A few years ago I lived for a time in Southern Oregon.
The state of Oregon has two big cities, a couple of large towns, a bunch of small towns, and a lot of "back woods" area. Back woods was where I lived, the nearest towns were Merlin, Grants Pass and Williams.
The biggest industry in the south of the State used to be logging, but the bottom fell out of that, and now the main source of income for large parts of the rural area is pot growing. I knew senior citizens who grew ten or so plants on their back porch to help stretch the social security check.
But I didn't support myself that way.
I did a fair amount of graphics work of one sort or another, and I taught Pencak Silat to a nice sized group of very dedicated students. I did a few other things as well, nothing very exciting.
I had moved to Oregon because I wanted to rest for a bit, to let my soul heal, The wilderness is always a good place for that, so I got a small house with a fair amount of land around it near the Rogue River, and there I stayed for a little time.
One of my clients was the local herb shop, called (oddly enough) The Herb Shop, down in Grants Pass.
I had started out making them brochures and business cards, then built their web site and a few other things like that. Over time I started doing other work there, sometimes a little consulting, I have a background in herbal medicine from my pencak silat training and a lifelong interest in the subject, but we will save that for another time.
I became good friends with the owner and staff of the shop, and they all ended up in my martial arts class. This was a little amusing, as everyone there was your classic Pacific North West Hippy type, not the kind of people you would think would study one of the more brutal and viscous martial arts on the planet. But it worked out nicely. I think it was mostly because I am a good cook (we used to do class pot-lucks on a regular basis) and I know how to fix backs and sore muscles.
One day I walked into the shop, and discovered a new woman behind the counter. She was interesting for a couple of reason, one of which was she was one of the very few white people I had ever seen who looked good in dreadlocks. And what dreadlocks they were, massive, thick and down to her waist.
I went up and introduced myself, I was always in and out of the shop and I didn't want her to be startled if I popped out of the back room or some such.
She was very pleasant but very reserved, there was nothing much for me to anchor her with in my memory.
I didn't even really catch her name, and for a couple of months I knew her I thought of her as "That Sadhu Girl", because her Dreads reminded me of the Shivite holy men that I used to run across in India.
One day I get a call from my friend Chris. He says "Hey, we are all going down to hear Jen play tonight, ya wanna come?" "Jen?" I inquired. "Yeah, you know, the girl from the Herb Shop." "ah" I said, "the sadhu girl, is she any good?" "I don't know, but it will be more fun than staying at home and watching the grass grow."
So we agreed to meet at a local pub and micro-brewery (Oregon is nuts for micro-breweries) that was the hangout for people who wanted to listen to local talent perform. A couple of friends and myself even played there a few times, but that is another story (The place has since gone out of business, but I don't think it was because of my playing).
Jen was working in a "side man" spot with her guitar for some guy that styled himself as "Nightshade" along with his girlfriend who did backups as well for him. During the break Jen was listed as doing a solo set.
"Nightshade" was terrible!
He was one of those acts that you will only find at the very mellow "local talent" venues in small towns. His mother no doubt knew the mother of the pub owner and used her influence to get him the gig. Any place else and he would have been booed off the stage, but in a local joint like this you just sort of ignore him, for his mother's sake.
His lyrics were badly done narcissistic platitudes about what an anarchist he was.
He wore a dress.
I think it was to show how in touch he was with his feminine side. But if that were the case his feminine side had no fashion sense. The dress clashed with his pumps and he had no idea on how to accessorize.
Whoever set up the sound must have been this guy's only fan (or his mother) because you could not hear anything from the other musicians. I could see the Sadhu girl's hands moving on her guitar, but I could not hear a note she was playing.
By the time their first set was wrapping up I was having a lot of good thoughts about watching my grass grow.
I didn't want to hurt anyone's feelings by walking out just then, before Jen had a chance to do her solo thing. It was a small club, she would have noticed. So I figured I would sit and grit my teeth through her set, then, having paid my dues, I could beg off the rest of the evening and go home to check on lawn length.
Jen came back out and sat down, plugged in her guitar, fixed her microphone and started her set.
I remember sitting up in my chair, stunned.
Her voice was sweet, rich, textured. He songs were poetry, original, from the heart. She still had that reserve that I always felt from her, but not as much. She was beautiful.
It was like walking out from some dark, fetid storm drain and finding yourself in a sunlit meadow full of sweet grass. I had never dreamed that there was so much talent in a small dreadlocked young woman.
I think it was in the last third of her second song that I fell in love with her.
I am not talking about the "hey you're cute, let's go to bed" kind of love, or the "hey, I would very much like to own you" kind of love.
This was the "pardon me, you seem to have left a window to your soul open and I accidentally caught a glimpse of who you are, do you mind if I cherish that moment forever?" kind of love.
concurrent with this realization was the understanding that nothing would ever come of it.
There were a couple of reasons.
First, she was already involved.
Second I am sort of old and beat up.
If I were a cat I would not be a regal Siamese, or a cuddly tabby. I would be that cat you see sometimes in the ally, all gristle, scar tissue and attitude. Not something you offer a saucer of milk to.
And she sat there singing, opening up a universe of poetic beauty to anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear.
What do you do in a case like this?
I thought about immediately moving to another state, or perhaps out of the country again. But I was not finished with Oregon yet. So I fell back on "The Rules".
These would be how a "gentleman" conducts himself in such a situation.
Rule number one is you never under any circumstances let her get even the smallest hint of how you feel. It would be an unwanted intrusion, an invasion of her privacy.
Number two, become as much of a friend as she will let you be, without intruding, without ever expecting anything from her.
Number three, the most important thing, Support her in being who she is. Help her bring it out in whatever small way you can.
So over the next several months I proceeded to do exactly these things to the best of my ability, it was interesting.
I think we became friends, though I always kept something of a distance from her. I never wanted to get close enough for her to notice that I tended to get a little distracted by her.
I was able, I think to help support her as an artist in some small ways. I made sure that I was able to remind her that her art had value and that people would want to hear her.
I was able to do a few other small things as well. But mostly I just tried to be a friend.
There was a time that she needed to get down to San Francisco. I happened to be driving down at the same time on business and so was able to give her a lift. I managed to get her to talk about herself on the trip, she was usually quite shy and hard to draw out, but for some reason she opened up on that drive. She told me her life story. I came to realize that she was a person of great depth, I could have spent the next thirty years getting to know her, and still never understand the depths of her. She had the soul of a poet, with all of the infinite variation this implies.
At some point she decided to do a CD of her music. She had a bit of money to pay for studio time, so she went for it.
She asked me if I would be willing to help with some of the graphics for the album. I had just finished doing the cover and liner for a local Celtic group called Silverhand and was more than happy to do what ever I could to help.
One of the things she needed was promotional pictures.
Much to my delight I got to spend a day photographing her in all manner of outdoor settings. It was a lot of fun to get my camera to capture even a small part of her essence.
And I got to hear her music as it evolved toward its final form on the CD.
Then bad thing started happening.
George Bush ended up in the White House and the economy of Oregon went into the toilet a few months later. It was getting harder and harder to find work in the area, I was having to go all the way to California to find enough work to make ends meet.
Jen was also having trouble with getting the album finished within budget, and getting someone to do the mixing the way she wanted it. Things were moving slow.
While I tried to keep things together long enough to finish Jen's project it turned out to be impossible and I had to head south to resume various duties I had put aside for a while. I did have one consolation though, I was able to burn the various cuts to the album to a CD. They were not the final mix, but they were what I listened to while working on the project.
In the three years since I left Oregon I have gone entirely around the world, and Jen's music went with me. The music reminds me that there is still beauty in the world, and of a dear friend. Sometime I have played the CD for friends in one of the places my work has sent me, and they have all enjoyed the hearing of it.
Last night I was surfing the web, looking for new music. I hit a site at random and discovered that Jen finished her CD.
If you like Folk Music, you should take a look, have a listen and if you like it get yourself a copy