I continue to receive musical messages.
“I can’t go to sleep
I think about the implications . . .”
The song is “Overkill,” from Colin Hay of Men at Work. I heard the acoustic version for the first time today. The song came out the year Jim and I married–the year carved into the wedding band I wear on a chain around my neck.
I have been an insomniac since what I thought at the time was the ripe age of ten.
Now I have been through such a sustained period of sleep deprivation that I wonder how I can drive, let alone pluck an appropriate hearsay objection out of the internal fog, cross-examine an expert, or remember I’ve put water on for tea before I hear the frantic clattering of a kettle as its contents disappear in a mist of steam.
When I heard this song, I could see the intense face, lips pursed, Jim would make when he strummed or picked at a guitar. He concentrated unlike anyone else I have seen play.
When he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, one of the first things he did was to seek out a guitar teacher: he knew he’d have some time on his hands when he might feel well enough to pick up some new musical tricks.
He went to the guitar lessons while being continuously infused with chemotherapy drugs housed in a tan fanny pack, a hidden tube running from it, under his shirt, to his implanted port.
The guitar teacher showed him some stylistic picking maneuvers.
“That reminds me of someone I went to school with,” Jim replied.
“You must have gone to Princeton,” said his guitar teacher, who turned out to be a fellow alum: Stanley Jordan’s style was unmistakable.
Amid that mercilessly truncated series of guitar lessons, Jim would practice. It was the only time I remember when he would close the doors and want to be left alone.
He would retire to the “music room” of the house he loved, where nearly every surface is covered with instruments–from a piccolo to a set of bells and a shiny blue drum kit. The old white wooden doors would thunk together as they straightened from their customary folded-open position.
So I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him play, and I knew then just as I do now exactly how he held himself and how he furrowed his brow and looked at his own strong hands against the strings of his Les Paul behind those closed doors.
“Day after day it reappears
Night after night my heartbeat shows the fear. . .”
On the other side of those white doors are the ghosts of all of us from Jim’s last days. I can still hear us all talking and laughing and waiting there, even though it was the first room I emptied in preparing to move.
“Ghosts appear and fade away. . .”