I fell asleep last night while listening to West Coast jazz from the 50’s on Pandora, and then Van Morrison. I woke up hours later to Ben E King singing Stand by Me. I was a kid, a teenager, the last time that happened. Fall nights can be that way: sometimes magic, sometimes just a little bit sad, but not in a bad way.
I had a friend who had a great voice, and his particular sound had a Ben E King-like quality. He used to try it out in stairwells across campus and, later, in the New York subway system. Another friend once asked him to sing backup and harmony for him at a recording session for a demo single that eventually got picked up by a music publisher. My Ben E King singer friend never went to the session. For all kinds of reasons, none of which could ever hide his disappointment with himself. It became one of those “I was almost” a something or other. Maybe a “contender.” But in fact he had real talent, real in equal measure to his terror of failure or maybe, equally, of success, and so he never tried.
Over the years I have found that this story, or reference to it, just tires me out. We all have those stories, don’t we? There is a multi-billion-dollar industry built on self-help to “unlock what you might have had” or might “still discover.” I know I still have the sense that possibility in my life is not dead even though, lately, Death/Time, in its “winged chariot,” seems to be hovering near.
In retrospect I see that the things left undone, for whatever reasons, became fuel for my running. Showing up is a victory in itself; finishing is a bonus but not the only result. Finishing, for me, implies that there is yet again another hill to climb and “miles to go before I sleep.”
I wish that I had woken up, laced up, disregarded my back, and hit the street for a little run. But instead I wrote this and worked on the photograph that accompanies it. It was always clear that the song Stand By Me was a prayer of a kind, possibly to God and/or a woman or friend. But early this morning I heard it differently; I heard the singer asking that he might stand tall once more and do what needed doing. For a drifting moment in the darkened house, my home for many years, the singer’s voice felt like my own.
Photo by Michael Lebowitz. All rights reserved.