lot of peace in is the fact that there wasn’t anything unsaid between Jerry and I…he knew I loved him, and I told him everything I’ve told you today.  He was aware of the profound effect he had on my life, and I’m so happy that we got that afternoon together last month.  I thought it would be the first of many more, but it turned out to be the last.

If there’s a silver lining that we can take away from losing Jerry…all of us…go home today and pick up the phone.  send an email or a text.  Find somebody that you haven’t talked to in a long time and start a conversation.  Let them know you miss them.  I’m incredibly fortunate to know, at the end of the day, that Jerry and I said everything we needed to say to one another.

I was lucky in that respect this time.  It’s not usually the way it ends…but that’s the way I want to do it from now on.