Sunday, December 22, 2002

Late, late on a chilly, rainy afternoon one Christmas a couple of years ago, I found myself driving south on lower Greenville Avenue in Dallas. The street was slick from a slow, steady rain that was as much hanging in the air as it was falling.

It was dark early. The headlights and streetlights and the occasional lights from stores blended with the wet chill to create faint, nearly surreal glows of white, red, yellow, and green outside my windshield.
Most everybody was home, or at a relative’s or friend’s house, so there was little traffic on the street and I had room to think.

I’d done the family thing already; dinner with my mother (who gave me the love of words) and my father (who gave me the love of music) and the rest of the family. Now, I was looking for another kind of family. Soon, I found a rare open parking space in front of Poor David’s Pub. Inside that venerable, shadowy place, I quietly rejoiced as part of a small, relaxed crowd of pilgrims who’d come together for the annual Brian Burns Christmas night show. We were, for the most part, a motley crew of seekers looking for, and sometimes finding, extended families in the music.

Today, as I recall that Christmas past while trying to come up with some profound, perhaps uplifting message for the end of one year and the beginning of another, I find myself anchored in small, personal moments from the past few years.

I recall, in November, sitting at the bar at Poor David’s Pub as the great songwriter Billy Joe Shaver finished sound check with his band and walked across the room to where I sat, shook my hand as we looked one another in the eye, then put both arms around my shoulders in a silent hug.

I recall Randy Hopper’s country band at a birthday party, extending songs into long, luring blues-rock moments, and calling sweet-voiced young Heather Morgan to the stage to blister a from-the-depths version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Red House,” complete with an improvised verse about the hostess leaving her three kids at home to go out and party.

I recall playing ring toss with three of Kevin and Kim Deal’s kids at Love & War in Texas, coaxing the shy one, Samantha, into responding to the game and finally, dropping her guard to let the rough-and-tumble tomboy show through.

I recall one night at the Kerrville Folk Festival when a quiet young woman with a guitar sat in a camp chair and sang a song so unexpected, in such a beautiful voice, that I remember the passion and the longing, but none of the words. On that same night, I recall someone walking past me in the dark, saying, “I wish all of America was like this, man.”

I recall Katy Moffatt, one of our great ballad singers, sharing perfect jewels at 11:30 on a Wednesday night on the small side of Gypsy Tearoom, with only 15 people in a room built for 150. Her voice can be so beautiful singing just the right lyrics in just the right way that the sound can take you so far inside yourself.

I recall the end of a show in an old theater in Waxahachie, where Terri Hendrix surprised me by dedicating her encore to me for a small kindness I’d done for a stranger earlier that day. She sang Bill Mallonee and Julie Miller’s “The Last Song,” which begins, “May your peace be an anchor in stormy times, may your hope run like a river that’ll never run dry, may your burdens grow light, may your worries subside.”

I recall Eliza Gilkyson, one of our great songwriters, admitting from the stage at Uncle Calvin’s Coffeehouse that she sometimes writes from the fetal position.

I recall a handful of long, rambling, treasured phone conversations with a very ill Mickey Newbury – monologues, really, with him doing most of the talking. Somehow, for a while, he put me on the list of people he’d call from his sickbed. Once, he said he wanted to write music for one of my poems; although I knew he’d probably never get around to it, I was thrilled by the thought.

I recall a story I heard about Townes Van Zandt, who I never met, staying at some friends’ home in East Dallas one night after a show at Poor David’s Pub. The next morning, my friends couldn’t find him anywhere in the house. Finally, they walked out into the front yard and found him sleeping on the ground, surrounded by empty liquor bottles. I think of a Van Zandt quote: “We all got holes to fill, and them holes are all that’s real.”

And, finally, I think of reaching out, from deep depression, to a small group of people I love, in one way or another, for better and for worse, through a chill rain hanging in the air. I discovered that every one of them has faced, or faces, for whatever reasons, depression of their own. Maybe that’s part of their attraction -- the capacity, or the willingness, in each of them to explore the darkness of slow, steady rain on a Christmas night. We touch who we can, and we wonder what moments the future holds.