The van was idling in the loading zone, right where Jason left it.
I spotted my family striding towards me as I stepped into the cool, deep grass of Gateway Park. Many had come from Waterloo, some 120 miles east. My father and his wife drove from Indianapolis. My cousin Andrew managed to navigate his battered Volvo all the way from Chicago.
Andrew, you’ll recall, is just a few years my junior. Already, though, he’s lived the dream. He was a talented pianist as a kid. I gave himmy old guitar at the beginning of one summer, and by the end, he was playing circles around me. For the last two years, he’s been the touring keyboardist with Warner Bros. World Leader Pretend. In two years, he’s played more shows to more people in more countries than I will in my entire life. Moreover, he sweet, and sensitive, and handsome, and hilarious.
One of the hallmarks of maturation is self awareness, and — at this point — I’m self aware enough to know that I’m a bit scattered before I perform, no matter how many beers I swill or Twizzlers I nosh prior. So I dispatched my family to the many tents chocked full of arts and crafts, and took Andrew backstage to put together a finale. I started with Nada bassist Jon Locker.
“Dude, I’m gonna close with ‘Do It Again,’ like we did at the state fair It’s just GCD for three minutes. Andy’ll come grab ya’.”
Likewise with Jason, Mike, and new drummer Ian.
Afterwards, as Andy and I retired to the bus to rehearse, he said to me, “You know what’s funny? You didn’t ask any of the, whether they’d play with you. You just told them straight up what they were doin’.”
“Really?” I said, apparently less self aware than I thought, “They say to assume consent.”
Though wrapped in a massive but tasteful Templeton Rye promotional sticker (that Jason Walsmith is one crafty marketer), the interior of the bus was more polluted than I’d ever seen it. We cleared a spot on the couch, and ran Andy’s cameo. Chicago singer/songwriter Dick Prall stepped on board to change just moments prior to his set. I made the astoundingly vacuous comment that, in his oversized collar, vest, and shaggy hair, he really looked the part. (Chalk that one up to nerves, Dick.)
Moments later, Andrew and I were soundchecking. The stage was a 20′ by 30′ riser with a white tent overhead. The park was roughly the size of a football field, and was dotted with maybe a hundred people (with another hundred seeking refuge from the sun in the shade of a nearby building).
I remember opening with “Harder To Believe” (how could I not sing about “Getting back to where she came from” when getting back to where I came from?), then “California” (which I led with some story about meeting Mike for the first time and discussing the fact that he’d written and released three songs called “California”), then “Milk & Honey” (how could I not sing about the land of milk and honey there in the land of milk and honey?).
I remember watching Abbi snap photos, and seeing Jason sit down next to my family. I remember watching my dad watch me, and wondering what he’s thinking. And I remember trying to work the side of the stage a little bit for all the people hiding out in the sun.
I introduced Andrew to perform “No Surrender” with me. I don’t remember if I’ve written about it, but I’ve been playing the song for a few shows now for a reason. I woke up real early one morning a few months ago — after moving in with Abbi and getting this new apartment and all that adult stuff — and picked up my guitar and just started playing. And though I hadn’t heard the song in years, I begin strumming it softly, and the words just started rolling off my tongue.
Well we busted out of class
Had to get away from the fools
We learned more from a three minute record baby
Than we ever learned in school
Tonight I hear the neighborhood drummer sound
I feel my heart begin to pound
You say you’re tired and you just wanna close your eyes
And follow your dreams down
If any song has ever captured my feelings as a rapidly — ahem — maturing, presumably over-the-hill musician, “No Surrender” is it. It’s not that I won’t keep writing songs, releasing records, and playing shows, it’s the the dream has died. I won’t make it on the cover of The Rolling Stone. I won’t make the Casey Kasem Top Twenty Countdown.
Still, I made a promise — implied, inherent, maybe, but a promise nonetheless — to Jamie, Tod and Pablo, to Chris, Tony and Ryan, to Casey, Andy, and you: until my fingers can’t form chords, or my throat can’t squawk out a lyric, I will persist.
Andrew didn’t know we were performing together until I texted him on Friday night. And he didn’t know what we were performing together until we got together on Saturday night. When I told him, he said, “No way! That’s the song that was playing on the radio when I pulled into town!”
Blood brothers on a summer night with a vow to defend, indeed.