Recently, an old friend connected with me. This is the guy I made music with back when I first started to play guitar and tried to sing. He has recordings of it. It’s a strange and wonderful thing to discover these tunes. There I am, a teenager doing some of the things I do now but for the first times. There are no earlier recordings I know of.
For a long while, I’ve felt we are the things we do. This sensibility is a legacy of the time I slipped out of high school. I did that for a number of reasons, but one of them was to read without the distracting ache that school made. And read I did. A lot. And though all the pages of all the books from then flow together a bit somehow, there are things rooted in me. One of them is that notion that we define ourselves through our actions. I think it came from Sartre, but whether it did or didn’t, I still feel that way. Deep as bone. We are what we do. We become creatures of the contexts in which we place ourselves. No matter how hip we think we are, how resistant we believe ourselves to be, we are water taking the shape of the jar, tending toward ice until only a desperate shock of tragedy or the heart’s leap at beauty or love can shatter the shape we’re in.
Still, when I listen to the recordings and know myself in them, I wonder at the enthalpy. I don’t calculate it—how could I? But I do wonder. There’s this sense that I am there. I’m here, in the present, but I’m there, too. Maybe it’s just a trick of the mind. I don’t know. I only know how devotedly I loved to do those things I loved to do, and still do. The days between the child and the man are bound each to each by that peculiar piety.
This recording is “Everybody’s had the Blues,” by Merle Haggard. The sweetly quivering lead vocal belongs to Phil Sivilli. I’m the other guy. Phil tells me the recording is labeled “Langtree and T.C.” Neither of us remembers that. Plainly, it’s what we called ourselves for a moment. You know? Teens. I suspect he’s Langtree, but he’s pretty sure that was me. Leaves us both to wonder what T. C. stood for.
This one is a song originally recorded by Lefty Frizzell, but Phil and I were entranced by The Band’s version of it. I believe the “delay” effect was an accident. Funny. And there I am trying to squeak along on a harmonica, too. I’m surprised at how tentative my vocal is. I understand why I’m tentative, but I’m surprised that I am. I don’t remember that.. Still and all, the harmonies on the chorus are just, really and truly, awesome.