Do you see those two boys up there?
I’m so proud of those two boys, and the men they have become. They are smart; they are thoughtful, and kind. They are the sort of men who tell the women they love, “you go for it; you do what you feel called to do. You will be great; don’t let anything stop you.”
And to top it off, they’re musicians!
The older one — destined, in our minds, for MIT and a career as a bio-medical engineer — picked up a guitar at 15 and became a virtuoso over a single summer, leaving robotics in his wake. Eventually, he attended a prestigious conservatory, studying classical composition in a doomed quest to write scores for video games. He fell in love, settled down in a job that has nothing to do with music (but still satisfies, because it involves endless challenges) and he educates himself — in calculus, economics, philosophy and accounting — like the hungry little autodidact he is.
And he has music as his release and gift and joy, for the rest of his life.
The younger one never wanted to be anything but a “a father” and a musician; at age 6 was banging out “Luck, Be a Lady Tonight” on the piano while his teacher was trying to get him to practice a concertina. He studied opera at a very good music school — even as an undergrad he was earning money on weekends, singing as a classicist — but he graduated declaring that what he’d always really wanted to be was a bluesman and songwriter.
Give him a couple of days with a new instrument, and he can play it — he won’t be a virtuoso, but he’ll be more than serviceable — so, last Christmas, we gave him a beautiful “pre-owned” accordion, which he cannot play. We gave it to him because we know that when he needs an accordion, he will pick it up and quickly figure it out.
I am really proud of my sons, because they are really good people; that’s the main thing — the primary thing. And much of that is due to the fact that they have been lucky enough to have a great dad to learn from.
But it makes me happier than I can say that they are musicians, and that for the rest of their lives, music will be a part of what has formed them, and a companion and consolation — a ready Louisville Slugger to use against all the wounding curveballs life can throw. The heart of a musician, like the heart of a fine artist, or a dancer, can afford to be deeper and wider than most, because it has access to the ready defibrillator that is the divine spark. Art co-creates with the Creator.
My kids have big, large, open hearts.
And tonight, I ask you to rejoice with me a little bit, because that younger kid — the one I used to call “Buster”, because he really was one — will be performing at his first paid gig as a blues/pop singer and songwriter. It’s a small gig in a small pub, and his band is small, too. I expect they will — like the Blues Bothers — drink up their earnings, in beer. But tonight my son is getting to be what he always wanted to be — a working musician, trying to make a go of it in a hard world that likes to smack us down.
Rejoice with me! A long time ago, living under the tyranny of a mad patriarch, I had to surrender my own solace, and turn down a scholarship to study music, because the patriarch — a brilliant man who also could play any instrument — would not permit it. He was scary powerful in our tribe, and having no champion, and no sense of myself, I surrendered.
The Mad Patriarch had been forbidden the chance to study music by his own father, and it was a constant grief and source of embarrassment to him. He did not know how to make it anything else, for his children.
Once, at an Army base, he was tinkling away and another fellow sat beside him and started singing. For a little while there was one of those perfect meetings of mind and heart that occur between musicians caught in a moment. Taking a break, my mad patriarch said to the singer, “you sound a lot like Tony Martin.” The singer said, “I am Tony Martin; and you’re a great accompanist.”
But he’d never studied; he was uneducated in music, and so the “great accompanist” — who never really wanted to be anything but a musician — excused himself in embarrassment. In his head, in his poor tortured mind, he could never be a “real” musician; in a world demanding credentials, he lacked the one he wanted most. He couldn’t play for a professional — not even a second-tier one, like Martin — because he had never studied. Like a velveteen rabbit, he could never, he thought, be real. And so he ran away.
He spent the rest of his life running. Another brilliant autodidact who could teach himself anything — he could draw mechanical diagrams and design buildings; he could recite Robert’s Rules of Order word-for-word, and run union meetings like a member of Parliament — he was always running, because there was no peace. And what he couldn’t have, no one else could have, either. No music, no peace; no education, no peace; no sense of boundaries, no peace. No safety, no peace.
I’ve never tried to live vicariously through my children. My own losses and deficiencies are my own, and I cannot make up for them or live them out through anyone else. That’s true of all of us, and so it goes. I know who I am, now, and I know that God is Good; the rest of it can fall aside, or tumble into a breeze and disperse, for all I care. My heart cannot be as deep or wide as it might have been. So it goes.
Tonight, though, as I get ready to watch my confident and engaging son put it out there, and make himself vulnerable to the ayes or naes of perfect strangers, I cannot help thinking of the Mad Patriarch, and the drum-tight enclosure of his own diminished heart, which kept him running, and afraid, and determinedly alone, and I will offer up two prayers: one for the hopeful young musician, willing to be brave and open and see where a thing will or will not go, and another for the haunted old musician who could never rest easy with the word, and therefore could never rest easy with anything, or anyone, and who left so much destruction in his tortured wake.
Lay down, Mad Patriarch. It took several other lifetimes, but a bit of your DNA is sparking, tonight — striking all the way back, and owning itself with an arc toward Eternity.
Lay down, and finally take your rest.
How did it go? In a word, incredible. Wow, what a night!