observations and opinion
what happens when you listen to a friend?
In school, if you’re lucky, you have a friend like this: (1) they’re wiser than you and (2) they tell you when you’re wrong. My luck was called Nina.
It is hard now, in the long run of years since school, to recall each and every quarter chicken dinner. What comes back is the general feeling of being listened to – patiently, oh so patiently – and then nudged. Or steered. Or scolded. Gently, of course. I can’t remember all the mistakes I didn’t make, because of Nina.
One mistake I didn’t make, was losing touch with her. So as the decades have passed, and we got jobs, got married, got kids and got older, we’ve stayed connected. Sometimes when I call her, I wonder if she’s waiting for me to tell her something stupid I plan to do (or have already done). I resist the urge. Friends like this are made of oak, and they’re firmly fixed in the soil, but they can get tired. So you try not to lean on ‘em too much.
Anyone who knows Nina, knows about her voice. People who don’t know Nina, know about her voice. I recently said of another artist “he had a good voice, but he was a great singer.” Nina is a great singer, and she has a great voice. That was true when she sang in school shows, or around the house, or in the car, or at her wedding (a sweet version of “Someone to Watch Over Me”). It was true when she sang at my wedding.
It’s still true. At the Holidays, Nina’s younger daughter gave her an unusual gift: time in a recording studio. Nina went in with her favourite band leader (our school friend Brian) and, in the time she was there, she paid the gift forward. She gave us “Everything.”
It’s a gem. Clean and spare. Unmannered. The words mean what the words say. They’re put out there, confidently. Take it, don’t take it – this is an irony-free zone. What does she sound like? Well, if I asked you to tell me what crème brûlée tasted like, you could fumble about with words. Or you could just tell me: try the damned crème brûlée!
Try it. When you do, you’ll hear an ode to love – “you’re everything” – smartly rendered. Sweet, but not too sweet. Nina rolls out the first line (“you’re the getaway car…”) with sly wit. You can hear the smile. What you hear, with each simple rhyming line, is the sound of nature and craft. Like curls of cedar peeled from a plank, soft and strong, falling to the floor.
“And in this crazy life, and through these crazy times, it’s you, it’s you – you make me sing, you’re every line. You’re every word. You’re everything.”
You know those scenes in a movie, where there’s a blue pool of water, with a waterfall? Someone swims out, splashes around, disappears under the foam. Then they shoot up, laughing, under the falls. It drenches down on them and they close their eyes. That’s what it must feel like, to be sung to, like this.
Most of my time listening to that voice, way back when, it wasn’t singing. It was talking. Telling me – firmly but politely – not to be a fool. Asking what I really wanted. Urging me to be that slightly better version of myself, stuck somewhere inside me. I disappointed her a few times, doubtless, but I listened. I’m still listening: all I need to do is close my eyes, to I hear that voice. Setting me straight.
If you’re lucky, you have a friend who is wiser than you and willing to tell you the truth. You know who I’m talking about. You lean on them. Even if their voice doesn’t sound like Nina’s, you listen. If you do, with a little luck and a little wisdom of your own, one day you wake up – and you’re the tree.
Send that friend this song. They deserve it. Because it’s everything.