I had just finished doing three shows yesterday , and was heading home, when I thought to stop by a café on Hayden Island that I’d been talking with over the last week or so. They host some outdoors live entertainment in the summer months, and I had been talking with them about being part of their plans, so I figured I’d stop in and follow up on previous conversations. Plus, since I had the guitars with me, I figured I could give a little sample of what I do. As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw the remains of a fire that had struck the nearby marina, destroying well over a hundred boats. There was still a bit of smoke and I could see a little bit of flame that persisted. Overhead, Portland was building up for another bout of winter rain.
Neither the owners or the manager were there, but there was a handful of customers, including a gal named Kelly, who, it turns out, organizes various sailing events around Hayden Island and all the way up the West Coast (as far as Victoria, in British Columbia). She was there with her daughter and grandson, and they were all interested in hearing me play a bit.
I started with an instrumental arrangement of George Harrison’s “Something”, then, keeping with the mellow mood, I went into a rendition of James Taylor’s “Fire and Rain”. The next thing I knew, I looked over to see Kelly and her daughter with tears streaming down their faces. When I finished the song, they explained that Kelly’s mother had just passed away this morning, and my singing that song had proved a catharsis for them, giving them leave to grieve.
I have talked before about how I learn from playing cover songs. I realize that there are some who would say Fire and Rain is such an old and worn out thing. It’s true, it’s been more than forty years since James Taylor penned that tune. But songs don’t really know how old they are; only the singers (and the audience, sometimes) do. And a good song doesn’t know who wrote it, either. If you sing it true, with commitment, it has the power to touch something in someone, like what happened last night.
I learn something when I play a song like that. I get a sense of the timeless quality that has helped that song live in people’s hearts over the years. I can aspire to do something that fine with my own songwriting.
Years ago, when my own Grandmother passed away, I attended the funeral. One of my uncles felt it important to persuade me to reconsider my idea of trying to make a living as a musician, and we ended up having a long conversation on that topic. Later, with various relatives gathered around, I sang one of my songs (“The Land Of Remembering When”). When I finished, I felt my uncle’s hand on my shoulder. I looked up to see tears in his eyes. “Don’t give up just yet,” he said. That was about twenty years ago. And whether I am playing one of my own songs, or learning from the artistry of someone like James Taylor, I continue to give it my best shot.