Hello Stranger from Issue #66
In my mind’s ear I am still drawn to Don Williams’ 1973 version of the Bob McDill song “Amanda”, though it was Waylon Jennings who had the #1 hit in 1979 and it took a trip to the back room to find my misfiled vinyl copy of the original.
Either will do, most of the time.
Now, I would have been 14 in 1973, and cannot imagine that I heard “Amanda” then, nor what I might have made of it. But I must have been young when the song settled in, because it’s not the roving musician’s apology to the woman of his dreams that stuck with me, but a lesser sentiment.
Williams sings, “Now I’m crowding 30 and still wearing jeans.” Thirty would have seemed impossibly old in 1973, and that was quite likely the year I swore undying fealty to the bell bottom. Waylon stuck to the original arrangement, updating that one line, dryly: “Well, I finally made 40, still wearing jeans.”
I can see 50 from here, and, yes, I’m still wearing jeans (not bell bottoms; sorry). Neither half of that sentence is now as important as it once might have seemed.
What I respond to — what I am drawn to even today — is the serenity within Don Williams’ voice. The knowing. The self-knowing.
Serenity is not often something I seek in music. Ordinarily I would argue that my ears were largely shaped by the fury of punk and the hungers of blues, even though I still wore jeans those years, too, and nothing cures a tough day of writing like Bach’s Sonatas And Partitas For Solo Violin (Nathan Milstein’s performance, since I’m now in full geek mode).
Thoreau wrote “…beware of all enterprises that require new clothes,” and thus I was shaped by my first master, just 10 years old the first time I marked up Walden. Only a few years ago did I notice the second half of the sentence, “…and not rather a new wearer of clothes.”
I am not temperamentally a seeker, except of odd things at swap meets and antique malls, and there’s enough clutter here without more of that. So I do not seek. There have been too many long-ago late nights staring back at the mirror, but I do not seek.
This is, I think…I hope…I believe…a gesture of faith: I believe the system — life, the universe; everything (except politics and economics) — works. I find the working of the system no more interesting, much less knowable, than the lines of code which make this typing possible.
What’s the line? A good man knows his limitations?
I try to be a good man.
My wife of eight years, who puts up with my incurable fondness for hillbilly bands, she is a seeker.
This issue, more than most, has at its center the stories of seekers. Stories about faith, from the gushing joy that is Solomon Burke to the exhausting and enduring quests of Mindy Smith and Greg Brown to the quiet faith of Bradley Walker. We didn’t plan it that way, didn’t know that’s how those stories would turn out, but it is still often the case that themes announce themselves while the work is being done.
Greg Brown and Mindy Smith grapple rather publicly with their faith. From my spot on the sidelines, I wonder if their journey has been made that much harder by the assertion of the religious community in power that it, and it alone, has come to be in possession of the truth. Hubris, that, and yet at least a small part of me envies the certainty of their particular brand of faith, the relief that must come from believing God loves you best.
Having been raised outside any church, save for two short seasons as a Presbyterian (the first when I could not tell whether cowboys came before or after disciples, the second only to stay eligible for a basketball league), I can see no way forward but to encourage the seeking of others. And to cheer whatever peace they may find.
And there it is, there’s the difference that comes with these middle years: cheering peace. Not as a political statement (though I would choose still to be associated with that sentiment, as well), but as a goal, for all of us.
Music has to be about something, lest it take its place as simply another of the decorative commercial arts. So, too, should the writing about music be about something more than celebrity and sales figures. I’m real proud of this issue, and I hope it proves as rewarding to read as it has been to edit and design.
Heck, it got my wife listening to Greg Brown!