Monday, May 31, 2010

Completing The Circle

I keep my car fairly packed for the long drive each week, so when the alarm goes off at 5 AM I only have to warm the coffee, take a quick shower, and put my suitcase in the car. I've been used to the early morning for years now, as I can save a night's hotel bill by driving to the show in one shot. I'm lucky this weekend as it's "only" 550 miles, which would normally be a breeze except I've been in the studio trying to repair a blown tweeter at 10 PM, and then I can't go to sleep once I lay down for another hour.

The alarm plays soft classical music to wake me, and I reflexively punch the sleep button for another blissful ten minutes. I'm not ready, but then comes the second alarm and like a trained inmate I make the bed, pack the car, and heat the coffee. Once behind the wheel I plug in this week's audio book gamble that will hopefully coax me into the long journey ahead of me. This time it works. It's a suspense novel about a therapist who ends up in a dangerous relationship with a murderer. These are all things I can ride with and relate to and not clock the miles or feel the stiffness of my legs and back for at least the first few hours. A great book will hypnotize me until I fuel the car every six hours from the first fill up in Monteagle, TN.

The audio books take me as far away as I can be from the drive, the ache of knowing my father is alone in a rest home for the first time at my own insistence. I am on the other side of the earth it seems, trying to reach out to him, but he might as well be on the moon. He is blinded by cataracts, deaf without a hearing aid, and can't walk due to a recent hip fracture. Most of the time when I try to call him on the phone there's no answer. I don't think he hears the phone ringing. Once in awhile I get lucky and tell him over and over again that I love him. But I only get through once a week. That is too little, and my heart screams each time he doesn't answer his phone.

I drive below the speed limit so I won't have thoughts about cops or where I am or if I'm safe. I drive because I have to pay the bills somehow. Ten years ago that drive was easy because I was making good money and had the hope of a future in the music industry. Now I drive because it's all I have left except my Dad, who waits for me patiently to come home. I don't look at the scenery much anymore as it's all too familiar, except when the unusual scene pops into my private windshield movie.

This weekend it was a helicopter lifting seemingly right in front of me off the freeway. My synapses came to life as I realized that someone was being airlifted off the opposing lanes into the hands of physicians waiting for him at a local hospital. Then I fantasized -- maybe more than one person, were they on life support? Were they going to make it? Was their family watching as I was as they were airlifted to their destiny?

I've always made a habit of saying prayers every time I see an ambulance race by, or see someone flown off like this. I often wish I could be there administering care, calming the injured, and knowing that I did my best to save a life. It is at these times I question why I am a musician and not a physician. But I do music for a living, and it was my choice long ago. "Heal Thyself, Musician" doesn't always work as well as the right medical care, but once in awhile music does have the power to illuminate a moment, heal a wound, or bring joy to someone, including myself.

Nine hours later, I'm ebbing into Hilton Head, tired but ready for the challenge. When I get to the show site, I find out I have only an hour to set up my tent. I swear these rules are invented only hours before I get there, as I try so hard to read the printouts from the promoter. I've learned to be flexible. So in an unprecedented burst of energy, I set up my tent in record time, which manages to twist my shoulders and back in ways that demand payback the next day. Once accomplished, I found the local Piggy Wiggly where I stocked up on water and fruit for the next day.

Once circling the area, I finally found the lot (.08 miles from the show) where "we gyspy artists" are allowed to stay overnight. Once I parked there, I quickly found two of my most favorite artists on the circuit, and we hung out on the back bumper of an RV trading good old days stories and catching up on life. To the traveling artists, it's our watercooler. I then went to a pizza place down the street and had a slice of pizza before walking the .08 mile back to my tent where my queen size mattress and sleeping bag were all nicely made up and ready for entry.

The mattress has a slow leak in it so I woke up to a partially inflated bed and the slamming of car doors at 6 AM. That's when I walked the .08 miles back to the car lot to take a "bottle shower" (I put on a swimsuit and pour soap and a gallon of cold water over my head and body and lather until I feel clean. That's one of my favorite things to do; it must be the Nordic blood in me). Then I get in the car and run the heater to dry out my hair and move the car to the day parking site (only .03 miles away). Still dripping wet, I continue my setup of my booth from 7 until 10 am. Then I'm expected to sing all day like it's no big deal as customers walk by and say "That's Nice" or whisper among themselves that I must be faking it. I've long lost my attitude as the media has done a brilliant job at selling artificial talent to the masses.

But now the masses are getting savvy. So I sing and then stop the song or change the words and all of a sudden the audience realizes this is NOT a recording. I've always sounded like my recordings (but I've always sold the truth) but now there are so many dang computer gadgets to enhance a live performance that the consumer KNOWS when they're being sold a bill of goods. The trick is that as soon as I record something, I've always found a way to make it even better on the road. After all, recordings are just a snapshot...

And then this weekend IT happened. I've been with one of the most talented producers I've ever been with, and we've made recordings I thought I couldn't even hope to keep up with live. He pushed my envelope so hard it ripped. So I've been fighting to keep up with the recordings. I mean--when you've made it PERFECT in the studio how the heck do you make it better unless you have a billion barely clothed dancers and fireworks and a light show to make it better? That's what THEY do....

Until this weekend I did not know how to reach beyond a camera or an audience and into the place where the real talent lives. I don't really understand what happened, but I wanted it so bad, and then I saw the O's on people's faces and I knew I'd found the real stage. I became an arc of electricity and sent my performance all the way from Hilton Head to New York City. I gave until it hurt. After all of it, I could barely speak. I had given so much of myself away I had nothing left. I became the gift.

I told a young lady that weekend who had trouble accepting complements what I had learned (but have never really owned until today) what I had learned from the late VP of Fantasy Records. This is the way I put it to her:

Imagine yourself giving someone a beautiful gift, and holding it out to them, and when they say thank you, you turn and walk away. Learning to accept the gift and say "Thank YOU, too" is as important as giving it, as you make the circle complete, and then and only then does the gift have meaning.

I learned that as a lecture years ago. I embodied it for the very first time this weekend. Please pass this on, as there is no greater joy than completing the circle.


I reached my father by phone FINALLY when I got home today to tell him I'd be there for Father's Day. It's hard to get him to understand me, but I really know he felt my love. That's all that matters to me right now. He completes my circle, and I complete his.


I'm "home" in Nashville right now but it's not the same home anymore. I have a gift to give back to my father, in my real home, in his arms. I left him too soon as a child/woman thirty tears ago with no real thank you. Now is the time to take care of all that.