Sunday, August 13, 2006

Not Enough Smiles



I handed the sketch book to Jeff. He looked it over for a while before handing it back and said, "not enough smiles."

____________

After Mom died, I would sit and stare at an empty page and begin my drawing with an inked-in grin. Joy followed and a lot of the drawings one finds in my earliest New York sketchbooks feature people dancing with arms out-stretched and poems about the sad mystery of hope and happiness. That's how I got by that first year; that's how I cheered myself up.

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Years ago in Austin, I was at a SXSW show whose bill featured Iris DeMent, Loudon Wainwright III and Billy Bragg. That was the year that Rufus Wainwright came from nowhere and took the place by storm and I sat and watched his Dad self-destruct in a fit of self-loathing jealousy that made everyone in the room uncomfortable. Iris DeMent went on next and proceeded to have a prolonged anxiety attack in front of several hundred hushed strangers who collectively willed her to survive with a group-kindness I hope never to need.

I've never in my life seen performers in a more vulnerable place. It aches to remember it. It took Ms. DeMent the entire half-hour set to cross into the same time zone as "Comfortable" and by the time she just about was, they were telling her to leave.

My favorite Iris DeMent song then, and the one most everyone in that crowd knew best and was there to hear, is called "Let The Mystery Be" and it goes:

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever, and some say you're gonna come back.
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour if in sinful ways you lack.
Some say that they're comin' back in a garden, bunch of carrots and little sweet peas.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory and I ain't saying it ain't a fact.
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory and I don't like the sound of that.
Well, I believe in love and I live my life accordingly.
But I choose to let the mystery be.

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they all came from.
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go when the whole thing's done.
But no one knows for certain and so it's all the same to me.
I think I'll just let the mystery be.
I think I'll just let the mystery be. . . .

__________

That night, Iris Dement looked out at us and sighed, "sometimes singing Let The Mystery Be just doesn't cut it . . . "

Billy Bragg was great.

__________

A couple of times this week I've thought about that night and wondered what Ms. DeMent was going through. This week I've seen some people come right up to the edge of their faith in letting the mystery be and I've been right there with them. Summer can be like that. We're all still here, slogging away at this thing, praying someone will notice. And somewhere out on a beach in the Hamptons, another vodka and lemonade's being poured and an overworked star is being wished upon by the only people who managed to get out of this city far enough to get a clear view of the sky.

__________

"Fair enough," I said to Jeff. I took the sketch-book and tucked it into my side-bag and we went to a back room devoid of air-conditioning on a hundred-degree day and watched the monologue with the other folks who didn't leave the city.

1 Comments:

Blogger Jonny said...

Oh, I love this story.

7:15 PM  

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