“Like a wise man chasing stars, I looked for a child. One asleep inside of me. When Christmas was beguiled.” – – Michael Johnson
I had no idea how much of a rut I was in. I had not run outdoors since September of last year, when sciatica began to have its way with me and put the kibosh on my marathon plans. So when I managed a slow four mile jaunt on February 10th, all was bliss. Truly. I know it sounds so cliche to say that something defies description, but it did, and I had been unknowingly homesick for such events. And so of course, when done running, I ranted a bit on Facebook about my heavenly experience. But not a lot. Sometimes a beautiful experience not shared can leave a wondrous alchemical residue. And so it began a little over a week ago.
There is a beautiful medley written by Elton John years ago called “Carla/Etude/Chloe” that is almost my favorite song written by him. (“Your Song” can still bring me to the brink of tears) As I ran it took me a while to notice that the medley was playing in my head, complete with my fantasy arrangement and a vision of a friend of mine dressed as Groucho directing the orchestra. When I got home I was craving my guitar and singing. Then I ran the next day and fanned my fantasy flames again. And then I set it all aside. For a few days.
When a spark comes alive in me it usually won’t leave me alone until I give it some attention. I live with some regret that the sum of the sparks I ignored over the years may have produced enough stars for a van Gogh painting. And as I continue to live beyond “middle-age” and into my late sixties, I am now feeling how precious that little spark can be. And how resourceful.
My unconscious can be very playful as it is. There was a period in my thirties when I would go through stretches of not eating particularly well. McDonald’s would look like gourmet dining. Then my dream self would kick in. When my habits were causing obvious damage, I would start having dreams about Julia Child. I’m not kidding, doctor. These began in the years when I was finishing up drinking alcohol, and even waking up hung over I knew what ol’ Julia was trying to tell me. Bring on the veggies. In recent years my tricky mind has resorted to Christmas references to direct my focus to a new beginning. Usually a song or two, but most of the time a snowy scene. The Christmas tunes have a way of playing in my head during my waking hours for a while before I actually notice them. I love the birth metaphor, and they are happening more and more frequently lately. Ok, Mr Unconscious. You have my attention.
I played a show at the Underground Cafe in January of 2014 that I still think of often. I get a shiver when I remember playing “Life By The Drop” along with the entire audience clapping. What I remember more is I think, the real reason why I play. Every now and then during the night the music coming out of me almost seemed irrelevant. It seemed like we were all joined at the hip spiritually (I’m trying my hardest to steer away from cliche) and literally in joy. Enjoy. The music had been the vehicle. I felt that show for weeks after it was done. The memories of that night seemed to be my reason for being for a while, and yet its not a “thing” that I remember. It was that brilliant sense of nothingness. I’m guessing that whoever wrote the screenplay for the movie “Cat Ballou” didn’t know what a profound gem of a line she or he inserted at one point, when Lee Marvin’s character says “I’m an ex-citizen of nowhere and sometimes I get mighty homesick.” I hear ya, Lee.
In 1973 while at my aunt’s house, I flicked on her tv and watched a PBS concert of a guy named Michael Johnson. I was mesmerized. I was sixteen years old at the time, and became best friends with my guitar. It would be years (and some sober time) before I would work up the nerve to play publicly, but Mr Johnson had me. I even tried to sing like him, and much to my enjoyment my niece told me once in the early nineties that I sounded very much like him. I had not told her I was mimicking his voice. Tonight I pulled out my guitar and noticed that it may need a little hospital time. It sure didn’t sound like it wanted to be played. So instead of playing I searched You Tube for Michael Johnson concerts. They weren’t easy to find. After watching sprinter Michael Johnson (sigh) run a few races, I hit paydirt. I found a two hour show. Michael may not have made it very big on the music scene, but he did manage some chart hits when he was signed by a Nashville label. He was my inspiration, and tonight he rekindled in me the flame of a sleeping child. I was pretty choked up listening to some of his beautiful ballads, hearing some of his off the wall humor. Its been a long time. I’ve been mighty homesick.
I had no idea a four mile run was going to trigger a greater need to write, or bring me back to feeling so deeply affected once again by my musical life, past and present, hopefully also in the future. My long stretch of down time was really like trees in the winter. Their leaves are all gone but there’s a whole lot of unseen activity going on in them. A run. Some writing. Some Christmas dreams. And now back to music that had never left me, I had just forgotten. So if you’ll excuse me, I have songs to practice and a set list to prepare. I’m once more beguiled.