A couple weeks ago we were on the Second Avenue subway waiting for a train. A man wearing a black fedora was sitting on the pavement, his back against a wide, concrete column. He was playing the guitar and in front of him was a plastic jar stuffed with $1s, $5s and change.
He was playing a song. The song was haunting. I’d either heard it or wanted to hear it.
I’m a sucker for music. In a concert hall, church or subway. You never know when you’re going to be transfixed, transformed and transported.
I put a dollar in the jar. You’d spend your last dollar on a good song. It wasn’t my last dollar, but if it had been, the dollar would have been well spent.
He nodded thanks. I asked him what he was playing.
“It’s called 'The Stable Song,'” he said. “It was written by Gregory Alan Isakov. I believe he is from Philadelphia.”
I hadn’t heard of the song or the artist. That didn’t mean much. I haven’t heard of a lot of things. I probably hadn’t heard of more things than I had.
I copied “The Stable Song,” and Gregory Alan Isakov on my subway ticket. I knew if I didn’t, that songbird might fly away and never return.
Home in Bakersfield, I looked up the song and artist on YouTube. “The Stable Song” had more than 2 million hits. Somebody had been listening, just not me.
I punched play. The man in the subway had nailed it but Gregory Alan Isakov was even better.
“You know music is good, when it touches your soul and you don't even have one,” was one of the comments on Isakov’s music.
A good song can save your life. If not save, change. If not change, improve. Life without music is like a bed without pillows.
When you discover a good song, you can’t imagine listening to anything else. The new song vanquishes the old songs. There is a new sheriff in town and it’s hard to remember the name of his predecessor.
With a new song comes temptation. The temptation is to play it over and over again. New songs are like potato chips or chocolate. One handful is good, but four are better.
In order not to wring the life out of it, I had to put myself on allocation. On rations. Make my last quart of cool water last the 20-mile trek across the desert.
“I love you, song, but I’m gonna have to let you go. Don’t worry. I’ll be back.”
I’ll be back at the end of the day. Or lunch. Or 20 minutes from now.
I sent “The Stable Song” to friends. Sharing music is like sharing a bottle of wine. You have some, I’ll have some and both of our spirits will be lifted.
Alabama has a song called “This Ain’t Just a Song.” Lyrics include:
"This ain't just a song to me
It's a hymn I heard my grandma sing
A lick I learned on bass guitar
A drunk I met at some old bar.
And if I'm lucky
It will move you
Make you shout 'hell yeah' or 'hallelujah.'”
Transfixed, transformed and transported. Hell yeah and hallelujah.