In a few hours I will begin a pilgrimage back to my writing roots, my breath mingling with raw excitement and anticipation in the frosty car as we drive south past fields already laced with snow. My legs will bounce with nervous energy, my heart swelling with hope and fear as we speed ever closer to Milwaukee and a stage about to be graced with the presence of an American song-writing legend, Mr. Paul Simon.
This is a pilgrimage a long time coming.
My parents introduced me at a tender age to my musical muses, the voices and sung poetry that have been my companions my entire life. Johnny Cash. Buddy Holly. Peter, Paul, and Mary. And most treasured of all – Paul Simon. These are the musicians who shaped my earliest thoughts, my first words, my transformative musical experiences beyond the snappy kiddie music of Rainbow Brite. I was singing “Ring of Fire” at age 5 as I spun in a circle to thrilling dizziness without a clue to the song’s meaning. Bouncing in the back seat to “You Can Call Me Al” on the long drives to the Oregon Coast. Lying on my back and wondering at the melancholy of “Where Have All the Flowers Gone” long before I discovered my passion for military and social history.
My parents introduced me to these musicians and I took my first shaky creative steps from there, on the training wheels of deep throaty country, protest songs, and the African beats of the Graceland album.
As a young budding writer, I always preferred musicians who wrote their own songs, setting their prose and poetry and philosophizing to music. My own musical talent fell into the role of follower as a flutist in the school band, more prone to following the lead of the conductor and composer. But with paper and pen, my imagination took flight into uncharted territory of thought and metaphor and emotion. My muses, my guides, my teachers were undoubtably my first musical loves.
As I morphed into an awkward teenager, I turned to the angst and confusion of alternative rock and grunge, a true child of the 1990s Pacific Northwest. Now an adult, I tend to rebel from mainstream pop and seek out indie groups unconcerned with musical boxes, melding diverse musical styles and influences. My latest trip to the Faroe Islands has also reignited a passion for honest folk music, a coming home to my protest folk and country beginnings.
So now I am tingling with excitement, unable to sit still and focus on my writing. My book outline sits neglected. My notes and poetry lie in piled disarray. My good intentions to work at least a little bit skip away like a flat stone across the lake.
Today is much too monumental for everyday intentions.
There is also an underlying fear. Every attempt in the past to see Paul Simon in concert has been thwarted by some circumstance or another. In Wisconsin, the vortex of wonky, unpredictable weather, I almost expect a freak winter storm to slam in and baffle the easily excitable TV weathermen just as we are hitting the road.
But that’s okay. After all, this is a pilgrimage back to my own writing roots. This isn’t supposed to be easy. There should be twists and turns of unexpected obstacles demanding my patience, persistence and fortitude. I have stumbled over roadblocks and disappointments. But I have also encountered two of my musical pillars already, which fans a tiny flame of hope. At age 10, I witnessed Johnny Cash and June Carter perform in Portland’s Civic Stadium. This past winter, to my disbelief, I found myself singing protest songs led by Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul, and Mary at the Wisconsin state capitol, thousands of us huddled together against the insidious cold as we protested Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill. I still wonder if it was a dream, as my five-year-old twirling self merged with the adult me as I sung along with Peter Yarrow to “If I Had A Hammer.” A profound sense of arrival home.
So now my pilgrimage seems to be coming full circle, back to my first love, an inevitable march to a foregone conclusion I am terrified to acknowledge for fear it will prove once again elusive. If I should happen to find myself sitting in the Riverside Theatre tonight as the lights dim and the crowd hushes in one breath, it will be one of the sweetest moments of my life.