Dear Ellie, my little pink-cheeked sprite with the wide, blue eyes — Here in Austin, it’s a gorgeous day, with bright blue skies and warm sunshine. It’s too beautiful a day to write about politics. (Lately, even the most heinous weather would be ruined by politics. But I digress. I always digress.)
Instead, I want to tell you about a gathering your grandfather and I went to on Sunday. It was at the home of two friends, Dan Bullock and Annette Carlozzi. Annette’s very well-known in the art world and, as far as I can tell, Dan is well-known everywhere — politics, writing, music, philanthropy, you name it. (He’s also a West Texan, like your grandfather and me. West Texans — especially after they leave West Texas — are almost always reliably strange and offbeat. It’s in our blood, I think. Either that or in the foul-tasting water out there.)
Anyway, Dan and Annette gathered about 20 of us together on a Sunday afternoon to listen to music. More precisely, we had each been asked to name our favorite song or most significant song and send it to Dan, along with the artist’s and album’s name. He would put it on a play list — and each of us would introduce our own song and talk about why it was important to us, had moved us.
All of it was fascinating and threatening both. But, what the heck, so are most worthwhile things. So, after much dithering, I chose Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Don’t Think Twice.” Your grandfather opted for Robert Earl Keen’s “Feelin’ Good Again.”
So, we went, we drank prosecco, we saw some people we knew, met some people we didn’t. Then, we sat down to talk and listen to the music and to one another.
We heard Springsteen and Dylan, Prokofiev and Pachelbel, Whitney Houston and Tuck & Patti. But more important, we got to hear other people’s stories about themselves and the songs we’d chosen. Many were stories from our youth, but not all.
I talked about the first time I heard “Don’t Think Twice,” in my dorm room in Lubbock, Texas, in 1969, where the wind blew all the time and I was miserably unhappy. I belted the song out with the stereo when I wasn’t busy sobbing. Twenty-four years later, at a far better time in my life — a time I couldn’t have imagined in 1969 — I used the song’s lyrics for the title of my first novel.
Your grandfather used to jog to his song, “Feelin’ Good Again.” But it took on an entirely different meaning to him when your mother used it to walk down the aisle at her wedding to your father.
These days, Opa said, he always tears up when he hears that song. (I think it may interfere with his running time, too.)
There were so many other songs, so many other memories, that afternoon. If Dan and Annette had asked us to tell something important about ourselves, it would never have worked; asking us to talk about music that meant something to us, though — that was entirely different. We opened up glimpses of our lives and hearts that afternoon. It was lovely.
You’ll realize, Ellie, that we all spend a fair amount of time presenting ourselves to the world — trying to be smart and witty and charming and confident. Life can be so hard and demanding sometimes, and you feel as if you need to appear strong and in control to protect yourself: Never show weakness, never let them see you sweat.
But there we all were on Sunday — recalling when we’d been weak and sweaty and uncertain about life, talking about the music that meant something to us then and now. It’s a wonderful feeling to peel off the layers and watch them fall, wondering why you packed on so many in the first place.
Honesty, sincerity, community — they’re really the only things in life that matter. You’ll learn that, my sweet child. I love you, Coco