We were watching a movie with our daughter last night. It was an old Brad Silberling flick called City Of Angels with Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan. Sort of a 90’s piece about living and dying, love and loss. I wasn’t sure whether our teenager would grok this flick but at the end I think she dug it on some level.
As the movie was winding up and coming in for a landing I heard a gasp from Vanessa on the chair next to us. ‘John Prine just died…’ And then nothing. I was and am, profoundly moved.
Of course John’s music has been a part of our lives for a half a century, more or less so in a way I felt like I knew him. In the early 90’s when the Kaukonens had just moved to Meigs County we forayed up to Columbus and saw co-bill with him and Nancy Griffith. It was delightful. I remember he was digging in on a little finger picking vignette between verses and he looked out on us in the audience with a sly smile and in a sotto voce stage whisper he confided in us all. “Pick it John!’
Good stuff, and a nice memory.
My first meeting with John was at the Love For Levon Save The Barn Benefit on October 3rd, 2012 at the Izod Center in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There was a massive aggregation of amazing talent there that night and I found myself sharing a dressing room with John Prine and Alain Toussaint. There I was in a room with two men whose music had helped to garnish my path in life.
It was an amazing moment. Alain was gracious but regally distant and that was more than OK. John and I started to talk and in that moment for some reason, I felt like he might have been one of my old friends from the neighborhood in D.C. where I grew up. We talked about this and that and I remember that I told him about the Fur Peace Ranch and how much I would like to see him up at our place. I think we talked about motorcycles too. Well, that’s how I remember it so I’ll just say that’s just how it was. We would see each other one more time at Merlefest down in Wilkesboro, North Carolina. I would not see him again.
Somehow, I see a point in all this. Why should the death of someone I really barely knew affect me in such a profound emotional way? Last week I got an email from a friend from the American School where I studied back in Manila in 1957. An old friend Donnie C. had just passed away. Donnie was one of the first people who befriended me when our family was posted to the Philippines in 1956. As a Foreign Service brat, those first moments in a new post always seemed life threatening. She made me feel welcome. As time passed we all went our own ways and the last time I saw her was in 1963 at Mills College in the East Bay of San Francisco. I always wondered what happened to her as we sometimes do with old friends we don’t see, but I never followed up on it and life happened between then and now.
Momentary intersections that sparkle like diamonds in the long road of an almost eighty-year-old man. As I write this I am having coffee here at the Fur Peace Ranch in the midst of trying times. We are all surrounded by a world-wide pandemic… WW C as I choose to call it. Regardless of national allegiance or any other artificial boundaries we choose to tribalize ourselves with, we might have come in on different ships, but today we are all in the same boat as they say. With death truly becoming a more than a noticeable part of our daily life how can I pick who to mourn? Well, there are plenty of candidates to pick from so maybe it’s just being touched in a random way by the hand of time… and maybe it’s just bathing in the reality that time is all we have until it’s gone.
The COVID-19 virus is taking so much from all of us, but for us older folks… it’s taking time. It’s putting a full stop to all those things we think we might get to one of these days, calling this person… writing that one… whatever, all those things that might never get done because the universe doesn’t wait for good intentions.
Well… John and Donnie are just two examples for me of this malaise… this inertia. Some things that are put off will always be left undone and that too, is just the way it is.
From Connie Kaldor’s Thin Thread
‘Life is a thin thread
It’s a thin little hand on a hospital bed
It’s all of the things that you’ve left unsaid
Life is a thin thread
Its a fine line between loving and not
Between holding it back or giving all that you’ve got
Feeling you’re free thinking you’re caught
It’s a fine line’
There is still a lot left to do!