BETWEEN OLD FRIENDS
Been lots of water under bridges we’ve burned
All of the years hoped we would learn
What’s truly important there at the end
Tie binding moments between old friends
That’s the first verse of Between Old Friends, the title song of an album McCoy and I recorded in the fall of 2009. You might say it was a follow up to the Between Friends album we recorded 28 years earlier.
Over the years I’ve grown comfortable with the idea that we spend a lot of time chipping away in the quarry of life often to what seems like little effect. We take countless small steps unsure of where we’re going or if we’re getting anywhere. Then suddenly we arrive at a moment that requires some kind of leap of faith. A leap we must make or go back to simply chipping away at our familiar corner of the quarry.
By the spring of 2007 I had spent ten years chipping away at understanding what receiving my dad’s last gift truly meant. I came to realize that gift freed me to shine a light, ideally one of love and truth, into what I had only known as darkness. That insight made me realize how afraid I am of the dark. And of my own dark side. Shining light onto those fears let me better see them for what they were and begin to define them instead of being defined by them. Underlying those multiple fears was that big fear that there was a part of me fatally flawed, unlovable and destined to be alone. The more I introduced myself to my fears, the better I got to know them, the easier it got to live with those fears instead of in them.
Here’s the chorus to a song I wrote that talks about that relationship.
My fears don’t scare me like they used to
Once I found what fears are most afraid of
They hate being faced exposed or embraced
By truth, light, or love
Somehow somewhere in the process of shining a light into the darkness and onto the dark side it dawned on me, with lots of help from Pat and from you and from others, that I was not fatally flawed and it was possible to learn to love myself well enough to love others and let others love me. I must say getting to that place made me appreciate what Kierkegard said about understanding life backwards while having to live life forwards. In other words the light in the darkness illuminated just enough of the world to let me know where I was but not where I was going.
Which brings us to that leap of faith. To give meaning and purpose to the idea that I was loving, loveable, and loved meant I had to begin living as if I believed it. It was time to stop chipping away at those fears. Time to take that leap of faith.
There was what felt like a right place and time to do that. Coming off the stage at Benaroya Hall after celebrating my 60th birthday. A special night. There was even an article in the Peninsula Life magazine about that show. You and I introduced the song “All The Stages of My Life” that night.
All the stages of my life you stood by me
All the disappointments and discoveries
I don’t know what’s waitin’ for us but I’ll join you in the chorus
All the stages of my life you stood by me
That weekend was also a first ever reunion with both my mom’s and my dad’s sides of the family together. Lots of folks came out to Port Ludlow the day after the show. It was a special time on many fronts culminating in a metaphorical leap accompanied by an idea borne if not expressed where once there was fear, let there be love.
That leap may have helped bring about a turning point in my songwriting. I realized after that show being a songwriter had given me a lot over a lot of years, but the process of writing songs had brought me little joy. I no longer wanted to keep doing something that wasn’t going to bring joy. So I made myself a deal. For a hundred days, or essentially the length of that summer, I would get up every morning with the idea of finding joy in songwriting. If I couldn’t find it I’d stop writing songs. Much to my delight by September I had discovered joy in the process that continues to this day.
That summer besides producing joy produced a lot of new songs including ones for us to sing. Eventually enough good songs to decide to go into the studio and record a new album. I remember when I first shared the new songs with you. We were doing a concert tour in Japan. It was that Monday in November when we have our once a year special dinner. After sharing the songs with you in one of the hotel rooms we went to the restaurant Noguchi, our tour promotor, recommended. Chicken wings. A Nagoya specialty. It took us a while for us to figure out how to order. Before long Karl and Noguchi came in and sat at the table next to us. We did fine after that.
Ted played a big role in creating the album. Keyboardist. Arranger. Co-writer of a lot of the songs. The musicians Bob had introduced us to when we recorded Between Friends in 81 were still around and still working and ready. Reed Ruddy, now the studio manager would once again be the engineer. Bob would produce. We would once again invite friends and family and record the songs live in the studio. The studio was going to be available Labor Day weekend in 2009.
In the middle of August you were stricken with what you later learned was vestibular neuronitis which left you with severe, extreme, debilitating dizziness. I called regularly to see if things were improving. No change. With only a few days before the scheduled recording I went over to your house. We sang through the 20 songs we hoped to record. I stayed overnight. We planned to sing the songs through the next morning. I told you your health was the more important than any recording. We laughed when I added, well 90% of me believes that. We sang the songs through the next day. You said you believed you’d be ready.
You know, McCoy, we grew up thinking we were supposed to be tough. Coaches in high school and college kept telling us if the bone isn’t sticking out we could play. Or should. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between playing hurt and playing injured.
You did great in the studio. As I write this I’m remembering some of the people who were there who aren’t here anymore. Maggie Savage and Sharon Wooten. Les Salmon. Jim Owens. Jean Taylor. Gerry Gordon. Gordy Adams. Dorothy Brancato. Frank Brancato. We had a birthday cake and sang happy birthday to Frank the night of the recording.
And then there was Drager, known to those who know his books as Cooper Edens. He was there in his red pants. He is one of those who fits in by standing out. After we took a break he was nowhere to be found. We didn’t know it, but he had left the studio not feeling well. He hoped getting something to eat would help. It didn’t. He went home to lie down. Fortunately a friend called and recognized the trouble he was having speaking and the friend called 911. Drager had suffered a stroke. Talking to his mom the next day at the hospital she was shaking her head. He’s been a hypochondriac his whole life, she mused, and the big one comes, and he doesn’t’ seem to notice.
Drager’s creative mind and indomitable spirit have inspired me for more than 50 years, never more than watching him live with and engage in life these days no longer able to control his right hand, the one that created with his drawings and paintings magical worlds of love and imagination where all are welcome.
After the Between Old Friends album came out one of the shows we did to promote it was at the Broadway
Performance Hall in Seattle where we also celebrated Drager’s 65th birthday. In the second half with help from some songs from the album you told the story about finding your way out of the darkness and into the light. I was offstage and didn’t hear it but Drager told me later how he yelled up to you and told you that he’d always loved you. And at the end of the concert we got Drager on stage. You put your hand on his shoulder and we all sang Let Love Forward. It’s one of those moments I make sure to remember whenever I start wondering who we are and what are we doing here.
The last song on the album is called I Believe. The words of the bridge and the last verse feel like a good way to end this particular letter.
I believe in joy and wonder. I believe in hope and trust. I believe that something special lives in every one of us. I believe faith’s often tested, and it’s how we face our doubts that will explain, give meaning, define our lives somehow.
I believe faith is exploring what is darkest for ourselves
That hope is somehow sharing what we find with someone else
I believe that you have been a true and trusted friend to me
We are better for the journey I believe