Mary Ann and the boys and I have spent many nights over the past three months sitting around campfires at Camp Gecko in Bahia de Los Angeles. There are many memorable evenings there where we have shared time and space with other friends, new and old. They're all special, the campfires, and as they die down in the late evening we can see the dynamic activities of the heavens.
We take away from each campfire some sensitivity we never expected. Some are more memorable than others. On our last trip several of us were sitting around the ring at night and making small conversation when two younger men and a woman their age came across the boat ramp to our fire. One of the men, Jeff Java, was carrying a guitar. They joined into our conversation and we shared small stories for a time and there was a lull in the talk and Jeff strummed his guitar. A moment later he was singing.
All my life one of the most moving creative forms in my world has been music. When I was a boy I actually studied the guitar, only for a few weeks, before I realized that it was actually not just something I could pick up and play. It required discipline and lots of it. So I quit the lessons, taught myself a few chords and that was the end of it, except for my dreaming about what I could have been if I'd been stronger.
Jeff Java's songs entwined with the small smoke from our fire. We restocked the pit with fresh mesquite for several hours, frequently listening to, enjoying, Jeff's songs. It was just the guitar and him and the night was calm and there was nothing to distract us from him and his talent and his spun stories. It all seemed to call me into thought. Jeff's songs I could tell were from his previous life, one that he had changed, somehow, into something more powerful than he had had previously. I don't mean there was sadness in his songs, rather warmth and a recognition of the fact that he was pleased with the present and that it may not have always been that way. Sometimes a person expresses him/herself to us and you just grab onto the inner strength they are willing to share. That was Jeff.
The evening ended late. Jeff and his wife and friend were leaving the next morning. It would be a long drive. I don't remember where they are from, even the state. I don't remember the car they were driving, or the year. I don't remember Jeff's wife and friends names; I wouldn't even remember his if I hadn't written it down.
But I remember the emotion conveyed by every strum of a chord on Jeff's guitar. I remember his husky vibrato voice. I remember the sadness there too. His music all worked together in every aspect in a way that was totally encompassing.
I sent Jeff an e-mail a couple of days ago. He responded, telling me he would send a CD he had recorded. And he said "No, thank you. You can't pay me for it." I'd be happy to play it for other friends at Gecko who happen to be there when we're in the neighborhood. I know you'll enjoy it. I hope he's successful in getting his work professionally recorded and distributed. Honesty and sincerity, coupled with an unfailing if emotional memory of one's past are hard to find in one individual. Jeff's musical creations have those characteristics.