K.D., Ben, Leslie and I were out at the VA’s long-term care facility in Vancouver one evening playing music for the guys. It was a thing I sort of felt led to do, and they thought it was a good idea and could make it so we went together. We played “Country Roads,” and “Ghostriders in the Sky,” and a bunch of fun tunes. We all sang, and traded lead vocals; Leslie had her violin. I brought my little amp and we’d borrowed a mic stand and music stands from the meeting house. We’d rehearsed a set-list. It was all set up with the volunteer coordinator.
The guys were pretty mixed: some had been in care and rehab for months, and some lived there. A guy in a wheelchair was a Korean War vet. There were guys in pajamas and guys in slacks and shirts. We didn’t need the mics, really, there were only about a dozen people, besides us, counting the aides and caregivers. It was their cafeteria. The lighting was fairly low, as I remember, and they sat around in chairs, some up close and some hanging back. I can’t imagine what they were carrying or how they managed. We were all there together.
We wanted to play songs they’d know, so I didn’t play much of my stuff. Besides, my stuff is pretty Jesus-y, which wouldn’t be fair. Towards the end of the set though I played a tune I wrote when I was first trying to get sober, a piece called “See My Freedom Come.” I was getting through it in pretty good order, finding the balance with my voice and guitar; when I was feeling pretty comfortable I looked up to see if it was going over. People were listening. There was a guy in the back, a younger guy, no real visible wounds or whatever. He was way deep in the song. His eyes were closed and he was sort of moving his head in time. He had a look like a smile or like his mouth hurt. He was way deep in the song.
I’m a pretty good songwriter, but I don’t really know what music is. Sometimes I wonder what it looks like to a sensible mammal, like a dog. What’s a dog see when he sees a string quartet? A bunch of people standing around doing incomprehensible things. They’re not eating or fighting or having sex or picking fleas off of each other. My cat used to leave the room fast when she heard me open the guitar case.
I’m glad we went. K.D. and Leslie and Ben are friends. We entertained and diverted lonely, burdened, hurt men who made a space for us to give our gifts. I not only don’t understand music, I don’t understand anything, but it doesn’t matter; He says, “Go here and do this,” and we try to mind and that’s enough.