Alice and I packed up the guitar and the little Crate TX50 p.a. and headed for Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall this morning. Haven’t looked at the mall from that perspective in a while.
We picked a good spot in that a few crowds formed, listened, and dissipated as the morning went on. At one point a nicely dressed lady, probably in her mid- or late-60’s sat down on one of those huge cast iron flowerpots to listen. I don’t recall what song I was finishing when she arrived, but she was clearly dialed in to it. I played “If I Had A Boat” by Lyle Lovett, which she seemed to recognize. She clapped, and stayed seated.
I slipped the capo down a fret, checked the tuning and went right into “The Apologist” by R.E.M. – an intensely powerful song, and even more so when presented at a relaxed tempo with just one guitar and clear enunciation of the lyrics. It’s one of those songs that reaches people in this age bracket and older in ways that seem counter-intuitive; impossible even. She applauded, got up and came over to drop some coins into the guitar case and pet Alice.
“That’s really beautiful,” she said. “I hear a little Lightfoot in your voice. He was…” and her lip started to quiver a bit “…my husband’s favorite.”
I moved the capo back up to the second fret, allowed the tuning to be close enough, and began to strum “If You Could Read My Mind”.
“He’s gone now,” she continued,”but we loved to listen to Gordon Lightfoot.” Lost in her story she didn’t recognize what I was playing, and I listened and strummed the opening over and over. She went on to tell me about where they had seen him once – out west somewhere, in a huge thunderstorming downpour that she said had frightened her, but didn’t seem to faze Gordon at all, up there on stage. She finished.
“Thanks again,” she said, turning and beginning to walk away.
If you could read my mind, love….
She froze, then spun; her jaw dropped into a gasp and she walked back to her flowerpot. She sat down, eyes closed, head thrown back, hand over her heart. The veil of time fell for her, and though her body stayed on that planter, she and what she was hearing were gone, I hope back to that concert out west.
When I finished she took a second to come back to this plane. She dug into her billfold then approached Alice and me again. Her hand offered a worn photograph – wallet-sized, with that softly mottled blue backdrop; like those not too small prints that your grandmother always wanted when school pictures came out each year.
Big smile. “Here’s my hippie husband.” Clean cut guy, in a suit. Late 50’s, max.
“I lost him in…”, and the lip started again. “…1994. And I still cry.”
That’s the year I began bringing music to nursing homes.
“I’m so sorry.”
“Do you have a card?”
“Yes, ma’am. There in the case – see them?” And she took one.
“Ma’am? Do you see those cd’s there, by Alice?” She did. “One of those is for you. Please…”
She couldn’t speak, and some tears slipped from where she’d been willing them to remain for too long.
She looked at me and smiled, held the cd to her heart, and made her way around the mike stand. We hugged. Alice made jealous noises.
She bent down, petted Alice, managed a soft “Thank you”, and walked away to “Losing My Religion”.
Happy 4th, everyone. Enjoy the freedom to be precisely who and what you choose to be in every whisper of every waking hour.