Remix

tangle eyeMy prayer to the Lord? If this is the last thing I ever write, then least let it be written.

I stand in front of the coffee urn at the shed in the middle of the meadow. A drummer out of New York wanted to play some tracks for us on his iPad. Hangmen, just slacken up your line, quavers the ancient voice of Almeda Riddle. But in addition, a heavy beat and groove has been layered on top of it.

The song is part of a recording project by the name of Tangle Eye. Produced by Steve Reynolds and Scott Billington of Rounder records, the album attempts to resurrect a handful of the songs recorded by folk music historian and archivist Alan Lomax in 1959.

How strange and powerful.

Almeda Riddle of Cleburne County, Arkansas, issues that song as a plaintive plea and as a prayer and a hope. It’s what we all want every day. Just one more day, Lord. Hangman, just loosen up your rope.

But unlike for many of us, for this old woman, in a way that was chillingly beyond perhaps her greatest imagining, her prayer was answered. The woman? Long gone  she is. But her being, her self – her voice – the very core of herself, has been resurrected. She pleads to her Maker, and her Maker has answered in turn and has reinstated her in a contemporary dance groove.

Here the day is just warming in the high country outside Rocky Mountain National Park. The morning light has just hit the red rock. A songwriter from Denver, a drummer out of Brooklyn, myself – we all huddle around an iPad on a dawning moment in the 21st century. Hangman, just slacken your line, she pleads again to us.

It’s so clear now. The afterlife?

It’s simply a remix. And the texture? Why, it looks and sounds like us.

Learning to Stand

Colorado SkyThe first thing she learned as a three year old violinist was how to bow. From that first gesture all things commence.

For most of yesterday, I holed up in the Stone Cup coffee house excepting a break to go back to camp and eat lunch with Mazie and listen to her sing a song she had written that morning about her song writing partner. In turn, her partner was supposed to write a song based on stories Mazie had told her. I asked her what she had talked about and Mazie wouldn’t tell because she “didn’t like me and didn’t want to share her stories.” Which is what, I think, this time is all about. After sharing lunch, she lamented that she wanted to connect with some other people, but didn’t quite know how to do it. I listened and made some feeble suggestions and then she was off, making as many tracks away from me as she could.

There’s the doing. And then there’s the allowing. The doing is the driving and periodic suggesting and the working and the paying for. And the allowing is the stepping back and letting her discover the person she is meant to be. Both, in their own ways, will go unrecognized. This morning after walking away, i caught sight of her writing in her songbook in the tent. And all yesterday and this morning she recognized people from Telluride and parts known and unknown. And I realized that our daughter was finally stepping out on her own.

We need to help her stand independently. But the sentiment immediately collapses in on itself. How do you help someone be independent?   We have to not help.  Instead we need to walk away.

So for the week, I’m her on call mule. If she needs an assist, I’m there for her.  But she knows what she needs to do.  And where she needs to go.  And it’s time to go.  And it will mostly be without either of her parents.  And, by definition, the very best parts of it neither of us will be there to witness.

Late on our first evening, she asked me what I wanted to do. After the long drive,  all I wanted was to pop some benadryl and go off to bed.  I told her as much.  But if there’s something else you want to do, I said, I’ll do it.  Well maybe I’ll just go to bed, she whispered. But then she hesitated, turned, walked over to a circle of musicians and pulled up a chair.  I followed. They asked if she wanted to play and she took the guitar and played a Patti Griffith song. She then left and returned with her violin.

A fellow asked if she could accompany him on a song . What would she like? he asked.

Something slow, she said.

And what key?

It doesn’t matter, she said. The fellow started to play, and within half a bar Mazie had  raised the violin to her chin. And then she fell in and let her instrument sing in a sweet and aching way. He sang and turned to her and the violin carried on, bearing the song in new directions and then back around so that he could carry it again. And like that they travelled for quite a while.  Folks sat, intrigued it seemed, and strangely moved.

How long have you been playing with your dad, another musician asked as they finished.

He’s not my dad, Mazie announced. I’ve never seen this girl before in my life, the song writer said.

Terminal Conditions

ImageCall it the last heady days of summer.

Saturday evening. Mazie and I have crossed the Sierras and bullet across the Nevada basins and ranges, hoping to make Elko or something farther by night.  All the way, electronic signs remind us that the Amber Alert is still effect. The girl and the man had headed north to Idaho or perhaps Canada. No one knew which. Had she gone willingly, I wondered. Was she part of a plot to kill her mother? And if so, what kind of future had her or this man imagined. And if she’d been kidnapped, what had he imagined? Under what circumstances could this end in something less than bad for any of them?   At what point does the line of thinking break, and in the moment of breaking, what does it feel like?

Mazie will be attending song school in the Rockies, still many hundreds of miles ahead of us. She feels scared, I think, wondering if she will fit in or if she will be able to hold her own. But her fifteen year old self isn’t able yet to divulge her feelings to her dad. What energy she has must be directed at quelling the fear rising inside her.

At any moment she could ask to turn around, decry that she has changed her mind, that she can’t do it. But we have to go on. Regardless of what happens, it will at least be something, and something is more than nothing at all. There’s no gain in turning back. And we should take what’s been granted.

Life, after all, is a terminal condition.