A bluegrass miracle to start the new year

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementA few days ago, something remarkable happened that I thought I’d share. It’s a testament to the wonder of hyperconnectivity for my generation. I think this kind of thing will only be experienced by those who’ve not grown up with the Web, so these kinds of stories will gradually disappear, but that’s just a guess. Here’s what happened.

Neal Lynch, the brother of a high school girlfriend contacted me via Facebook inquiring if I had been a member of the River City Singers from Grand Rapids, Michigan during the 1960s. Facebook is the source of reconnections so plenty these days that this one would simply blend in with the others were it not for the fact that I’m able to pass it along to you. Neal lives in California, and the circumstances under which he contacted me are remarkable all by themselves, but The Great Horizontal — the connected culture we’re just beginning to know — is what made this possible.

I wrote back that I was indeed a member of that band, whereupon he sent me two photographs of myself and my two brothers playing our music in his basement. He was 12-years old at the time and shortly thereafter picked up guitar and has been playing ever since. The photos were made from old Kodak slides and are the only high-resolution, digital color pictures of the three of us playing together. The ONLY ones, and I’d never seen them before. These pictures blew my mind, because I was able to zoom in and closely examine facial expressions. The experience really took me back to when I was 18-years old. All that I am, I was back then. The experiences I’ve had in the last 47 years have shaped only what I do, but all that is really me — the gifts, the spirit, the emotions, the soul — can be seen in these pictures.

I sent copies to my two brothers and heard back from older brother Jim (the guitar picker). He told me that he was so blown away that all he could do was go sit in his back yard alone and think about our lives as a bluegrass band. I knew exactly what he was talking about.

The Heaton Brothers in Neal Lynch's basementWords cannot express my appreciation for the way Life has engineered this and especially to Neal for contacting me. In the picture to the left, you can see me, as my daughter told me via Facebook, “lost in the music.” This is true, but “lost in the music” can also be a form of “hiding from everybody,” which took a big emotional toll on me over the decades that followed.

My two brothers and I are not close. The Vietnam War broke up our band, and we all went our separate ways. It has been one of the biggest regrets of my life, because I really did and do love my brothers. That fact is inescapable when examining these pictures. We were really good, and to quote Marlon Brando, “I coulda been a contender.” Bluegrass is a music meant to be played, not just listened to. I haven’t had a banjo in many years, but this may inspire me to find something at a pawn shop. I’m playing an old Gibson Mastertone in the pictures. That instrument is worth a lot of money today.

This event in my life has reinforced everything I believe deeply about the enormity of this “second Gutenberg moment” in the history of Western Civilization. We may spit and snarl and fight it all the way, but this “Great Horizontal” is transforming everything about our culture. The more open we become, the harder it is for anybody to live a double life and to present bullshit as a cover story for one’s life. We have to rethink everything, and I envy those who are just entering adulthood, for life will be very different for them when they reach my age. The naysayers shout down change, usually because they have something to lose in terms of their position vis-a-vis everybody else.

I’m incredibly hopeful for tomorrow, because truth weighs far less than falsehood, and we’re all ridiculously overweight. That’s what my view of postmodernism is all about. These pictures have helped me in the ongoing journey to find my truth, and I am forever grateful.

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