Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I Might Be the Wind

I Might Be the Wind

I first got to know Rick Routhier in 1976 when I moved into a tiny shoebox of an apartment a 30 second walk from the bay in Long Beach. When I met him he was drinking a beer and sitting on the second floor sundeck staring off into space picking out "I Shall Be Released." He was a big fan of old Dylan, as well as Tom Waits. But when I found out he was deeply into Captain Beefheart (and from the Captain's hometown, Lancaster, California, even), I figured we'd become good friends.

(Odder still, it turned out we had owned the same model of Aria acoustic guitar... and they were even bought at the same store -- but his was beautiful and played and sounded great while mine had had a tweaked neck, buzzing frets and a strange, kind of flat sound. Still, I was bummed when -- just before I met Rick -- someone I knew borrowed it "for a few days" while his Les Paul was being worked on and then hawked it, calling me from Las Vegas to tell me he'd send me the money and the pawn ticket. I told him, just send the pawn ticket but, of course, he never sent either.)

In fact, I ended up getting Rick a job in the warehouse I was managing. He'd just graduated with an English/Creative Writing major, seldom first call at the employment agency -- and in the lingering post-Vietnam recession, he seemed glad to have a job working with someone who'd seen the inside of a book a few times.

When you live in the same building and you work in the same warehouse -- there's a lot of potential for a certain kind of interpersonal claustrophobia, but I actually missed Rick when he took a swingshift union job down on our company's loading dock a year and a half later. The money was a lot better and I couldn't blame him but... well, I've never had a regular coworker I could sit around talking about Marcel Duchamp or Bill Burroughs with before... or since. It was a rare experience.

Eventually, Rick followed his longtime dream and moved to Santa Cruz. He liked it a lot and moved far back in the hills, living in a few of the most beautiful spots any of my friends have ever lived in. The coolest one was built right over a tiny babbling creek and it was a delight. But one night he awoke to frantic knocking on the door. Get out, now, his neighbor said, there's a wall of water coming down the canyon. He grabbed his car keys and a jacket and ran out to his car in a pair of jeans, barefoot. But he got out and drove up out of the canyon safely.

When he came back a day and a half later he had to dig mud away from the door to get in. He opened the door and there was a foot and a half or so of water still in the house. He figured later that there was so much mud that it had sealed the house up with the water still inside.

Floating in the muddy water was his beautiful old Aria guitar. The case it was in was just starting to get damp on the inside, but he threw some silica gel packs inside the guitar, bought a new case, and he played it the rest of his life.

Rick ended up working at a Santa Cruz electronics manufacturing company in a small warehouse not that different than the one he and I had worked in more than a decade before. He did well, making enough money to have his own tiny house and drink and dine with a small, lively set of bohos, artists, and alternatively oriented professionals.

One day at work he ended up talking briefly with a marketing exec who was surprised to find Rick had a bachelor's degree. He didn't say much to Rick at that point but a week or so later he called him to his office and asked him if he was happy in his warehouse job and had he ever thought about taking on a little more responsibility?

One thing led to another and Rick took the gig, buying a new junior exec wardrobe (happily, this was Santa Cruz in the early early 90's, so a few pair of Dockers, a few button down shirts and a a couple of ties -- for dress-up Friday, he joked.

He did well at the job but he said it took a lot of his time and energy. He was hoping once he got in the groove he'd be able to relax a bit and get back to his boho lifestyle.

I talked to him maybe 8 or 9 months after he switched jobs. We talked a lot about his work but the last few minutes of our conversation he mentioned he'd been having some health problems. Nothing serious, he said, but they'd been treating him for phlebitis, swelling in his foot.

About a month later, on a Sunday, I got a call from a good mutual friend of ours. Rick was dead. He'd entered the hospital a week or so after I talked to him. They didn't think it was serious but they couldn't control the phlebitis. My friend said that they hadn't been too worried at first. But on Friday, just two days before, the doctor had pulled Rick's mother aside and said, "Up until today, I thought Rick was going to come through this. Now... I just don't know." Rick's mom nodded in agreement; she'd had the same thought. The next day, he was gone.

We found out later that it had been cancer, undetected even at the end.

So, I never talked to Rick again.


A year or so after Rick's death I found myself one day, playing guitar, suddenly overtaken by an extraordinary sense of Rick's presence. I'm a pretty skeptical, feet on the ground kind of guy -- but this was intense. (OK... I'll admit that in the past I was able to occasionally slip into automatic playing on my 115 year old upright piano... I never really knew where that was coming from. And it pretty much never happens on my electronic keyboards, even my new hammer weighted keyboard, which sounds and feels a lot like a real piano.)

Soon, with the sense of Rick at my elbow, I found myself writing this song, very caught up, emotionally. When the line about Sharon Stone's chair came out, I was perplexed. I tried to change it, but the song resisted. Over the years I've toyed with changing the line, opening myself up to inspiration that never came and then trying by 'brute' intellectual force to come up with a substitute line. (That brute intellectual force thing never works well for me, anyhow.)

Now... I'm not going to try to tell you that Rick co-wrote the song with me (but the line about the 'virus on your PC/ghost on your TV' is mine, for sure, I was very proud of that back in '93). An I'm not going to try to tell you that it's he who's resisting the efforts to change the Sharon Stone line. But it sure sounds like him in one of his goofy neo-DADA moods.

I miss that guy...

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I Might Be the Wind

I might be this and I might be that
I might be a success or I might be flat
I might be them, I might be you
I might be the desert or the sky so blue

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I'll never, ever stop loving you

I might be the wind, I might be the sea
I might be deep space for eternity
I might be a dog, I might be a cat
I might be the chair, where sharon stone sat

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I'll never, ever stop loving you

I might be a virus in your PC
I might be a ghost on your TV
I might be a shadow where no shadow should
or a whisper from nowhere
that you almost understood

but wherever I go, whatever I do
I'll never, ever stop loving you

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