Monday, December 6, 2010

The Music Man

I mentioned in my post about Thanksgiving that the song "Up on Cripple Creek" by The Band started playing just as I sat down to the turkey dinner with my family. Well, that was only half the story. The Saturday after Thanksgiving, I hosted a potluck dinner party with some friends, wanting to be sure I had one last dinner party at my dining room table before I move, and one last evening with a particular group of friends who really became like a family to me this year and whose company I have treasured more than they will ever know. At the dinner party were Kristine & Bobby, Jenny & Justin, and Anita & Matt (well, and me). I share many memories and experiences with this group, including: running marathons together, a trip to Mexico, happy hour gatherings, nights hanging out and watching TV, party buses, and a dodgeball league.

One of the best nights of my life was the weekend before Brian died. We had an entirely open weekend -- a rarity for us and especially appreciated because it was our first free weekend after a month-plus of holiday and birthday celebrations. We purposefully did not make plans, and Friday afternoon one of the group -- perhaps Kristine? -- suggested a happy hour downtown. Brian and I discussed it and decided we'd go for a bit, but not stay too long (we actually looked forward to a quiet Friday night and a low-key weekend!). We met the group at Hessen Haus, a German bar in Des Moines best known for serving beer from "Das Boot," a large glass boot that we have a replica of in our bar at home (where it is known as "Da Victory Boot" and is sometimes shared after a Bears victory). I digress...we had some drinks at Hessen Haus, and closed our tabs around 7:30 p.m. Right after we closed our tabs, we noticed some really cute tee shirts on sale for $5 or $10 each. Brian had enough cash on him for each of the girls to get one, so we did. (I was so happy to recently find that shirt, still rolled up with rubber bands, in the purse I carried that night and relive that memory.) From there, the eight of us headed to Kristine & Bobby's apartment, where the guys played Rock Band for hours. It was a random, last-minute night that ended with the girls talking in the kitchen and the boys playing video games, almost like a play date. There was nothing crazy or fancy about the night, just good friends enjoying each other's company. While no wild stories came out of that night, it stands out for the pure joy it brought. I remember thinking that night, "What a fun, blessed, full life we have."

Now, I was hosting this group for our own little Thanksgiving celebration on that Saturday night. Just as we sat down to dinner, that song came on again. "Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me..." sang that familiar voice. The funny thing is, I have DirecTV and the associated music stations on my satellite; my parents have Dish. So it's not even as though my dad and I listen to the same, selection-limited station or something. I was listening to "The 60s" and my dad listens to something called "The Bridge," whatever genre that describes. I wouldn't even say I got a chill. I paused for a sec to verify that was the song playing, and went, "Hm, that feels right." I wasn't even that surprised. I know that sounds crazy, but to me it was just reaffirming my suspicion that it was him sending me a message, announcing his presence with us -- with me -- over the holidays.

Another example of Brian announcing his presence with music happened on Black Friday. That evening, I went over to Smitty's house (a friend of Brian's from high school, who was a pallbearer and who shared Brian's musical taste and passion) to have some Templeton Rye (Brian's favorite whiskey) and watch a DVD of The Avett Brothers with Smitty and Hart. Soon after I arrived, we sat down for an informal whiskey taste-testing and Smitty turned on some background music. He set the music playlist to randomize his entire selection -- which is massive and covers many styles -- and the first song to come on was, "Kickdrum Heart" by The Avett Brothers. What's funny is that Smitty did not like that song much, but Brian would always try to tell him why it was, in fact, a good song. (I know that sounds weird, but that's how they were with music. It went both ways -- Smitty loves a song called "Banana Puddin'" that Brian never really could get into.) Smitty said, "This is your husband's way of messing with me." To me, it was him announcing that he was with us, and that he would control the music selection, thank you very much.

Finally, one more story about music. Instead of music serving as a message from Brian, though, this time music was a means for me to honor Brian by living one of the lessons I've learned since his death. This is a story about life coming full circle.

I've written about Minneapolis-based singer/songwriter Mason Jennings before (, and I randomly thought while driving a couple weeks ago, "I feel like listening to some Mason Jennings." What I didn't mention is the way Mason Jennings became a part of our life. Brian and I had been back in Muscatine and he ran into a liquor store to pick up some beer -- sort of random, as we'd typically just stop at the grocery store or gas station. Somehow, he knew the guy working behind the counter and Brian said, "What song is this? I like it." The guy told us about Mason Jennings and gave Brian the burned CD, a collection of Mason Jennings songs (as opposed to burning one album in its entirety). Brian fell in love with that CD, and we started buying Mason's CDs and going to his shows whenever he was in the area.

I went to a party at a house on the north side of Des Moines a couple weeks ago, playing that disc on the way. At the party, I got into a discussion with a girl named Amy about music. I mentioned Mason Jennings, who I believe is one of the best songwriters out there. Suddenly, it hit me. I had to give her the disc. I realized that it was only from a random encounter and someone sharing that disc with us that we came to listen to that music on long road trips together and that we had a blast at Mason Jennings' concerts with our friends. Now, I don't know whether Amy will feel the same way, or it will have the same impact on her life. I'd be crazy to think it would. But you never know. In any event, I wanted to share something I loved with someone else, and hoped it would speak to her in some way, or that it might speak to a friend of hers who is a passenger in her car, or....who knows? All I know is I felt like I had to pay it forward. It only seemed right to share something that good.

One thing I've been trying to do more is to spread joy and share love in any way I can. That means sending a card encouraging someone who is down -- as opposed to just thinking about it and then never getting around to doing it. That means telling someone what they mean to me and how thankful I am for them -- as opposed to assuming they already know or thinking "I love you" expresses that enough. That means buying that perfect gift for someone for no reason -- as opposed to just commenting, "So-and-so would love that!" That means saying, "Here -- check out this CD; I think you'll like it" -- as opposed to saying, "You should look for him on YouTube."

In this case, it wasn't Brian speaking to me through least not directly. But in a way, he was acting through me with music.

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