Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Josh Niles at Big Light, Nashville, Tennessee
Even now, a week later, it's nearly impossible for me to separate what I was witnessing on a flight back from San Francisco at five in the morning, while listening to this Night Beds session again and again, getting lost in Winston Yellen's incredible craftsmanship. It was a compact cabin, with very little room to yourself. Everyone was right on top of everyone else. You could read the crossword puzzle clues that the person in front of you, across the aisle was working on. We were that close, but that's nothing new. Given the recognition of such constraints and the complete lack of privacy, it makes what the older lady in front of and across the aisle from me was doing all that more remarkable and, in effect, heartbreaking. Prior to takeoff, I noticed her for her big-framed Dolce & Gabbana sunglasses (that she would wind up keeping on the entire flight into Denver) and for her far-too-loud comments about the oversized bag of a person attempting to stuff it into the overhead compartment. She commented that everyone should be forced to check their bags and no one paid her much mind. It wasn't all that much later that it seemed evident that she was likely unhappy about something else a little more important in her life and the luggage quip was simply a defense mechanism.
After reaching our cruising altitude, she pulled out a piece of paper and began working on a draft of a letter that - for the duration of the two hour flight - went through more than a half a dozen revisions and we're just talking about the first three lines of said note. It was the kind of letter that a teenage girl would write to a teenage boy after a two-month romance fizzled out, likely with the teenage boy doing what teenage boys do - lose interest and get a hard-on for another cute girl in his school. This woman was at least in her late 60s, more likely early 70s, and she was pouring herself out, or trying to. Sadly, it just seemed like there wasn't much there to pour out. What she wound up with was, "It was all so great and special until that fatal day you decided to throw it all away. I hope it was all worth it for you. You are free to fly." She continued with a few lines that rhymed and in between every few words, she'd hold the paper off to the side and stare out the window of the plane, thinking about the horrible betrayal that she must have just gone through. It was something to witness and it made me stop and think that - even at that age, when you'd think one could be over all of the needless peculiarities of love and its survival or death - here was a woman still so enamored with the belief in perfect love and still out there getting punched in the gut. Her story still has not ended with the soul mate.
Watching her drama play out - while listening to the gorgeous words and music of Yellen and his Nashville band - made it hard to write about them, if only because there was so much sparkly dusted hope in it. They, like this old woman, believe that there's a good way for it all the play out and they've had some dress rehearsals. They wonder about the growing old part and about who might die first. Yellen sings, "Would you bury my bones by the garden gate," and it seems all so pleasant, even if it might not be. At least one can imagine that there will be that best friend/love of one's life there to put you into the ground when you've passed. It's a mild comfort, even in the greater sadness that you've created, even in the greater sadness that they sometimes create. It's better off to be young and believing, having the light break kindly on your face, than to be in this old woman's place.