It was one a.m. and admittedly, we were drinking. “You know you’re old enough to be my mother,” he said, and I smiled, nodding, unable to disagree.
“Can I ask you a question,” he continued,” and you don’t have to answer it if you don’t want to. I don’t exactly know how to say this but … how has making music changed for you now that you’re past fifty, in comparison to, say, when you were my age?”
Ratty sighed, adjusting slightly in his dog bed, and without opening his eyes, stretched his legs showing off his handsome sled dog apparatus. The small ranch house living room seemed filled with contentment including the quiet vibration of Pearl asleep in the back bedroom.
The question was an interesting one, the kind of philosophical big-picture question that I would normally jump all over but an off the cuff answer seemed to evade me.
I looked at the floor sheepishly and in the face of this 28 year old’s eager anticipation of a nugget of wisdom from his future felt somehow unable to play the part and act my age. Why was I in this senior position and why wasn’t I young anymore? This was the underlying reality flooding me with confusion at the moment, impeding a quick response.
Always the gentleman and employing his good sense of timing, he rose from his chair and went to the kitchen to fetch the wine bottle, returning to top off my glass in the flat, yard sale lamp light.
“I really don’t know,” I said finally, with an air not of finality. I had to do better than this. How often did people ask me real existential questions? It was a huge opportunity to go on about something potentially meaningful.
“ I think I just try to be honest, whatever that looks like. Maybe I care less about the “music industry” and my place in it as I get older and that is somewhat of a relief. But basically, the process of songwriting has stayed the same”.
Earlier that evening, Dirk had driven twenty miles to get the key to the front door of the theater. Locked out of the building with an hour to kill, the rest of us stood idly on the empty street while it drizzled: Bran walking slow circles with a fussy baby on his hip; Stan, called in last minute to run sound, detailing the rock and roll exploits of his younger years. Our performance that night in the old town hall in Larch NH was intense and fluid and dramatic. Dirk’s connection to the area was palpable and people came out of the woodwork to see him who hadn’t seen him since he was a boy playing fiddle contests in the northeast kingdom of Vermont. We were now a part of that rich fabric, joining him in the telling of stories, both musical and deep-rooted in our actual lives.
“Maybe as I get older I’m less sure of what I have to say, or it’s less obvious – as in the saying: ‘the more you know, the less you know’. It’s not all about the kinds of passions that run the heart in youth; it’s about something more subtle because you’ve already tried all the obvious pathways and, in my case, come up short. Until I start writing I don’t know what’s working on me because it stays well hidden. But if I settle into the process, and it’s usually with my guitar, a few choice chords can create an opening and then something starts to happen. I can begin to have a conversation with those elusive, trout-like feelings that populate the depths of soul.”
My soliloquy was sounding pretty good, but I could feel Dirk’s focused curiosity like a laser moving ahead of me at lightening speed.
“For me,” he said, “ I see one moment in my past from which everything else has evolved. One event that struck me with such stunning clarity and emotional truth that my being has ever since been an expression of it and driven by its powerful impact. There will never be enough time in the day to serve such as a deserving master.”
His eyes shone strong and steady with the quiet courage and honest vulnerability of someone marked early by adversity but not defeated. Here was his life, the most current layer of an ancient road as simple and exposed as a high mountain goat path, which he chose to walk as a farm hand and fiddler. No wonder at two a.m. when he led me to a pile of inflatable camping and foam mattresses with instructions to block the door with the laundry hamper to keep Roody out, I lay down on my pallet inspired - grateful for my life in a way I hadn’t been for a long while.