A good song is one that carries the listener off to a special place, a place that can only be visited with the wings of the song to which it is tied. Sometimes the singer and the listener are lucky enough to travel to the place together. This event is called a connection.
It was an Indian summer afternoon, the sort of day that makes bees buzz, apples ripen and life pause as it feels summer resting. A boy was sitting on a porch with his songwriting pad, trying to find the place he was feeling as he looked across some horses in a green pasture toward the blue mountains in the distance. He asked his dad to grab his fiddle and take a ride on top of the tune that was drumming through his head. Starting to feel where his boy was going, the dad dragged his bow in a lonesome Appalachian sort of way across the low strings of his fiddle. The boy hummed, the boy strummed, the dad sawed and the song was born.
As so often happens, the song had come ultimately not from the boy at all but from somewhere that was at once impossibly far away and unimaginably close. Invisible and without form, the place had found him and haunted him until it became a voice that called out to people. It invited its followers back to where it had come from — a place that rode a lonesome train through lost love and fast horses.
The song grew up and started traveling the country, at first with the boy and, later, alone. It began to make money and send checks back home. By the time the boy grew into a man, the song had been streamed on digital music platforms millions of times. It took on a life of its own, much the way a forest fire builds its own weather cell. The boy hung on for the ride.
The years rolled down their silent tracks toward a summer afternoon and a text message.
“You don’t know me but please hear me out. My family are big fans of you and your family’s music. My baby sister was in a bad horse wreck at our home place a couple weeks ago and she is in a coma up in Billings. We think the last song she was listening to was your son’s song, Horses Are Faster. I understand how busy you are but I was thinking that if there was any way you could come up to the hospital and sing that song to her, I know in my heart that she would hear you.”
I’ve performed at everything from campfires to concert halls for 50 years. Part of what I’ve learned during that time is to treat every audience as a unique host. As a guest, the goal of the performer is to make a connection with the audience that takes them to the place where the music is coming from. This was not my song — I would be trying to take an unconscious girl somewhere that I’d never been.
The family met me at the elevator and led my guitar and me down the hall and into the room. The girl lay on her back, attached to the tubes that connected her to life. I tried to find her inside her eyes but they hid her. Getting out my guitar and relieved to have a friend in my hands, I started to tune in and drift myself into the place I needed to go. I closed my eyes and let my fingers take me to where the song waited. When the time was right I sang.
Every now and then I get to thinking ‘bout where I’ve been
But I’d trade it all just to lie next to you again…….
As I sang I saw faces from my past, heard a train rattling the night and felt the wind of a thousand horses. I stayed until the silence brought me back. As I put down my guitar, I peeked through the light at a mother’s back, a sister’s tears, a father’s stare and a bed-bound daughter.
Standing up, I said, “I don’t know much but I do believe that little girl and I just made a connection.”
As I walked by the bed, the father urged me to give my finger to his daughter’s lifeless hand. As I did so I felt a squeeze, then another and then yet another. I needed to leave.
When I got home a few days later I got the word: the girl had woken up as soon as I’d left, looked through the tears in her sister’s eyes and pointed her finger at a distant place. It was a place that she and I knew well.
Dave Munsick is a local musician in Sheridan.