Music as muse
Lyle comes with me everywhere I go. We drive together, we run together, we lift weights together, we dance and scrub dishes and travel and stargaze together. Sometimes we laugh together, and we cry together, too, just the two of us. Many of his songs tell stories, and I never tire of hearing them. “Tell me about meeting the woman at the party, Lyle,” and he does. “Tell me about that redneck family, Lyle,” and he does. “Tell me why we get so lonely and why love has to hurt sometimes, Lyle,” and he does. His unique brand of wit tickles my funny bone, just as his penchant for naming our despair and describing our misery strikes the truest, saddest chords in my heart.
The music, the words, and the mind of Lyle Lovett had been enhancing and embellishing ordinary moments of my life for years when something happened that trumped everything. In the fall of 2008, when I was writing my fourth novel, a love story, Lyle held my hand every page along the way. It was a long way. A novel is a marathon and then some, and Lyle was tireless when I was depleted, he was up when I was down, he was steadfast when I lost hope. I could not have written that book without him. He could say in three minutes what took me three-hundred pages, and he did it better than I do. His music made me want to write—and to write better than I thought possible.
A spotlight appeared on the stage. Lyle walked to the microphone and took his guitar in hand. Victor Krauss stood ready at his acoustic bass. John Hagen was seated with his cello. They opened with “Sun and Moon and Stars," a cover tune from the new album, Natural Forces. I saw the crystal blue of Lyle’s eyes and the gray in his hair. I had never been so close, and after that night, I would never go back to the back. Often he looked out at the audience above and beyond me. Yet, when his head tilted downward, his glance fell on me.
For three hours, he played, he sang, and he told us stories, jokes, and lessons of life. I danced, and I sang. I flirted with the band. I ignored my full bladder and sore back and neck. I forgot about my family. I forgot about myself. For three hours, I knew nothing of the hundreds of rejection letters stacked in my writing room, and I lived as if the world had never seen a problem that it could not solve.
I was the last to leave the theater. I watched the road crew disassemble the cords and amplifiers, pack away each instrument in its sturdy black case, and remove the empty water bottles from the stage above me. I stared at Victor’s enormous bass beyond the curtain off-stage. I longed to sneak one gentle stroke along the shiny surface of Lyle’s guitar. I wanted to snatch a set list from the floor of the stage. Imagine the worst heartbreak of your life, and then multiply it by a hundred.
I waited as long as I could. I remembered the life back home that awaited me—the little girls who would want their mother back in the morning, the husband who would be wondering how it went, the errands and the housework, the novel that remained unpublished, the new novel that beckoned, the long drive from the thrill of being with Lyle to the quieter joy of returning home.
Finally, I left. Sort of. Because then I waited.
I stood on the sidewalk outside the theater, and I waited as the crowd thinned and the streets emptied. I pulled the new CD out of my bag and placed it and a pen in my pocket, just in case. Then I reconsidered and put them both away. I was not a fan. The concept of his autograph made no sense. I wanted nothing from him. I had no right to ask any more of him than he had already given, again and again, song after song, concert after concert.
I waited, and I waited, until there were only a handful of us left.
As the hour grew later, I asked myself what I wanted, what purpose I had in mind, why in fact I was waiting for Lyle Lovett on a near-empty sidewalk outside a theater in Boston in the middle of the night. When I was able to answer, I glued my shoes to the sidewalk and vowed to stay as long as it would take.
When he appeared, the trio to my left charged. In the shuffle as they rushed past me, I wound up inches from the back of Lyle’s head. His hair, once the source of cruel jokes, was perfectly clipped at the neck, and the gray was without doubt distinguished and alluring. My eyes moved down the back of his dark suit to his feet and his black suede cowboy boots. That was enough. I could drink in the delicious joy of standing in his presence and hearing his quiet speaking voice as he signed autographs and posed for cell-phone cameras that hovered in the night air.
I took a step to the left for a better view. I took another step. I was craning and positioning for something that I did not understand. Everything became confusing. The fans were foolish, and they made me feel foolish, too. I decided to leave. The chance had passed, and I had been too late, pushed aside, not aggressive enough to rush forward with proclamations like theirs of, “Oh my God! I love your music! You’re amazing! It was sooooo awesome!”
Then they were done, and they walked away.
He turned and saw me. “Were you waiting for me?”
“Um, yes,” I said. “I wanted to thank you.”
That was my answer. That was why I had waited.
He stepped forward, and now he was extremely close, closer than one normally got, close enough for me to get lost in the shape of his mouth and the color of his eyes and the tenderness of his voice and the cut of his suit and the tight coils of the curly hair that was never funny to me and had aged as beautifully as he had. I saw beauty where others did not. It started in his mind and oozed outward through his singing mouth and the fingertips that strummed his guitar. This man who had given me more—more joy, more inspiration, more laughs, more insights, more comfort, more reason to keep going despite the towering pile of rejections and the ceaseless demands of motherhood—than almost anyone or anything else, was not famous or untouchable to me. He was an old friend. He was familiar. He was mine.
“What’s your name,” he asked. I told him.
Then he reached out a hand, and I took it.
“Hi. I’m Lyle.”
He stood at the edge of my feet, and though my voice was small, it did not shake once, and though my internal machinery was malfunctioning in every way, I was able to tell him with impeccable words that his music touches me deeply and that I am a writer and—
“I have come to think of you as my muse.”
He looked at me with something like care and curiosity. Neither of us smiled. Perhaps I am wrong, and of course I will never know, but it seemed that he recognized my sincerity and meant to match it. He asked my last name, what I write, and whether I am published. “Not yet,” I said, “but I know I’m getting close.”
At some point, I must have handed him my copy of his new album, because his head was tilted at a downward angle, and he was writing.
“I was watching your video the other day,” I said, “and I’ve been thinking about the part where you talk about Hunter S. Thompson.”
He looked up. He watched my face, and he listened, pen still, hand still, face still.
“The way you described him, how he was supportive of your writing, what he meant to you—well, that’s what your music has done for me. That’s the way I feel about you.”
He looked at me. Then he said, “Oh, wow.” He had understood, one writer to another.
He finished signing the CD, and I told him about my dream that one day my agent will give his agent a copy of my book, that I will give to him as he has given to me.
“Well, I’ll look for that,” he said.
Then there was a long pause. He was waiting for me, always the gentleman, always gentle. We stood and looked at each other.
Then a voice emerged from a place inside me that I did not know I had: “Do you think I could give you a hug?”
He reached out his arms, and I stepped forward into them.
As I turned and walked away, a single thought guided me away from Lyle and homeward to my family and my desk: I will never stop writing.