Tuesday night, I had the chance to see Richard Thompson perform live. It’s a show I’ve had on my bucket list ever since I was introduced to him a few years ago — he’s an incredible guitarist, and watching him play is really an amazing experience. When I stopped being able to go out much for awhile, I was legitimately afraid that I wouldn’t get well enough to be able to see him play. I only learned about Coco Robicheaux on the day of his death, and I missed the chance to see Tom Waits (who doesn’t tour very often) perform when I lived in California; two things I consider some of the biggest missed opportunities of my life.
I think my S.O. and I were the youngest people in the audience by close to twenty or thirty years, which made me a little self-conscious when we were finding seats. (‘Scuse me, sir and/or ma’am, biker punk and tattooed millennial with a shaved head coming through.) As soon as I sat down, though, I didn’t care. I still whooped it up and applauded hard enough to jam one of my fingers.
He’d just started playing “Valerie” when we got in, which is, bar none, my favorite of his songs. It was honestly a little overwhelming — I’m embarrassed to admit it, but my heart skipped a beat and I thought I was going to have a panic attack for a few. I teared up at “Beeswing” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning,” just like I knew I would. (Lucky for me, I’d had the foresight to forego eye makeup for this exact reason.)
The songs were moving, tragic, and hilarious by turns. His voice and guitar playing were superb. His banter made the venue feel small, with the kind of warmth and humor that turns a show into an intimate gathering.
I loved every minute of it.
And then, the next day, I found out that Terry Jones had died.
He wanted to be remembered as a comedian, but I knew him best as an author long, long before I knew anything about Monty Python’s Flying Circus. When I was a kid, we had a copy of Fairy Tales. It was my favorite children’s book — as a kid, I think I learned more important morals there than almost anywhere else. Like Three Raindrops, which taught me that everyone’s grave is the same size, and there’s no point in wasting your life on comparisons. Or Jack One-Step, which taught me the value of collective bargaining. Or The Glass Cupboard, which, I’m fairly certain, is what turned me into a tiny environmentalist.
I loved Michael Foreman’s illustrations, too. To be honest, I can’t really overstate the impact they had on my imagination as a kid, or even on my artwork now. His watercolors were at once bright and soft and dreamlike, surreal and strange, occasionally with a subtly unsettling edge. They were the perfect accompaniment to stories like The Fly-By-Night and The Wonderful Cake-Horse.
I’m much older now, but the stories and illustrations still mean just as much to me.
Jones’ passed after a battle with dementia. As much as we like to think that “where there’s life, there’s hope,” there’s still a very particular kind of mourning that happens when someone passes from a brain disease. There’s the loss you experience when someone is no longer who they once were, and the final loss that comes with death. Sometimes, the hardest thing to deal with is that we might not think we feel “sad enough” when someone actually dies, because we’ve spent so long mourning the person they used to be. It’s something I experienced with my grandmother, as she declined from brain cancer. As hard as it was to handle her passing, I felt guilty for feeling relief. Not for myself — I felt relief that she was beyond the pain, confusion, and anxiety that her illness had caused her.
It’s something I’ve had to come to terms with, too. Intracranial hypertension causes brain damage, and it’s very likely that I will suffer a stroke at some point and either die, or have to fight my way back from that. Sometimes, you have to mourn for yourself. The important thing is to process this grief, then get on with the hard work of living. For Jones, that was raising awareness. For my grandparents, it was my grandfather feeding, dressing, and bathing my grandmother. For me, it’s working a little more every day to try to regain some ground before I lose more of it.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that it doesn’t matter if you’re part of an artist’s primary audience. Life’s too short to miss the concert you want to go to, or to overlook a book just because it’s intended for children. Eventually, like the Three Raindrops, we all become part of the same big, muddy puddle. Draw inspiration and spiritual nourishment anywhere you can.