Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The music of The Loneliest Monk would have been very complementary the other night. We were heading home from Austin, Texas, via Denver, Colorado of all places and there were delays everywhere. The airport was packed with people and the situation didn't look good. We took our time eating chili and sandwiches, watching our flight get delayed once, twice, a third time. Then we heard the woman at the gate make an announcement saying that some passengers might be bumped from the flight as they were expecting some "moderate turbulence." A second announcement was made a short time later asking all those traveling with anyone under the age of 13 to please see them at the podium. It didn't sound like it was going to be a great flight, but when you just want to get home, you just want to get home. We feared that we might regret that chili and that sandwich, but we were getting on that plane. It was late and we were tired of missing our families. We knew we were heading into an area that had been through some rumbling thunderstorms that night and those thick and pesky storm clouds were still holding their ground - menacing in their temporary calm. Michelle Morales and Miles Benjamin enter this story at the point in the flight when - after nearly an hour of incredibly smooth sailing - we start descending downward, slipping into those hanging clouds. They're acting rough with the plane, body-punching the sides of it and as we've finally got context for this capsule that we're traveling in and not just a sensation of moving forth in a sea of nothingness, it gets a bit nerve-wracking. You're hurtling through these clouds and it feels like everything's out of control. Things are banging and your heart starts racing faster than you'd like it to. The aircraft is bouncing up and down, jerking to the left, jerking to the right. We're losing altitude, gaining it and the pilot is doing everything he or she can to get us through the tangle. It feels as if we're losing it and you want to clutch something stable. Just as suddenly as it began, you've punched through the cloud covering and you're beneath them, maybe getting rained on a little, but not horribly. The lights from the cities and streets below are visible and pretty in the dark. We're okay and everything's fine again. It's the way of a Loneliest Monk song, with Morales and Benjamin's vocals taking us up and down emotionally and Morales' cello parts infusing the mood with an edge of dangerous uncertainty. Then comes the leveling out and the sense that we're not really going to crash. Not tonight.