"The sun is slowly sinking down…
"The moon is rising…
"This ole world keeps on turnin' 'round…
"And I still love you…"
It's a quiet profession. A bit tired, worn but knowing. It's the kind of truth one arrives at by finding out what isn't as much as what it is -- and if it's not shiny and happy and beaming, there's a comfort in that deeper no other options knowledge.
Introduced by James Taylor with the simple declaration, "This is a lullaby," "You Can Close Your Eyes" was an accepting benediction of that which hurts. It acknowledges the pain that litters lives and it soothes with gentleness that all harrowed beings deserve.
On this evening -- to a sold-out crowd at New York City's Madison Square Garden -- it was also gently rocking the loss of a dear friend to a quiet place. Because, quite simply, people die… sometimes suddenly… sometimes out of time… sometimes not when they're supposed to; though who's to say?
This was a night to lull the ache that came from the passing of Tim White, one of the last of the true believers in the world of music journalism. White, a man who was fiercely independent in his thinking, married to the notion of good music and committed to getting it heard in any way he knew how, was the kind of life force one can never imagine extinguished.
Yet here we were -- along with Brian Wilson, Roger Waters, Jimmy Buffett, Sheryl Crow, Don Henley, Sting and Taylor -- celebrating the unthinkable in today's world: someone who believed music mattered. And in a taped 10 minute tribute/overview of the beaming journalist's life, White himself told the deepest truth, "A hero is someone who faces insurmountable odds -- and fights anyways."
In a world where not making waves is the rule, just letting good enough be more than enough and fine is the cancer that's undermined quality and originality in the name of market share and ease of operation (not to mention maximizing profit margins in a business that still corners on excess mandated by ego), Tim White stood down. The artists appreciated that -- and, hopefully, the attendees were inspired by it.
Tim White, you see, was both Don Quixote and Sancho Panza. On his own mule, he tilted at the windmills of the music he loved -- regardless of consequences, calling foul where it felt the business was being egregious; aside the Mellencamps, the Marley’s and the Taylor’s, he offered solace, insight, inspiration for staying on the horse.
The bow-tied writer with the broad smile and willingness to champion was always passionate about something -- and not afraid to take on the bogus or the undeserving or especially the unfair. And when he suddenly died, it put everything in a pretty harsh light. Because if someone who was all crackling life force could just -- poof! -- be gone, with all that joy, all that appreciation, all that exhilaration, it could happen to any of us.
It was a reminder and a caution and a loss... A loss that haunts you in ways you don't even wholly understand. But it's a life to remind us to risk the fury of chasing a dream or the things we love fiercely. In the end, what else is there really? Which begs the dilemma of this incredible night of music and kinship: write an essay about the power of music designed, like Hans Christian Anderson's little match girl's flame, to be held aloft to stay warm and fight back the fear of being alone, or to talk about James Taylor's ability to heal? Because both are valid -- if very different points.
Certainly the musicians knew what they lost. Not just in terms of the voice, but the forum. But they performed because they believed in the passion rather than merely stumping for what was, some last hurrah validation grab.
And if the fans came solely on marquis drawing power, hopefully they went into the night a little more on fire -- and perhaps ready to make a decision based on what might be rather than what just is.
Having lost a lot of friends out of time, the notion of having one's soul torn… that shock of gone when it shouldn't even close to be… the numbing of the incomprehensible… it passes a bit, but never really fades. And that's where the ghosts of what's gone become poltergeists who can mock you if you're not careful.
Which is what made James Taylor's "You Can Close Your Eyes" so potent. A lullaby for an ideal gone, a man who shone so others might bask in the light, a faithful believer with a critical eye pushing and encouraging people to be more, better had passed. And in Taylor's elegiac musing of hushed acceptance, there was something to put those challenges to sleep.
"Close your eyes, you can close your eyes it's alright," he assured everyone, most of all himself and fellow performers. "I don't know no love songs, but I can't sing the blues anymore…"
There it was. So simple. So sweet. So declarative.
In this emptiness, there is no spark, but also there are no more tears. The sadness remains; it's what we do with it that matters. In James Taylor's throat -- that voice that's been down quilts, homemade cookies, the first fire of the year and thick corduroys worn with favorite flannel shirts -- it's about the rhythms of sadness that should take us.
It's also about comfort sown where confusion, maybe even a little anger, reigns. What is gone is profound, what remains is all there is. Exhaustion permeates, disorientation defines. And in all that… all that… we must find a soft place to fall, to wrap ourselves in that which made the difference and temper the amputation of what is gone with the joy that we experienced it at all.
My best friend died of asthmatic arrest 10 years ago. She was 26, and she was gone in less than 5 minutes. There was no more vibrant, more music loving, life-choking human being than Emily, known to those who knew us as Piglet. A trust fund baby, who drove a BMW and was always short of her monthly draw, she knew no fear even when the bank was dry -- and she chased life with that same zeal.
I have a close friend now that 'let and I shared. Closer because we both knew her. Closer because I was the one that got the call in response to the tear-stained message from a Brian Wilson recording session (ironically enough) to hear the news, to draw the breath, to blink the jarring understanding of what had happened.
We both were bound by that loss. Even as we share the smiles of having known the sparkling Emily Woods.
And anyone who ever met Emily through me still talks about her as if she were here.
When I have a bad day, it's late so the time zone doesn't work for me, there's no Emily to call, to tell her how mean people are, how petty and venal, how personal agenda undermines the artist's good. To rail against the inertia of it all, I guess, and to hear, "But Holly Geeeeee, that's why you're there…" and then that giggle. Emily knew that some people were born to fight, to thrive, to struggle. She, like Tim White, like me I hope, was a true believer. And the thing about true believers -- again I can only hope -- is that they burn on long after the candle is gone.
And if we never ever truly get over those who pass away, it's comforting to know, they never really do. They live on in our hearts, our lives becoming a testimony to what we witnessed amongst the special ones -- and our smiles, our dreams, our tears become the quiet manifestation to the emotion we brought to the plate.
Tired, perhaps… Mired in futility, naturally… but euphoric about the possibilities, without a doubt. Even in the darkest hours, lives that have been touched will remain shining witness to that which they saw. And that is the knowledge that offers the deepest solace.
That, and the voice of an old friend, who takes the shock off and offers a basic truth. If it's not perfect, not what you want it to be, it's still probably better than it appears - and that is the truth that will lift you up, that will set you on fire again.
"Close your eyes, you can close your eyes It's alright I don't know no love songs But I can't sing the blues any more And you can sing this sing… Oh, you can sing this song… When I'm gone."
New York City Nashville 8 October,
"The sun is slowly sinking down…