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Beautiful Music Together

I’ve made no secrets about the so-called “musicality” of my family.  We live in a musical household, my kids grew up with it and for years saw their father leave on many weekend nights to go play whatever gig paid a small amount of cash for his services.

Some would question whether all that effort was worth it.

The thing is . . . the last two years have shown me it’s completely worth it.

The musician and his daughter
The musician and his daughter

There aren’t a lot of things that you bring into a relationship that remain specifically and only yours.  That’s a good thing, for the most part, but my late wife’s inability to create or even understand the creative process for music was a hindrance at times.  A basis for knock-down drag-out arguments at others.  Why?  It wasn’t, for the two of us, a communal thing.  When we were dating it was neat, quirky and fun.  When we were raising a family she saw it as a nuisance.  That was her and I don’t say it as a criticism.  She had a million amazing things about her . . . that just wasn’t one of them.

But then she left.  Simple as that.  Not on-purpose, it wasn’t her fault, it wasn’t really anybody’s fault.  Just one day she wasn’t there.  Suddenly everything that had become such common-ground for us was now a hindrance.  It was a reminder of her and the loss and the end of marriage and all of it.

Music wasn’t.

My beloved Dot
My beloved Dot

Music helped me heal.  Hell…it helped all of us to heal.  In the week after Andrea died I picked up my guitar and just played it.  Christ, I even beat on it.  It’s a wonderful testament to the Fender company that my green Eric Clapton model Stratocaster (affectionately dubbed “dot” from the green 7-up can color) survived those weeks.  I was soft, hard, angry, sad, and just miserable at times.  It got wet with tears.  It suffered indignity of broken strings from massive power chords beaten too hard on the pickguard.  Scratches still mar the 7-up green surface of the guitar with waxy residue from the picks I destroyed scraping the surface.

I have only begun to piece together the songs from the massive amount of writing and playing I did in those weeks.  Some have no lyrics.  Some were re-written.  Others had pieces of inspiration that can lead to better things.  It took me two years to come to terms with the fact that it’s okay to be where I am.  Sadly, only one song of mine was completed so far, but it will make the newest recording session for my brother and I to release in the Fall.

But music wasn’t just written.  It was listened to, near constantly.  I decided if we didn’t have it playing and swirling around us before it should now.  When we eat dinner it plays – on the stereo, on the cardboard radio with an ipod.  Hell, we sing, we jam, I teach Hannah songs.  It’s one thing that ended up being communal.  Abbi sings.  Sam is in the school musical.  Christ, I even jammed with a singer-songwriter who I now consider a friend. (a term I never use lightly)

Music helped us heal.  We do make beautiful music together, even when we’re off key or off beat or what have you.  The world may never hear it, nor long remember what we play.  But play we do.

Nothing about what we’re facing is perfect.  But it wasn’t two years ago, either, so why try and apply life in the past to the future?  At the end of the day we have to do what works for us.

And for us . . . it’s making beautiful music together.

In good company

I suppose I could easily have said “Happy 4th!” as the clock has ticked past midnight when I’m writing this, but I don’t feel right doing that since the day’s events are from the 3rd and the 2nd.

That, and it wouldn’t portray the day in the way it should, I suppose.

This post will likely be highly schizophrenic as I’m still riding the high from my trip to Los Angeles (yeah, I know, it wasn’t that eventful…but it was for me) and the 4th of July was always a major holiday in my house.  Also…adding to the adventure of my life this summer…one of my best friends texted me with a favor: “can a friend of mine stay with you for a couple nights?  She’s playing Sac then Reno and just needs a place to crash.”  Now, I trust this friend implicitly as I grew up with her.  On top of that, what the hell?  Not like I’m running around taking care of the kids, right?

Speaking of, they got to head to South Dakota for the fourth.  I envy them.  Growing up with my Dad, the Sheik himself, I got to experience a real 4th of July.  I mean it.  Having come from a country where he had NO freedom, he made sure we lived it up.  We drove to South Dakota and bought as many fireworks as we could carry.  We blew up things, shot bottle rockets into the air, sparklers, fountains, mortars . . . we would have our own display lasting, honestly, two hours or more each night and firecrackers and bottle rockets all day.  My Dad would have a company picnic for the men and women at the pharmacy – just a few people and their families – but it was very much like a family.  Now my kids are up there, just a short hop from Rushmore in South Dakota, and they’ll see one of America’s amazing monuments and the fireworks blowing up around it.  I envy them.

Andrea’s family never celebrated the 4th.  I mean, they had the day off, they sat at home, maybe BBQ’d, but not much more than that.  Andrea wanted to be with her family on the holiday and we finally stopped going because it was both my birthday and it drove me nuts that they didn’t celebrate it.

But for me, I had a houseguest.  I know, I’ve said all along I don’t put names in the blog but me and the kids.  Not very often, anyway.  It’s not just to protect those I love it’s also to ensure that the focus doesn’t become figuring out who these figures are in our lives.  If it’s important I tell you who they are.  Today, though, I’ll make an exception.

Julia Sinclair is a singer/songwriter . . . which is a term I hate, by the way, as it’s not longer a description it’s a “genre”.  When did doing both become such a pigeon-holed thing?  Hendrix was a singer and a songwriter.  So was Dizzy Gillespe.  Yet if I put that as a description today’s terms would have them wearing a Porkpie Hat, a 5-day beard and walking around with a portable record player telling everyone that the only way to listen is vinyl.  (I love vinyl, by the way, just don’t resort to it as my sole source of musical inspiration)

But I digress…Julia stayed in the house a couple days.  Yes – more solo acoustic kind of music.  Normally I’d have made my way to the coffee house where she was playing but the house was a complete shambles.  She needed a bed – and mine was the only one that was made, but my sheets weren’t clean.  So I played Merry Maid all evening while she played.  She got to the house and I couldn’t have met a more down to earth, humble, talented person.  We talked guitars.  We talked music.  We honestly talked more than anything else.

And no, you won’t get the hear anything about personal details we talked about.  Again, I don’t divulge what people say unless it’s pertinent to our lives and our story.  She’s pertinent…but not what goes on in her life.

But she’s more than that woman with the acoustic guitar.  She comes from a big family, has a steady head on her shoulders, and picked up my Clapton Strat without plugging it in and immediately made me realize how rusty and out of practice I really am.  Classically trained, she plays guitar, bass, mandolin, cello . . . she’s like a female version of my brother Adam.  I would bet there are a number of Nashville records you’ve heard and she’s a session player on more than a few.

But this isn’t a commercial for her.  Sometimes you randomly meet a person and you connect and you are able to talk like you’ve known each other for a long time.  This isn’t some fanciful Nora Ephron kind of statement, it’s just musicianship without having picked up an instrument.  She’s me or Adam twenty years ago but with the guts and no kids and the ability to jump in her car and just give it a whirl.  I’m impressed and intrigued with her story.  I recounted parts of my life – she hers.  We drank a little wine.  While at work she rummaged through my record collection and listened to some Miles Davis and Brubeck.  (which, by the way, a woman in her 20’s knowing  who Miles and Dave are?  Amazing)  She was a guest in my house and I felt should be treated as such.

By night’s end, when we both were heading for bed she broke out her Taylor just so I could get a feel for her instrument of choice and it was brilliant.  Not dissimilar from Dot, my fabled EC Strat, and just fit in my left hand.  Earlier in the day we’d both talked about how when you find that perfect guitar – and only a musician who loves to play for the love of playing gets this – it’s like your left arm is finally complete.  You play and the effort is minimal, you get to close your eyes and you’re not really looking at the dots on the fingerboard, you’re looking through them and into the chords and feeling what notes you’re going to play next.  I started messing around with her Taylor and she grabbed my Dobro and ten minutes or more later we’d finished trading off blues riffs and laughed.

Then I headed up to do my nightly blogging and she off to bed.  She had to head to Reno tomorrow at 5:30am.  (well, today, at this point)

So support her.  She’ll likely be on everyone’s radar soon, from the sound of her EP.  It’s like Norah Jones’ voice got a bit more soul and started singing John Hiatt lyrics.  (those are good things, by the way.  Pay attention!)

In the end, though, I’m just happy I had a place for her to stay for the night.  Just wish I’d picked up the guitar a little earlier!

Happy fourth, everyone.  Do me a favor – go out, grab some ribs or brisket, find a show, and watch music and fireworks.  You live in the most amazing country – not for its politics, its people. Its land.  Its amazing landscape.  I’ve seen a lot of it and hope to see more.  You should, too.

Julia’s website: