Somebody Tell the Truth
I’ve been doin’ a little drinkin’
It don’t tickle my bone
What’s a man to do with these old walkin’ shoes
If they never get you home? –The BoH
I wrote a fan letter last week. I mean a real old-fashioned fan letter. I’d like to say it was a kind of promising exchange of correspondence worthy of say, Jane Austen- but I feel like that would be romanticizing it a bit. I felt goofy writing it, but also engaged and fully alive and a little hopeful.
I thought long and hard about whether or not to write it – or more accurately whether or not to send it (which means the length of my bath) and decided I am old enough to do exactly what I want to do. I mean, what’s the worst that could happen? He never answers back? Ok.
The letter was to Colin Brooks, an amazing musician whom I have had the pleasure of seeing live more than a few times. The first time I saw him live was all the way back in 2006 in my current locale, Marble Falls, TX, at a restaurant-slash-bar that has a teeny tiny “stage” area where musicians perform on Tuesday evenings. My friend (also a musician, John Greenberg) was the standing opening gig and had asked me to stay and listen to the band I “just had to hear” following his and Mike Blakely’s set.
Colin happened to be one of three front men for The Band of Heathens, a bluesy, ballsy, bluegrass funk band (is that a thing?). All the guys have incredible guitar skills and vocals but it was his playing the Dobro that really did it for me. I felt a tugging inside at the sight of him and when I heard him sing ‘Hanging Tree’ I just felt…connected to him somehow. (I know, I know…I continually find connections everywhere with everyone it seems. I suppose it is that collective consciousness I like to talk about more than a little. I just firmly believe when you feel those things it is best not to discount it.) Of course, it seems fair to mention here that he is rakishly handsome; like the kind of fellow you would want to take home to mom, but maybe never would. (I laughed when I typed that.)
The thing is, I’ve seen a whole lot of bands live. I’ve been to some really great shows but I have never acted (or more importantly felt) the part of the groupie. It just isn’t me. (Of course, I guess all girls who are groupies say this. It’s like the people who say, ‘I don’t like drama’ when they are clothed in it daily. But I swear- I am no Penny Lane.) [For those of you who just missed the ‘Almost Famous’ reference- get thee to Netflix!]
I watched the entire set with Johnny and his gal Jessica. The BoH were performing songs from their live album ‘Live at Momo’s’ and with each song, I loved them a little more. There really is something to be said for intimate settings to listen to live music. The whole house seemed invested in their music and the evening was a little like being in your favorite honky-tonk with the greatest house band ever.
I watched him play that night and moreover I watched him sing the lyrics with heartfelt meaning, even though he’d sung the words probably at least a few hundred times already. I tried to catch his eye, of course- hoping for the shy sideways glance of a teenager. I think I managed at some point probably the goofball, innocently sexy (comical?) look of a recent divorcee.
I also really longed to ask him to go have coffee or a beer after the show. I convinced myself I would if the moment presented itself and it did. I saw the guys after the show loading up a minivan and I had the perfect window and I just… failed miserably. (I did have a momentary chuckle at the minivan. I’m not sure what I thought they’d be hauling all their expensive and delicate equipment around in, but in my mind, it resembled more the ‘Partridge Family’ van than the reality.)
It was the end of the night and I made a million excuses, the final one (and a rather good one, I think) being that he was in front of ALL his band mates. I just stood there like a school girl and no words came and then they drove off into the night. (Story of my life…or a great Nora Ephron script.)
I saw them later a few times at bigger venues and I watched them grow in popularity and stature I suppose. They were still magical every time I saw them. I waited for the perfect opening for the chance of coffee but lo, the opportunity had never again presented itself. I’d always secretly wondered if he would have said ‘yes’ to my invitation for coffee and I always still wish that I had asked. Life moves at increasing speed and when you have those sort of stop-motion moments you should definitely take them. They are usually the game changers.
He left the band after the album ‘Top Hat Crown & the Clapmaster’s Son’ in 2011. It was a departure for them for sure. There were deep grooves in this album filled with music reminiscent of The Swampers and Freddie King. I heard old school Beatles a little too and ‘Should Have Known Better’ made me grab a tambourine and bang it with reckless abandon. (The phrase, “More cowbell” springs to mind.) I had purchased all their music up until then but after he left I confess I missed the ragged blues and raw soul he had brought so beautifully to the band.
I never really knew where he disappeared to after that. I mean, I know he didn’t actually disappear, but like I said, not a groupie and so he just vanished from my purview and that was that…until I went down the YouTube rabbit hole. In YouTubeland you can watch or listen to just about any Band of Heathens or Colin Brooks song, any performance, any interview…you name it. Search it and *poof* there it is. I heard performances by him as a solo artist before the Heathens had even been born and to my delight, I was able to download his solo music and catch up performances both here and abroad. I do a lot of belly-aching about technology but this time I used its powers for good. (My good, anyway- and sometimes that just has to be enough.)
There have been some profound music experiences in my life. Jackson Browne, Paul Simon, Billy Joel, Sting, U2, Elton. I mean, I was raised on ‘The Redheaded Stranger’ on vinyl and I saw B.B. King for 20 bucks on Beale Street. In fact, a good deal of the Heathens stuff reminds me of a good ole Bernie Taupin/Elton John collaboration say, off Elton’s self-titled album released the year of my birth.
One was the night I found the Heathens tune ‘Hey Rider’ live at MoBoogie Loft on YouTube. I know it seems weird to say you had a transcendent moment from something you got from an electronic device but bear with me. To have heard this song’s studio version is one thing and even to have heard it live with an audience is another; but there is something so intimate about this performance that is so organic and true that I found myself unexpectedly weeping the first time I listened to it and then again as I watched the video.
The musicians are so into it– it is so authentic and emotional and there is this point where it all just sort of comes together in this crazy crescendo and you are just moved. Or I was anyway. ‘Hey Rider’ is basically an old-time spiritual with some serious heart. The lyrics are haunting and the imagery unmistakable, but add Colin’s weathered vocals, the wealth of good (really good) guitars and Ed Jurdi’s seasoned fingers at the piano…well, it is just about perfect.
As someone in discernment to become an Episcopal priest someday, I am constantly awakened to legit secular music with a sacred undertone. This song speaks to the ancient in me, as so much of their music does. Monday as the late evening sun came creeping through my window, I lit some candles, poured a glass of good Cabernet, poufed my pillows and nestled into the cool darkness of my room. I plugged in and put on my son’s exorbitantly expensive headphones and queued up the song. I turned the volume up just loud enough for my device to warn me I might encounter profound hearing loss if I turned it up one more notch. I did so anyway. (What a rebel.)
There are moments in life when you are so sure of the existence of God. Times when you feel the Holy Spirit do its thing in your life and you…just let go. I have experienced scenes from life when absolutely every single thing feels fully interconnected in the landscape of being alive. This tune makes me feel this way.
Each time I listen to this version I find depth and beauty I missed before. I’ll admit the kid’s headphones took the experience to a whole ‘nother level. The lyrics are delicate but heavy with biblical depth- references to God’s breath on the water- a direct take from Genesis (my favorite part actually), a crown of thorns, being created from dust… When I had listened to about an hour’s worth of truly exceptional music I went to rustle up some dinner.
The thing is- you can admire a musician, writer, painter or another kind of artist for their craft (and their beard, if applicable) but you can never really know them. Ok, I’ll admit, people who read my writing probably really do know me as much as anyone else- save my sons. That being said, you see the point I am trying to make. His music made him attractive to me…but that is not really a glimpse into the person, merely his music- and only a small sliver of it at that.
A fair while back when I was active on Facebook (before I bailed when the politics made my skin crawl and people’s words seemed poisonous) I had “friended” him. He never replied, which was not a shock. I mean, he doesn’t know me. I never used to accept friend requests from people I did not know unless they had read my blog. (‘So not very many then’, I hear you saying.) I thought he might acquiesce since he was, after all, a lauded musician and thought he might use the forum to keep fans updated on his life and leanings. I thought I suppose selfishly (or hopefully) that I might get a glimpse too. Perhaps something notable that would ease the mystery I felt about this person. No such luck.
I hadn’t been down the rabbit hole in a while and not really sure why or what I hoped to find, but after dinner I ‘googled up’ (as my friend Bob says) Mr. Colin Brooks. I found some of his older music before the Heathens and snippets of old interviews at various stages of his career but nothing too flashy. (To be a musician with a pretty great pedigree his internet footprint is pretty light. I dig that.)
Anyhoo, after a bit I stumbled upon a podcast called ‘Slightly Chewed’ broadcast by another musician with Mr. Brooks as his guest. The episode is almost three hours long and the topics are all over the map. The mood is light-hearted but the subject matter is sometimes not. They talked about religion, music, politics, drinking, memories, work, fly-fishing… the topics touched on humanity, anthropology, technology and he mentioned things that made my ears prick with interest. I found him to be intelligent, intellectual, endearing and really funny. There was a touching moment when he talked about his mom and some spontaneous instances when I found myself laughing out loud.
You run the risk I suppose, of learning about a person you desire to know and being disappointed by the result. I did not find this to be the case. In fact, I found myself wanting to know more- again wishing I had asked him for coffee all those years ago.
I sat down the next morning and penned the letter to him. It was written along the same vein as this blog with what I hoped were moments of girlish charm and brilliance. It’s hard to know really. I tried to read it back but I felt like such a goofball in doing so I’m not sure I made it to the end without blushing and giggling before tossing it aside.
Later after I had decided not send it I wondered why. I mean, what in the world is wrong with letting someone know you admire and are completely blown away by their work? Further, that after you had actually learned more about them you still crave to know more? I guess it is because he is a very handsome fellow that I feel this way.
Years ago, I met my friend Carrie (the lovely and exceptionally talented artist Carrie Jacobson (http://carriejacobson.blogspot.com/) while searching the internet looking for a concrete stain for my driveway of all things. I have no idea how I found her but I am so thankful that I did. I adore her and I tell her so all the time! I have no qualms about letting her know how much her paintings speak to me and no issue telling her I love having her in my life. I wish to tell him such things didn’t make feel like a seventh-grade girl sitting on the bleachers waiting to be asked to dance. (‘Good luck with that,’ my psyche tells me.)
I ended Colin’s letter asking delicately if he might want to write and exchange letters (read: emails, I suppose) like friends used to do long ago. I also ask if he perhaps should find himself in this neck of the woods again or me in his, he might be up for coffee.
Sometimes the things in life we leave undone really can be our own undoing. I am a free-spirited, thoughtful person who (I hope) lives my life unencumbered by the rigidity of what society wants me to be. I love hard and deep and I expect the same from others. I still play air guitar to Joe Walsh’s ‘Rocky Mountain Way’ and sing at the top of my lungs holding my hairbrush as a microphone when I hear Aretha’s ‘I’ve Never Loved a Man’ and go full-on Temptations groove when I hear ‘Can’t Get Next to You’. (I know…)
I still cry every single time I watch ‘Old Yeller’. I like my cheeseburgers with a chocolate shake. I miss my Mercedes. I do. Sometimes I like to stay up very late and sometimes I go to bed lamentably early. I like my eggs over medium and I go to church on Sunday. (A little play on a favorite Lyle Lovett tune right there.) My politics lean left and I see no change in that anytime soon- or well, ever. I love my sons, my life, my dogs and my relationship with God. I visit the Buddhist temple and still say prayers when I lay down to sleep. I run out of gas at least once a month and I carry my banjo pick in my purse to remind me it is something I need to pick back up. I cuss a fair amount and I can be really whip-smart clever when I want to be.
All of that is to say, when I want to tell someone I am a huge fan I will. I mean, I have, I did and I would again…it felt pretty great. And who knows? Maybe one day he will write me back and tell me coffee sounds like a really good idea…or maybe he will just simply say ‘thank you’. Either way, I did what I tend to do best which is let him know in my life his presence made itself known and mattered to me.
Life really is not for the faint of heart. It demands participation. The soul yearns to show you the secrets of the universe and it all begins with the first step into the unknown. How you navigate this wonder is completely up to you. I would caution you however, not to let fear keep you from doing the giant cannonball into the deep end. There is freedom in being just who you are- and hope and let’s be honest- faith and trust in something at work bigger than yourself.
So someday if (when?) you see me in a small hole-in-the-wall diner having coffee (or a milkshake) and hushed conversation (or conversely, raucous laughter) with a handsome stranger, come sit down and share a cup. My treat.
P.S. If you don’t already know his music- you should. You really, really should.