I’ve been gathering my thoughts for a couple of weeks on the passing of a man most of you will never know. He entered my life as an older guitar student back when I had a little music shop on the outskirts of this Texas town, then much smaller than now. We were going to step way back from the layers of theory and "14th upper partials" and what every note in every wild chord inversion he had memorized meant could happen seven other ways and just be able to string some chords together into some simple Willie Nelson songs he loved; something he struggled with. He just wanted to sit and enjoy that but he “Couldn’t get his head out of the way” as we called it. His name was Wyly. And this is where a walk-on changes the whole movie.
What happened was, as I helped a bit with that, our roles reversed – he a wise elder and this incredible (though sometimes jumbled) living, breathing encyclopedia of everything you could possibly do with stacking notes into chords – until I simply stopped charging him and sat at the feet of the master that had come my way. When the student is ready, the teacher appears – even if that was initially you. I think I helped him, but I know he changed my whole world of music and composition and gave me a new path to explore creatively… and technically, since I still can’t play much of what I now hear and compose, this strange jazz coming through my hands. Blazing rock and deep blues? Finger picking? The right lick? An album of songs for next week? Yeah, I can do that. It's what I do. It's fun. But I can fumble through these vast inversions and chord-leading notes and inner melodies and it sounds like spirit moving in the music to me. I love it.
Our time was mostly pre-Birdsong; I then got very busy and it was time to tend the garden offered to me to tend. He would pop into the old Birdsong workshop just smiling, laughing, telling everyone how great they were at what they were doing. Maybe offering a line of scripture that related to something he saw that impressed him, or offering a thought he had written in a little notebook about a connection between that and this bit of music theory and how it might apply to a particular movement through chords on a guitar. That was Wyly, the Wyly I knew. I've never met anyone like the man and just walking by him in the bread aisle or the post office of our little town you'd have no idea the depth of just how much was going on in this guy's head. And I got a little bit of that!
Our paths crossed now and again over the years, the last two times being a great dinner at a local Mexican restaurant last year with he & his sweet, loving wife Nancy where he was still sharp enough to hear how much he meant to me as an influence on my path. He laughed it off and passed any credit upwards toward the Heavens, as always. The last time I saw him was this spring; it was difficult. But I did bring a player and some Willie Nelson CDs, and left them with him. Music is its own medicine and it was all that was left for me to offer. If music is important to you, your way, your life – go find someone who brought some to you and let them know they changed you – brought you something bigger - helped form you – and that their ripples are safe; that they will live and spread with yours. If you answered life’s road alone and wound up even reasonably whole – find one who filled you unexpectedly in some way and let them know. To them sometimes it was merely a moment of exchange, what to you seemed a miracle.
I moved young very far away from any family. I love them but my path was different; it called, I answered, and I was gone… and there is still great distance. So I had to search out here to find the footsteps I would follow and the handful I did have deep and profound threads in the fabric of my life that stay, woven in as part of the tapestry of whatever I am, whatever I do, and whoever I become from here. And wherever they are, wherever they have been led, I wish them peace on their journey. Their chapters changed and path now different, it called - they answered - and they are gone.
Rest in harmony Wyly. I’ll keep practicing, and I know I’ll get it.
Listening to: Aerosmith Rocks and John Coltrane; it was a hot week and these always work as sonic forces on my side to help get on it and stay there.