Between Here and Away
Music from a Stranger and Now to You
The title of this post is the title of a mixed CD that a stranger handed to me after a reading I did in Chicago in 2009. He is a poet named J. Blake Gordon but I didn’t know that, he just came up to me, we talked a little and he handed me the CD. I’m not so much sorry to say that I don’t remember the moment clearly as I am puzzled to say it. A stranger comes up to you and hands you a gift and you don’t remember the moment clearly?
It wasn’t the first gift I’d gotten from him. In 2005 (I think?), he’d sent me a beautiful mixtape (Crush 22, Slowdive, Cass McCombs, Marc Bolan, M83), that I played it until there were no more tape players on which to play it. I sent him a postcard featuring a picture of a boat named “Veronica,” thanking him. I’m sure I was glad when he introduced himself in 2009 and gave me the CD, even if I don’t remember that moment either.
We met another time in 2014, after some other reading or reading-related thing that I also didn’t remember until he recently reminded me. Even though we posed for a picture together.
Which is perhaps not as strange and ungrateful as it sounds. Readings are dreamy zones and performance spaces feel wide open, yet surrounded by protective membrane; it’s odd to meet people there, standing just outside the membrane.
Because there are still CD players, I played the mixed CD even more than I played the tape, so much that it became part of my life. I listened to it mostly in the car, driving away from home to a new job with my stuff in storage, driving to ride horses I was afraid of but trying to understand, driving for hours to visit somebody, driving to the airport, to the grocery store, just driving, watching trees, bare or full of leaves passing over me. They were mostly songs I didn’t know, and some of them were so eccentric that I couldn’t tell if they were from the 60s or if they were made by people imitating a 60s style. They oscillated from melancholy to ecstatic to funny; they accompanied me into deep middle age and then age. They were wonderful companions; they seemed to know things.
Courtesy of Tim: Entire CD
It took a long time for it sink in, how wonderful it was for a total stranger to give them to me, in such a playful, intelligent arrangement. All of the songs are wonderful themselves. But the way Blake put them together elevated them to another power, creating a humorously undulant path of beauty from the mind of this stranger into mine. And so I decided to share them, or at least some of my favorite ones, here. First I looked up Blake to ask him if that was okay. Which is when he reminded me that we’d met twice. And sent me the picture of us (via email), and a book of his poems (via post). He was happy to have songs from the CD shared. At first I just posted five of my favorites which are below. But if you read the comments you can see that a kind person named Tim made the whole playlist, which I put above. But because I liked the YouTube visuals, and also because maybe some people will just want to listen to a few, I decided to keep the short list of five. When listening on a long drive, I would really sink in on The Innocence Mission (track 10): the piano phrase at (approx) 2:06 is like a benign unscrolling of time, like tree branches seen through the windshield, passing overhead.
I wish you could listen to them like I did, for years, on your way someplace.