It’s Only a Northern Song

I slept most of the way to DC and woke up on the East Coast. We were trucked straight from the plane to a soundcheck. Before I knew it, I was pacing around backstage, waiting for the lights to dim. It didn’t seem possible that just this morning we’d been halfway across the country. As I sat down to check my tuning again, I realized that the performances were beginning to blend together in my mind–this was the fourth show in as many days. I remembered moments, catching the eye of someone in the audience, feeling a new lick come crawling up out of my fingers, everything working good, making eye contact with Martin behind the drum kit. The flashes had pasted themselves together into one long concert in my head.

But that night things were a little different. Matthew was working the backstage monitors in the wings. If I turned my head I could see him behind the black console, one earphone pressed to his head, the other dangling. He looked up at me once, nodding his head in time. And in that moment I felt a surge of electricity go through me. From then on, I wasn’t playing just for me, to hear the notes going around in my head and coming out through the PA and off into the air like some soap bubbles, pretty but then gone. Music was coming up through me and going straight to him, because he could let me under his skin. I played that show for Matthew and it wasn’t like any show I’ve ever played before.

When we were lying in bed later, I tried to say something about it, but I can’t talk about music any more than I can hear smells or taste colors. I said, “Matthew, what do you hear when you’re listening from backstage?”

“A little bit of everything,” he answered. “I vary the output so I can get everybody at different times.”

“No, I don’t mean technically, I mean, what do you ‘get’ out of it?”

He sat up on one elbow, looking down at me and my tangle of hair. “This sounds deep.”

“It is.” I was losing the thread of what I wanted to say. “I mean, when I play, I know what I mean by it, but how can I know if anyone else does?”

He smiled. “You can’t. Not for sure. But you can make some good guesses.” His hand crawled across my belly.

“What do you mean?”

“You can only guess, like you can guess what I’m doing now.”

“I see your point,” I said, although I wasn’t sure that I did. I shut my mouth and let him touch me wherever he wanted. I was sure about that; I do some of my best talking without words.


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