“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”

August 8, 2008

“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”

Like most kids, most of my early life I took for granted that my grandfather would just always be around. When he was gone, it was about the saddest thing I could imagine. The funny thing is that as is so often the case, I appreciated him so much more after he was gone than I did when he was always around. I guess it is true that you don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.

When he died, I was very sad, but the truth of the matter is that by that point, my life didn’t change all that much. I was pretty independent and wrapped up in my own things by that point, so nothing really changed. Until Christmas, that was. Christmas was always his big thing; it was always important to him that everyone was around, and everyone participated in family rituals. After he was gone, Christmas was just never the same, and Christmas was when I really started to miss having him around. It took a few years to adjust to Christmas again and settle into new rituals.

“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”

Tonight I felt a similar sense of loss and longing. Since his untimely death earlier this year, I’ve been mourning Willie P Bennett, but because I’ve listened to him so much since then, I’ve never really had to miss him; he was still there whenever I needed him. There are many times when only his words can hit the spot, and thankfully, there are so many left behind, and they’ll stay with me for the rest of my life.

I’ve thought many times about the sad, sad fact that I’ll never see Willie again. For years I’ve longed to see a full Willie concert, but because I never had the chance, I guess I’ll never know what I was missing. But tonight Fred Eaglesmith came to town, and it was my first time seeing him live since we lost Willie. I’ve been a huge Fred Eaglesimth fan for almost a decade, and I take nothing away from Fred’s talent, charm, or appeal, but I’d say that an equal part of the magic of seeing Fred and following him was keeping tabs on Willie and getting to see him. He brought things to a Fred show that made it out of the ordinary, and they’re things that can never be replaced. Sadly, they’re things that I can never experience live again.

Whenever I went to see Fred, I’d always try to sit on Willie’s side of the stage, I’d cheer like crazy when he was introduced, and, as I saw more shows and got to know the songs and arrangements better, I’d wait eagerly for those moments when I knew Willie was going to add his mandolin, harmonica, or amazing voice to the songs. Those were always the moments that made the show for me. I’ve seen Fred solo before, and it just wasn’t the same for me; sure, it was fun, but it only served to make me appreciate Willie more, and look forward to seeing him again. (I think that, among all other things is why I’ll never warm up to Dusty. A Fred album without Willie just isn’t complete.)

“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”

The more I got into Willie, the bigger his legacy loomed for me. For me, he really was a god that I could only worship from afar. I knew that many people really knew Willie, and I knew that he was just an ordinary guy with an absolutely extraordinary talent, but to me, he was so much more. His songs move me and resonate within me perhaps more than those of any other writer, and I listen to a lot of songwriters. Something about those songs, that music, those words, and that voice have made Willie the lifelong friend that I never even really knew.

I always wanted to know more about Willie, and my biggest ambition was always to have him on my radio show and find out more about him. I thought many times about trying to get to know him better, but I was hugely intimidated by him, and I guess I was kind of afraid to find out that my ideas and expectations were unrealistic. I guess that’s why the first time I got Willie’s autograph, I had to get someone else to get my record signed (which probably explains why it says “To Geff”)

I guess in the end I’m glad that I never pulled back that curtain to reveal the true wizard, because the larger than life image in my mind is probably so much more fun.

“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”

Knowing that I was going to see Fred live caused some anxiety, and it caused me to start thinking about Willie more, and what things would be like. I know Fred’s been touring without Willie for quite a while now, but I’ve never seen, or even heard a show since that point. I know there’s a new player and the set’s been worked out and the shows are Fredhead approved, but you can never really judge something until you experience it for yourself. I wondered what the songs would be like. Would the new guy be trying to fill Willie’s shoes, or have the songs and arrangements changed since then? Only being there would tell.

I felt kind of uneasy going in and sitting down. It was kind of like a first date after the breakup of an important relationship; you know you want to try it again, but you know it won’t be the same, and you have to learn to try again. I was expecting things to be different, but I know that there’s much more to a Fred show than just Willie, so I knew that it wouldn’t be a disaster, but there was still something difficult about it.

It was especially interesting to go with my future wife, who had never seen Willie, or Fred, before. I got to experience Fred for the first time again through her eyes, and I suppose that helped me to remember what it is about Fred himself and his songs and his show that I loved so much in the beginning.

But I tell you, there were plenty of times in the show when all I could think about was Willie. I was having fun, but I was also very sad, and feeling a sense of loss and longing that I hadn’t really felt in a very long time. The first song was hard, but Codeine was, ironically, the most painful. Although as I said, Dusty has never really won me over, Willie’s part in that song stole the show the first time I saw him do it, and it’s lived within me ever since. And tonight, more than any other, the sounds are keeping me up in the night.

It’ll take a while for me to adjust to life without Willie, because seeing Fred in concert will never be the same, and it will always make me think of him, but he left so much behind, and that won’t ever change. Fred’s got a great new band and a wonderful show still, and I have more respect for him than ever because, to my knowledge, for the first time in his career, he’s doing a cover almost every night. Tonight he finished off with “Country Squall,” and it kind of gave me the closure I needed, because it showed that Willie is still a huge part of the show; that moment is an acknowledgement that he is still there, and he’s still important, even though we all have to move on in his absence.

“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…”


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“… the sounds keep you up / in the night…” — 1 Comment

  1. Pingback: We still miss you, Willie P | Tell The Band To Go Home

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