Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Trout, Love & Tenderness

In 1982, I lived in Austin, Texas. It was the sort of place that seemed to offer me, a single twenty-five year old guy, an extended pit-stop in the journey of life--a chance to hide from loneliness, from responsibility, from myself.

One night, I sat at home, feeling dejected. An English woman I'd been seeing had just dumped me. Her former live-in boyfriend, who’d dumped her, had resurfaced. He was in, I was out. As the evening wore on, cabin fever set in, and I aimlessly headed into the evening for a few "I'm sorry for myself" beers. I walked about a mile from my house to a mall, where I found myself in front of a tavern I'd never visited before. There was a sign in front announcing, "Tonight only, Trout Fishing in America." I read the sign again, thinking, "Trout Fishing in America?" I started to walk away. I stopped. I turned around, walked back to the bar, and went in.

The first sign that the evening might develop into something memorable came when I bumped into a guy with long blond hair, walking to the stage holding a guitar. Nothing unusual in that, except that I'm six-four, and I found myself about eye-level with his Adam's apple. Then another guy, seemingly two feet shorter than the blond guitarist, walked to the stage where his upright bass stood waiting. "Hm," I thought. I shoved the beer I'd just paid for back at the bartender and ordered coffee. Something was in the air, it seemed, and I no longer wanted to disengage from feeling the currents of my life. Suddenly, without really knowing why, I wanted to feel plugged in.

I could've skipped the coffee. Those two guys drew me in with their spare but tasty musical arrangements, and as for their vocal harmonies, well, it just seemed that they were meant to sing together. There was an innocence to their songs, yet a sneaky sort of profound spirit infused them. Many of their songs seemed written for children, which normally would have seemed incongruous in a smoke-filled bar; yet somehow, that evening, did not. I found myself drawn from feeling merely interested, to entertained, to wrapped up in an enchanting mojo. When closing time came--all too soon--I felt that someone had grabbed me and shaken the hardness out of my heart. I walked out of the place with nary a thought of my now-former girlfriend and her resurfaced boyfriend.

Over the years, I sometimes thought about Trout Fishing in America. But, before the internet, thinking about them was about all it came to. Fast-forward twenty-two years to this year. My wife comes home and asks, "Feel like doing anything tonight?"

"Sure," I replied, "You want to go out to dinner?"

"No, Peggy asked us if we want to meet her and her kids to see some guys who call themselves 'Trout Fishing in America.'" I froze. That evening back in Austin came flooding back to my memory. In moments, I replayed the journey I’d made that night, from a realm of sorrow and self-pity to a place infused with a celebratory spirit.

“Hal? Did you hear me?” I looked at her. “What did you just ask me?” “I asked if you wanted to do something tonight. Is something wrong?” “Did you say we’d go see Trout Fishing in America?” “Yeah,” she answered, “but what’s going on? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.” As Dylan climbed into my lap, I told them about that night in Austin in 1982. “I wanna go!” announced Dylan.

That evening, we walked in to the auditorium with our son, found some seats behind Peggy, and waited. Then out onto the stage they walked: Ezra Idlet, all six feet nine inches of him, and Keith Grimwood, all five feet five inches of him. To tell the truth, I had to overcome an initial resentment, as those guys appeared to have aged at about half the rate that I saw when I shaved in the morning. But as the evening unfolded, tears came to my eyes at least twice: once, when I realized that they still had their magic, and again when I saw that my three-and-a-half year old son was drawn in to their warm realm as well. It was very much like rediscovering an inviting, comforting haven, only this time it was even better. This time, I sat with my family.

A couple of months have passed since I rediscovered Trout Fishing in America. Now, my son no longer asks to hear his formerly favorite CD--by the Crash Test Dummies--when we get in the car. No, "Big Trouble" by Trout Fishing in America is now number one on his request list. My son, my wife, and I don't sound as good as Keith and Ezra as we sing along in the car. But we think Keith and Ezra would approve anyway.

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