This is supposed to be the followup to my previous post On Boyness. It is not.
I had a lot of great ideas for it, though. I'd outlined a few stories to tell, stories of times when I see the man in the boy - a determined pitcher, an understanding sibling, a courageous helper, - moments when the reverse of my "men are boys" thesis becomes apparent.
But, you know, fate's a funny, fickle fucker and, well, I think I got filibustered.
Sometimes, before I start to write, I like to get out my guitar and sing a few songs just to get things going. So earlier today I lit the "focus candle" and started a song I play all the time and, the truth is... I wasn't really into it. I remembered a faded orange file I'd found a while back filled with most of the songs I used to play but don't anymore - songs gone out of fashion, song that folks would laugh at if I played them now, songs with difficult fingerings, songs from the American Songbook, songs I'd written and forgotten and remembered and forgotten. Yes... songs forgotten sums it up nicely.
I'd already fished in it before if you remember, so I knew there would be something I might like to play. I do a game when I practice sometimes, I mix up my music and just grab a song and play it. I call it "Ya git what ya git."
First song I picked out was "If I Were a Carpenter." Tim Hardin wrote it and sang it at Woodstock, I learned it from a June and Johnny Cash album that was floating around, like the words to the song, in the wind of the seventies. A girl I didn't know - at the time - sang harmony to it, June's part, in the dark, beyond the halo of a campfire somewhere around '78 or '79. One song, a whole damn story. One piece of paper and I'm sucked up and onto a memory road I'd not been on in years. Save my love through loneliness / Save my love through sorrow / I've given you my onlyness / Come and give me your tomorrow.
Second song, Rocky Raccoon. In high school and college everybody was singin' this tune. I played it and remembered that I'd never really done it very well, kind of stumbling through the first spoken part. However, in the dorm rooms of Athens alone, I probably played that song a hundred times. We were so young, boys really, singing and carryin' on so freely and joyfully, finding a wildness we'd not known was in us. Again, only a piece of fading paper, awkwardly typewritten words and chords scrawled in red - usually in the wrong place - and tobacco stains and beer can rings, but it lifted me back to a time that so shaped me.
Alright then, Let It Be is on the flip side. This was a song that everyone wanted to hear for a while. I've only managed once to do it justice. Not on a bar stage or a summer bonfire or a winter kitchen with friends all around, not there where others would have seen it, but, in a meadow in the mountains of Arizona just east of Payson. I was camping, alone and... you know what, that's a long story, one I like to be reminded of but am not yet ready to tell. I suppose that's because it hasn't finished quite yet. ...speaking words of wisdom, indeed.
Truth is, I suck at Beatles songs.
I pulled out a paper-clipped set of five or six sheets of paper. One I used in the post I mentioned earlier. Songs of angst and hope with titles like Pink Skyline of the City and Goin' Round in Circles and Dreaming (of Being with You). Could I make that up? I play a couple, or try to, at least. Melodies are gone or vague at best, chord changes lost, but... the feelings aren't lost. I wrote them when I lived in NYC in my twenties. As I sing them I feel like I am saying hello to an old me, and, somehow as if he is waving back through echoes and premonitions.
Since there are five pages here, in the spirit of the game, I play them all. On the last two pages are three songs by a college roommate, hepcat, friend and, briefly, band mate. Mostly, really, he was a fellow sojourner, someone I still admire to this day, who may be reading this now. Hey, dude.
The songs are Leavin' Me Now, I'm in Love and Heather's Into Leather. The first two, it occurs to me, are really sort of the same song, same keys, chords reversed. They are two parts of the same story, an ancient story, a modern story... my story, your story. Our story. I tried to play Heather but, being rock-n-roll impaired I never really did it well, power chords and a punk beat were never something I was good at. Good memories, though, good times, I guess people say.
I play Sunshine, you remember, I'll be damned if he'll run mine, and a Jim and Ingrid Croce song called Say What The Hell from the only album they did together. I pull out Sister Golden Hair and the Lighfoot classic If You Could Read My Mind, Love and John Prine's Flag Decal. Songs I learned in late high school, early college. Songs that remind me of a crush I had on golden haired Renee - or Melody, was it? - songs I learned for friends or family, songs that really, really mattered to me, songs that the story was in the learning.
My fingers were getting weary and you might remember I was about to write important stuff about big themes. I decided to pull one last song, I got one I'd learned when I was maybe twelve, only a little older than the boys are now, Puff, The Magic Dragon.
I found the fingering and remember the capo and started singing it. I'll tell you what, I'll play it now for you. This isn't when I played it earlier, just now as I am writing this up.
I didn't know I'd cry this morning, but when I came to the words a dragon lives forever but not so little boys / painted rings and giant's wings make way for bigger toys I choked back a sob and then had to stop playing and let the tears come. I'd mourned Puff so many times as a kid, felt so sad for him, but, I'd never cried for little Jackie Paper before. Never cried for his mighty loss, never cried for his missed make-believe journeys, never cried for his lost innocence.
As a boy it'd never occurred to me. Poor Puff who could no longer be brave, who slowly slipped into his cave. But now, now, I was Jackie Paper and I was his father. I was Schrödinger's kid, both boy and man at the same time, experiencing the song both now and before. It was as if the boy that was me sensed this day would come and gave me this song for the time I would come to mourn my own sons' fading innocence.
So my desk looks like this...
... and I am no closer to defending my boys are men idea, which is where this all started.
Or am I?
The men that I see in my boys, the man I see in pictures of myself at their age, the boy I watched just today, learning a song in basement bedroom so many years ago, the men they will become, seem just as formed as the boys they appear to be.
Is manness simply innocence rekindled?
Thanks for indulging me, again. Remember, most of what I am doing here is for another time, it is for the men these boys will become, or, as you are right now, right boys?
This is the fourth piece in my accidental "Green Series." The first was "Green Ball of Gratitude," the story of a forgotten ball and hope fulfilled. The second is "The Frayed Green Rope" about a rope I bought a long time ago that's still telling me stories. I wrote "The Man in The Green Reds Cap" after I met myself on rural road I grew up on. Check them out if you'd care to.
See you next time...