“I think you’ll enjoy being here,” the director said as she showed him through the facilities.
They looked in the library: a wall of poetry, philosophy, music biography and memoir. DVD and VHS movies on a low shelf. He noticed Still Crazy and Payday in the collection: impressive.
The dining hall featured a breakfast buffet that reminded him of those free Super 8 and Hampton Inn spreads of years ago. A ponytailed resident was removing a waffle from the “make your own” station. Perpendicular to that a table of cold cuts was beginning to sweat, and in a cooler on the floor, budget-brand beverage bottles and cans floated in tepid water. Funny how that made him feel at home.
“Let’s just take a peek in the activities room and see what they’re up to.”
A group of older gentlemen were seated in a circle, guitars in their laps. Some were white-haired, others dyed auburn or black, with eyebrows to match. On closer inspection, one of the gentlemen was a lady. They all wore variations of a uniform: straight-legged jeans, black t-shirts with faded white logos; well-worn plaid shirts with western details; a leather vest here and there. A few examples of interesting footwear peeped out from the jeans: pointy-toed snakeskin boots; sport sandals over socks patterned with sayings that spoke of the late 2010’s: “Fuck This Shit” and “Beer: It’s What’s For Breakfast.”
“Now this one I wrote in a Motel 6,” one of them said, as the others nodded supportively. A few chuckled.
Troubadour was the title of the song.
I never thought I’d get this far
With an okay voice and a Kay guitar
I’ve seen it all, boy I’ve been around
And a troubadour has to lay it down
He sang the same verse twice but nobody noticed or cared. He was singing their lives, here at the Home For Senior Singer/Songwriters.
Then they played a drinking game, going around the circle telling stories about those they’d encountered along the way. Anytime someone heard a name of a fallen friend they’d done time in the trenches with – shared a stage, a publisher, a wife or husband, a battered vehicle, a bottle – they took a drink. Most of them drank coffee or water, a few drank herbal tea, a very few old warriors sipped Basil Hayden from their mugs. But when they heard a name that resonated, they drank deep whatever it was, and looked off into the distance, like looking at the neon beer signs at the back of a bar, or ceiling lights reflecting off the bald heads in a house concert crowd on a suburban Saturday night.
There were tales of names celebrated and names obscure. The stories all had a black humor in common. The songwriters listened to the stories with heads cocked and smiles of recognition, each story reminding them of stories of their own: that night in Denver, or Cleveland or Iowa City.
This winter storm where five people showed and they played anyway, by candlelight.
That promoter who put you up in his Victorian house, but wouldn’t let you sleep until he’d subjected you to a few hours of Al Stewart performances he’d collected and cataloged over the years, the tip of the iceberg but you’d pleaded that the next day was an eight hour drive.
They quoted this line or that great lick in song after song written by those they’d been lucky to sit alongside, and since they were no longer here to do it themselves the old songwriters played their songs for them.
Then someone mentioned Greg Trooper, and to a man (and woman) the craggy faces softened. He’d crossed paths with most of them, and they all had a favorite song or story. Ireland, or 21st Century Boy; Everything’s A Miracle. He had so many.
But there was a memory in each of them too deep to talk about; a kindness he’d done for them too specific to share. A generosity of spirit that had lifted them up when they’d needed it, and along with his outward talents it was this ability to give that made Greg someone they would never forget. When they sang his songs, that spirit filled the room.
As they all sang along to “This I’d Do” the visitor joined in from beside the potted plant. He’d met Greg too. He wasn’t ready to retire yet, but when he was, he knew this would be fine company to be in.
A shuttle driver came in and announced he was leaving in fifteen minutes.
“Where are they going?” the visitor asked the director.
“Oh, he drives them into town for their gigs,” she said. “Y’know, people’s eyesight. Too many DWIs. It’s a service we provide.”
“You mean – they’re not retired?” he asked.
She laughed. “You know better than I do the answer to that question,” she said. “How would they pay – “ she waved her arm “- for all this?”