“Everybody loves music. What you really want is for music to love you. And that’s the way I saw it was with Keith…You’re not writing it, it’s writing you. You’re its flute or its trumpet; you’re it’s strings. That’s real obvious around Keith. He’s like a frying pan made from one piece of metal. He can heat it up really high and it won’t crack, it just changes color.” – Tom Waits
Note: this is a break from a self-helpy vein though there is a little message about claiming your abilities. If you are allergic to personal stories,, skip to the end.
In August of 2010, I returned home late in the middle of the night. My youngest daughter had just been born. I was browsing through Facebook and found out that my friend, Tom, had died in our hometown of Lexington Ky. Joy and sadness can live so close side by side and even right on top of each other.
Tom and I knew each other mainly through the same group of friends. We didn’t hang out alone. Tom was a talented musician. One of my fondest memories of Tom was when he wrote and recorded a blues song based on a concert gone wrong. One summer night, I was the designated driver to go to a Steve Winwood concert. Jimmy Cliff was the warmup act. All went fine until my mother’s car decided to have a flat tire an hour or so away from Lexington. To add to the fun, someone locked the keys in the trunk. A couple of angry mothers later, we were able to go back home. Tom wrote and recorded a song that I wish I could still find.
Tom and I weren’t necessarily close friends. But never let emotional or physical distance make you underestimate the power of relationships. I would see Tommy once every other year, mostly at poker games when I visited my hometown. But when I found out he was gone I missed him terribly and wished he hadn’t gone. If you happen to go, you will be missed terribly by more people than you think.
Over the next few weeks, I had to decide whether to go to Tom’s memorial. The memorial was the weekend before school started again, and we had a three year old on top of a newborn. We don’t have a lot of family or extra help in New York. I also worried that I wasn’t part of his “inner circle.” (If we’ve had contact, please feel free to consider yourself part of my inner circle.) I also needed to buy an airplane ticket at a time when my wallet was pouring out dollars for diapers, wipes, and did I mention diapers.
But I really missed Tommy. After talking to Yoko and getting a sitter to help, I decided to make the trip to my hometown. At the memorial, I got to see friends that I had seen in years in addition to good buddies that I would always see when I came home. The pastor spoke about Tom’s natural ability to play music and bring joy and creation. He explained that even though we may not have the same musical abilities that it was up to us to keep the music alive, in our own ways, even if it meant we had to work a little harder. Maybe someday I will return the favor to Tommy and write my own blues tune.
It’s strange that my daughter’s birthday will also always be around the anniversary of my friend’s passing. On the first anniversary, my friend Jeff posted a barrage of music that Tom loved and was inspired by. It was kind of like I was getting to know Tom better even though he wasn’t on this physical plane.
I’d love to report that after that memorial, I took up music with a passion and have kept the music going every day. I have let the dust accumulate on the guitar for months at a time. These days I am going for a minimum though I’m promising nothing to anyone not even myself. I’m trying to follow Julia Cameron’s advice on how to take up an art form:
sit down at the piano and touch the keys. Five minutes a day is better than no minutes a day.
Now is the time to claim your song, whatever form it may take for your. If you can’t claim it through joy, claim it through anger or grief and let it lead back to joy. Life is precious. Claim your song.