Autumn in the Bluegrass

Miss Olive
Miss Olive
Originally uploaded by mrtoastey

Suffice it to say: Autumn in the bluegrass is beautiful. Sure — it’s getting cold, and I’m not crazy about winter but in some way, the changing leaves and musky perfumed bluster — and the clatter — are reassuring sentinels of the seasons’ cycle. I like the smell, and feel and look of autumn.

Last night, sat in the back yard with an old friend and we wondered about some things, through the delirious mediums of cigarette smoke, bourbon and ice, in hefty reassuring big-bottomed glasses. We wondered about friendship and what happens to it over time. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but there’s not always a dramatic turning point. one of the best encapsulations of this is Springsteen’s over-played but spot-on “Glory Days.”

Aging (gerund?) friendships is a tricky business; I’m occasionally irked and exhausted by old friends — no matter how dear — who can’t seem to stop rehashing times gone by. It’s not that I don’t, I am fully aware,* there’s just so much going on right in front of our noses, let’s talk about that, ok?

Rachel is a good example, and that’s what we talked about last night. We both have the incredible frame of WRFL: a formative, unforgettable experience for her, for me, and for many of us ‘back then.”

Twenty years ago, our friendship was of mild consequence, to be candid — pleasant but not really intrinsic. Neither of us had too much trouble losing touch in the intervening years. Twenty years later, our friendship has more appeal to the both of us. And some of that comes from a mutual dislike of quote-unquote “Glory Days” talk.

We tried to understand how it works and how holding onto old friendship can be a slippery business: to appreciate the past, to let go of demons, to treasure one’s personal experiences — and shared experiences with those loved ones, that we’re so lucky to have had — and yet still see the delight and wonder that is now and today. In a myriad of forms and instances that I must certainly miss over and over. And I just can’t dwell on those missed — then or now. I can only revel in the instances that I do get.

*Finally, there’s a terrific irony here that I don’t want to ignore: In spite of all this heady talk, I’ve been the director of an oral history project for over two years about the beginnings of WRFL. How could anybody be more “Glory Days” than me, then?

Maybe in some uncanny way, I’ve gotten to be the guy who gives people the opportunity to recollect. I’ve always liked that word, and it’s taken on much greater meaning since embarking on this project. It’s much more evocative to me than its cousin to remember. I’ve enabled people to recollect their memories of those wonderful, turbulent, coming-of-age days. Meanwhile, I’ve gotten to actually recollect those people as living breathing souls. And selfishly, I get to see how those people fit into my life and world — if in fact they even do. Or I into theirs.

It’s tempting to say something like “it’s cool to see how people turned out,” but I think that’s a disservice to the Present. If you’re still alive, you’re not done, you ain’t baked. The only people that I would feel comfortable talking about how they “turned out” would be dead people.

In the meantime — Life — we’re all works in progress. The WRFL project has afforded me the treasured opportunity of checking in on people, armed with the comforting context of our shared past at WRFL. But my greatest delight always comes from talking to these old (one might even say “former”) friends about something — anything — that we’ve never talked about before.

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Babatunde Olatunji

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