May 21, 2019

for all the years

On the fourteenth day of walking, I wrote this in my head.  Also, a gnat flew up my right nasal passage.  It was a low-carb gnat, so this wasn't a problem, because I was engrossed in the writing and in musing over the parting words after the concert Saturday night, when Kate looked me in the eye and said, "Seriously, for all the years, thanks.  Thanks for being there."


… you wake up one day and suddenly, everybody in the world wants to meet you.  But you soon find out they don’t want to meet you; they want you to meet them.”  -- Fannie Flagg, Welcome to the World, Baby Girl

“Hey Amy … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

I heard Kate Campbell perform the songs from Rosaryville before I had my hands on the album.  She sang on a stage in the corner of the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, while handmade tamales were being served at the bar in the back.  I ignored the tamales because I was a fan.  I was a fan in a room full of fans, all of us sitting uncomfortably in our gray-green folding chairs, transfixed by the superhuman woman wielding a Gibson guitar.  She was singing “In My Mother’s House”, a song that felt to us like a glimpse into her life.  We got to imagine her going to homecoming in high school.  We got to see her parents’ dining room, a turkey on the table.

Being a fan sure did feel an awful lot like love.

Then the third verse … “Everyone sees what they want to see / But I’m just a girl who used to sing in my mother’s house.”

In that moment, I was certain those words had been written just for me.  They punched me under the ribs and took my breath.  She was telling me to back off.  She was resigning from office, climbing down from the pedestal, pushing me away with two strong arms.  Not letting me see what I wanted to see.

I wanted to see someone who loved me back.

What was it like to be the sort of fan who appreciates an artist’s work and comes to hear it time and time again because she knows she will be enriched and uplifted?  The one who could think about borborygmi and the tamales while Kate was in the room?  I envied that fan.  I was too intense, ascribing significance to every word and glance and nuance.

Later, I would play the CD in the car and sing along perfectly with the lush harmony of the bridge, then fast-forward through the third verse, let go of the button, and resume singing, hearing what I wanted to hear.

A fan is a stalker who builds a good, sturdy fence and keeps the gate locked from the outside.  I have attended thirty-two performances to hear Kate sing.  By now, this amounts to publicly permissible stalking.

But no, that’s not quite it.

A fan is a hungry heart holding out her hands for alms.  I used to sit and wait for Kate to look my way, and when she did, the house lights were turned down low and she couldn’t see my pleading eyes, willing her to somehow know me, lift me from her pedestal on high and make me important and valuable.  I wasn’t the only one.  I could spot them around me in a room.  We fans were the radiant ones with our hearts in our eyes.  We watched Kate but did not see her.  We saw what we wanted to see.

But no, that’s not quite it, either.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of understanding, even unwitting mercy.  Going out of the way to come have breakfast, and her husband Ira paying for it.  A private cassette tape I have protected for two decades.  A funeral plant and hand-written letters.  Driving me to my car in a dark parking lot, for safety.  A smile and the peace sign.  A quiet conversation with friends after my divorce, asking if we were all right.  Infinite patience in the numerous times when I could not make my feet walk away from her presence and carry me home.  Because no fan is composed entirely of need.

Acts of kindness.  Acts of caring.  A basket of Oreos nestled in a bandanna.  The last Biscuitville t-shirt left at the corporate office that was too small and had to serve as wall-hung memorabilia.  Miles driven around town to put up posters advertising a concert.  Wide-armed hugs given.  They were not a sacrifice to a goddess.  They were hand-picked clover flowers clutched into a bunch by a child’s hand and held out proudly, purely.  Because no artist is devoid of need.

Creation needs a beholder and the creator needs the care of hearts and hands along the way.  The luck in the finding is mutual.

I cannot know what I have given her back beyond cookies and a t-shirt, but I know that Kate’s influence has shaped me, to an extent that only a pleading-eyed fan could be shaped.  Her stories are likely responsible for the day last year when I rebuked and reported a white co-worker for using the worst of racial slurs and a black co-worker, wounded by the incident, grasped my hands in hers and thanked me for standing up.  But for Kate, I would not have visited the Civil Rights Museum and stood, weeping and overwhelmed, on that balcony at the Lorraine Motel.  But for Kate’s art, I might choose to sit inert and useless against this dark time.  I would not be a fan who opened her heart wide for all the years and let in the riches she poured out for alms, words and ideas that leave no room for hate.

For all the years.

Being a fan sure does feel an awful lot like love.

“Hey, Kate … drive carefully.  Be careful.”

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