Randall Knives, Desperados & Homegrown Tomatos: Guy Clark's Gone

Guy Clark was the Hemingway of the Texas expats, living beyond the confines of structural Music Row hitmaking. A Grammy-winner, painter, man in full, his songs capture pathos, small pleasures and what it means to be heroic over the course of almost a century. Today, he died. I look back on a longstanding friendship and the kind of person he was.
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Lost & Gone: Tim Hensley + George Jones, Lilly Pulitzer & Christopher Hanna Ripple On

Working On A Building
Tim Hensley, George Jones, Lilly Pulitzer, Christopher Hanna Ripple On…

            I’m at the Rhiga Royale, now called the London. Once upon the time, it was the high, but not most nosebleed expensive rock & roll hotel: a place where Billy Gibbons and I once passed the night talking about heaven only knows, where running a “Regis & Kathie Lee” performance with a young client, Nanci Griffith heard my laugh and ran up to hug me.

            Twenty years ago, Patty Loveless and I sat at the bar, talking about how MCA – the label that had just let her sign with Epic Nashville so she could have her shot – had released her husband, the legendary producer Emory Gordy, Jr. from the George Jones project, a seemingly quid pro quo for her being allowed to leave. We talked about how cruel and unfair the business is, the way it hurts people in the name of because we can, making the point or plain old just not having broad enough grace to do the right thing.
            Gordy had returned Jones to his “He Stopped Loving Her Today” prominence for the label. That didn’t seem to be the point.

            Twenty stories up, a young tenor singer who could bend notes like Uri Geller slept. The rhythm guitarist/harmony vocalist had spent a year in Ricky Skaggs’ band after leaving his home Cincinnati – the ultimate proving ground in roots-based traditional country. Now he was holding down the same role in Patty Loveless’ coveted band.

            Tim Hensley was always sort of “aw shucks” and Gomer Pile kinda guy, but you couldn’t not love him. And as a harmony singer, his voice could rise and arc with another --  singing like precision flying with so much power, nuance and heart, he made the combined voices that much more emotionally-gripping.

            George Jones died Friday. He’d lived every one of his 81 years.
            That was a punch to the stomach. Threw everyone who had a tie to old school Nashville, where Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett and k.d. lang  put a credibility scare into the hearts of the old guard and let the legends rise again with a reverence and a vitality that mattered.

            Patty Loveless was part of that credibility scare. Ricky Skaggs was an exalted presence in it. George Jones, like Haggard and Willie, was a phoenix. Tim Hensley was a foot soldier, who helped reinforce the greatness with a gift you couldn’t deny.


            Morning television is the worst. The crew has to load in at 2 a.m. The band soundchecks at 5:15. The singer, whose vocal chords shouldn’t open up until 11 a.m. just by natural order, is usually steaming their throat and trying to warm their vocal chords without forcing it to sound halfway right just to wake-up America.

            Kenny Chesney’s been doing these shows going on a decade. Even sick, with a brutal stomach virus, he can be a trooper and get through it. It’s what you do. Those shows get booked months ahead; you don’t leave people in the lurch.
            Coming out of the door to his dressing room, he leaned over.

            “Tim Hensley just died,” he said somberly.

            A cavern opened between us. He’d been the one to text me about Jones four days before, when people still thought it was a hoax. Our eyes met. It was the sadness and loss, once again. Life, like the business, ain’t always fair.

            Not that we hadn’t been expecting it. There had been the scare a couple years earlier. Two stints in rehab. The bluegrass record -- named for John Prine’s Long Monday, which Chesney co-produced to capture the after-show jams Hensley would lead in countless bus compounds after his boss had rocked anywhere from 20-60,000 people – made in an attempt to realize his talent and inspire him to stay sober.

            There had been a scare in Key West earlier this year.

            It was inevitable.

            It didn’t matter. It’s like falling down a rabbit hole of regret, what could’ve been done, the disorientation of a life lost to drink and talent left fallow in the name of something so consuming.
            “Choices,” George Jones sang about the demons, the temptations, the decisions to be made along the way. The things that save you or kill you. Jones lived it, so did Tim Hensley. As Emmylou Harris wrote in her song “Raise The Dead”: “Hank Williams died when I was five/ He sang I’ll never get out of this world alive…”

            Indeed. Or yet. And how.

            George Jones, then Tim Hensley. Lilly Pulitzer twelve days ago.

            Bang! Bang! Bang! They always come in threes, or some such. Never mind my friend’s mother and son, two weeks apart, all within this same cycle. Christopher Hanna, 37, and his grandma: a 1, 2 punch for the father and the son.

            Just part of the natural order, they say. And it’s true. But lately between the speed of sound, the velocity of life and the relentlessness of the reaper, it’s like so many late October leaves swirling down, whirling around each other to where you can hardly tell them apart; yet in the patchwork tumble, you know. You just don’t have the time to process.

            You move, and move on.

            So I’m sitting in this hotel, where I stayed the night Sinead O’Connor got booed at the Bob Dylan Tribute concert at Madison Square Garden – and threw up all over Kris Kristofferson, her cortisol spiking from the focused hate hurling at her for tearing up the Pope’s picture on “Saturday Night Live” the week previous. It’s a place of profound emotional pile-driving, and I’m wondering about life. About decisions we make, reasons we do.

            A girl companion to the boys of road, I have heard stories and midwifed dreams since I was 19. Touched some pretty rare cloth in the process. I have spun lives and truths into gold and Grammys, taken niche music and given it broader places to exist, offered context to those who might be coughed up and left unseen by the side of the road. Met a lot of incredible people, known some pretty special moments, seen some very wondrous things.

            When I went to meet Kenny Chesney the first time, a meeting 18 months in the badgering by everyone who’d ever met the scrappy kid from East Tennessee, it was Tim Hensley, whose “Hawlleeee Gleason, what are you doin’ HERE?” that set me at ease.

            I wasn’t gonna sign Kenny Chesney, out touring with his friend Tim McGraw, He was too mainstream, I was too Rodney Crowell and Patty Loveless. It would never work, couldn’t work. Besides I “wasn’t their kind,” and I knew it.

            Yet, there was Tim, wide open and guileless as kindergardener. Standing on that stage with his black acoustic guitar, Howdy Doodie haircut and harmony voice that’d stop you like a freight train hitting a wall. He couldn’t believe his eyes, and at the same time, he completely made me feel at home.

            His unaffectedness did that to you. Where Tim went, that sense of down home followed. In the bus lots and dressing rooms of arenas, he’d have that acoustic guitar out, coaxing three- or four-part singing out of “Working On A Building,” “Fox On the Run,” some other bluegrass gem. The jet-engine echo of a stadium show still be ringing in the air, but Hensley’s organic roots would rise above, dangle there and people would just leap on.

            Even in the jaded world of big time show biz, big deals, big dollars, big Big BIG, you couldn’t resist that sweet-voiced authenticity. It had always been there. Right from those first moments, just perfect in the music and the moment and the innocence that gets lost.

            It’s almost like I can’t remember a time he wasn’t there -- somewhere -- with his swooping bangs, guitar-riding a little high.

            Ricky Skaggs, where I first met him as a college girl of 19 or 20, Tim was  just a little older, but completely holding his own. Fresh out of Cincinnati on one of the toughest bandstands there was, he glowed and laughed in the wash of the music.

            Smiling and bobbing his head when I walked into Patty Loveless dressing room on a big Hank Williams Junior/Doug Stone tour in the early 90s, there he was again. Patty laughed that I knew him, saying “Then you know he can sing!” looking on at the dark-haired, high foreheaded young man with equal parts pride in his talent, recognition of being from nowhere and delight at how unsophisticated he was.

            That was Tim Hensley. Always a smile, and a “hello,” and a sincere welcome. In the rush of all this, he always seemed genuinely happy to see everybody, always quick to take out a guitar and play, sing songs and coax others to join in. It was why he was such a part of a delight no matter where he was. He just wanted to make music.

            Or so it seemed. After all, how can you know what people don’t show you? The little details, the little tweaks you might not notice – until they’re an avalanche. Like it was with Tim Hensley, a bottomless pit of things he can’t remember, phones he didn’t pick up, doors he wouldn’t answer.

            Stacked up like cord wood, waiting for the pain to stop. But it never did. Whatever it was. It wasn’t like he told us. Just kept insisting he was okay, doin’ great, doin’ fine. Ole Tim, just hobbling along, looking for the next moment to crawl into.

            After almost passing from this world a few times, he finally did it. Fell down and didn’t get up. 3:15 in the morning, those lost nether-hours, down he went, straight into the stars and floated heavenward. “Working on a Building,” no more.

            Like the ghost of Keith Whitley, those wild-eyed tortured bluegrass boys see and know things we’ll never get. Some out-run’em, some find the Lord, some make peace, some give up and some die trying. Or try to die until they do.

            If Merle Haggard proclaimed “Tonight The Bottle Let Me Down,” did it? Or was it just what he needed? Sitting here, it’s hard to say. I can’t even be angry at this sweet soul. Because there’s a point with this sort of thing where you can’t know, and even if you do, who’s to say?

            Beyond it hurts. Us now, for sure. But if what they needed was relief, maybe this ache is shouldering my brother’s burden. Missing them, so they can have peace. Because George Jones careened back and forth for years, grateful to make music, generous to a fault, cagey when he’d fall off the wagon.
            But he got to 81, left an indelible stamp. Loved as much as he was loved.

            He set a standard, and lived on his own terms. An inspiration, he was a nagging reminder about what potent singing ought to be. Few will touch that hem or have the vocal sparks to ignite songs that were poetry stretched over minor keys.
            Or have the fierce love Jones inspired in his wife Nancy. She kept it together, no matter what might come. Always seeking a way, another path in the journey. Making it work, keeping the music playing.

            Suddenly, gone. Like THAT! Another rhinestone off the Manuel suit of what high country was. Nothing can ever replace that, or get close. But it’s not like you can explain that passion to the people who weren’t there.

            And hurling across life, it’s not like you get to feel it, either.

            I’m sitting with my eyes closed on a plane. Time has passed, but the emotional inertia is the same. Trying not to think, trying not to let the crack in my heart split open. So far, it’s been okay, white knuckles, but holding in. Of course, it’s not just Jones and Tim, it’s Lilly and Christopher Hanna… a cavalcade of people who have touched my life, moved my heart, taught me their own emotional colors, people no one in my world even knows.

            There is no recognition, no nod of understanding.  The numbness so great it has its own weight and hurts in its lack of feeling. Gravitational vertigo, maybe; held down, yet feeling like you’re being sucked into the core.

            Christopher Hanna, the 37-year old son of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna, was a kid in a polo shirt who stood just past my waist when I met him in Denver. Bright face, gigantic brown eyes, black curly hair, he had more vitality than a puppy, more love and eager curiosity than a kid had a right to.

            Over the years, I would see him for holidays here and there. Coming to Nashville to see their Dad for Christmas, hitting “Edward Scissorhands” and Dalts after; talking taquitos and Tim Burton, life in Colorado and Salt Lake City, school and the basic realities of being a kid. The fiber of every tiny, shiny moment of too many memories that never register, but are precious for the jewels they are.

            Artistic to a fault, he was a cartoonist, art director, creative force. Christopher was always into something, always had some magical thing he could explain, some intriguing movie he’d seen, some anime that he’d describe. Happy to be alive, rubbing that essential joy about life off on you.

            You’d never see him do it. You’d just realize you were smiling when he was gone.

            And then he got sick. Cancer. Bad. Troops rallied. The best doctors were found. It was pushed back, seemed to be receding. But like so many stories, the “all-clear” turned into “we’ve found something else.”

            So it went, on and on. You’d get the reports. You’d fear asking, afraid showing interest might give it strength. But cancer doesn’t care about any of us, it only wants what it wants: to grow, even if it takes the person with them.

            Christopher, being Christopher still figured out how to glimmer through it all. Where most people would crumble or dampen, he somehow fell in love. Found a girl who was just as precious as he was, opened up his heart and created something exponential. The craziness of knowing time is possibly finite magnifying the pricelessness of what each of them contained inside.

            It was incredible to see, to watch. Which I did this Christmas at the house Jeff Hanna’s made with his wife Matraca Berg, a perfect storybook Christmas with a sparrow of Jeff’s white-haired mother Lee, lots of friends, children who were now having children – and Christopher and Brittany.

            Just watching them was like watching Bambi and Feline: so sweet with each other, gentle, yet consumed. Ahhh, we should all have that. And before Christopher, who looked so dreadfully thin, went to heaven, he did.

            But a boy like that – sweetness, creativity, smarts and light – would. Like a beacon, he attracted it, drew it to him with some gravity we couldn’t see. He made you pause to watch when no one was looking, just to drink in what we all so desire.

            When I hugged him, he was mostly bones jangling around. He still hugged like love itself, and pulled you close enough to know how cherished you were. We talked about “Edward Scissorhands,” how young he was, how much fun that Christmas had been. And he smiled. That smile.

            I kinda knew, even though I didn’t want to. I kinda felt it, even as I tried to shake it off.

            Lee, Jeff’s mother, went less than three weeks before Christopher. Most likely to make the way for her precious grandchild. Her mind had been fading, but her sense of humor remained. No one quite knew why she was still alive. Evidently, she knew when to go so she could be most helpful.

            That’s the thing about Moms and Grandmoms: they know. They do what’s best for their kids. So, Christopher had someone waiting – to take him where he needed to go, to soothe his brow, to make him laugh and understand this was just the beginning.

            I was in Cleveland when I got the news. Barely awake after a miserable red eye flight from California, clawing to consciousness, then understanding my fitful sleep, my unrest upon joining the day. Wind knocked out of me, suddenly where I needed to be didn’t matter.

            But what I needed, something, anything to make me accept this horrible, gutting news was right there when I got in the car. God is my dee jay, I’m fond of saying. How many times, tired and feeling futile, do I walk in a place and hear “Tiny Dancer,” reminding me that some of us who surrender to the circus sow miracles of appreciation and understanding just by being?

            “Comfort me, said she, with your conversation,” Lyle Lovett’s voice quietly intoned. Like a prayer, “The Ballad of the Snow Leopard & The Tanqueray Cowboy” poured out of the speakers, raising far deeper truths to serve as a compass to the shabby, out of time Tangiers where my childhood faith in music would play out at a show by an act held sacred in Northern Ohio, unheard of most everywhere else.

            But in the disorientation and the midday, David Rodriguez’s song continued to balm and calm the storm inside. “It’s funny how we hunger for some inspiration,” Lyle almost exhaled. “And all the things that money can not buy…”
            Lyle Lovett doesn’t whisper, more caresses my aching truth. “But I’m a poet, and I’m bound to walk the line/ Between the real and the sublime/ Give the muses back their own…”

            It had been a season of that. Standing in the spinning instant BLAM! of dead and gone.

            Lilly Pulitzer died the morning of the Academy of Country Music Awards. No time to feel, to think, to even understand. Just keep moving, let the velocity hold you in place – because there’s no time for the breakdown needed.

            Losing Lilly was a sucker punch. The grand dame of pink & green resortwear. Sporty and tropical, flirty and fun. I’d worn her clothes as a child, got to be her friend as a grown-up. She had complimented my shoes, when I didn’t realize who she was; laughed about it when we were properly introduced.

            Lilly of the open door, overgrown “jungle,” wild cats, thrown together dinner parties, children, grandchildren and those of us she was generous enough to pull into her orbit. “Sit next to me,” she would say, patting the place beside her, “and tell me stories about all those wild men you keep in line.”

            She didn’t care about country music, she cared about adventure, spirited beings, places she might not get to. She loved tales about Brooks & Dunn and James Bonamy, Patty Loveless and Lee Ann Womack, Asleep at the Wheel and Rodney Crowell without ever really knowing who any of them were. She liked the momentum, the glimpses people never saw… and the way stories spun.

            When it was time for her first book, somehow she couldn’t get to the line. Was it the writer? The notion? The context? The boonswoggled deal? I never knew. Just that a mutual friend named Binny Jolly showed up at Sunday mass, slid into the pew next to me and asked if I could help.

            “I don’t know,” I said honestly. But it was Lilly. I would try.

            What unfolded were two magical days. Pages read, memories shared, order re-ordered. There was a lot of laughter, a fair amount of being slack-jawed at the stories she told and a lot of wonder at the grace that sprinkled through the life of a young, brilliant society housewife in Florida trying to figure out a way to be relevant.

            She was school friends with Jackie Bouvier, giving her intimacy with President Kennedy’s Camelot. She was a well-bred sprite as society shifted, interjecting sexiness to frumpy country club clothing, independence and self-determination into the realm of “a woman’s place,” humor into worlds that were often dry and boring.

            That never changed. Even when she closed the company; even a triumvirate of young fashion business people re-opened it after creating a licensing agreement for her name. She was – and always will be – Lilly.

            But the thing about Lilly, beyond walking into a Palm Beach old guard outpost like Testas with her and seeing the heads all turn, was her incalculable ability to know what’s needed. During the difficult severing of my relationship with my mother, she sought me out in a quiet moment at a party at her house, and asked, “How are things with MahMA?”

            Trying to sidestep, to not appear anything but gracious and avoid the shame of the truth, I said something vague. She just took me in with a mixture of kindness, reality and compassion. Then said, “REALLY?” in a way to let me know I was busted.

            “No, it is bad… It had to be severed. If you want the truth.”
            “Oh, I do,” she offered. “I always want the truth. And honestly, Holly…”

            She paused, not so much for effect, but to make sure I heard her.
            “Some things are best over. I’ve heard some of it. I know it was done lightly. But it’s done. Don’t look back.”

            In that moment, my guilt melted. I wasn’t ungrateful, I was trapped in something untenable. Lilly -- who loved all, understood people’s varying realities and reasons – had reached out, knowing my struggle. She wanted to give me the sense of peace that would only come from someone seeing what had happened, and understanding.



            And then she laughed, asked about freshening my drink.

            Isn’t that how the real blessings and benedictions fall?

            That, and the ones we lose. Even when we see it coming, we’re never ready.

            So, what are the lessons to be learned? What did these lives mean?

            While I’m waiting on the breakdown, what can I take from them to make me more engaged during my time here on the planet?

            All those lives were lived wide open: love, emotions, welcoming, present. Whatever there was, especially with Christopher and Lilly, they found the beauty, the gleam, the warmth, the love – and that is what they reached for. What they used to make that moment indelible. And they were generous, to a fault. Going where they didn’t need to, asking questions or making you feel invited, reaching out to bring you in.

            Even in the pinned against the momentum velocity of my last several weeks, the speed of life not allowing me to embrace what I needed to feel, there were moments that glittered like a diamond in the dust, unexpected and almost unbelievable in the right-when-it-was-needed of it all.

            Finding a friend amidst the tilt-a-whirl of marketing at the speed of now, determined to be as excellent as can be; in a world of good-enough-is-plenty, someone willing to sacrifice herself to get it right. Kindred spirits on the road are hard to find; ones who get the joke are rarer.

            There Sloan Scott was, ready to laugh, to roll her eyes, to embrace Elvis Costello’s truest coping manifesto “I used to be disgusted, now I try to be amused…” from the girl’s second best friend titled “The Angels Wanna Wear My Red Shoes.” Sloan likes shoes, good meals, better stories, challenges most people won’t see so they don’t have to deal with them.

            In the tumbledown of egos and details, she excels. She’s a marvel of making it work, a juggler of opposing demands and a thrill to watch in action.

            Deep in her lair of characters is a late 50s master of taste, a man who mixes spirits into grown up libations. That work has taken him ‘round the world, let him see the bulls in Pamplona, watch Cubans roll cigars and play the sweetest music, experience golf in the heart of Scotland – all while conjuring things that grown-ups will like to drink, turning the bottles upside down and their emotions inside out.

            Mike Booth has seen it all. Asks questions like “Have you ever been in love?” in the lost hours; weighing the answer for the real bottom. A pronouncement of “that is good” means it is true. As he talks of people’s souls, you know the man who blends the spirits sees well beneath the flesh.

            With the white hair brushed back, yet falling forward and the broad shoulders that make him seem a lumberjack hybrid of Hemingway and Guy Clark, it’s a fascinating way to explore the unseen regions of what life and man is made of. He reminds you things have intrinsic value, like “The Snow Leopard” invoked above.

            Even in the sadness you can’t feel, people like this rise up to show you you’re alive. The daze can’t really mute them, and they’re beacon to pull you towards the weightlessness of thawing out, the good cry that will set you free. But they’re also temples of light to remind you hope isn’t a cruel joke, that joy is waiting when you’re ready.

            In the end, all lives yield truths and sow flowers for our future. We must feel the pain to get to where we need to be. My friend Richard Young, who anchors the once-upon-a-time wildly successful Kentucky Headhunters, told me when my almost 18-year old cocker spaniel died: “It only hurts so bad because you loved so much. You take that ache and know how great the feeling was, and know, too, that that little yella dawg loved you more.”

            That has to give you heart: to know you could care so much. Knowing that, what else is possible? What more can you embrace? What else might you find? All you have to do is feel to heal, let it consume you, then spent from the aching float back to the top. All you gotta do is let it come.

            And so here I am, trying to let that happen. But knowing until it does, there’s all this to embrace, to cling to and linger upon. Seeing the diamonds in the dust, holding the memories close until the tears begin and the beauty rises.

            It is a beautiful life. Even the things we lose, we got to have. It’s everything that made Tim Hensley and George Jones, Christoper Hanna and Lilly Pulitzer Rousseau matter so very much to a girl who is mostly just a blur and somewhere else along the way. In the agony of the waiting to breakdown, it’s the realization that keeps me going… and it abides in ways that outlast however bad the tempest is going to be.


“Anything But Mine” Scooter Carusoe and Kenny Chesney

Like Peter Pan, Scooter Carusoe isn't a real boy. But he feels the salt-tinged pang of a moment lost to the wind and the night and the perfection that is memory if you don't mess with it. Kenny Chesney has always represented the essence of the truth of young fresh-faced America -- it is first love, first kisses, first yearnings, first conquests, first heartaches; and in his hands, it is ardent, deep, sweet, savory, unspoiled. For a young man who is a mirror, Kenny Chesney is remarkable in his ability to maintain an innocence and the distance to be a universal truth. He is Everyboy -- feeling every emotion, every nuance, every truth for the first time -- and in that, he shares from an emotional center that's far deeper than even the songs that have built him a franchise. Given the profound nature of discovery, that's saying something. And with "Anything But Mine," a track from what will no doubt be his biggest album in a career of big albums, he has found a way to scrape the need all the way back to blood and bone and sinew. It is desire laid bare, the notion of loss and want merged like bodies in a tangle of human communion, reaching for something holy and delivering and indelible and exquisite. Perfect. On so many levels. A picture painted to where you're in the shadows, watching two young lovers finding each other against the strings of white lights that dot any midway worth its skee ball games and ferris wheels, sensing the two hearts beating against rib cages that ache to get locked in the other. A melody that pulls you out from the shore, out past the breakers and the bobbing buoy lights to keep sailors from the jagged rocks that protect the beach with its melancholy and throbbing pledge of something that is yet to be understood. Add a vocal that's cracked at the edges like weathered paint, creaking like a fence that's seen it all three times over, strong with the want and gentle with the knowing that it will be satisfied from a place ensconced in essence that defies language. If Kenny Chesney is the squint of looking into the sun across the horizon, it is always bigger things that he has been seeking. But bigger isn't always grander, sometimes it is truer, it is softer, it is kinder, it is the unassailable beauty of love for its own sake. And in "Anything But Mine" -- even with it's admission "she laughs when I tell her I love her cause we both know it isn't true…," which singer, subject and listener know may well be the greatest lie EVER told -- this is where the simplicity of desire and need and yearning melt down into a pool of what everyone is looking for. Kenny Chesney didn't write "Anything But Mine," the most perfect song Bruce Springsteen didn't get his paws on. It is a moment torn from a seaside breezeway and boardwalk, a little faded and world-weary -- renewed by the promise of human connection unfolding, electric with hope and joy and the euphoria of the innocence that is love taking root. These are the moments where against what was and what knows, two hearts tiptoe out to the threshold and then fall into each other's deepest pockets, delighted in the smothering emotions that allow them to fly. Bruce Springsteen understood that it's the moments anyone can inhabit that are the most eloquent, the connections that bind us together -- even when it's hard or plain or just ordinary -- that define something important within each of us. To Bruce Springsteen, the common was the truest currency; the basic was where the truth was. And when he wrote songs celebrating those things, we all felt somehow more -- basking in the dignity and heroism that elevates us as we live lives that're unseen. Because even if we're never the object of a network special, a hit single or a major sporting feat, we are. The being is enough. The only thing that makes us more is our idealized reflection in another's eyes. Which isn't the gilded thrill of fame, but the recognition that in our flawed reality we are beautiful to another person -- flaws and all, we are everything in their world. In that moment, the universe opens and we are whole in ways we couldn't have imagined before that circle of two came together. People are flawed. Venal. Petty. Missing all kinds of attributes. There is no way to eradicate the little snags and shortcomings that make us, well, human. And if we spend our lives chasing the perfect other, we shall spend our lives chasing shadows on the beach, ghosts of never were, specters of can never happen and promises that are merely self-projected mockeries. A recent conversation with a dear friend who'd finally bagged the checklist -- gorgeous, smart, accomplished, good job, seemingly into him -- proved the point. It is not about the perfect person, but the person who is perfect for you. Because it is when two people with good hearts and simpatico souls come together, they become more. Whatever the quibbling points might be, they are erased in the recognition that this other person fills in their gaps, helps them through the stumbling places. Their spirit is such that, it gives them wings when the night is cold or the doubts are ravines. And they want to reach out, carry the other over the rough spots, reassure in the faltering places. We are nowhere near ideal. And our idealized notions are tricks and cruel jokes on ourselves. The best that we can hope for is finding that person who makes us more. Which is just what Scooter Carusoe -- a figment in his own rite -- served up. He knows that Mary, a girl who carries her shoes "because she likes to feel the sand under her feet," offers acceptance of the moments, the man, the memories. This is a girl with wide open heart, a true soul and a deep longing. In the singer, she sees someone who sees her -- and so she gives herself wholly. It is a scary thing -- giving so much, as a local band plays and two sweaty bodies cling to each other like driftwood in the ocean, the only hope for survival the recognition of one's true self in the other's eyes. It is also the only option. For once you know, you can't not know. They say that this knowledge is a trap. That love is an obligation. That the inevitable is a cul de sac, which will return you to knowing wiser, though slightly more bruised. That is certainly the cynic’s course. It is logic personified. It is also a slow death. I am not a brave girl. I have a bold heart -- and I midwife dreams for a living. I will stand up to or for, take a punch, knock down someone who's out of line, though would absolutely prefer to kill'em with kindness. You walk the wires of conflicting agendas in the name of passion for a living, you learn to dodge bullets, dance faster, exhale slowly. I can -- as Ginger Rogers is so famous for - dance backwards in high heels. But when the night is descending, there is an echo that can't be stopped. You can build a dreamhouse, but what if no one can meet the price? What if no one understands the profundity of what's before him or her? Not that it was done as a show… no merely a commitment to the life that was given, the talents that defined what was possible. You look into the night. You consider the stars. You pull your sweater closer. You shake your head, as you turn and head back into the house. And you pine for that moment when you find yourself tilting a little bit forward -- captivated by what you see looking back at you. Potential clients all get the same warning: Look into my eyes and make sure you fall in love with what you see, because what you see reflected back at you is what I'm going to sell to people. As I believe you to be, as this mirror that is my soul sees you, that is how you will be explained… and if you are not comfortable with that, then you will never be comfortable here. What greater gift: to be seen as your best, most golden self. To have that moment when all the possibilities are laid out before you… when the shortcomings just are, but they're obscured by every good and gracious aspect of whom you are. It is the thing we all require, the notion we fear admitting -- even to ourselves -- for fear of imploding on vanity, impaling ourselves on ego or descending into the realm of parody. For as much as we want to believe, it takes an independent jury… okay, just one true heart that we can put our faith in to deliver us from the avarice of the soul. Arrogance disguised as "self-confidence." Ego. Conceit. Delusion. It ultimately is more about doubt, imperfections, futility. Until… Like happily ever after, the person who truly loves us, loves us faults and all. They understand. They cherish. They believe. They believe in us when we can't. Anything is plenty. And we don't have enough we can give them. If Courtney Love once served up a "Go on, take everything, take everything/I want you to…" as an enraged, taunting defiance of servitude; in the hands of transformative love, it's the least we can give -- and the most we can get. We race to share, to offer, to console, to listen, to revel. There isn't enough within that moment to quell the pounding of the heart, the racing of the pulse, the rush of the blood through our bodies or the heat that is creeping through our skin. We are consumed -- and it is a simple, almost unnoticed thing that is pulling us under, burning us whole. It is everything worth surrendering to -- and the joyous death of whatever fears we had is in and of itself a reason for loving. There's a winsome twinge when Chesney sings, capturing the picture -- trying to get his legs under him as he balances against the tide of his emotions and the overwhelming reality of the moment. This is a song of wanting to be enough, of recognizing what the stakes are, what the cost is, trying to create a reality where you can cope, even as you scramble to slurp up every last bit of intoxication that is this girl, this night, this feeling. It is the kind of moment where there is no fear, only urgency. With a quiet guitar figure that circles and repeats, brushes on a high hat, some organ pads, this is a track that moves from the ground up, holding back against what the boy is willing to reveal. This is high stakes poker cast against what to many would be the mundane -- a way to kill the fetid evening - but it is in the interaction that everything changes. Everything changes. We are more. They are more. It is more. Love makes the world -- and the carnival games go round. Local bands churn out the hits and classics, laughter and cheap beer setting the tone. Hair falls across one's eyes; the other's hands sweep it back. We are fearless because we are safe. The risk is calculated. We already know the outcome -- right down to the notion that "In the morning, I'm leaving/ Making my way back to Cleveland/ So tonight I hope that I'll do just fine… I don't see how you could ever be/ Anything but mine…" If it is merely a summer romance, it has given both people a notion of what is possible. And again, once you know, you can't not know. Once you've experienced the purity of true love, you know it is attainable -- if only you'll let go of the side of the pool, immerse yourself in another's gaze and best intentions instead of always holding back and waiting for the other person to lead. The vulnerability being wielded here -- the velvet club to bludgeon the baby seal to love -- opens up a whole new realm of possibility for these songs. This is the real deal, where the rubber meets the road and the deeper, darker, richer, more satisfying love exists. If you've ever been hurt badly, betrayed by a callous soul, this can be a tough order to swallow. But if you don't, you resign yourself to a life of slow suffocation -- understanding what it can be, unable to get to the place you yearn to make your stand. Nothing feels as sweet or as right as that moment when you see yourself reflected in the eyes of someone who sees you as you are. That sense of totally okay, utterly cherished will take your breath away, make you weak in the knees, sweep you away to places you hadn't imagined. Faith and trust. They exist within all of us. If we can't believe that, we can believe in this song. In Mary and the boy who's transfixed by whatever he sees… The young man who confesses, "There's a summer drawing to a close tonight/ And there's so much I yearn to do you…" in a naked way that says "here I am, take me as I am… give me whatever you have… let me be the most me that you see…" It's an act of blind submission. But it is also an act of strength. To be able to just put it out there, to know that the admission will be fielded is bravery personified -- reaching out with the belief that other person will reach back. Though if you lead with your heart, who but the most shortsighted or self-absorbed wouldn't respond? If the summer is dying, there is nothing left to lose. Except the loneliness. The moments that will haunt you. For who wants to live, alone in a room somewhere, turning over images, Polaroid’s of what was like so many lost soldiers or good fairies that circle around your head like a crown of roses and thorns? Who wants a kingdom of what was when there is so much to hang onto? Brave, yes. But what's the real risk? Compared to letting perfection pass? Timing is nothing. Geography negotiable. The human heart knows no maps. Cleveland, wherever. Long distance, highways, airplanes -- there are bridges to physical separation. Close your eyes. Let go. Let it come. Let it wash over you. Let it take you places you didn't dare dream of. And smile; always smile at how much, how good, how strong it can feel. There is an "oooooh-ooooooo" before the final chorus that speaks far more than language. In that soul-baring utterance, there's a feral need -- something far below the cognizant, something that would not be stuffed down or denied. This is a truth that is bigger than two people, two hearts, one summer… it is an actualization with a backbeat. If there is a separation coming, with the sorrow of what is being temporarily denied, there is also a sense of a connection that will last long past snow or miles or minutes. To underscore the point, the song dies out… as the echo of your heart resounds between your ears, a transistor radio echo seems to well up. It is a sound from long ago, pulling things -- emotions, pictures, people -- from deep inside you. As the surf is implied, the tears threaten to well up for that one boy or girl who shall always haunt you, who set a unicornish ideal to haunt you until you can finally surrender wholly again, Chesney's voice comes up dryer than kindling in the desert. It Is brittle, like an old black and white photo or a flower pressed between the pages of a yearbook or Bible, and it reminds you that the passage of time without any blood or sweat takes its toll. It is a siren's song across time and place… a clarion call for what was, what should be, what cannot be relinquished. Indeed, what should never be surrendered. These are the moments that make us more -- standing naked before the universe, love in our veins, night at our feet, infinity before us. My life has been a parade of exits, of leaving, of the next place, next gig, next right-on, whatever. A dear friend once wrote, "You don't take prisoners when you live on the run/ And this town it can finish anything you've begun…," which is a valiant but cruel truth. One day, you wake up, sweep out the bits of the summer and look into the briskness of autumn -- and then you know, as surely as you've known anything in your entire life, you've been had. Run, then, quickly. Capture what is true. Hold it close. It is all you have. As Bob Seger offered at the end of his seminal song of lost youth, innocence and young love, "Woke last night to the sound of thunder/ How far off I sat and wondered/ Started humming a song from 1962/ Ain't it funny how when you just ain't got as much to lose/ Ain't funny how the night moves… with autumn closing in." It was an elegy that shouldn't have been. For Kenny Chesney, it is a song that is not quite over yet. It can go either way. It is an act of will. It is an act of rebellion against the fear and the darkness and the doubts that go bump in the night. Helen Keller said, "It is better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness…" For Scooter Carusoe and Kenny Chesney who opens an artery of emotion in the name of a lost moment, this is his eternal flame.
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