The guy playing guitar in North Dakota wasn’t expecting me to sing harmony, but I came in at the beginning of Angel from Montgomery a third above him and continued the whole song. He didn’t know that he was singing my friend Maria’s signature song, and Maria and I love to trade harmonies back and forth like funny stories.
Angel from Montgomery is the soundtrack of some of the best times in my life. So many beautiful singers, guitarists, banjos, mandolins, and ukuleles have walked in and out of my heart to the tune of John Prine. Extraordinary nights flash in my memory full of people I love singing, listening, smiling.
Sometimes, when my heart is broken, I forget to sing.
Last weekend, in North Dakota, I found myself in a tiny house playing music with old friends and a new friend who wasn’t expecting my harmony or vocal embellishments.
With each unexpected sound, he gave a slight smile.
And then the song was over.
And then, John Ward smiled and said, “That was nice.”
For some reason, it almost broke my heart.
It was nice.
Things have not been all nice for me lately. It’s been a hard time. We all have them.
When you’re having a hard time, sometimes three happy minutes are really nice. When everyone is singing and smiling together. When people appreciate you. When you realize that it’s so much better to be with people who love you than to sing a sad song without a harmony.
John Prine wrote that if dreams were lightning and thunder was desire, this old house would have burned down a long time ago.
That sounds about right to me.
And yet, I wake up and I’m still here. I haven’t burned down. I often don’t know what I’m supposed to do next.
So I go to Bismarck, North Dakota with my best friends. Meet people and children and baby farm animals. Dance and sing harmony with new friends. Remember that, while I am having a hard time, I also have good times, and there are going to be many more.
Despair feels terrible. But, when you come out of despair for a song, it reminds you to keep singing. It reminds you that we all see and feel the lightning and thunder.
It reminds you that, when you’re in a storm, it’s easier to weather it with people you love.
Life, hard times, good times, and music are all better together.
And, as John Ward says, that is nice.