Originally posted September 19, 2009:
This business of living is not always neat and tidy. We scuffle through life, loving others and being loved, hurting others and being hurt, and sometimes the best that we can hope for is that the balance is even when the time comes to say goodbye.
One of the worst pains of life here is that those times of farewell often come before we’ve been able to even that balance.
A while back, I wrote about the band my friend Jake pulled together in the early 1990s, the band that jammed every Thursday evening at his house in Eden Prairie, a suburb southwest of Minneapolis. (His middle name was “Jacques,” but he pronounced it “Jake.”) I played keyboards there for more than six years, running through a wide repertoire of rock, blues, R&B and jazz as we practiced every week and hosted parties for our friends twice a year. I wasn’t as accomplished a musician as the other guys in the band, but some of the best evenings of my life came on the stage Jake built in his house, taking part in a musical communion as the nine or so of us made our way through “Mustang Sally” and “Statesboro Blues” or maybe “Freedom Overspill” and “Black Magic Woman/Gypsy Queen.”
Then, in 1999, I began to have some health problems, and there were Thursday evenings when I didn’t have the energy to get to Jake’s. And the band had changed. As the membership of the band had evolved, I found myself playing music with a group of guys whose everyday work brought them in contact with each other in the corporate world. I wasn’t, by a very long shot, a corporate guy. So came the evening – an inevitable moment, as I look back, but one that caught me utterly by surprise – when Jake sent word that I didn’t need to come back the next Thursday; the band could do without me.
That hurt. A lot. It still does. I’ve heard nothing from Jake – or from other members of the band – in the eight years since. At times, I’ve fantasized about being invited to return to the group and turning Jake down. And I’ve pondered calling Jake, if only to tell him simply that I deserved better.
Neither of those can ever happen now. I got an email last evening from Coop, a business associate of Jake’s who played guitar with us for a couple of years (and who was one of the St. Cloud State students who shared my Denmark adventure years before that). Coop told me that Jake is gone. In late July, he’d been riding his beloved Harley on a hill in the nearby city of Chanhassen and lost control of the machine. He spent more than three weeks in intensive care at a Minneapolis hospital before crossing over on August 16.
And it’s hard to know what to feel. Jake opened a door for me and helped to bring me some of the best times of my life. One comes to mind immediately: Near the end of one party, we did Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released,” and as I sang the lead vocal behind the keyboard, I saw gentle smiles on the faces of many of our guests as they slow-danced. But Jake also closed that door, leaving me on the outside, and I recall as well the grief of the first Thursday night when I was no longer welcome at Jake’s.
I never got the chance – nor did I create the opportunity – to tell Jake how I felt. But there is something I can do to bring things back into balance. Without ever saying any of the words I’d like to have said, and without ever hearing the words of reconciliation that I’d love to have heard, I can forgive him. Not for his sake, but for mine: I read somewhere long ago that forgiveness isn’t something we do for the person who has hurt us. It is, rather, a grace we give ourselves. With that grace, what will matter is not Jake’s closing the door with me on the outside but the fact that he’d opened it and invited me in six or seven years earlier.
One of our drummers, Doc, was in the band from the time Jake began bringing musicians out to his house. Doc told me once that in the early years, Jake wasn’t all that good a bass player. But Jake worked hard over the years, and by the time we were hosting our two parties a year, Jake was a damned good bass player. That was about the time I did a piece on our band for the Eden Prairie newspaper. As I interviewed the guys, I asked them all what band in history they’d like to have played with. Jake’s answer surprised me. He said his dream gig would have been playing bass for the blue-eyed soul of the Rascals.
Jake and I will meet again, or at least our souls will, most likely the next time around. We’ve got some things to work out and – I hope – some music to make. In the meantime, take a listen to “Me & My Friends” by the Rascals, especially the bass part. It actually sounds a lot like Jake, and it’s today’s Saturday Single.
“Me & My Friends” by the Rascals from Freedom Suite