Dave Munsick is a local musician with a wide reach. He writes and sings about the West and its hidden stories.
Lucky is he who discovers the reason for his existence. Unfortunate is the one who finds it but never sees it until he has lost it. Special is the exchange of gifts that can happen between these two travelers if they happen to meet along the journey.
I left the orderly freeway life and headed south toward the scrambled Dragoon Mountains that hug the border of Mexico. I was looking for a small church that lay in the middle of country so big that you could lose track of yourself in it; a land the earth decided to push into a maze of boulders where Apache spirits hide and the restless wind rides in its great race against forever.
I’d be playing fiddle for a worship service with Dan, a singer/songwriter who had won and lost his big break decades before, somewhere between the bars of Boulder and the wilds of L.A. He’d made a big splash back in the 1970s but, as often happens when art chases money, his trail to riches had led him only to rags. After three months of playing tennis at Elton John’s house he woke up one day with no money and an empty calendar. He’d been looking for his past ever since.
I found the chapel along a lonely stretch of gravel road, parked and walked toward the front door with my fiddle under my arm. Strained faces began to drift in, looking as if they were the only ones holding up their end of a partnership deal with a desert that had betrayed them. They were coming to get a big hug from the Lord and a kind word from their fellow outcasts. I was coming to get money.
Dan and I went into the parson’s office, tuned up and tried to put a little thought into what we were going to play. I mean, this was a church after all and not a midnight bar room.
“I’ve got a few religious songs that I’ve written Dave. Do you think you could play your fiddle behind some gospel stuff?”
“Hell, er, heck yes I can.”
This church stuff was taking me awhile to get used to.
“Just take off and I’ll follow your trail,” I said as I tightened up my bow hair.
“Ok. I sure appreciate you doing this with me Dave. Since we haven’t had any time to rehearse maybe you should stand on my right side so you can watch my guitar hand, huh?”
Dan was a real nice guy. Dan was a trusting soul. Dan had never even heard me play.
We walked through the sanctuary door and on to the stage. The rag-tag crowd of 38 souls included the kids’ group, the preacher and the house choir. They looked up at us with an interesting mixture of curiosity and boredom.
“Well, my name’s Dan and this guy beside me playing fiddle is Dave. We want to thank you for having us over to your beautiful part of the world and for making us feel so welcomed in your house of worship. We’re here today to play you some music that we hope will lighten your load a little.”
And just like that we started to open up a brand new can of tunes. It was white man’s blues; it was music for the weary; it was just what this crowd needed.
As Dan worked through the set and I colored in between the lines, a transformation began to unfold. Several tight faces in the back of the church started to soften, a couple little kids began to hook on, and by the time we were done some older ladies had begun to sing along with us. Some might call it the work of the Lord. I’ll call it music.
I left Dan and the crowd and was putting my fiddle away when a woman of about 45 found me. She was carrying a leftover casserole dish under her left arm and holding her right hand out to me. There were three $20 bills in it. Her eyes began to tear up.
“I don’t have much but……,” she tailed off.
“Oh no, I don’t need to take this from you,” I said.
“No, you don’t understand. Your music blessed me. I would like to bless you back.”
“Well…….thank you for this. I appreciate it.”
I went back out to the sanctuary, found Dan and pressed the bills into his hand.
“A woman told me to give you this. She said that you had blessed her, that you had given purpose to her life.”
Dan absent-mindedly put the bills in his vest pocket as he smiled into the distance — a distance that now held not only his past but his future.