Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

Silence Isn’t Silent, Redux

Let me tell you about Bernie Leadon.

Bernie came to some notice in the late ’60s, as a member, first, of Dillard & Clark, and then of The Flying Burrito Brothers. And then came The Eagles, and he entered everybody’s consciousness.

I saw them on their first tour, opening for Yes (of all bands!). I really liked them — and then heard the albums, which I found pretty disappointing and I didn’t really pay much attention for more than 20 years. He famously quit the band in ’75 or ’76 by pouring a beer over Glenn Frey’s head with the statement, “I’m going surfing.” He didn’t come back.

In the mid-90s I asked Rick Turner to suggest a guitarist with whom I could form a duet. He could only think of Bernie, but Bernie had moved across the country to Nashville. I encountered him at the AES [Audio Engineering Society] convention in San Francisco in 1998 when I exhibited there as the American distributor of the professional line of EAR (he bought a couple EAR 660 limiters).

In the early 2000s, a drummer friend of mine, David Kemper, was being very mysterious about a project he was working on. It turned out to be Bernie’s second solo album, “Mirror” (the first was recorded 27 years earlier). When they did a barely-announced show in October of 2003, I was there. Bernie opened with a deep, deep song called “God Ain’t Done with Me Yet.” This was my first night out since cancer surgery two months before. I was IN. If he wanted me, I was in.

We hung out the next day, he called a couple weeks after that, and in early December, David and I were in Hohenwald, TN, rehearsing, along with fiddler/mandolin player Tommy Burroughs. So let me tell you about Bernie. Here’s a man who, when he learned I preferred songs with no chord changes (like “Tomorrow Never Knows” or “Within You Without You”), had one written by the next time I came to Nashville. And what a song:

Indian Summer Morning (it’s all goin’ on)

A dewdrop on a blade of grass

Twistin’ slowly on the breeze

Winkin’ rainbow morse code messages

Confidentially (up) at me

 

Indian summer morning

Fall colors comin’ on

Late blooming flowers bravely rise

Seize their moment in the sun

 

It’s all goin’ on

It’s all goin’ on

 

Silence isn’t silent

It’s filled with subtle sounds

The crickets’ 2-stroke engines

(River) white-noise all around

 

The birds are busy chattin’ up

Their chicks about leavin’ town

For the Mexican Riviera

They say we should come on down

 

It’s all goin’ on

It’s all goin’ on

 

And back in town the kids hang out

In a parking lot in a swarm

Bookin’ their rites of passage

Gotta make hay while it’s warm

 

Testin’ their wings and other things

What with winter comin’ on

By spring she’ll be showin’

(Then) showin’ off off-spring

Nature’s wheel has turned

 

Mouth to mouth, skin on skin

Heart to heart, hand in hand

In this moment, in this now

In this life, show me how

 

Give up worry, give up scare

Give up lonely, this is where

Mouth to mouth, skin on skin

Heart to heart, come on in

 

It’s all goin’ on

It’s all goin’ on

 

I mean, holy crap. I played this one as invisibly as possible — Bernie played it in an open tuning, moving his hand up and down the fingerboard, and I just tracked his fingers an octave down, brushing the index finger on my right hand back and forth on my detuned lowest string.

I learned a great deal in my brief time with him. I spent most of the time in his truck; we drove together, and the rest of the guys drove in a van. We talked about many things, but primarily spiritual matters. I would say Bernie’s a spiritual person, but to my way of thinking, we all are, and it’s just a matter of us finding our way towards each other.

For my money, the best show we did was one that, beforehand, I thought would be terrible: the Tin Angel, in Philadelphia. It was late in the tour, and I recall seeing Bernie walking up the stairs to the club lugging a bunch of guitars, and looking ready to kill. I thought, “Oh, this isn’t good.” In fact, I thought, this is over. David had to literally climb over his kit to get to it; the stage was that small. But: that small stage meant we could play more quietly, we could all hear perfectly, and suddenly we played like magic.

The next show was at Maxwell’s in Hoboken. The soundman told me to turn down my bass. I told him that I set my volume by how hard David played his kick drum. But he pointed to the overall sound starting to feed back. So, thinking about the show the night before, I suggested that he just turn us ALL down. “You mean pull down the master fader?” he asked, incredulous. But again, magic.

We’re still close, though we don’t talk a lot. But when we do, it’s like it always was. I want to leave this with a story about a minor debacle, and again, I learned from it.

On one of my trips to Nashville, we did a radio broadcast from a club. On one song, Bernie forgot his capo. No big deal, right? But I couldn’t hear myself, so I didn’t hear the disparity between Bernie and I until the song was half way done. I instantly dropped to play the song in the key he was playing in. But, to my mind, the damage was done — a very high profile gig, and I was playing it a whole step away from him. Good god.

When my daughter Claire was learning to play piano, I would occasionally remind her of that tale when she was nervous before recitals. No matter how pulled together you think you are, shit happens.