I took two big bags of old clothes to the Salvation Army today. In an attempt to streamline and simplify my life, I’ve been trying to be ruthless with stuff I never wear or use. I have a lot of company, with Marie Kondo’s book and show, and another book called Swedish Death Cleaning, popular with the entire country or world. We can’t take it with us when we go, and we are going to go. Even while we’re here, does anybody need clothes that no longer fit, books we don’t read, charming teapots that haven’t been filled with hot water since the auction of Andy Warhol’s cookie jars at Sotheby’s?
On the top of one bag, I dropped the pretty patterned scarf I’d received in a tote bag when I’d checked into 30A Songwriters Fest in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida last week. I love scarves, and I love patterns, but I just didn’t think I could bear to look at that scarf again.
The festival started off fine, after I missed my connecting flight from Albany through Charlotte. I didn’t mind, because Tommy Stinson was on my flight and we hung out together and that was great. I’ve met him a few times up in Hudson and always thought he’d be a good guy and he is. We had to fly into a different airport than the one we’d planned for but a nice woman picked us up and drove us to the hotel where all the festival artists were checking in.
The first person I saw on check in was David Olney. He had a new look from the last time I’d seen him, about two years ago when he was in the audience at the Bluebird where I was playing an in the round with RB Morris, Jon Byrd and Bob Woodruff. Having David Olney in the audience was terrifying and a huge compliment, he is an artist I’ve looked up to since my Nashville years. I was excited to play an in the round at the festival with Virginian Scott Miller and Olney in his new Mark Twain guise, heavy white beard, fedora —a look befitting a guy with towering songwriting credentials and mordant wit.
Unless you’ve been sequestered in a bunker with the witnesses and evidence for the Trump impeachment trial, you have probably read or heard that David Olney died in our round last Saturday. Aside from my mother’s car accident when I was twenty-nine, and Eric’s mother’s decline, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever experienced. I wrote an account the morning after because I wanted people to know how peaceful and elegant his exit was, but that wasn’t the whole story. No matter how much someone says they don’t mind going out doing what they love to do, we don’t want them to go. We want them to stay with us, to keep being who they are, and showing us who we could be, if only we were better, worked harder, were more loving and giving, dedicated, anointed. I believe David Olney was all those things and isn’t it amazing that now he’s gone, it hits everybody with a force it’s not possible to feel when a guy is just toiling away in excellence as he had done for many years? I feel so sad for his wife and family, his lovely manager Mary Sack, all his Nashville community and people who loved him all over the country and beyond.
I picked up the scarf off the top of my Salvation Army bag and held it in my hand. I thought of how I felt just a week before when I had arrived in Florida, and got a hug from David Olney, was riding in a car with Tommy. I was checking into a beach house I shared with two young female artists with everything in front of them and I got ready to play, ready to show what I can do. I don’t think I really did that in Florida. I guess my purpose there was not that. I’m not sure why, but I want to work harder and be better and I don’t know if I’ll wear this scarf but I have to keep it. I have to keep it.
Outside of the emotion of this post, I realized it would be good to thank everyone for messages of support – it really means a lot. Thanks to Scott Miller for such strength and kindness, to Don Dixon and Marti Jones who looked out for me in Florida, Diane Gentile for buying me bourbon and key lime pie, Mary Sack for reaching out to talk on the phone and my friends and family who I’m so lucky to have. Thank you David Olney for who you were.