I think I was a senior in high school. Over the couple years before, I had made a habit of spending whatever time I could in the band room. I got the opportunity to listen to all kinds of music and to experiment with different kinds of composition. One day, I remember my friend Andy being in there. He was sitting at the piano playing a progression that was simple, dramatic, and beautiful. “What’s that?” I asked. “John wrote it” he said back. John was his brother. He and I were the same year in school and I had long looked up to him as a guitarist and songwriter. We had always been casual friends – sharing moments of artistry, laughter, and camaraderie in concert band, jazz band, and rock band settings. We traded riffs and encouraged each others’ songwriting and live performances – lately though I had grown a little closer to him. Our whole class seemed to put aside some of the pettiness as we saw clearly the end of our high school careers, but that wasn’t really what this was about. We just saw that time was limited and it was worth connecting.
I remember going over to John’s house where he flipped through a steady stream of different CDs he’d show me. He painstakingly walked me through guitar techniques like sweep picking and pushed artists I knew nothing about on me.
a few years later as Andy and I found ourselves playing for crazy jams at dive bars and house parties, I brought up that old progression Andy had played for me. I had been playing it ever since. “Would you mind if I used that for a song?” I had asked. “For sure,” he said. Ever since then, that lick has been at the epicenter of my creative thoughts. I decided to call it connection and it was to be the main theme of the album that would be the cornerstone of a multi-album project. One that I hope to kick off this year. The themes of it seemed so rich and real to me and spoke to every part of my being. I had discovered the concepts of connectivity that stretched relationally and beyond into the very fabric of existence. That there was something true and right about people being drawn out from fear and isolation into deeper connection with each other and the world around them, and there, I discovered what I believe to be the most compelling narrative about God that has been told. The word that adorns church buildings and entrances theology classes is “incarnation.” That God would so much desire connection with the creation that no cost would be spared in galvanizing those connections. The world would be brought near and made family.
The irony of this for me is that if I look at the seed of this song- at the creator of that beautiful vibe, that’s what I see. I see a man who was an easy friend, who galvanized connections, brought in the outsider, and encouraged those whose courage was weak. He was an old soul with a rare sort of authenticity who made the world more like family. John made his time count.
I’ve been fully consumed by the news that John died this week. I’ve been able to think of little else. And in spite of the pockets of pain stretched out across the country like bruises, I see a land of great beauty and connection. It’s lit up in candle light vigils, raised glasses, and tear-filled eyes. It is heaven that we’ve lost and somehow heaven that we gain.
In spite of playing that same progression for more than 15 years now, these are the only words I’ve been able to bring myself to pair with it – words that I wrote years ago and yet are just what I need to hear.
My love, I am yours
You have my heart
Never again will we be apart
The chasm that kept you from me
Now only a memory