After graduation, Christopher and I left Chicago in the van from our recently defunct band and set out on the ghost road to California -- two weeks chasing the illusory American dream of diners and neon and getting kicks on Route 66. I saw deserts and The Pacific for the first time. We saw each other clearly for the first time in a long time of band business and concerts getting in the way of actually spending time. We sang for our supper in Santa Fe. We got hopelessly lost in Arizona and ended up driving down a dry wash. Followed a faded section of 66 in Missouri until it narrowed into a forest and branches slapped at the windshield. We watched a high school ballgame in North Platte, Nebraska.
We moved to separate cities afterward, started careers and families. And we saw each other and spoke on the phone. But we also spoke to each other in music, a joint venture of songwriting. We never talked about it or planned anything but we both started writing, influencing each other back and forth as we went. They were songs about a lonely wanderer, torn between the possibility of a home and his restless heart that calls him on to roam under the endless American sky. The only certainty he has is finding his home in heaven.
We both wrote a dozen or so songs in the vein -- Chris' Hard Day to Be a Cowboy and Goodbye to the Highway, my Texarkana and Never Been in Love. This song below, Saint Christopher is my tribute to my friend, to our friendship. Saint Christopher is the conveniently named patron saint of travelers. The song is our classic motif -- wanderer going forth to shed the past and finding the road weary but also finding hope and endurance. I wrote it for female vocals and this is Melody Dotson on lead. I recorded it seven years ago before leaving Grand Rapids for Detroit. I don't pray to saints myself but I do find hope and strength in heaven and sustaining joy in friendship. I count myself a man lucky in his friends.
Remember lessons in displacement, how water is pushed aside by the hollow of a boat, the way a heart is held in suspension by absence. Time spent waiting for a ferry to arrive is the same as other time, even if it seems to pass more slowly. Its derivative will show the rate of change of the prow cutting through the chop of a grey Sunday. For every action, an equal and opposite reaction. You pushed, he ran, a body in motion. Now there are questions only observation can decide: whether the boxed cat is alive or dead, whether the boy shows up to a meeting arranged months before or steps off the gangway with a fistful of drugstore carnations clutched in hand. Consider the factors at play –– friction, momentum, tension, gravity, trajectory, entanglement. It’s hard to calculate the physics of hope against hope. If energy is not created or destroyed, perhaps love too could be enduring. The equation will soon solve itself and the future resolve into the facts that eventually make up life.
We will awake to chill and the scent of leaves some crisp morning and realize summer has left us, irrevocably, in the night. What will we have then –– a rumbling of apples on the roof, frost-tinged roses, sweaters and jean jackets, afternoons of white wine and tea sandwiches? In the last failings of the gardens, the sleepy susurration of bees will lull us to sleep beneath the sly warmth of the mid-day sun.
Lord: it is time. The summer was immense. Lay your shadow on the sundials and let loose the wind in the fields. Bid the last fruits to be full; give them another two more southerly days, press them to ripeness, and chase the last sweetness into the heavy wine.
Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore. Whoever is alone now will remain so for a long time, will stay up, read, write long letters, and wander the avenues, up and down, restlessly, while the leaves are blowing.