There’s just too much to tell in too little space so I’ll try to cut it into parts small enough that the telling doesn’t overwhelm the reading…
Along with everything else that being my kid involved, my children grew up listening to the music of John Prine and Guy Clark. It wasn’t that they sought it out and looked for it; there’s just not much choice when you’re stuck in a Ford van for hundreds of miles and your old man has a thing for folk music. I nearly wore out the cassette tapes that Serena Hersh and Bill Jolliff had given me. Serena was a student of mine and Bill caught the short straw and ended up becoming my best friend while we were all at Ohio State University back in the mid-Eighties. Serena and her boyfriend turned me onto John Prine after hearing me sing some of my songs and learning that I was from western Kentucky, where Paradise lay. Bill got me hooked on Guy Clark’s Texas poetry set to music. Even when he couldn’t tell if I was a blessing or a curse, he’s remained a treasured friend even to this day.
I passed on the favor of those musical acquaintances, playing their songs on long trips back to Kentucky and everywhere else we traveled. At home and on visits, I’d switch from tape player to playing the guitar, singing “Paradise,” “Hello in There,” “Throw My Brains in a Hurricane,” and a couple dozen other songs from both songwriter/singers. Some of my most finely polished memories are of sitting on the edge of bed and playing the guitar while the kids and I sang those songs together. They loved helping me teach their friends “That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round” when I did storytelling and folk singing stints for their school classes. Dan and Ben and I did a couple of Guy Clark tunes in a talent show at Webster Elementary School in Saint Joseph back in previous lives.
Even in our worst years and lowest points, the kids and I could always agree on John Prine and Guy Clark. They loved the music and began singing the songs to their own kids, passing along tunes and talents that had been passed on to them.
There’s a fine, rich pleasure in seeing the ones we love treasure the things we love. Especially when it comes to things like hope and faith and the third member of that blessed trinity, the one that will outlast the other two. And good to know, too, that even in eternity, we’ll still share both love and singing.