“One of the inescapable encumbrances of leading an interesting life is that there have to be moments when you almost lose it.”
Jimmy Buffett, A Pirate Looks at Fifty
My friend, and early agent (he didn’t know it then) Robert Wright, posted a photograph recently of me playing at his restaurant a LONG time ago. He stood beside me for the photo, displaying his patented smile and offering his good cheer. I was swept immediately back to those easy days. I could feel the neck of the blond Alvarez (that would be my guitar…my first…won in a raffle at Leitz Music Company). It would change everything. I figured, “I should learn to play this thing,” and a year later I was crooning at this amazing little bistro downtown. I remember how the treble knob on my amp would always stick a little. I remembered my white Peavey mic that was so cool. I remember the rickety stool. The cheap music stand that held my binder of lyrics that I never really used. I just made up the lines I would forget. Most never noticed or they were at least nice enough not to give a damn. Robert and his crew would make their way around serving wine and cheese and great sandwiches and salads. I would play and sing. The playlist wasn’t extensive, but it was what I loved. Luckily, a few others did too. Fogelberg, Loggins & Messina, Croce, Hall & Oates, Willie Nelson, Dave Loggins, Billy Joel, an original or two or three, and a few others based on requests.
Billy Joel captured the essence of those nights. As “…the regular crowd shuffled in” I smiled and planned for their favorites. Friends, family, and the occasional tourist. There were a few of us who played regularly. Tom Collins, Phillip Leitz, me, and others. I was lucky enough to play with guys who were really great. The incomparable Tom Lane – who remains a gifted and inspiring artist. To this day he shares that gift with the world, literally, and remains a mate of the soul. Tony Namynanik, who introduced me to Loggins and Messina and pure friendship and then changed my life in a thousand ways for the better. I would laugh harder in one night hanging out with Tony than in years and months since. Greg Todd, the most easy going guy I ever met and who could hit harmonies higher than Vince Gill on his best day. Sharon Stanley (Goldenberg) who could sing anything…and did. I would be so busy watching her that I forgot entire chords and lyrics and had to stop playing. Then I would act like something was wrong with the P.A. or something. One time she sang Blue Bayou and I slipped off of my stool in a trance. She laughed and kept on singing. I recovered from the slip, but never from the moment.
There would be a point every night when I would hit a particular chord and its progression that was unmistakable. C major with a walk down to an A minor then to an F major and back again. Robert would peek out from the kitchen and grin in anticipation. Back to Billy Joel … “It’s a pretty good crowd for a Saturday, and the manager gives me a smile…” Robert would always stop what he was doing and step out with a smile as big as Texas. It became tradition. One I hold dear to this day, decades later.
The friends, dare I say groupies (in my own damned mind) made my life full. They ordered sweet tea or coffee or a German beer or a great glass of wine. They and and listened and would sing along. Some under their breath and others in loud chorus. Fans. Mom was the greatest fan – she remains so to this day. Many of those loyalists are back in my life today on the pages of facebook (thank you, Mr. Zuckerburg) or through email or Skype. And, every once in a while, we find each other at a beach bar along the salty shores of the Riviera. We reminisce, but our nostalgia doesn’t consume us. We look to the possibilities. The songs yet to be sung and those revisited with our own twists and chords and harmonies. Other gypsies have joined me in penning or thoughts for those who might walk the trails later. I’m so grateful for you all.
The photograph and the overwhelming memories took me to a place of context. Those were, as I said at the beginning, “easy days.” My life was about singing and playing and selling tennis rackets and shoes and CHAMPS Sporting Goods and deciding what part of the beach to hit on the weekend. College was a distraction, not a means to an end. It was all about relationships. Somewhere it all turned. Back again now.
So, here I am today. A pirate looked at fifty. Ironically, I’ve returned to the days of sun and song and being with good humans (and one perfect dog). In the midst of attempting to influence healthcare strategy and policy and operations of a wonderful organization, I spend late nights playing and writing and building relationships. I return to the old songs and they fill my soul. I play new ones from the amazing artists of this generation and am equally filled. I write about the journey and share it with those who like to come along the ride and add their own entries.
I want easy again. It’s time. Play. Sing. Laugh. Drink good drink. Be present…really present. Don’t take anyone or any moment for granted. Live.
Thanks Robert, for taking me back and reminding me that those days can be these days.
P.S. There is talk of a reunion with some of the original players. You in, kids?