Life can be both kind and terrifying with its torturous maze of secret passages and disappointing endings. I’m convinced that most of us will wander its halls until the day we depart, never actually finding the heart that resides in the chest of it all. With the anxiety and fear that comes with that realization, there are these little moments in time that restore calm and faith in the journey, like little carrots that both lighten your load and increase your capacity for more just when you’re about to beg for it. They push you to keep exploring the corridors, telling us that maybe, just maybe you’ll start hearing the universe’s heartbeat loud enough to guide you home.
On stage and in past posts I’ve discussed my years away from music – my physical health that initially stopped me from writing and performing, and then my founded need to work on my mental health before picking it up again (you can read about it here: http://bernardjohnmusic.com/…/i-am-bernard-john-what-happe…/). But there was a specific moment that pushed me over the edge and encouraged me to pick up the guitar and pen again.
My friend, Patrick Coman and I met about a decade ago in the Boston music scene. We both loved Townes Van Zandt and whiskey, and we both pretty much believed that was all we needed at the time, so we were kind of inseparable for those few years. Eventually I moved down to Rhode Island and Patrick and his amazing family made a larger leap south to Charlottesville, VA, so it’s pretty rare that we’re in the same room much these days.
Back in February, Patrick was on tour promoting his record, Tree of Life, which is unbelievably powerful and beautiful. Please take some time to check it out at patrickcoman.com. He had a gig here in Providence and we spent the night drinking whiskey and talking music before and after his set. When we were living in Boston we both worked in the folk music scene in addition to being songwriters and performers ourselves. We’d constantly chat about new songwriters that were breaking and we’d always find time to wear out the records of artists that cut us to the marrow together. One of those artists was (and very much still is) Joe Pug. His lyrics are thoughtful, striking, sincere, and fresh. He has a way with words that I had never seen before. His ability to avoid the obvious cliche and his natural way of keeping you thinking long after the needle had lifted was, and is, nothing short of insatiable. The record we wore out that year was his first (to my knowledge), the Nation of Heat EP. The performances on that record were unabashedly raw and direct, and his lyrics were new, but almost desperately relatable. I needed it at that time in my life, and 10 years later I still need it now.
Outside of music, Patrick and I had to catch up on our love of great audiobooks and podcasts. When he and I used to tour together, stuffed into my old Subaru, we were fueled by exhaustion and empty bank accounts. We had this unquenchable desire to push ourselves to be better in every town, and we sometimes found ourselves getting snippy with each other like two brothers who had been in the same room for a week too long. The one thing that would always level us out without fail was someone else’s voice. We’d listen to audio books like Steve Earle’s, “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” and a handful of NPR shows.
“Dude, how good is Joe Pug’s new podcast?” He more proclaimed it than asked it.
“What? He’s got a podcast?” Patrick kind of just looked at me.
“Um… yeah, dude. You’ve got to get on that.”
More than once that night, Patrick told me that I needed to get back on stage, and more than once that night I told him, “I’m sure I eventually will.”
The very next day I started listening to Joe’s podcast, The Working Songwriter. At each episode’s core is an open conversation with another accomplished songwriter about their process, their background, their goals, their struggles, and their successes. What resonated loudly with me was that everyone was so vastly different in every imaginable way. It eventually lead me to the seemingly obvious realization that everyone approaches music, songwriting, and their careers differently. I learned that to pick up the guitar and pen again I didn’t need to be thinking 18 steps ahead to rebooting all of the things that I had thought wore me out. I was just picking up the guitar and a pen.
Well, all of this was only back in February and quite a bit has happened musically since then. I’m back in the studio chipping away at a new record with my buddy Bruce Pierce, I’ve written a handful of new songs that I’m very excited about, and I’ve played some great shows. More than anything, I feel like I’ve finally started to find my balance with music and I couldn’t be more thankful.
About an hour ago I got a call from Michael Bishop over at City Winery Boston letting me know that I’ll be opening for Joe Pug tomorrow night. I cannot begin to digest my emotions around receiving that call, and I probably wont until long after the show. I’m floored.
While there’s much more to digest, I will say that being a part of something this personal that even resembles a full circle in such a hectic maze filled with sharp edges is so precious and rare. If you’re lucky enough to live through such a moment, please do yourself a favor and slow down long enough to let it heal that sore you didn’t know you had.
Thank you Mike Bishop, thank you City Winery Boston, thank you Patrick Coman, thank you Bruce Pierce, thank you Jamie Marie for giving me the final push I needed to start again, and of course a very special thank you to Joe Pug for all of your inspiration and for allowing this moment to happen. I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for you all.
With all of that said, BOSTON FRIENDS UNITE! There are still a few tickets left to the show and I would love for you to be a part of it. Get yours here: https://citywinery.com/boston/joepug102618.html