Monday, April 5, 2010

A song for life

"...I thought there was no reason
For all these things I do
But the smile that I sent out returned with you."
Patrick Simmons (the Doobie Brothers) 
South City Midnight Lady

A song can take you back in time, to a place you hardly remember, a place you lost. This morning I caught "South City Midnight Lady" and returned to piece of my life that I had forgotten about.

Sophomore year in college. Almost an adult, but still only a teenager. Living on campus at a mid-sized state university where I could be someone I never had been, never would be again.

"When day has left the night behind
And shadows roll across my mind
I sometimes find myself alone and out walking the street..."

Life was gentle. Life was calm and kind. I didn't own a car, I didn't have debts. Vietnam War was over, and no one was afraid of the future. We went to class, we studied, we talked. And I learned to play the guitar. 

My 'classroom' for my guitar lessons was a grassy field behind our dorm. My teacher was Mark - a handsome, hippie kind of dude who lived one dorm over. He was always laid back and always getting laid. I didn't fit into his life at all.
His girlfriends were all Stevie Nicks' like - floating in and out of his life in with their diaphanous wings and gowns. 
They all were gorgeous and extremely fragile. They all had laughter that sounded like melodies. Their skin was always pale, nearly translucent.
They were ballerinas, piano students, or pre-law beauties.

But every afternoon, I'd find Mark outside my dorm window, sitting under the elm tree that shaded the building. He'd open the hard case he carried his guitar in and slowly start to tune it up. He never bothered to put the guitar's strap around his shoulder - he knew he wouldn't drop his guitar - his life. He'd start tuning the strings, although they were always in perfect tune. 
Then he'd start strumming. "My Sweet Lord" by George Harrison was his always his first song. That song was a beckoning call to me. I would put aside anything/everything and walk outside with my guitar. I didn't have a hard case - I had a soft blue case with a big zipper that ran across the bottom. My brother's name was printed in big block letters on the back of the case. All this once belonged to him - before his Vietnam days. 

Mark would always look up and smile. "Hey, kid. Let's get you tuned in."
I'd sit down in the shade of the big elm. Few people walked by, and most didn't bother to look over. They had seen us day after day after day, sitting here - the master guitar player and the stumbling student. The handsome young man with too long hair, his soft blue chambray shirt with the sleeves rolled up, with his fingers caressing his guitar's neck. And me, the student - dressed in stupid shorts, hiking boots, curly fly-away hair. Both of us, cross-legged on the ground. Not facing each other, but not ignoring each other, either.

When my guitar was in tune, we'd start in on "South City Midnight Lady".
"Up all night I could not sleep
The whiskey that I drank was cheap
With shakin' hands I went and I lit up my last cigarette
Well the sun came, the night had fled
And sleepy-eyed I reached my bed
I saw you sleepy dreamin there. all covered and warm."

Usually I sang solo. Sure, the song is from a man's point of view, but I liked the lyrics. I wouldn't look at Mark - I'd look down into my lap, at my crossed legs, or I'd have my eyes closed. We'd play the instrumental parts on our guitars, no effort to blend or to wait for each other. This wasn't a performance. Maybe neither one of us was really there...

After we'd play that one song for 20-30 minutes, Mark would lead us into a crescendo that ended it. He'd lean back against the tree and smile. "You're doing good. A little weak on the C to B transition. It needs to be smooth. Smoooooooth." He liked to repeat it for emphasis.

I'd try it. Over and over, I'd try to 'smooth' my finger placement. Nothing else existed... just the shade of the tree, the grass I sat upon, the breeze dancing around us.
Life was gentle. 
Everything felt soft, humane, possible. 
No future, no past. 

"I'm much obliged to you
You sure have saved this man 
who's soul was in need"


Pat Tillett said...

That was freaking beautiful...
Best thing I've read in a while!
I think you are from California, right?
Was your college there as well?
Your post made me picture UC Santa Cruz, or Humboldt, or some place like that.

Stella said...

You are a terrific story teller, Brenda, a lovely skill to have!

Your yesterdays Mom DID look like Queen Elizabeth II!

Jo and Stella

Anonymous said...

What a long strange trip it's been!

giantspeckledchihuahua said...

Brenda, you told the story beautifully! Those were the days! Sometimes I can't quite figure how we got here, from there.

Sam said...

Very nice! What a beautiful memory!


Thérèse said...

What a marvelous recollection!
Words, thoughts, what was and what is... Life with a capital "L." Life as it should be, one day at a time... Are you still playing the guitar? Apparently you are still taking pictures! lol

altadenahiker said...

Oh my gosh, cosen. Just last week I tried to write about a college love -- a lead guitarist. I couldn't get it right. But you did. Thanks for this.

Dog Trot Farm said...

You have such a lovely way with words. Thank you for sharing!

Brenda's Arizona said...

Pat, yes, from Calif, but college was in Tennessee. I totally love Humboldt State and would have loved to gone there! UCSC, too, if I were in my weird mood!

Cosen, write yours! You are much much better at words - I await.
Thanks to all for your comments. It means a lot to know some thought made it out of my mind to yours- babbling is just a bad idea by itself!

BANJO52 said...

This is a really clear and appealing picture you've painted. Isn't amazing how individuals come into (and leave) our lives, never to be forgotten.

Do you still play? Still in touch with the guy?

Emma Rose said...

You truly have a way with words. I was completely drawn in and could feel the grass bveneath me as I sat and watched you both play your guitars. Wow. Thanks!

the Duchess

Tash said...

I read this when you 1st published it...sorry, cannot leave comments from work w/o pop-up window.
I LOVED IT...I was transported to that world. And also reminded of my college days and the gorgeous boy from Chem class.