Buying 1000 Kisses

(It’s Patty Griffin week. She will be in concert at the Alys Stephens Center this Friday.)

A couple years after purchasing Patty Griffin’s first album, a new one was released.

It was friday night and I had a softball game. We only had one car in Seminary so I picked Bethany up from work and we went to a place called Crazy Bowls and Wraps for the first time. Next to it was a music store local to St. Louis. After eating we went over there to kill some time before I had to turn double plays at Short and then hit home runs.

And that is when I saw 1000 Kisses. We had been listening to lot of peers lately – Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams, Alison Krauss, Gilian Welch – so we picked it up, paid for it and got in the car. From the first song – “Rain” – we were hooked.

I can remember sitting in our Honda Accord listening to her sing and being moved by the power of her voice. I can remember being anxious to hear more after the game. And I can remember listening to that album so often we had to make the decision to listen to something else for awhile.

A few months later I acted as the head of her street team to get the word out about her show in St. Louis. She played almost the whole album that night.

It’s a flawless album. Below is the first tune that filled our car on that friday night nine years ago.

Tuesday’s 10: Reasons I Love My Hometown, Birmingham, AL

Birmingham from atop Red Mountain

1. The Landscape. The metro area is made up of mountains, valleys, glens, rocky hills, bluffs, ridges, rivers and streams. There are no straight roads when you leave downtown. No street is similar to another. And there are trees everywhere to breathe in. The beauty can be breathtaking when you pull over the top of a hill or descend the first of the mountains stacked up before you.

2. My Birthplace. If I have a mind to, I can drive by St. Vincent’s with all its sisters and wonder which room I was ushered out into, in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. My first home is only minutes away, around the corner from the tobacco shop. And down the street from there is the first church I ever spit up in. On top of this (literally above it, on the very mountain I now live on) is another home where my parent’s lived years before I was born. Around every corner (again literally) is the reminder I have a beginning. I have a history to be told.

3. My family. Almost all my family is here. I’ve a brother who lives about an hour away but even that feels close compared to before. We were ministry exiles, thrown by the call to wherever we could find a place that would pay enough to rub a few Lincolns together. But now we live about 3 football fields from the in-laws and a pleasant drive from my own parents. Two words: free babysitting. And birthday parties and gatherings for football games and holidays where you get to sleep in your own bed after the festivities.

4. The People. We get them. They get us. The language and experience is shared. We feel comfortable with these people, even the ones we don’t know all that well. And very few days go by on which we do not see a current friend while we are out. Or a friend from days long gone-by whose age and girth cannot mask the memories barely recognized.

5. The Rhythm. Since leaving for Seminary years ago, we have lived in a number of cities. And they all have a rhythm. The language, cuisine, social expectations, traffic, weather, cultural artifacts, shopping, the shared histories of the citizens – it all gives the town a rhythm. And we have felt out of rhythm with each. And then we moved here. And before our feet fell from the moving truck to the hallowed ground of home, we were holding hearts within our chest beating in time. Like a divinely designed atomic clock we have stayed in rhythm and pray to God to continue till these hearts no longer beat.

6. The Food. Yeah, we have five star restaurants that get some serious press. But I want a Harley from Mr. P’s Butcher shop and Deli. And Mongolian Beef from New China in Bluff Park. I crave a Gyro from The Purple Onion. And I’ve been eating Milo’s Burgers and fish from The Fish Market since I was a kid. I’ve eaten at Surin West almost as many times since moving back as I did in all the years previous. These are special places for me. The sights and smells – sometimes I cannot tell if I love the food for itself or the nostalgia that wells up in me when eating it.

7. The Weather. We get all four seasons here. The summers are hot but the nights can often be comfortable enough to enjoy even on into August. The feel of Fall is an echo of all that will come when perfection is ushered in to stay. The night air in Winter, hung lying still under the stars is magical and is my favorite time to go for a solitary stroll. Spring is about as fragrant and full of beauty as you could imagine with all it’s dogwoods and bradford pears, cherry and oak.

8. The Memories. Just below us lies the small lake where I asked Bethany to be my wife. We drive by the church we got married in often. We ate some late-night dessert on our first date at the IHOP just down the mountain. Our first apartment is not too far away. And memories of our childhood are everywhere. Movie theaters, malls, Krispy Kreme runs.  Roads I used to drive while listening to Van Morrison for hours on end when gas was cheap and the windows stayed down. These memories are everywhere.

9. The Familiarity. When I was in High School, we would drive over to other areas of town and get lost. We’d just drive around and try to find our way out.  Getting lost is impossible now. Even after being gone for over a decade, I know this city as well as any cabbie would. All the shortcuts are mine. The long scenic drives, I own them. I know where businesses and churches and all the best restaurants are still. I know the best places to go on Red Mountain to look out over the city.  A lot of ’em I found while getting lost with Jonathan and Jeff and Teri.

10. The Missing. This is the hardest to explain to those who have never left. But part of my love for the place is once being away from it.  Breathing a different air for so long has caused us to breathe this air so much more deeply. Missing it all and the satisfaction of the longing which sometimes haunted and sometimes hid makes our hometown of Birmingham all the more full of wonder.

One Year Ago Today, We Moved Home

One year ago today, we moved home. We have moved a number of times since we left Birmingham in June of 2000. But this was the only one without any real emotional difficulty. We left a church where I was doing youth ministry and was pretty much paid to leave (severance…thankful for that). In my first few months there I had to fire my secretary and was told the lead pastor – the fundamental reason I felt comfortable accepting a call to that church –  was leaving for another position. I’m not bitter.

OK, maybe I’m a little bitter.

We left behind a number of close friends and a city we liked. But there has not been one moment in which we have not been passionately glad to be back in the city where we were raised.

All four seasons have passed through our time here. We have watched them come and go like old friends who we long to see again soon. Though summer can take the long way back and spring should stick around a while longer, we yearn for many more and look forward to watching the seasons turn into years and the years into decades. All here.

Speaking of old friends, we have spent a good bit of time with many. It is incredible that I can now go to lunch with friends who have known me for so long and love me still. What is just as wonderful is all the new friends we now have – so easy to be with, laugh with and rejoice with. We have no money to speak of but are wealthy in friendships to the point of not having the time to spend them all. Our cup runs over daily.

Our family is close. Birthdays are spent with them and our kids can get to know them well. All was out of grasp before. Now, our children beg to spend the day with their grandparents and vice versa.

Only someone from Birmingham will understand. But every turn down a mountain lane and every road climbing out of one of the valleys is a reason for wonder. Right now the trees have burst into the usual colors of Autumn we never really get used to. The morning fog is likely to cut off the tops of the trees and block any hope for a view of the valley below. The air is crisp and bursts with nostalgia.

“Remember when…”

Those who know me well will understand the salvific and noetic effect of my being able to enjoy all my favorite restaurants. Mr. P’s Deli and New China in Bluff Park, both about 3 minutes from where we live. Jim-N-Nick’s and Surin West on Southside. The Purple Onion at the bottom of the mountain. The Fish Market. These are important landmarks in my life. No really, when not eating there, I am dreaming about them.

I love this place. Nothing could induce me to move again. The desire for Emma, Knox and Dylan to grow up here is strong. I know it may sound crazy for a pastor to say but place seems important right now. Especially this place, this place so crammed like a dusty attic full of memories, good and bad – reminders of God’s grace and reminders of my indwelling sin. It’s impossible to explain. But, well, the desire to stay here forever feels like a gift. We were willing to go anywhere for so long. And did. And so this gladness to be here till buried here feels like a gracious present given by a loving Father.

And we are thankful.

Bob Dylan, Live in Birmingham, October 13th, 2010

My kids will wonder why he didn’t do “Must Be Santa.”

Last night I saw Dylan in concert. It was surreal. Incredible to be in the same room with him, the living legend, it actually had the aura of just being in the room with a working band. A working band from about 50 years ago. I suppose it is strange the thing I liked best about the night was how uneventful it was. It was just a bunch of guys playing music with cords everywhere. What added to this was how Dylan changed almost every tune, some were almost completely unrecognizable till the title of the chorus was sung. I caught about fifty percent of the lyrics.

Highlights include “Cold Irons Bound,” “Ballad of a Thin Man,” “Jolene” and “Like A Rolling Stone.” I told my wife I might have enjoyed “Jolene” the most because none of the people around us knew the new song, so they were not yelling ‘woohoo!’ drunkenly every time he got to the chorus. Low points included the lady behind me, who throughout the majority of the concert did a loud and rather annoying impression of – and I am not kidding – Speedy Gonzales. I am not kidding. We moved after a while.

I loved it. The musicianship was stellar. Dylan was great on keys, guitar and harmonica. Charlie Sexton, plating lead guitar put on a show. Bobby may be approaching 70, but it was loud, often rollicking and definitely worth the wait after all these years.

The following is the set list:

Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat
It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
Just Like A Woman
The Levee’s Gonna Break
Tangled Up In Blue
Things Have Changed
Simple Twist of Fate
Cold Irons Bound
Workingman’s Blues
Highway 61 Revisited
Ain’t Talkin’
Thunder On the Mountain
Ballad of a Thin Man

Like A Rolling Stone