The man was playing his guitar and singing Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay. He was terrible, but he was trying hard to make an impression. He wasn’t a singer. He was an actor. Uh, that’s a stretch. He wanted to be an actor. Maybe he wanted to be a singer too, or he was just acting.
We, his audience, had come in from playing volleyball on the front lawn and were sitting in my friend’s living room. She was hosting a house warming party having recently bought this small two bedroom, one bath 1950s home.
Some of the people at the party, including the terrible singer, were in town acting in the latest production at the local dinner theater, which my friend’s family owned and where I worked. These actors were an interesting bunch. I imagined them living in cramped little apartments in the sketchy parts of L.A. waiting for their big break. The fellow singing Dylan was probably trying to impress us local girls. Local being the foothills of Mount Helix in a small community called Casa De Oro about 15 miles east of San Diego.
After another poor rendition of Dylan the man took a break allowing someone else to play. It was Jim. Jim played Dylan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and more. He was good and quickly took any ground the actor had gained in the eyes of the girls. All but me. I wasn’t impressed. Oh sure, the music was great, but the guitar player was just a little too cocky.
Jim and I knew each other through the friend who was having the party. I summed him up as the most arrogant and pompous human I had ever met. So he wasn’t going to impress me with his guitar playing and melodic voice. Oh no, not me.
Jim went through his repertoire and had everyone singing along. I sat back and watched the women move forward and the men retreat. He had his audience in the palm of his hand. Then he stopped and said he wanted to play a song that he had written. As I watched and listened, I saw a different man emerge. He wasn’t arrogant, but humble. He wasn’t playing to the crowd, but playing from his heart. Something told me that this human couldn’t be a total reprobate. I got a glimpse of something lovely buried deep within this man.
Well, he did it. He impressed me. I left the party that night and tucked that away for later reflection.
Living in Nashville you get access to all kinds of music in all kinds of places. After all, it is Music City. Last Saturday I attended a Performer’s Night. This is a mini concert hosted in a home to showcase new and up-and-coming talent. There’s something quite enjoyable about experiencing live music in someone’s living room. At this event they had guitars and pianos. There were microphones, monitors and speakers, and duets and back up singers, but it was still intimate.
I’ll admit I’m a sucker for the guitar. I always have been, perhaps most females are. Jim told me once he learned to play the guitar so he could get the girls. When I’m at a concert I find myself focused on the guitar playing. I imagine and remember Jim playing. In the first year of my grief this would usually bring tears. More often now, it brings smiles.
Jim used to play and sing for his family. Whenever we were all together we would end up having our own concert. We developed our own parts to sing and had our own favorite songs. Songs began to be identified by whose favorite it was. Now when I hear any of these songs I sing along and imagine being in Jim’s parent’s living room with his brothers and sisters and me singing back up.
Jim would play at home, too. I loved it. Sometimes he’d stay up late playing and I would leave the bedroom door open so I could listen and fall asleep to his music.
He wrote many songs for me and about me. They were very sweet and romantic. I got kind of used to it. His sisters kept me in check though, reminding me how special it was to have someone write you songs. They were right. The first song Jim wrote for me was the song he played at that house warming party. I didn’t know at the time that I was his inspiration.
Funny thing is he did get the girl.