Tag Archives: Clapton

It’s That “Look” That’s the Killer

Maybe you know the look I’m talking about.  I’m guessing you don’t, though, as most people don’t know how to behave like human beings when important or uncomfortable things arise.

The obvious, of course, is the “look” I get when I have to explain to some new person, be that a person at work or a person in public or what have you, that I lost my wife, Andrea, a little over two years ago.  For these people, I understand, that’s a shocking piece of information.  It’s not an easy thing to comprehend.  They’re looking at photos on my desk or ask about what college my oldest daughter is about to attend and . . . when they ask about my wife I simply say “she passed away two years ago.”

That’s when it comes.

The eyebrows rise…the eyes widen, I’ve even seen a few pupils dilate, just a little, when the words hit home.  The best of people, knowing I’ve said this rather matter-of-fact, express their sympathies and move on.  Most, though, have no idea they’re acting a bit off the mark and begin to spew apologies, ask what it must be like, push for details…

As human beings sometimes we seem to lose track of that very humanity and don’t know when to stop being too invasive.  Nerves overtake our senses and we seem to keep pushing when it’s abundantly clear that the person whose tragedy you’ve just heard about is trying to have a normal conversation that you just jackknifed with prodding for details and emotions we’ve already experienced and, hopefully, dealt with for our own lives.

But that’s old territory.  I’ve heard stories of that “look” from others.

My friend who is battling cancer . . . getting the most random comments about the fact she’s lost all her hair.  If she’s been sick or out for months and comes back with no hair . . . what do you think happened?  And in the middle of all that, why treat her differently?  I don’t begin to understand everything someone battling cancer has to go through, but I also try to make no assertions that I do and ask questions about what she needs.  If they’re stupid, I expect she’ll let me know, if not, I’ll ask and make sure I’m not being stupid.

The worst, though (well, the cancer patient questions are really worst, but this literary device pushes the story forward), is what my daughter faces. At work, at school, everywhere she goes the idea that she’s doing everything with her mother persists.  “Are you going to help your Mom fix Thanksgiving dinner?” she got in November.  Rather than explain, most the time she just said “yes” but then came home frustrated and breaking down because of it.  She has acquaintances who ask her why she is – or could be – so close with her father and she looks at them like they are crazy.  She’s always had a close relationship with her father (her words, not mine) and I believe I’m close with all 4 kids.  The emotions and needs are all different, but we’re still close.

Worse . . . she gets “the look” when they ask her what she’s going to study in college.
“Drama and theater,” she tells them, and she gets that look.
“It’s the same look they give me when they found out Mom died,” Abbi told me.  “It’s like they can’t believe I’d go through this.  In one look they tell me I’m going to be broke forever and not have anything and that I should just give up now and go do something that makes money.”  She then adds, “Mom used to give me that look, too, and then said it out loud.  She wasn’t going to let me try.”

But try she is.  I’ve told her before that she’s at the ripe age to do this without thinking.  I’ve told her that my parents told me that, whether I did it professionally or not, I needed to keep playing music.  “It’s a sin,” they told me, “to have that talent and let it falter.  You should never stop.”

They never told me I’d be famous or that I was better than Slowhand or give me illusions of grandeur, they simply could tell that it was so ingrained in my cells that I couldn’t spend the day without ever doing it.

Abbi informed me that acting, for her, was the same thing.  She has a belief she can do it and a drive to do it . . . and even though I’m her Dad, I have seen her act and she’s good.  “Be so good they can’t ignore you,” Abbi has on her wall, a quote from Steve Martin.  She’s studying, watching, learning, and determined that the “look” drives her, it doesn’t discourage her.

The “look” for her isn’t a killer.  I’ts a driving force, now.  I think that’s a good thing.

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2 Years. . . Motherless Children

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I write this in the middle of the evening just a couple hours before the 2nd anniversary of my wife’s passing.  It would also be my 20th wedding anniversary.

It’s an odd thing to have an annual event of this personal magnitude.  I often face one of two descriptions: “widower” and “motherless children,” for my kids.  Those are both apt and appropriate descriptions.  They’re just . . . not the full description.

I am a widower, true.  My children have no mother, also true.  These are part of what we are.  But it is not who we are.  We are so much more, and though we have a harder time and have to face larger burdens because of loss, grief, hardship and pain, we are still our core personalities.  I’m still a musician.  Abbi is an actress.  Hannah plays guitar and is a brilliant artist.  Noah is a storyteller.  Sam is a singer and a flirt.  None of those have changed.  But we have, and we’ve done so many things in two years.  We’ve lost, but we’ve gained so much in experience and adventure.  We don’t know the daily love from that amazing woman, Andrea, my wife, but we learned to give and embrace love when we saw it.

So this year, like last, we created a video.  But where last year’s video was a celebration of her life, this year’s is a celebration of our lives!  So today, March 26th, on the anniversary of Andrea’s death and the anniversary of the creation and ending of my marriage, I present you with our second video: Our Story Begins: Motherless Children.

Before You Accuse Me

When I was just in a rock & roll band in 1989 I owned a Fender Stratocaster – because it was Clapton’s guitar of choice.  But when I found out he had a signature model – one that came with a warning sticker that Fender, the guitar’s maker, was not responsible for the damage that the guitar could do to your amplifiers – I was starry-eyed!  I saw Clapton onstage with a fiery red one.  He favored a pewter/silver one.  I tried one out, turned up the bottom tone knob and the amp blew even more volume and distortion out its speakers.

I wanted one!

I spent weeks . . . months even just scrimping and saving.  Every penny from every gig that didn’t go toward guitar strings and new guitar cables went to savings for that guitar.  Finally, at the end of the year I made a trek to Kansas City – the only dealer that had Clapton Stratocasters in-stock.

I walked in and went straight to the expensive, hands-off section. While it was a year old, never bought from the dealer when I got it, I had no intention of buying the sparkly, bright-green strat. I walked in looking for a Torino red or a Pewter colored EC. Then I saw her . . . a 7-up green strat, lace sensor pickups covering the normally exposed pole pieces, and it spoke to me. I had to ask to try it out and must have looked like a non-sale because they handed it to me and walked off.  I plugged it into a Fender amplifier like my own and started to play.  It didn’t take me five minutes.

I was hooked. Just a few weeks after owning it it fell off its guitar stand on stage and the wood of the neck split, right in the middle.  Fenders are known for durability.  I was beside myself.  I called the dealer who told me “too bad.”  I called Fender customer service, angry, and was connected to a man I thought was simply a member of the company.  He asked me the dealer’s name.  Then he asked me to send him my Clapton Strat.

“That’s an expensive strat, it shouldn’t do that.”  I agreed.  I sent it off and a couple weeks later I got a call . . . it was Fender’s custom shop.  A few minutes later I was on the line with the very man who’d taken my initial phone call.  He was one of their chief luthiers.  They’d “taken care of” the dealer, which made me smile.  Then he informed me that my strat had shown a flaw in their design . . . the bodies were routed wrong and put too much tension on the neck.  They could split.  He personally crafted a new body for me, grabbed a new neck off the line and then asked me what color I wanted.

I still said green.

It’s my favorite guitar, my old standby, the wood aged, the pickups perfect, and the neck fitting my hand like a glove. A couple years later my older brother looked at it and remarked that it was like the 7-UP commercials and their campaign with the “dot” in them.

From that point my EC was affectionately dubbed “Dot.” It’s been the reference ever since. I’d never seen a video of Slowhand playing a green one . . . until now.  To this day, it’s my old standby . . . and I pair it with the amplifier my brother Adam built . . . and it’s perfect!

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Fat Man in the Bathtub (the Track)

I referenced the Little Feat song at the end of last night’s post . . .

Here it is at the end of a double-song set from 1976, I think, in Germany.  Lowell George there on guitar, wearing his Craftsman socket and Tele pickup at the bridge position of his Strat.

 

Puzzle shrouded in mystery wrapped in enigma

I got home last night, after a very long meeting at the kids’ school and feeling more than a little stressed out.  Homework, food, lunches, breakfasts, all of that were put on hold for the few hours the meetings at school lasted.  Abbi had practice for her play . . . it’s “hell week” and they are scheduled to rehearse from 4pm to 9pm.  That means, of course, she gets home around 11pm since they never end on time.

We finished at the school around 8:10pm and I knew I was already in for a longer bedtime routine.  You see, with Abbi at practice and the meeting for Hannah, my 13-year-old, the twins had to come with us.  These meetings always have a plethora of candy, cookies, lemonade . . . and Sam is a sugar magnet.
“One glass of lemonade, Sam, that’s all.”
“Okay, Daddy.”

But as I sat at the work table for Hannah’s first project I saw Sam go to the lemonade dispenser 3 times.

“One time.  That’s all you go up to the table to get a treat, Sam. One.  One treat.”
“Okay, Daddy.”

But from same said work table . . . Sam did indeed go to the table once.  He came back with the most colorful fall-like assortment of candy and cookie treats.  He knew that I couldn’t get up . . . I was rooted to the spot.

Understand, where sugar makes most kids hyper, for Sam it’s like you’ve hit Bruce Banner with gamma rays all over again.  One bought cookie and he’s nuts.  A plate full?  I have to peel him off of the ceiling.  He was already walking in circles for no reason other than it made him dizzy.  He was bouncing off the walls.  He couldn’t even focus long enough to play his videogame . . . which is attention deficit incarnate.

So imagine my surprise when I got home, exhausted, thoroughly disgusted with my kids’ behavior (Even Hannah, during instructions for the night was telling jokes and talking back to the teachers – because her friends were there with her) when I spotted a brown tube lying on the front porch.  I picked it up and tried to open the lock – an impossibility because every time I moved Sam moved in front of the light so I could see the lock.  It was like Groucho Marx had walked up behind me and was intent on driving me to the asylum.

Getting inside I assumed it was a simple little thing Abbi had ordered or something.  But it was addressed to me.  No return address other than the company it came from: “Who Merch.”

Opening the tube inside was a reproduction of a concert poster from 1973.  From my favorite Who album, Quadrophenia.

The Quadrophenia Tour Poster
This is the third time in about a year someone mysterious has affected my life so positively.

Now, keep in mind, this isn’t just a gift.  I know, it’s a concert poster, very teenage years kind of thing.  But it’s not the gift itself, it’s the thought process behind it.

Let me go back . . . the gift before this?  A box set of the complete remasters of Derek and the Dominos’ “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs.”  It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that this is my favorite album of all time.  Slowhand, Duane Allman, Bobby Whitlock, Jim Gordon, Carl Radle . . . it’s musical perfection with a Persian love story at its center.  How could I not?

But before that?  I received, again anonymously, a deluxe edition of Traffic’s John Barleycorn Must Die.  Other than my brothers, few people knew how much I love this record, and Winwood’s annoyingly amazing talent for lyric, melody and performance.  Anyone could have sent Layla though it was really expensive.  But this?  This was . . . touching.  In the middle of when I needed to be touched.

So tonight . . . when I have so clearly indicated how we’ve transitioned in our lives – after all the emotional pitfalls and my head trying to translate all its feelings – this shows up.

You might see this as a silly little concert poster.  But then you have to look deeper.

While Layla was an emotional tie for me, The Who’s Quadrophenia was terribly easy for me to relate.  The opening salvo going to Pete Townshend’s The Real Me immediately touched a chord with me.
Can you see the real me, can ya’
CAN YA?!

A simple line, a musical shout, but when you feel like you don’t look at the world the same as others . . . that’s very powerful.  From the misunderstood kid at the beginning to the pleading close of Love Reign O’er Me I connected with Quadrophenia nearly as much as to Layla.  I can easily put on an act for those around me in my day job, or in my sphere of influence.  I have friends, but dear friends – those whom you trust with everything – those are few.  Very few.  My brothers.  I can think of one friend from grade and high school – whom I hold very dear.

None of them sent this.  None of them sent any of the three musical ties to my emotions.

The journalist in me is dying to find out who sent it.  But the transition into this change of seasons – the change in our lives again, this new story . . . has taught me that it’s okay to have a bit of the mystery.  Three anonymously given, heartfelt and well thought gifts . . . someone knows me all too well.  Hannah called it my secret Santa.  I call them my “mysterious benefactor.”

It’s always good, once in awhile, to have a little bit of a puzzle, shrouded in mystery and wrapped in an enigma.

 

Through a different lens

The kids . . .

Sometimes I wonder about my kids.  Not in a bad way, not in the old “God, I wonder about them sometimes” kind of way but in a way that worries me.

Understand, I didn’t look at the world through the typical lens.  I grew up in a small town so everyone knew your business and I saw or perceived what was supposed to be a set of expectations.  Expectations that you’d do what everyone else does.  Expectations that you’ll go out with whoever they think is best or that you’ll hang out with who is expected and act as expected.

Me in High School

Two things were wrong with that.  First, it’s how I perceived the world.  I’ll be honest, and it wasn’t until many years later, that I realized it was just as much my own fault I saw things that way.  I was immature, lacking confidence, missing some of the more social graces, even.  On top of that I had a refusal to conform, no matter how harmless the conformity.  It wasn’t like I was a rebel, that would have been cool.  No, while the popular culture around me was saying we should listen to Tiffany trying to sing I saw him Standing There I railed and shouted how the Beatles version was vastly superior.

It didn’t improve much until after I’d gotten to college.  Whether worth the loss or not, I neglected and ignored even those who would have been exceptionally interesting friends to have around.  That was my older life . . . I wanted them away.  It didn’t mean I left my parents or home behind, I just enjoyed the stupendous isolation at times.  I taught myself guitar.  I joined a band . . . I’ll grant you, it wasn’t the greatest band ever.  Still, I found exposure to blues, jazz, all of it.  I met people who saw the world through the same kind of lens I did.  I didn’t regret the decisions . . . much.

That doesn’t mean I was cruel (I hope) or mean to those from whom I tried to isolate myself.  It took a great amount of introspection and looking at who I’d become to realize that my isolation and frustration were as much my own doing as the actions of others.  Sure, I was a crazy, geeky kid who loved Doctor Who and had a preference for much better music like Eric Clapton and Led Zeppelin and Dave Brubeck rather than one-hit-wonders that dominated the 1980’s.  But look at music today . . . with autotune giving even the most lyrically and sonically inept person thinking they can actually sing.  A Flock of Seagulls seem like Beethoven by comparison now.

I see glimmers of that same lanky kid from my past in each of my four kids.  The push to do things their own way, the frustration, even the disgust at times, even if it’s not particularly warranted.  I want to jump inside their heads and tell them that it’s not nearly as horrible as they think.  By the same token, though, I don’t want them to feel like it’s OK and actually good to be completely conforming to what everyone says.  I play them Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech where he says to do things differently . . . because if nobody’s done it before, there are no rules telling you that you can’t do it.  I tell them that playing the guitar in a band – whether everyone around you says you can do it or not – is perfectly fine.  I remember that I’d only been playing a year when I joined a band and was knock-kneed and scared stiff on a stage with a bunch of people ten years my senior.

My point?  I am like most parents.  I don’t want the kids to go through a perceived suffering . . . looking at the world through those different lenses without realizing that sometimes it’s best to take the glasses off and look at the entire picture.  Sometimes you can be too focused.  Sometimes you can be too narrow.  That was certainly the way I was . . . until I’d gotten to college, and certainly until I met my future wife.

She showed me a beautiful, wild, and sometimes difficult woman could find someone like me – who walks just a few feet away from the path – attractive and interesting.  Did that make life easy?  No.  There were times I wanted to strangle her because she would only walk the path and I’d find things of interest off in the trees somewhere.  My advice to those four kids?  It’s OK to look at what is off the road . . . but I learned from my late wife that you should be aware of what’s ahead, too.

I am also aware that my wife found out from her best friend – who also happened to be a friend of mine from elementary school – that there was one thing about my family she needed to be aware of.

“The Manoucheris have a monumental intolerance for stupidity” was her line.

I couldn’t have put it better myself.

Passion and Intensity

Our Little Jam Session

I know that the above headline could apply to so many things, but it’s not salacious nor prurient.

It is a description that my middle daughter either didn’t believe or didn’t want to believe about herself.

About a year ago Hannah, the boys and I (Abbi had a report she was working on and a test she had to study for) attended a picnic and jam session at a family friend’s house.  The day was one filled with food, music and just having a good time with each other.  Doesn’t matter the caliber of musician or writer or speaker or animator or filmmaker or what have you, a good artist learns from even the worst ones.  Nobody was bad here, but we all wanted to play together and have some fun.

At this particular event Hannah got up with her friends and played guitar while they tried to push through a blues riff and just jammed for quite awhile.  She wasn’t doing any Eric Clapton solos and didn’t have any aspirations to do so on the deck of our friends’ house.  However, once she started, she hadn’t noticed that the instructor and head of the music department of our school had arrived.  While many of you might shrug and wonder why this would even eek onto your radar you should know who the head of our department is.

The man who we were lucky enough to get at our school has a pedigree that spans probably every album you might have listened to from the ’80s, possibly even the late ’70s on.  He played on Madonna’s Like a Virgin.  He told stories that day of this gangly, strange looking Texan walking into the studio while he was recording with David Bowie who ordered BBQ from Austin, TX, and played blistering guitar they’d never heard before . . . a guy named Stevie Ray Vaughan on the album Let’s Dance.  He never talks much about them and I have a feeling it was a work and a passion of his and to work with this group of musicians was no different than, say, his passion for anything else.  It was second nature.  He doesn’t brag or puff his chest out when he talks about these events in his life.  One minute he’s talking playing basketball outside Bowie’s studio and the next he’s reminded of a recipe for New York cheesecake.  That’s who walked into our little party.

So Hannah doesn’t quite understand why, after just one afternoon of playing in his presence her teacher wants to put her into his band that plays at events and school masses.
“I don’t play that well,” she says.
“It’s now how much you know, Hannah, it’s that you have passion and intensity,” he tells her.

Still, she’s skeptical.

Fast forward to yesterday . . . and she’s still confuzzled as to why this man wants her in the band.
“You really think I can do this, Dad?”
“I wouldn’t have put you in there if I didn’t,” was my somewhat puzzled reply.
“I don’t really have intensity, Dad, but Mr. Sabino keeps telling me I do!”
“Because he’s right, Hannah.”

And he is . . . I see in Hannah the sparks I had when the guitar started to make sense to me.  This wasn’t my wanting to get on stage and meet girls, it was more.  I loved that when I couldn’t express myself to others I could do it with even a few notes on the guitar.  I could play for hours (and did) and not grow tired of it.  Never.  Still that way.  Hannah wakes up, has breakfast, gets her school materials together and then picks up her Strat and plays.

I said the same thing to her older sister, Abbi.  She tried out for the school’s biggest musical.  She called me today, sounding much like her mother, and in a panic told me she’d completely messed up.  She’d been told the wrong way to come back into the verse of a song by a girl who she didn’t know wanted the same part Abbi’d gotten a call-back for.  I don’t know if this girl did it intentionally or just didn’t have a clue – both are dangerous – but Abbi made it sound like she’d folded and fallen into a fetal position on the floor.

But when I asked if she’d started well, the answer was “yes.”  I asked if she’d gone off-key?  “no.”  Did she stop and just fall apart?  “no.”

But the girl who told her the wrong way got it perfectly right and sang beautifully, she says, and she got called back for 3 parts and Abbi got called for 1.

This is where Dad has to be MomandDad.  Not Dad.  Dad’s gut says go to the school, find the teacher and lobby, find the other girl and hit her in the shins like Nancy Kerrigan and then throw back my head like the Hulk because after all she’s my little girl and I’d do anything to help her and protect her and even if I’m wrong I’m right and the ends justify the means.
But a run-on-sentence like that is only for Dads.  Not Moms.  We don’t have Mom, so I have to act like I understand.  I have . . . to . . . listen.  That’s hard for a guy.  It is.  When women get angry and frustrated and wonder why we can’t just listen and give a hug and comfort it’s because – and this is important – we care.  We care enough that it bothers us and the way we get around that is by fixing the problem.

The hardest thing in the world for a Dad – particularly one who has to be Dad and Mom – is to not try to fix everything.  Sometimes I have to let them fall or experience the bad.  Sometimes it’s OK to see that not everyone can be trusted or is as nice as you are.  That’s hard and it’s painful . . . for me.  All I can do is calm her down and listen to her in tears and be proud when she says she held it together and didn’t cry or scream until she was out of the auditorium.

But the lesson above applies.  She was on-key.  She still acted with passion and intensity.  She lost her track and her tempo but found it back.  She didn’t stop and walk away, she figured it out.  The only advice I could give her falls short in her ears initially, but it’s this: it’s never as bad as you think it is in the moment.  (OK, sometimes it is, but no, not all the time)  The teacher knows her abilities, likes her, understands her passion and intensity.  The other director – a student director – likes Abbi and knows that Abbi was good and saved some of the lines in the understudy version of her play last year.

Abbi…on stage doing what she loves.

It’s hard to know you messed up – and harder still to keep going when you do.  But that’s what passion and intensity give you.  When you mess up, you own the mistake.  You stretch your abilities by doing it.

So at the end of the day I tell Hannah to learn from her sister’s example: to keep going.  It’s easy to take lessons and sit in the same room or at home.  But get in a group, hear the things they can do and how they perform and you push yourself to do more.  You play to your utmost.

When I played with a friend a month or so ago she noted how I didn’t play a flurry of notes constantly.  I had a slow build, that the playing was structured, like I had a path and a way I was going.  It wasn’t speed metal, I didn’t play 1,000 miles per hour from beginning to end of the solo.  My response was one I stole from Eric Clapton: – you don’t have to play 100 notes if you play just one with passion and intensity.

I don’t know if Abbi made the play.  I don’t know if Hannah will play brilliantly.  All I can say is I know what I tell them – do your best and own your moment.  The rest of the time I have to listen and learn not to act, that’s my lesson.  Sometimes a hug is better than a 2×4.

Sometimes it’s best to have passion and intensity.

On the Road with Anonymous Recordings . . .

A couple weeks into our new life I was still having a hard time coming to terms with the fact that everything was upside down.  It’s not a surprise to any of you, I’m sure, since everything was so sudden and crazy.  I don’t think I need to go into the tragic details all over again.  Still, there was a small (well, huge, actually) kindness that I had never expected in the weeks after the funeral.

But let’s start with yesterday.  Sam, one of my twin sons, was sick at school on Monday.  I got the call from the school, again, saying he was in the office, even joking a little about how much I’ve been talking with them lately.  They also seemed to think Sam was hamming it up just a little in order to go home.  I couldn’t really deny him the trip home, of all the kids he’s the one who complains the least and endures the most.  Fortunately, one of our friends was heading up to the school already and she picked up Sam.  My oldest daughter was only an hour from getting out of school so she picked him up.

So today I had Sam at my sister-in-law’s house.  He may not have been sick but I just couldn’t take the risk.  I cannot take the time off right now, there’s a lot of work to be done, and I have to be able to concentrate on my job.  So I drove from my house to the far side of suburbia where his Aunt lives and then back into downtown.  It’s a long trip, probably 1 1/2 hours of driving in the morning.  All the podcasts and stuff I’d normally listen to for the week . . . burned through those on the radio in the drive to drop Sam at the house.

Knowing this, I looked for other material on the radio.  Standing out in the middle of the stack was a bright yellow box.

It’s no secret, I know, that the one album I’d take on a desert island with me would be “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek and the Dominos.  But prior to my writing a blog or getting on Facebook or other media it was something reserved mainly for someone who knew me intimately, not random people on the street or mere acquaintences.

Yet a couple weeks after the funeral, I got two random packages.  The first was a remastered edition of the Traffic Album “John Barleycorn Must Die”, the second, a $100 box set of the 40th anniversary edition of Layla.  I had seen them, I had drooled over them, I had thought about them, but never in a million years had I thought about buying them.  I asked my brothers, neither bought them.  My Dad and Mom hadn’t.  Nobody I knew fessed up to sending this amazing gift.

In case you don’t know the story, Eric Clapton, falling madly in love with George Harrison’s wife, starts reading a Persian poem called “The Tale of Layla and Majnun”.  It inspires him and he writes one of the most amazing double-LP’s in existence.  Duane Allman’s on it.  The rhythm section is amazing, and for a kid growing up with unrequited love it’s an anthem of an album.

I listened to it that first day, but hadn’t really listened much since.  The reason?  Where the album speaks of unrequited love, it applies very well to losing it as well.  I listened in misery all those months ago, both marveling at the remix and the clarity and crying at the message because it applied so well to my situation.  It was almost a pleasure to wallow in misery.  But I had to stop.  It’s my favorite album of all time.  If I continued beyond that day it would forever be tied to this event, my loss, and I’m stuck with never being able to listen to it again without thinking about Andrea.

But today I took the CD with me in the car.  I listened on the way to meet my sister-in-law and get Sam.  I hadn’t really listened to the record much before today.  It made me think of Andrea, how could it not?  But it didn’t make me think about her death or my horrific loss.  It made me think about how much I loved her, chasing after her, and the fact that she’s out of reach.  It’s much like the Persian poem itself.  If you haven’t read it, it certainly isn’t a happy ending, it’s Romeo and Juliet years before Shakespeare, but an amazing poem.

I listened the whole drive, sang along, felt the guitar solos, it was like listening to it all over again.

I also thought back to the person or persons who might have sent me these to me.  Someone knew me well enough that they sent not just the LP they knew I would like, but from another band that they had to know me to know I’d like it.  Yet they sent them anonymously, not looking for credit, not looking for thanks.  Maybe they knew eventually I would get here, able to listen to them again.  Maybe they just wanted to give me something for me, that I would want to listen to and be able to enjoy.  A ray of sunlight in the darkness that surrounded us at the moment.

Regardless, I arrived with the last harmonics of the guitar on “Thorn Tree in the Garden” and I picked up my son, smiling, thanking his Aunt.  I thanked her for the help and she brushed off the thanks like it was nothing.  To her it may have been nothing, but to me, it was peace of mind that I could get through my day.

I drove home with my son, another hour drive home, the radio on this time, and realized that I’d gone through my day and managed to get through things without too much stress.  We’ve had a hard time up to this point, sure.  But we’ve gotten this far . . . father than I thought we would by this point.  Like the LP, I’ve learned to listen without pulling me into one day ten months ago.  Now, it seems, I can get through difficulties without wondering why I have to do this without her.

How I Wish You Were Here . . .

Andrea and I at a formal event. I wish she was here . . .

Wish You Were Here (With Stéphanie Grapelli) by Pink Floyd

Being married to me, I have to admit, was no picnic.  I am sure Andrea had her moments of absolute and sheer frustration where she just wanted to punch the walls.  I let her steer me to what clothes to wear or how to wear my hair, but even I, in spite of the occasional polka-dot purple shirt or silk top would put my foot down on a lot of things.  I wouldn’t listen to country music even though Andrea had gotten the bug from her best friend.

More than anything, though, I listened to music.  Constantly, everywhere and without pause there was music in our household.  If I wasn’t listening to music I would play guitar.  If I wasn’t playing guitar I was singing.  When I cook I sing, out-loud and the most random songs from Christmas carols in July to Robert Johnson’s “Come On In My Kitchen” to novelty songs like “Crabs Walk Sideways, Lobsters Walk Straight.  It was constant but even Andrea had her limits and would snap at me sometimes to which I’d only get quieter, not stop.

But in the car, or out with kids, particularly if there was a song that Andrea loved, she’d be there, off-key, singing at the top of her lungs.  Sam, her buddy, would go “Mooom!  Geez, stop, you sound awful!” while smiling ear to ear.  I would totally buy in, pushing her along, singing with her, trying to go off-key too and sing.  Eventually she’d pull back and listen to me sing with the kids and smile.

No song did this more than Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”.  I have to admit, that of all the albums I own, this is probably my second favorite.  I favor “Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs” by Derek and the Dominos, but Floyd’s album of loss, friendship broken and the love and depression of their friend Syd Barrett is my very close second, and though it’s probably a sin to Floyd fanatics, I consider this my favorite album of theirs.

So much so, in fact, that after getting some gift cards I decided to buy the “Immersion Box Set” of the album.  I got it this morning and I sit here tonight thinking I could get through it because of my long history with it.  After all, my brother gave this to me as a kid, my first Floyd record ever, and I was entranced with the wine-glass intro and buildup of the album’s opus, “Shine On you Crazy Diamond.”  But I sit here, on my bed at midnight, looking for things to write and hear an outtake of the title track and it just felt like my heart started to rip apart.

It’s strange, it’s not even something Andrea heard, but it’s a version never released with a violin instead of guitar solo and the sort of plaintive cry of the violin just shot Andrea into my head and I started to cry.

I always related to the song.  Andrea and I couldn’t have been more polar opposite, and I have to figure many of the people around her wondered what the hell she was thinking when she started going out with me.  She was blonde, tall and voluptuous.  I had jet black hair and was skinny to the point of lanky.  Near a 90-pound-weakling.  (Alright, 160 then, but hey, it fits the analogy)  She was classy and tanned and fun while I was wearing outfits 5-years behind the norm and had a Bieber do before he was born.

But we clicked.  And even then, dating, while I listened constantly to music and had my acoustic guitar and would play “Wish You Were Here” in the apartment where I lived while Andrea visited or got ready for her day.  She came out one day, recognizing what I was playing and giggled loudly “I LOVE this song . . . We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl . . . year after year!”

I never thought I’d ever get torn by this song.  It brought such happy, warm memories of her.  I thought about her sitting next to me in the car belting out the lyrics.

But the version I have playing right now is so stark, so . . . pretty, that’s the word, I suppose, and almost sad . . . that I find myself crying because of it.

So.
So you think you can tell.
Heaven from Hell
Blue skies from pain
Can you tell a green field
From a cold steel rail
A smile from a veil
Do you think you can tell

Before  you criticize or try to comfort, yes, I know you could find hurt or meaning in anything if you search hard enough, but it’s brutal in its honesty.  I do – I wish you were here.  We were such opposing forces that we were two lost souls swimming around.  We had so many trials and tribulations and money troubles we were running through the same stresses year after year, over and over again.  Andrea had the same fears she’d had as a child and even I couldn’t make pull her through them to the other side.

I know I’m blatant in my musical references.  You’ll notice, if you haven’t already, that I place a song on every post hoping to spread some of the love I have for it around, but this is one of the first since hearing “Wonderful Tonight”, the song we adopted as our wedding song, on the radio at the funeral home.

I hear that song, the violin in place of the guitar, and I can see her next to me, but also realize there’s just no chance to hear her loving, excited voice with this song.

I miss you my love, my sweet Angel.  I wish you were here.

How I wish . . . How I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears.

Wish you were here.

That’s Powerful Stuff . . .

Powerful Stuff by the Fabulous Thunderbirds

Sometimes there is powerful stuff (to quote the Fabulous Thunderbirds) out there that you can’t avoid.  I can avoid what I can’t see coming.  It’s the stuff I didn’t know was out there that get to me.

There are a few things that I must admit, even though we enjoyed them as a family, I was able to retain possession.  I lost several of my favorite Clapton songs.  “Wonderful Tonight” I simply cannot hear on the radio, television or even Muzak.  Our first dance, first kiss, wedding dance, all were to that song.  Cannot hear it without losing it.  “Layla” kills me, though I’m at a point where I can finally listen to it.  I don’t watch any of the vampire shows she loved so much.  I can’t see many of the dramas.  I don’t order from one particular pizza chain . . . they’re things I simply have to avoid because they’re parts of my life she stole away when she left.

But I retained one particular television show, a Sci-Fi program decades old and my favorite as a kid.  She hated the ’60s-’70s version for its bad special effects and liked the new one but didn’t make it a point to watch it every week.

Yes.  I’m a geek, a troubled, self-conscious, certified hard and fast Whovian.  I love the TV show Doctor Who.  (For the hardcore fans, you’ll notice I didn’t use Dr. I spelled it out)  I mean, as a kid, I was obsessed.  I had the giant scarf, the rumpled brown hat, just needed the curls and the teeth.  When they re-booted the show I was aghast and enamored at the same time.  The special effects had reached modern day and the writing was brilliant.  I had to convince my wife to watch with the kids because she actually had full disdain for the program.

This isn’t a commercial for the show, bear with me, there’s a point.

The writer and executive producer of the current incarnation is brilliant.  But I didn’t know how brilliant.  Some people just get it, if you know what I mean.  My situation is certainly one where people don’t really understand and it seems easy to just say you’re sorry and that things will be OK.  By the way, telling someone like me that I shouldn’t worry, it’s all for the best, there’s a plan, a foretelling or a future that I just don’t know about . . . worst possible thing to tell me.  Why?  Because I hate the idea there’s a “plan” that involved me marrying an amazing woman only to lose her when I needed her most.  Screw the plan!  What happened to my free will in all this?!

But back to Who.  I love the show and my kids love it, too, which makes me happy.  My oldest . . . well, she doesn’t.  Or perhaps she does but doesn’t want the cool people to know that she does because, in England it’s the highest rated program and here it’s a cult hit.  I can watch it, possibly because it changes so much from year to year or episode to episode.

Every Christmas they put on a spectacle that’s over an hour long and involves some sort of catastrophe.  We wanted so desperately to watch it on Christmas day but time, relatives and reality just got in our way.  We ended up waiting until last night.

It’s the only time I’ve walked out in the middle of an episode.

Understand, it wasn’t that the episode was terrible, it was great.  But it’s called “The Doctor, the Widow and the Wardrobe.”  A woman loses her husband to WWII at the beginning of the picture.  Midway through they’re visiting an old manor house to get away from the bombing and she hasn’t told her children that their father isn’t coming home.  She yells at them at a particular moment in the episode and says she doesn’t know why.  She doesn’t want Christmas to be forever known as the day their father was taken away.

“They’re just so happy and . . . ”
“. . . and you know once you tell them they’ll never be happy like this again.”

Or words to that effect.

The writer producer, Steven Moffat, in one phrase didn’t just twist, he wrenched the knife in my heart.  Without speaking or writing those words myself, the program had hit the point perfectly.  Not only was I the bearer of bad news, I was the harbinger of disappointment.  On March 26th I walked in and even though there was no choice in the matter, I was ripping a large part of their innocence away.  I knew that every bit of happiness from this point on would be touched with a shadow.  A spot of regret and misery that would filter into everything.  It would dim, for sure, and maybe disappear occasionally, but don’t you believe it goes away for good.  The shadow stays forever and I knew that the moment I walked in and said I had to tell them all something that the shadow would start to grow.

It’s back to something I’ve said many times before.  The big things like Christmas Day, birthdays, holidays, songs, all those things we know will hit us.  It’s the stuff from out in left field, the line in our favorite show or the picture or the worst thing – smells – that throw me into a tizzy.  You just never know what’s going to hit you.

I walked out into the hallway until I could pull myself together.  The kids didn’t know anything, how could they?  They weren’t the ones who had to tell someone their Mom wasn’t coming home.  If the writers and producer of that program haven’t suffered this kind of loss I don’t know how to explain their getting it so beautifully right!  It’s a sci-fi show, an effects laden extravaganza with an impossible plot and improbable ideas.  It’s why I love it so much.

I don’t pretend to be able to cope.  I can’t go back and un-watch a show any more than I can go back and stop Andrea from dying.  I can see these things for what they are, and that’s getting something the way it really is, getting it right.  For every post I put here, shows like this who tell people what that sadness really is, not a simplistic tragedy that can be whitewashed with platitudes but a powerful thing that can have an impact on our whole future.

I don’t hide those emotions, I hide those tears.  It’s OK for my kids to know they can feel these things and deal with them.  But they also need to know their father is strong enough to shoulder their burdens, even if it’s just so much smoke and mirrors as the sci-fi show they’re watching.  At least they know, they have someone who can help them.

There’s someone who can help them deal with the powerful stuff.