it’s a song title,
and it made me feel like that deadhead in the parking lot who insisted that Jerry knew exactly when, and to whom, to play He’s Gone. He is gone, the deadhead said, flame shooting out of his eyes, and, with a sweep of his hand toward the high wall of the arena soaring above us, with a long slow exhale that left us in a cloud, he testified: I had to let him go.
With the song, I added. With the song, he confirmed. Who? I asked. My brother. I see, I said, I’m sorry.
He opened his arms and smiled, shaking his head.
That’s what songs do if they’re good, right?
He closed his eyes, so that the fire was only visible where his lashes didn’t mesh and stood there, hearing the song again in his head, his head bobbing, mapped to the song’s changes. It wasn’t like I could leave, but there wasn’t much to do while staying: I started trying to remember the mourner’s kaddish, no mean feat for a suburban lutheran.
Yis’bawrach, v’yishtabach, v’yispaw’ar, v’yisromam, v’yis’nasei, v’yis’hadar, v’yis’aleh, v’yis’halawl sh’mei d’kudshaw b’rich hu L’aylaw min kol birchawsaw v’shirawsaw, tush’b’chawsaw v’nechemawsaw, da’ami’rawn b’all’maw, v’imru: Amein
David (not H) taught it to me in fourth grade and I never ever got it right except for this part that mirrored a technique we had as children for describing the most superlative expressions of existence: the bestest mostest outrageousist almighty wing ding hubba bubba blue ribbon grade a plus plus bitchin… fill in the blank.
sting ray bike ever to fly through mid-air, and
Granted, these types of existence really reflected the fact we were children. But they still seem to me to be the places where G-d might hang out.
But that’s when it started. When things got really, inexpressibly good, I would start this section of the mourner’s kaddish. I know. So upside down but check it out:
Blessed, praised, glorified, exalted, extolled, mighty, upraised, and lauded be the Name of the Holy One, Blessed is He beyond any blessing and song, praise and consolation that are uttered in the world.
And the thing that usually got a callback:
Now respond: Amen.
So I spent the last few days being sudden: suddenly flying to New York with M to suddenly bury his father, suddenly sitting shiva with his mother, suddenly writing against suddenly multiple deadlines for clients using a 1998 version of clarisworks and a 48k dialup modem, suddenly, but quietly, using the phone to accept a sudden job offer, suddently red-eye-ing to Oakland to grab the gear, suddenly think better of it, and just driving to the Mission to suddenly see the Nels Cline Singers. Nels was suddenly back, permitted, I think there was a collective hope, free reign after a tour with Wilco in which indy fans, I think there was a second collective hope, understood how good things were when he suddenly pulled a whisk out of his pocket to use for his guitar solos.
M is still in New York? the Singers asked. Some family matter? I gaped. Dudes, his father died and he didn’t tell you and I am telling you, exposing him but there you have it, I told them. They sank. So play David H for him and his father, yes? Yes, the Singers said.
And when they did, my eyes caught fire too. I didn’t initially realize it. I thought I might explain away the intensity of feeling by checking to see if someone had tampered with my beer. This involved dog science: looking at the mouth of the bottle accusingly for evidence. Eventually I realized that although it really felt my chest was going to split open, the reasons why would not be found there and, anyway, clearly, I would survive it as long as I had ears.
I wish you could hear it and I suppose, in your way, you have and this story of grief is your story too. And when the rabbi turned to the grave and told M’s father to go, because he had been called, I felt in the presence of one of the most superlative expressions of existence: its opposite.
parking lot deadhead: amein.
mount eden in vahalla: amein.
tears, silence and song: amein.