arts / folk / music / my songs / songs / songwriting

Death of a friend


An old and beloved friend is gone. His struggle is over. He rests now in the arms of an eternal love which numbers the hairs on our heads with the stars in all the galaxies of Creation.

He was a small, wiry Scotsman, with a bristling beard and eyes that could be sharp or warm, as circumstances demanded.

He steered me through confusion into reality when I needed it most, but he fell by the wayside. He would call me up in pain, and all I could respond with were words he had said to me, sounding empty and useless as I recited them back. Yet his love was constant.

The first time we met it was in a crowded room over a shop. He sat beside me at the long table where we were all gathered round, all with the same seeking, the same problems, expressed in all our different ways, each finding the same way like the flocks of starlings swooping and swerving in concert over the city square.

He sat beside me and shook me by the hand, I new to the city, as yet unbefriended, he strong yet gentle, asking after my recovery. When I shared my confusion over my next step he said to me three words: Just do it. I followed his advice as best I could, but a week later I realized had badly I had done. Then I realized that that realization came out of doing it badly, but doing it anyway. It was the first lesson he taught me.

He could be tough. When I slipped back into my old ways he was stern in reminding me of rules I had set myself. I’d like to say I never slipped back from that day, but he gave me an awareness of where my wandering steps were taking me, away from the way that we all must take, however sweeter and softer the way of temptation.

We quarreled once. I disagreed with advice he gave to a mutual friend and told him so after a week of consideration. You should have told me at the time, he said, not nursing up a resentment for seven days. I tried to learn the lesson, to share my feelings without acrimony, without delay.

We sang together for a time. A small group of us with our guitars, lyrics we loved, or had composed, met in his front room. He sang of his greed for more of what was good in his life. I want more, he sang, much, much more.

His songs had the simplicity that is close to genius.

I was shocked when I saw him with a pint of beer. When I shared my anxiety with those who had sung with us, they were judgmental. He always was full of shit, said one.

Well, so he was, So we are, all of us. We must needs clean our side of the street. We do what we should not, and that which we should do, that’s what we don’t do.

He still sang, but it was always in a bar. The old fire seemed to have been drowned in the glass he held in his hand. I was not happy, being there, not so much at the pale shadow of what he had been, but at my powerlessness, my inability to give him back what he had once given me.

I am angry at his death. Not that he has gone to his rest. That I would celebrate, but because I need to share the love he gave me with those who used to gather at his home to sing together, but are dismissive now of how he had fallen among boozers.

I know this anger could destroy me, which is why I must follow the advice he gave me when he quarreled. This is how I feel, brothers, sisters. As a great poet once said: We must love one another, or we die.

Without love, we are just a lot of noise. But even out of that cacophony, we can reach into the consonance we are seeking.

A song I composed for the passing of another old friend, addressed to his lover as he lay dying:

Hold the hands of the ones you love
Hold them fast
Hold on
Through the good times and the rough
Hold them fast
Hold on
Hold the hands of the ones you love
Through the good times and the rough
Love like this has gotta be tough
Hold on
And hold them fast

Love through the day and through the night
Hold them fast
Hold on
Love through the dying of the light
Hold them fast
Hold on
Love through the day and through the night
Love through the dying of the light
In your arms or out of sight
Hold on
And hold them fast

The angel said to Mary mild
Hold him fast
Hold on
One Love has fathered on you your child
Hold him fast
Hold on
The angel said to Mary mild
One Love has fathered on you your child
He will be hated and reviled
Hold on
And hold him fast

Your love may be a bitter cup
Hold it fast
Hold on
Drink it down and drink it up
Your love may be a bitter cup
Drink it down and drink it up
True love will always bear you up
Hold on
And hold it fast

Everyone needs a helping hand
Hold them fast
Hold on
Brothers and sisters throughout the land
Hold them fast
Hold on
Everyone needs a helping hand
Brothers and sisters throughout the land
Stay together and make a stand
Hold on
And hold them fast

Everyone’s got a life to live
Hold it fast
Hold on
Every one’s got love to give
Hold it fast
Hold on
Everyone’s got a life to live
Every one’s got love to give
Everyone something to achieve
Hold on
And hold it fast

Hold together till the end
Hold it fast
Hold on
Embrace an enemy like a friend
Hold together till the end
Embrace an enemy like a friend
What’s been broken God can mend
Hold on
And hold it fast

Love like this can never die
Hold it fast
Hold on
No matter how cloudy grey the sky
Hold it fast
Hold on
Love like this can never die
No matter how cloudy grey the sky
We need it now not by and by
Hold on
And hold it fast

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