I’m pretty sure that music tuned up my Hanukkah feast
This morning, my little boy said, “Mommy, have a beautiful day,” as he got out of the car. And then I burst into tears. Because, well, it already was a beautiful day: my family got up this morning and did our normal Thursday morning thing. We listened to our local NPR station. I fried eggs. I waited semi-patiently while one child chose between scrambled, omelet or oatmeal, as though, you know, it mattered. I hulled strawberries (my new favorite activity, since my friend Keri gave me a tool for just this purpose, just because), added things to the dishwasher. I sipped an espresso made by my doting husband, before he disappeared downstairs for an unreasonably early conference call. I drove a boy to one school, and as I pulled out of the driveway, “No One Is To Blame,” by Howard Jones, came on the radio, and I was transported to the concert I went to, way back when, at the now defunct Starlight Music Theater in Latham, NY. It’s one of the reasons I love listening to the 80s station. There’s always a memory, a feeling. This song was my comfort food in junior high and high school, and I needed it, today. I drove a boy and his cello to another school, backed up by more 80s music. On this snowy, April morning in Park City, Lance made a joke: “April showers bringing May flowers, but April snow says, “Flowers? Those are for June.” I soaked it all in. I try do to this every day, but it’s too easy to take it all for granted. But this morning I cried because I would not, could not allow myself to take the beauty for granted. This morning, I’m reeling from some tragic news that a friend and her young daughter lost their devoted and loving husband and father last night. That the blindingly “normal” life they had fought together to earn, is all different now. And, for that matter, so is music.
My friend is a colleague of more than 20 years, someone I consider an industry friend, and think of more fondly than even that term can describe. So, when, last night, she posted this unexpected and tragic news, I was, like so many of us in their wide, wide circles, shocked. “They were like us,” I told Jeffrey. “They were together forever—they have a four year-old.” And, like us, they’re music people. I always say Jeff’s the musician and I’m the one who sings, loudly and off-key. That true love is when he sits down to the piano, cheesy 80s sheet music in front of him, and says, “I’ll only play if you’ll sing.” He is generous, like that. And music is a big deal in our house. We are people who joke (ok, half-joke. Or, maybe we’re quite serious, actually.) that our parenting work is done because our sons have memorized the full catalog of Billy Joel’s music, not just the hits. Because, priorities.
That music was central to Tracy’s and John’s lives—and their life together—is a given. That the industry has been changed and improved upon by both of their presence, both of their contributions, is a fact. (Some of my best moments in music—meeting Collective Soul and Matchbox Twenty, going to dive bars for showcases of bands that became favorites—happened because of Tracy, and were as magical and bonding, in my mind, as can be. She took me to places, she believed in these artists and showed me why I should, too. If the truth be told, every time we worked together, I kept thinking: YOU are who I want to profile, I want to know the story of why all this matters to you, because it matters to me, too. This is true of a lot of my music people, who labor in the background to make sure their artists are heard. It’s certainly one truth about John, too.) That both of their interests are wider and larger and smaller and narrower than music, that their daughter centered their lives, that they had the good fortune to recognize their good fortune when they saw it, that the server at the local blog he founded, is overloaded with people wanting to read about him, well, that’s just music, you know? (And when the traffic slows, I’ll update this post to include a link to the blog.) It’s a soundtrack, it’s “take me out to the ballgame,” it’s “turn down that noise,” it’s “who wrote this?” it’s “you gotta hear this.” It’s Tracy’s recent, now haunting Facebook post, letting us know that all was basically ok, but they were having a bit of a grump, housebound with her pink-eye and his broken foot, and could we please suggest some inspiring pick-me-up playlists? It’s love and warmth and compassion, and the language that bonds so many families and strangers.
I don’t own this grief, of course. It is not my loss. But I am saddened by it. I am pained for my friend, her family, their community. I want, very much, to honor Tracy, her husband, their daughter, and the community that brought this friend into my life. To be a music person—whether you are someone who simply loves it, who performs it, who absorbs it, who promotes it, who shares it, who hears it in the elevator, who goes to a coffee shop because they have the best jams on the sound system, always—is to be a person who feels things, deeply, who is gratified when an artist puts into melodies, harmonies and lyrics the very thoughts and ideas and feelings you have, but possess lesser capacity for expressing. Music people connect with all people–and my friend and her family have a community of folks from all walks of life stepping up to offer shoulders, hugs, favors large and small, and so many beautiful memories of his warmth, generosity and hilarity.
I have always felt, as a non-musician, that when covering music, I am a guest, honored to be in the presence of people whose art touches so many in ways they will never—and always—understand. And that I am welcome, regardless of whether I know the back catalog of an obscure band or a legendary artist. Whether I know an E chord from my elbow. (I don’t.) My music people are welcoming, generous, and kind, thoughtful, funny, warm, beautifully flawed, filled with kindness and smarts. My music people don’t care that I’m not as much of an expert as they are, they care that I love it as much as they do. They care that we share a passion for life–for figuring out the hard stuff and celebrating the good stuff.
Tracy has been posting on Facebook things that she loved about her spouse that she hopes others will carry on in his honor: overtipping waiters, helping someone find a job, finding a laugh—the laugh. She is asking us to reach out to people in our lives we don’t call enough, to let them know we’re here. Their friends have been gathering, in the custom of our digital age, on her Facebook page, posting photos and memories and stories and experiences of this beautiful life, gone too soon. Way too soon. For this window into other pieces of their lives, I am grateful. It’s one of the reasons I love social media.
Here’s another: It gives you what you need, in the moment you need it. To wit: This morning, someone at my son’s middle school posted this beautiful video from Britain’s Got Talent, by a duo of young boys, who call themselves, “Bars and Melody.” t
It gets at the very essence of all that I love about music, and the arts community: if you create something deeply personal, the universal message appears, and it offers anyone who encounters it exactly what they need in the moment. Well, from everything I knew about John, peripherally (from years in the business, from Tracy’s Facebook posts, from friends), he was that music for so many people. This is what music does—this song, beautifully written and performed by children, that pleads against bullying, that should be required viewing for school kids everywhere—it offers hope when someone might not think there is any left. His wife and daughter are the hope. We, their community, are the hope. Music, man. It’s all just music.
So, in honor of a good man, a great father and husband, and a purveyor of hope for so many, please watch the video. Remind your kids to reach out to the bullied kid, call your neighbor and check up on her, do some of the things John’s wife asked, and share your love with the world. If you’re feeling like you have nothing to give, watch this video, and know that your light and life make a difference to the people around you. Then, go get some coffee, and overtip your barista. And pay attention to what’s playing on the sound system, or on your car radio on the way there, on your iPod playlist on the subway. Because, music heals, even when you don’t realize you need it. This much I know. I’m a music person, you see.