Katie Pruitt – Normal

(Listening to this song while you read this, is strongly encouraged)

Why is a sixty-one-year-old, straight white male writing about a song celebrating being queer? I am writing because being queer should be celebrated by straight white males. I am writing because I want my fifteen-year-old granddaughter to know she is perfect just the way she is… I am writing because this song is magic.

I discovered Katie Pruitt a few months ago when I heard her EP, “Ohio/ After The Gold Rush”. When I heard her sing After The Gold Rush, I felt like it was the first time I had really heard that song.  And then I fell into a Katie Pruitt rabbit hole. I listened to everything she has released, multiples, of multiple times. her music has been front center for a few weeks now.

Normal, is from her album, “Expectations.”  This entire album is a gift, every song has its own magic and story, I can’t wait to hear what she does next. She is a part of something really cool happening in Nashville.

I had completely forgotten the pull that Nashville could have on my heart… fourteen-year-old Rusty’s crush on Tanya Tucker. Listening to Tanya those many years ago is what helped me through my parents’ divorce and over the last little while I have found beautiful reminders in Joy Oladokun, Brandi Carlile and Katie.  Each of them have dropped little goblets of magic into my soul. The power of music can help you face or unlock things, it can help you learn, and it is awe inspiring. Even at my crazy old age, I am learning.

I recently watched Katie on an episode of “The Caverns Sessions”. What a beautiful setting, and while she sang “Normal”, the tug of words began to swirl through my mind. Words for my granddaughter, words for my younger self and words that heal.

Wasted and worn out and wonderin’, “Where do I fit?”

And scared as hell ’cause I knew I was different

I think that most of us have experienced the hammer of society trying to pound us into shape over the forge of normal. There are some of us who no matter the pounding, could not find our way to normal. I have never felt acquainted with normal; I may never understood normal.

What’s it like to be normal?

To want what normal girls should?

God knows life would be easier

If I could be normal, then trust me, I would

Trust me, I would

There was one time in my life when I believed, I knew what normal was. It was in 1969, I was eight years old and living in the most barren place you could imagine. There was no kindergarten. I went to first grade in a two-room schoolhouse. My first-grade class was me, a third grader, two fifth graders and two sixth graders, one of the sixth graders was my older sister Roxi. She is the one who took this picture. That’s my mom, my sister Robbi is in front of me, and Renee is on my mom’s left. None of us have any idea what was on her hand…

Rusty's mom, Rusty, Robbi and Renee in 1968. Northeastern Montana. Outside their tiny house on the plains

That was it, that time, a little slice in my life where I felt like I was normal.

Not long after this picture was taken my parents took me to visit the School for the Deaf and Blind in Great Falls, MT. I remember making my dad mad cause when we stopped at a stop sign in the city and then started off again, I yelled STOP, which he did. I opened the door I was sitting next to and closed it again. My dad asked what that was all for and I responded, “I had to let Paul in.”

Paul was my imaginary friend.

At the Deaf and Blind School, I found out I was different. I found out that most people see the world much differently than I do. I was born with an optical nerve disorder that prevents it from properly aligning the images that each eye is sending to it. I have a very distinctive squint of my left eye that resembles something of a perma-wink. I have figured out ways of coping and how to work with the tools I was given. But I have never succeeded in being normal, this world was not designed for me.

But when that picture was taken, I had no idea that I was any different than you.

Marchin’ in line in the halls of my Catholic school

Seven Hail Marys if I copped an attitude

And God was a word I had spoken but I hardly knew

Kneelin’ down at the altar with no clue who I was talkin’ to

Stumblin’ ’round Athens with frat boys in hot pursuit

Left me starin’ at the ceilin’, pissed off and feelin’ used

In second grade I had to ride the bus to town. School was a huge building and had every grade, some grades even had two classes each, instead of six students there were at least a hundred… I was the only kid who could not close his desk because his books were four times the size of everyone else’s. They were bigger than coffee table books. I was humiliated but I was also grateful for those books, they made it possible for me to try and keep up. Even in the front row I can’t see the board, but everyone in class knows when you pee yourself. It didn’t really matter though, we moved after third grade, and after fourth grade… I never had access to those big books again and I was both relieved and disappointed. It made it easier to blend in and look normal but lots of things went by without me seeing them, lots of things. I spent a lot of time being scared as hell because I was different.

When I watched Katie singing this song, it struck me that her struggle with “normal” was not that different than mine. She cannot change who she is any more than I can. She should be able to live in a world that is designed for her. No one’s story is the same as another’s but neither of us knows what its like to be normal.

Did they want what’s best or did they want what’s easiest?

‘Cause I tried my best, but God damn, was I curious

And she had me high as the sun on a Saturday afternoon

With no way to unsee this side of me that she introduced

I have never really talked about my eyes, not in depth, with anyone. I have tried but I am so used to trying to compensate, that I just hide it, even from myself. Writing it here, right now. Scared as hell cause I know I am different…

We lived in twenty-nine places by the time I was sixteen and in some way that may have saved me. I blamed being new for not fitting in but honestly, I didn’t fit in because I can’t see. I am not blind, I just can’t see a baseball until its about ten feet away, the time it takes my eyes to focus eliminates most sports. When given the tools I excelled academically but those were tiny windows that closed soon after they were opened. Through it all I have joy. I overcame all of that, I have had several weird and wonderful careers, and I am writing the next chapter now. This may be the best of them all.

The world told us to fit in, but we did the opposite

The world told us to fit in, but we did the opposite

I thought of my granddaughter Sophie as I watched Katie sing. Sophie is fifteen and just starting to write her story. I cannot imagine what it must be like to be fifteen, right now. Sophie reminds me so much of myself, smarter than most people, trying to embrace her differences and trying to fit in. I want her to know that her differences are her strengths. I don’t want the world to force her into their version of normal. It took me decades to understand that our beauty is derived from what sets us apart from normal. I will continue to encourage her to write her story in any way she sees fit and ignore the noise and the pounding to conform.

I thought of my daughter as I watched Katie sing. I can never go back and be the dad that I should have been. I can never erase the rigid life I tried to convince her was real. I can never encourage her younger self to forget about fitting in and just be Elaine. I remember the joy she faced each day with, but my rules got stricter, and her joy grew quieter… her dad was so busy keeping them alive he didn’t see how much Elaine trying to fix things cost her. I want to be a part of her atmosphere as we grow older. I will remind her that I named her after Evenstar and she just needs to shine… Trust me, I would.

Trust me, I would

Trust me, I would

I would

I thought of Atlas, Emily, and Taya as I watched Katie sing. They are all striving to understand their place while grasping for all the beauty they can find. None of my friends are “normal,’ and for that I am grateful. They put up with my way of using way too many words, but hopefully I give them a bit of hope in pursuing who they can be. They are brilliant lights that give me hope for the stories to come. Here’s to ignoring normal and embracing the perfection of how perfectly different we all are.

Thank you, Katie Pruitt, for making this old man cry. Thank you for giving me a piece of your magic that let me open a door that has been closed for fifty-two years. Thank you for being your best self and telling us about it. I am a different man today because you followed your dreams.

I have watched so many people try and avoid being normal and so many of them gave up, myself included. Today I could care less what the world thinks of me, and I am content to just listen, learn and grow. Life can be joyful and full, regardless of how normal you are. We are all just the way we should be…

Embrace that and shine…

Listening, learning, and growing…

Accumulates – David Gray

Being Sixty

David Gray gave me my sixtieth birthday present…amid a pandemic. My family would have normally done something cool, but I chose to stay home and stay safe, and I had a fabulous birthday. I took a few days to spend time with my sweet, sweet wife and contemplate the null value of age. You live, and each day rolls by and on every single day, you find you arrive at today.

I could fill pages with the tales of Rusty and Russell Beard, I have lived a very disorderly life. Only recently have I been able to look back into the eyes of Rusty, the one who lived my todays as a kid and then a teenager. He had it all figured out and at the same time, he had nothing figured out, but it all lead from one to the next and they were all just today. It accumulates, one day after another and if you can, just try and live today, it is simply always today. When I grasp this and take all the memories of the things that I have seen, walked, and completely fucked up. I realize that I am so flawed, yet this is me.

I am honest with myself about the who, that is me…I have looked down from the high rise and stared back into my own eyes. I have seen the greed in this world, but I also saw the deep unabashed beauty of this world. From working in the asparagus fields in eastern Washington, to fixing computers in a kindergarten classroom. I have lived a full life and I am not even close to done, that is what being sixty means to me today. On May 29th of this year, I will see my twenty-two thousandth today. I have absolutely no idea or attachment to that, it will just be today. It accumulates…

I have had so many amazing days in my life, but there was one I had with David Gray. Well not just him and me, it was more like he played Marymoor Park in Redmond WA, and I was in the audience. That night I witnessed the deepest magic of music.  I have never left my seat when I am at a concert, but on that night, I did. I went for a pee and decided to have a smoke. While smoking, I saw a woman weeping. I really wasn’t sure what to do so I asked her, “are you ok”, she nodded yes. We talked for a bit and she told me that her friend told her she was going to an EDM show and that she had never experienced music that brought her soul up so close for her to see…she had never felt the magic of music and how it can reach all the way in. She was so moved by David’s music, all she could do was cry.  We just hung out for a while until the tears were replaced by the joy of what she had discovered, she gave me a hug and went back to her life.  It was not long after that, I was back in my spot and David gave the stage to Caroline Dale.

That night, I experienced the magic of the music in a way I had never known before. Surrounded by the mighty Pacific Northwest, the lights went down, save one, that settled quietly on Caroline. She was sitting center stage, her arms wrapped around her cello, and she played. She gave me a beautiful glimpse of eternity that night. At one point I was convinced that the trees themselves were singing to me… Caroline played, and her notes rode up into the branches of the trees, her voice surrounded us. It was a roar of quiet beauty that sang a song that will be etched in my memory forever. It all accumulates.

That was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life…

“Well, it grips, and it grins
It cavorts, and it gyrates
And it whispers from the wings
Knowingly insinuates
Shines a certain light on things
Emphasizing your least likeable traits”

Being sixty is weird, it shakes you and laughs at you…it grips you, and yes it grins…. Being sixty means the world can swirl around me as it propels me across a threshold, one that allows me to look back at all my failures along with my successes. I am just beginning to understand what the accumulation of all those things adds up to. They can grip you; they can whisper to you and shine a light on things, especially your least likeable traits.  I have accumulated so many whispers and some I have listened to; some were important to my survival; most were just noise. I do not consider myself that special, I am just a strange version of the man I expected, but I am content. Joy is an accumulation of these things that whisper from the wings.  I have accumulated so many tiny moments of joy and they are sustaining. I have also accumulated a vast number of todays filled with pain, many of my own accord. But today, I learn from those todays and I walk into the next choosing joy and the hope that it can bring.

“In the depots, in the silos
On the pallets, in the crates
Down the aisles, wreathed in smiles
In great mountains, on our plates
Like the love of God, it enters you
In all kinds of amorphous states”

We walk through this life wreathed in smiles, the joy from those smiles guide us down paths that have nothing to offer. We never want to hear from those who can see where we really live. That’s where we wrestle daily with the truth of who we are and ask ourselves, what will I ever be? Then tomorrow becomes today and over the years, if you watch and learn from those around you, you might find a love that enters you and accumulates. I am blessed with people with whom I share a deep love and I am blessed with an inordinate desire for music, I am a rich man.

Caroline’s cello playing on this song is haunting and takes me right back to that night. It was not unlike meeting god, that evening in Marymoor… that is the magic in music. When David sings about the amorphous state in this song and I hear her strings in the background, I hear magic. This is the magic of music, it’s like the love of God that enters you and it sings in all kinds of amorphous states.

Her cello will haunt you; it will amuse you. It is the voice of the trees.

“Mindless need is loosed among us
In our homes and down our streets
Singing like some mythic creature
Of great Edеns, through the gates
you can have butter structure
Even wanton destruction
And all of this at very competitive rates”

Brilliance abides around us, but we focus on the dingy bits that lose us and betray our joy. Don’t settle for the structures of Eden or strive for the goals of that mythical place.

It Accumulates… every day that you wake up, you can walk, and you might get there. It accumulates and it is still today…

With Accumulates, David Gray has written something that encourages you to sit back and immerse yourself. Let his beautiful weaving of the album Skellig seep into your bones and lift you. He has been a safe place for me since my sister sent me White Ladder twenty years ago. There is a very comforting familiarity to his voice and how he arranges music and I hear years of thought and a renewed sense of his value for life, today. That resonates with me in a deep way. Like me, I think David is just living today, not “for today”, just today. When I write, I find joy, when I write about music, I better understand myself and what I want from today.  In all my life I spent very few of those some twenty-one thousand nine hundred and some odd days living just for this today. There has always been a tomorrow and it always just turned out to be today.  It can grip you, and if you are listening to its whisper today, you can reach for hope. Today you can breathe a new breath, you know the competitive rates.

I have lived a life that some would say is unredeemable, but I am me. I am the one I was one when my little sister and I laid in our beds and listened to our dad tell us the tales of Indian Jake and what his travels across Montana showed him. I am the same one who saw the people of Casablanca stream to answer the call of prayer on the banks of the Mediterranean. I am that one who lived every single today that brought me to this day. If I have learned one lesson, it is to live for this today, not the one that might come as the sun rises but this one. Who can I give a small piece of hope to, who can I grasp a small piece of hope from? You can suck on the teat or you can give life, this is reaching for hope.

Looking down from the highrise
Staring back with your own eyes
Playing games with the numbers
Messing ’round with the dates
Altering its positions
Muttering sweet propositions
Doing its damnedest to get you
Between the sheets
And you might start out
Kicking and screaming
Pretty soon you’re gonna wind up
Sucking on the teats

My experience and appreciation of music has changed so much over these sixty years. There are so many today’s that I was so blind. I’ve had experiences that changed my thinking right at that moment, but others that I kicked and screamed at, and their changes accumulated over the years, subtle changes in the way you see things, hearing the stories of those around you… seeing the world…it really does accumulate.  Recently, my soul was shaken at how weak and close minded I have been in my life. I watched the HBO documentary about the Bee Gees, and it showed me how foolishly closed minded I was. I had kicked and screamed at the idea of disco versus rock, just like the fools in Kaminski Park. As I look back on it now, I realize just how foolish I was and just how much I missed on those todays. Please do not put music in a box of your own design, let it be whatever it needs to be for those who can hear it. What you think is noise, may be a lifeline for someone who needs it today. We all can point to a time that a song gave us a light and gave us one step forward today…

It accumulates…

I am looking down from that highrise and staring back with my own eyes. I can see when I succumbed to the sweet propositions and how that only led to sucking the teats. If you have had the great fortune that I have found, you will get the chance to at least acknowledge your mistakes, but most importantly you can learn from them and keep listening and then grow. Music is one of the loves of God, it enters you, it can give you a moment in today. It can free you and transport you, just like the stories my dad told us. But you will still wake up to today. You will still have the life you lived and only you know the truth of who you are. Reaching for hope is the one thing you can do with today, you might be able to change one thing or twelve, it just depends on where your today takes you. It could emphasize your least likable traits. But it’s still today, reach up and smile…

Listening to this song I can easily envision a summer night, in the not too distant future, in Marymoor park, David regals us with the beauty of Skellig and when they get to Accumulates, Caroline will let the trees sing once again.

Listening, learning, and growing

People Get Old – Lori McKenna

Have you ever felt like a song was written just for you? No matter how many times you listen to it, you always feel like it is reaching into the depths of your soul and pouring something in. No matter how raw your moment might be, it still speaks. If you have found this in a song then you’re as lucky as me. Keep that song close and burn up the repeat button, let it pour into your life.

You’ve probably already heard Lori McKenna’s tunes, the list of artists who have recorded her songs is longer than your arm or leg. I am so incredibly thankful that she decided to keep this one to herself. Her voice and the musicians she surrounds herself with have created something truly magical. This song does what is should do, it takes you back and lets you see how beautiful your life has been. Some songs take you forward, looking at what you can do and how you can be what you’ve dreamed of. All of these things matter, all of it is the magic of the soul of music. Lori McKenna is an artist I will adore for the rest of my life because, with this one she took me back and let me look forward all at once.

When I listen to this song I experience it from two perspectives, the dad and the kid. I am in that late in-between stage of my life, my dad is 89 and my kids have kids. When Lori sings about riding in the cab of that truck its a kind of duality for me. It takes me back to when I was eight or nine riding next to my dad in Montana. I still remember waiting for that water tank to fill on the back of that truck, and that arrogant horse rubbing his ass on the front of said truck cause he knew we were not going to move quite yet. Yes, we didn’t have running water so we had to haul it in… Fast forward twenty some years and it was me driving down those ditch roads in eastern Washington and my kids sitting there thinking we were flying and the dust behind us would never have a chance of catching us. At the same time I listen and it takes me to today, my kids have run off and made a life of their own, working to feed their kids and searching for what really brings them joy, just like me. I hope they always think of me as forty-five, cause I sure do think of them as kids…

“Someone said youth is wasted on the young” In many cases this is a true statement but I hope for you it is not. Its not for me, I have held on to those pieces of my youth with all I have. That does come with a cost, you are supposed to grow up and be responsible. I had that Timex watch and cigarette and I twirl my youth around my arms like its all I have… cause it really is. Youth, a fond reference to younger, innocent days. When in actuality its just talking about the soul you are supposed to carry, the belief that what you see is not what you have to accept. That beautiful belief that all around you, miracles can happen. So many things can happen that erode and chip away at our youth and so many things do….divorce, death, unemployment and yeah, people get old.

If you have found the time to read this then please take the time to listen to Lori’s song. I hope it can take you where it took me. If I could give you a wish then it would be to twirl your youth around a few more times. Look at what is in your arms, whether its your beautiful child or your own youth that you are trying so desperately to hold on to… gaze at it and love it, cause just as she says… people get old

I am not going to write about the musical perfection in this one because if you can’t hear it… well I can’t help you. What I will write is a simple thank you to Lori McKenna, you took me to a place I haven’t seen for a very long time and I am grateful…you are magical.

Listening, Learning and growing….