Tuesday morning in Yardley. I have not yet listened to any recordings of the Count The Colors Debut Performance. It was too special to do the typical post-gig technical dissection. Plus, I already know that I missed a lot of notes. Yet my band, The Roadside Leaves, kept me floating along, anyway.
Floating. At no point during this gig did I feel grounded. I was halfway between the ground and wherever it is that the golden-hearted people go when they leave us. The emotion was correspondingly overwhelming, yet I’ve got enough experience singing these songs that move me that I avoided a total breakdown.
But, ya know, just barely.
“could you see him coming/as you said goodbye/or when January came/and a little girl arrived?”
The sadder the songs, the funnier the quips!
The stage design, with its wall of acoustic guitars (mine, two of my dad’s, my grandpas’s, and Marcella’s), Marcella’s coat, and tables full of photos and paintings, made it feel like I was performing in a dream. I felt protected by the beautiful visuals and instruments, strengthened by the great musicians on-stage with me.
I added a new verse to “Here In The Future,” an homage to the special bond that Marcella had with her cousin Alexandra.
“here in the future/I'm still on this ride/and I feel you reach out to me/from the other side/out on the bridge/where she'd walk with you/and breathe in the evening/sunset view/here in the future/you're still in the air”
It was a wonderful thing to walk on-stage and see a room jam-packed with golden-hearted people. I told the folks how I’d met the violin player, Frank Burk, just three hours earlier. I didn’t realize they’d think I was kidding. Some of these guys and gals can jump into the music and just start swimming. A band full of people who listen to the room more than their own instrument. At the special gigs, musician becomes magician.
Never has a gig felt like that. I felt nervous, naked. Felt like I was receiving a love electrocution. Every performance I've done for the past ten years was leading to that moment. Speaking both technically and emotionally, it was my first concert.
I’d been joking about how rude it would be if her spirit did not visit us at this gig.
My mom said she could see her essence there on-stage.
My heart is open and so is my notebook, guitar case, and, on a good night, my voice. I’ve stubbornly remained on this journey. The show was so overwhelming that I barely noticed it was the best musical payday of my life so far.
A great crowd of friends, family, and even a few strangers. A friend I met in kindergarten in 1988. His wonderful mom Rose, one of my life’s bonus aunties. A good friend I met on Instagram in 2015. Much of Marcella’s family. Much of Nicky’s family. More members of Philly’s incredible Levee Drivers band. The first guy I ever sang with, John Hankins. The first guy who suggested I should write a song, Nick Harris.
We followed the album with a set of songs that influenced the writing of the album or otherwise impacted me emotionally. “Bye Bye Love,” Willie Nelson’s “Everywhere I Go,” R.E.M.’s “We All Go Back To Where We Belong,” Neil Young’s “Glimmer,” “Wichita Lineman,” and three songs we performed for her at the hospice on the last day she was with us - “(All I Have To Do Is) Dream,” “You Are The Everything,” and “Find The River.” We ended with The Beatles’ “Across The Universe,” the song with which I saluted her at the funeral. Another thing this gig represents is the value in staying on-course. Couldn’t tell ya what my course is, per se, but…
No, no, that’s bullshit. I can tell ya. I want to walk into the Berlin Cathedral on a trip that music paid for. Ya see, the door was locked last time I went.
And I want to meet my music-lover friends (and new ones) in Ireland, Scotland, England, elsewhere in Germany, France, Spain, Australia, etc. That’s what I want to do. It’s a long way away, but not as far away as it would’ve been if I stopped five years ago.
It is a sweet thing to say, but I say it only because it is true - this music and the boost it’s given me as a performer have only happened because of Marcella. Her belief in me, her love of my music, and my burning desire to be one of the people who bring her story into the future.
Meanwhile, I’m at Pretty Bird Coffee with my Old Man Pants and my matching black-with-color-specks Jeff cap and sweater, planning this week’s gigs. Some of my older songs, a few songs I’d like to borrow from the masters and try out for the first time.
Now that I’ve got recordings of my nephew introducing the song titles in his adorable, three-year-old voice, I should probably finish recording this album.
The process continues and it is a joyful one.
Here on the ground, I shared some thoughts about sexual abuse on the Internet. My hope that, if I am ever in a position of influence, I can help young guys understand that we’re better off being solid people who move through the world with a conscience than by trying to use brute force to get a woman’s attention.
Next morning, I was accused of just that. She’d messaged me on a dating site, we talked for a while, then met up the next day. Cues verbal and otherwise told me we were on the same page, and consent was explicitly asked for and granted for all moves big and small. Yet I left feeling like we must have miscommunicated and that she was upset. I stayed outside with her while she smoked a cigarette, trying to get her to open up about the mood shift, hoping I hadn’t somehow hurt her. Six years later, she leaves a comment in a public forum with allegations of abuse.
I call up a close friend, someone with an especially wide-angle view of life, a good sense of who I am, and an awareness that the growth that can come from honesty is more important than the maintenance of an impenetrable facade.
She left it up to me: ignore it or engage. But be real with myself first. Looking back, I still felt comfortable with how I handled the date, but, in the end, I decided to try to relay a message to her that I’m sorry she felt hurt. Because I don’t think she’s kidding. I think she felt hurt.
Looking back, this was a time after a break-up during which I was moving too fast. I met some great women in this period, but I was scared to open up, so I was accruing experiences instead of deep connections.
I met Marcella just weeks later and I had some of these same emotional walls up. She did get my undivided attention, but it would take a few months. Then I was hers for two-and-a-half years. There were ups-and-downs. We both thought about leaving a few times. There was a period where I was enjoying outside flirtation too much. But ultimately, we stayed with each other, I didn’t wake up next to anyone else, and I walked into the future feeling that I made a strong attempt to give my love to just one person.
I hate that there’s someone out there who thinks that I’m horrible. It might stay that way, too. Whether you’re a public figure or not, there’s always gonna be a Fan Club and a Foe Club. Both will grow over time... but hopefully the former more than the latter.
I don’t know if I am one of the golden-hearted people, but I am trying. More good than harm, I hope.
As Michelle McNamara said, “it’s chaos; be kind.”
photos by Kim Goodwin