Greetings, dear HaQ readers! Where- and whenever you are finding this – I hope it finds you well. It’s June here, running from spring to summer, getting warm enough to almost melt from one to the next. Sometimes even that heat is sweet. It brings back memories of porches and breezes and radios playing through open screens. Which brings me to this week’s topic. I decided I would continue my confessions with new subject near to my heart: Music.
Isn’t it interesting how, looking back, our lives seem to have a soundtrack? The songs that played during the prom, or the summer you had that job, or what you sang to driving to and from your favorite vacation spot – they’re indelible. Music has always been a part of my life and my tastes are, shall we say, a tad eclectic. I love everything from the Brandenburg Concerti to AC/DC to a hilarious bit of electronica called “Bunnies and Muffins” from Mochipet. (That’s real – I swear. And completely infectious.)
So here’s this week’s oddment: Listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn makes me cry.
I was a fan, way back in the day, late ’80’s. I had tapes of his music I’d play in the car, a Subaru Justy the size (and temperature) of a toaster. With the windows rolled down in the Connecticut summer, I’d drive along belting “Little Sister” and ignoring the stares and snickers, feeling the chords run straight through my ribs to vibrate my backbone. He pulled notes out of a guitar that were different from anyone else’s. I heard him live at Lake Compounce, getting there early enough to see him playing on scooters with his band and to hear the sound check that riveted me to the pavement. Just a few notes of Crossfire – but I would have known that hand anywhere. He played a blistering set with the band on a mid-July night. It left me so stunned, note-drunk, that I couldn’t stand to stay for the second act (Joe Cocker – no slouch himself). I drove home, still feeling the hum of those strings.
That was six weeks before the helicopter crash. I was driving through New Jersey, on my way to Cape May when I heard about it. I sobbed my way through the Pine Barrens. For months I couldn’t hear Stevie Ray’s music on the radio without breaking into tears. It was a long time before I could play the tapes again. Long enough that they were all CDs by then.
He was one of those artists that just sink into you. We have the same birthday and almost nothing else in common; I still feel a connection to him that is hard to explain. There’s a soulfulness to his music, something that reaches right into me and pulls out a matching wail. It feels like being reborn in Texas under a full moon, while a jaguar prowls the banks of the Rio Grande. It is feral and fully human at once. So raw. So real. Wood and leather, grainy and soft from use. Nothing lacquered or fake about it. That was why I left the concert while Joe Cocker growled and swiveled with two glittery backup singers. It was too polished. After soaking in real sweat and tears, I wasn’t about to settle for what felt like a spangled substitute. Stevie Ray ruined me for other musicians for a long time.
I eventually came out of it. I love live music and I have seen Paul McCartney, Alice Cooper, Kenny Chesney, and John Prine, and the amazing Leo Kottke. It was all great fun. The artist who came closest to being as piercingly real as SRV was kd lang. She played Mountain Stage, in my town, on my 40th birthday. I took three friends to see the show. She came out in a brown shirt and blue jeans and bare feet. Plain as a sparrow, funny, at ease. And then she closed her eyes and laid back her head and that voice took over. Like Stevie Ray’s guitar, kd lang’s voice rips open the barrier between earth and heaven and makes you believe in some Larger Something that gives us humans gifts. Her voice is so powerful, so beautiful, so expressive. It’s like listening to a van Gogh painting*. Extraordinary.
I love moments like that. Knowing there are transcendent gifts in the world and that I’ve been privileged to bear witness. So grateful. Even when I sit sobbing once again, twenty six years later.
If you want to hear some music from back then and from now, here are a couple to try: This is Stevie Ray performing Texas Flood on Austin City Limits in 1983. Raw and beautiful. https://vimeo.com/92351110
This is an amazing band called Disturbed doing the Simon and Garfunkel standard The Sound of Silence, posted last December. A little dark, but it gave me chills and thrills. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9Dg-g7t2l4
*PS. If you have ever seen a van Gogh, in person, a few feet from you on a wall, with it’s colors and textures, you will know what I mean. If you haven’t – GO. I saw them in the van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, with nothing between me and them, and I was – in the technical parlance – gobsmacked. It’s a bit like having your guts ripped out through your eyes, but it is also beyond extraordinary.
Stay tuned for more on the Here’s a Quarter blog next week! As always, your thoughts and comments are always welcome – they are moderated (I know – adulting again), so they may take a little while to appear, but I read them all and appreciate that you were here. Thank you!