Once, I made good money playing music. Once, I sold lots of CD’s. Once, there were venues that hosted my kind of music, which is the singer/songwriter type, the concert listening type. Once, I had a lot more energy than I do now. Once….well, once….! I was never any good as a barroom entertainer, primarily because my music never made good background music.
Once, things were far different in the music business than they are now. If you could ask the executives of Sony, Warner-Brothers, Columbia, or any other large record label what the future of music holds, most of them would reply, “Less for the performers, producers, and venue owners.” Less is a pretty good word for it, though perhaps a bit too humble in my opinion.
So what is left for us musicians? There is the magic of the moment. That moment when the musicians become of one mind and musical expression, and the synergy that overtakes the music and transports those playing it, and those listening to it, to another place, a place of the sheer joy of music. That is a special and powerful place. It is what is left for the rest of us musicians in the regular world of performing arts.
Due to my many trips to California, where I was introduced to a whole new world of musicians, music lovers, fans,and friends, I was able to meet the remarkable Sara Winge. Sara is one of those singers who has tremendous technical talent as a singer, but is able to reach deep within and pull out something special, some lagniappe, and bring it soulfully to whatever she is singing.
While she was visiting my home, with her delightful sister, Nora, we enjoyed playing lots of music. Sara even ventured to The Sucarnochee Revue with me where she, Piper, and I played some delicious trios. The regular attendees of The Sucarnochee keep encouraging me to bring more of my California friends to the show. I wish I could. I wish I could bring them all.
Sara went to great expense to come and pay me a visit. There were airline tickets, rental cars, motels along the way, and much time taken from her busy schedule. I have a busy schedule, too, but I managed to put it on hold during the tenure of Sara and Nora’s visit.
We enjoyed performing on the show, She and Nora enjoyed the beautiful Temple Theatre for the Performing Arts, trips through downtown Meridian, and a visit to Weidmann’s for a late dinner after the show. We also enjoyed a long hike in the woods where Sara and Nora were able to identify all sorts of birds. I admit that I am not a bird watcher. I know owls, hawks, quail, herons, egrets, red-wing blackbirds, mockingbirds, cardinals, blue jays, turkeys, buzzards, crows, and ducks, but couldn’t tell you a warbler from a finch from a bunting. Beyond what I know, they are all sparrows to me.
“Look at that big sparrow,” I’d say.
“That’s an Indigo Bunting,” Nora would say.
“Look at that little sparrow,” I’d say.
“That’s a yellow finch,” Sara would say.
“Look at those egrets in that tree,” I said.
“Those are Magnolia blossoms,” they corrected.
“Look at those buzzards,” I said.
“Those are turkey buzzards,” they said back.
I looked around but didn’t see any turkeys, but gave a slight sigh of relief having gotten one half-right.
We did see some turkeys…all hens. I got that one right, pointing them out to Sara and Nora.
We walked among the Beeches, Pines, White Oaks, Shag-bark and Smooth-Bark Hickories, False Lemons, Wild Cherries, Red Oaks, Post Oaks, Water Oaks, Sawtooth Oak, Hackberry, Pin Oak, Bois D’Arc, River Birch, Locust, and the wonderfully blooming Dogwoods. I knew my trees, but didn’t know much about all the different kinds of sparrows in them. They were all sparrows to me, some were just bigger or more colorful to me.
Sara and Nora got to enjoy one mild-mannered thunderstorm, bordering on furious, but not fully so. I wish I could have presented a truly furious one to them. They did enjoy the ones we had, since thunderstorms are few and far between in California. Not so here.
Walking back up the steep hill to get back to the house, Nora and Sara were considerably ahead of me as I huffed and puffed struggling to get up the hill. I stopped half-way up, picked up a plain piece of sandstone and pretended to gaze at it intently. They stopped and turned around, asking me, “Whatcha got there?”
I threw the rock of into the bushes and said, “I thought I had a fossil, but it was a faux fossil.” By that time, I had caught my breath and was ready to tackle the second half of the steep incline. They were gracious enough to wait for me, laughing gently when I told them what I was really up to. There was no need to hide it. They could see that I was winded.
When we got back to the house, we played some music. The previous night, Sara had sung “Loving Arms.” I could not quite place it, but knew that I had heard it before, long ago, and was simply smitten with the song’s reintroduction. It was like I had found an old friend.
I have a terrible case of Restless Legs Syndrome and go through spells where the medicine I take for it will mostly work, but sometimes nothing helps. Usually, after any kind of show is when the RLS is the worst. I had a bad case of it that night after the Sucarnochee. There was simply no sleeping.
Even though there is no sleep, there is an odd phenomenon of REM-like sleep while in a semi-conscious state. I can only achieve this state or get any rest while sitting upright in a chair. When the RLS is bad I cannot lay down. Thus, daylight that Saturday morning had me sitting in the Duncan Phyfe wing-back chair in the kitchen, drifting in and out of the REM-esque sleep and consciousness. I was hearing “Loving Arms” in my head. Sara said that she had learned it from Ian Tyson. I had never heard Tyson do this, but was dreaming of it and how he might powerfully do it, for Ian Tyson can powerfully deliver a song. I was hearing Sara’s own singing of the song, drifting back and forth between her voice and how I dreamed Tyson would have done it, but I kept hearing a third version. It kept breaking through the ether like a too powerful CB radio that resounds from your stereo speakers even when your stereo is off, since the radio waves can move magnets, even unpowered ones, if they are strong enough. This third version kept on breaking in on Sara and Ian, demanding my attention until it was all I could hear in my dream-time state. It was the late, great Dobie Gray, who had had a hit off this song and is where I first heard it.
Suddenly, in my altered state of consciousness, I was hearing an Ian Tyson arranged version with Dobie singing the lead part, and Ian and Sara adding angelic harmonies. I was transported to heaven with the pain of lost love and broken spirits that are in this song. I could feel the pain the writer, Tom Jans, must have felt when he was hit with inspiration for this song. It was no longer a song, but a life story. It was no longer fictional, technically well-performed entertainment my own brain was providing for me, I was immersed in a poignancy I had never felt. I was moved. I was transported. I was literally in the song and it had overwhelmed me.
I awoke, or mostly awoke, since I was only partially asleep, more in a meditative state than anything else, but definitely an altered state. By then the song was indelibly burned into my brain. It has been ever since.
I asked Sara to sing it later that evening. Piper and I added harmony parts. A link to the YouTube video of it is posted below.
In spite of the background noise, in spite of the informal setting, in spite of a lot of things, moments like these are what this musician lives for. We touched some of the magic of this song revealed to me in my dreams, and I would have paid, literally paid, and traveled thousands of miles just for the satisfaction delivered by this one song, and the chance to sing it with Sara and Piper. As it is, Sara did pay. I hope she thought it was worth it, because I am still getting my money’s worth out of it. It is still occupying my thoughts and my dreams. It even overpowers the effects of a kidney stone that nags me today as I listen.
Music is a tremendously urgent prime-mover and soother. I am thankful to be able to listen to it, and even more thankful to be occasionally reach out and grab a piece of heaven in the making of it.
Thank you, Sara, for sharing your talent, time, and sister with me and my family. The joy of your visit is still with us.