Earlier this year, I applied for the Leadership Music class of 2010. As part of the application process, somebody on the screening committee asked me to compile a more detailed bio/resume of myself. Rather than compile the typical list of things I've done, places I've worked, etc. etc., I found myself thinking about a couple of moments that occurred during my first year in Nashville which set course I followed through the rest of the 1990s.
My essay about "Transformative Moments" follows after this video, which was recently shot by Harry Simpson at the Bluebird Cafe of Michael Lille singing one of the songs I remember hearing for the first time in 1994 or '95.
Michael Lille: "Life On The Run"
Transformative Moments: 1994-95
If you can find the "25 Random Things About Me" on Facebook, that'll give you some details of the oddball odyssey my life has been. But I've been thinking about a couple moments that transpired during my first year in Nashville that you might find a little more illuminating re: what really drives me.
First, a little background:
After the drugs and alcohol wore off (in 1987), I decided to give reality one more try, but music and playing my guitar was about as much of a concession to reality as I was willing to make. I was living on Maui at the time; In 1992 I went to LA, first to the Grove School of Music, and then in '93 I graduated from the Musicians Institute. Yes, I actually have a certificate from the "Guitar Institute of Technology." Just don't ask me to play any argumentative or demolished chords...
Late in '93, one of the instructors at MI said something about moving to Nashville, and I thought that sounded like a good idea. I spent a few (cold, rainy) days here between Christmas and New Year's, rather liked it despite the dreary weather, and went back to Los Angeles to wait for a sign from God. At 4:27 on the morning of January 17, 1994, God himself woke me up and said sta-a-a-a-a-a-rt pa-a-a-a-acking...." As Mike Williams said once, "Paul responds to acts of nature; he was in an earthquake in California and it moved him all the way to Tennessee."
I was not all that keen on country music, but I liked that it's mostly acoustic guitar-based, which has always been my thing (when my high school classmates were all getting electric guitars, I went in the other direction and got a Gibson J-50; see "Random Things," items #9 and #22). I really had no idea what I was going to do when I got here. I got a 'temp' job doing computer stuff at the HCA data center. I started attending classes and seminars at NSAI and hanging out at places like the Bluebird. I played guitar for a couple of songwriters. I wrote a tune or two myself.
This was the period when the Internet was just beginning to bubble into public consciousness. I was already aware of it, and had in fact been using computers and been online one way or another since 1979. As I started to see what people were doing with this new Internet thing, I figured there might be some kind of business opportunity.
Which brings me to the two "transformative moments" that I thought I'd share with you:
The first was a night sometime late in 1994, when I went to a songwriter circle at the Commodore Room at the Holiday Inn on West End. There was a songwriter performing that night who played intricately melodic acoustic guitar accompaniments and sang a song about children playing by the water's edge on an island in Indonesia. His name was Michael Lille. The chorus he sang that night goes...
And they kneel on the ground
And raise their heads up to the sky
And they thank the Lord for another day begun
And the wheel goes 'round
And far away on the other side
You and I live life on the run.
Listening to that very delicate finger-style guitar, hearing that softly husky voice sing that gentle lyric... that was the moment I realized that there was a lot more to Nashville than just country music.
It wa right around that same time that I heard another singer songwriter, this time in a round at the Bluebird, perform a song that resonated deeply with me. His name was Tom Kimmel. He sang a song with a suspended-chord progression that carried this transcendent lyric:
We're lifted up by angels
Higher than the world
Strong enough to leave it
Bound to learn the secrets
Angels never heard
Close enough to heaven
Above the rain
Darkness cannot reach us
Let the angels teach us
Only love remains
We're lifted up by angels
I did not know Tom then, but after the show I introduced myself and asked if it would be possible to get a recording of that song and a copy of the lyrics. Tom graciously sent me a cassette and a lyric sheet, and I figured out the chords and added that song to the repertoire that I was performing in those days. We traded a few e-mails in the weeks that followed. The friendship we still enjoy stared over a song about angels.
Michael Lille and Tom Kimmel demonstrated to me the depth of the talent that this town possesses, most of it unknown outside of Davidson County. Sometime in the winter of 1995, it dawned on me that this new Internet thing might be a way to promote that wealth of unrecognized talent to the rest of the world.
In February or March of '95, I asked Tom Kimmel "what would you think if I tried to sell some of your CDs on the Internet?" Tom, a singer/songwriter friend of his named Michael Camp, and I, each put $300 into a bank account.
In June I left my temp job at HCA. I didn't have time for a job. I had too much work to do.
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(FYI, I was not accepted into the Leadership Music class of 2010. But, then, considering the friends I've encountered who were also turned down, it appears I'm in good company on that score).