When I was a student at Baylor, most any afternoon after class I made a stop at Baylor Records, a small independent record store barely a block off campus. It was a small rectangle of a room decorated with the obligatory record and concert posters and lined with wooden bins filled with albums separated by plastic dividers with the names of the artists and bands. More afternoons than I should, I came back to my room with records. I listened and I read, for those were the days of liner notes. Man, I miss liner notes. I read about how the records came together, whom the artists wanted to thank, and I learned about songwriters. Thanks to the almost yearly offerings of Linda Ronstadt and Eagles, I came to know Karla Bonoff, Warren Zevon, and John David Souther.
Some time on Friday, I think, I found out J. D. Souther was playing a Sunday night show at The Arts Center in Carrboro, one of the connected towns that make up our rather ungeometric Triangle. He is supporting a new CD, Natural History, that has allowed him to revisit some of the songs I sang along with in college and sing them himself without much more than guitar and piano, which was the way he sang last night. Needless to say, I went.
The evening began with a set by Jill Andrews, who was new to me but quite accomplished. She was in a band called the Everybody Fields, who happened to show up in my Pandora mix the other day and consisted of her and her ex-husband, thus explaining why the band is no more. She was an interesting mixture of Edie Brickell and Kasey Chambers, with lovely melodies, warm and insightful lyrics, and an engaging stage presence. I was struck by her offering of new songs as the opening to an evening of Souther’s well-aged words and music. It made for an amazing evening for the two hundred or so who found their way into the room to hear them.
I love to listen to live music. Part of the reason is there’s always something that happens that makes it a you-had-to-be-there kind of moment. Last night, for instance, in the midst of singing the songs we knew well, Souther sang “Bye, Bye Blackbird” and “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” He wasn’t just fooling around, either. “Blackbird” –
pack up all my cares and woe
here I go singing low
bye bye blackbird
fell in between “Silver Blue” –
you think you’re gonna live forever
and somehow find me there
but you’ll be wearing golden wings
and fall right through the air
and “Sad Café” –
oh, expecting to fly,
we would meet on that beautiful shore in the sweet by and by
some of their dreams came true, some just passed away
and some of the stayed behind inside the sad cafe.
As I watched both Andrews and Souther, I realized again the main reason I love to hear and see someone offer their songs live is because it is such an incarnational act of faith and hope. While the world is at war and at odds and at loose ends, we sat in the dark and listen to people sing words they put to music and set free to change the world. Some of Souther’s songs have lived in my memory for years and they were called up for a fresh new moment all because he was willing to play and sing and risk that it all matters once again, even as he sang in a beautiful song called “Little Victories” –
now as we face our uncertain future
looking at uncharted seas
we see the tear that runs along the curtain
you step right through you stand with me
everybody needs some
though it hurts sometimes to look around
blindness only keeps you down
the best may lie beyond this present and past
the skies may open the waters part
I know you need one
of the heart
Last night, we got one.