I've been listening to Procol Harum's Whiter Shade of Pale, which always makes me a mite wistful.
(A digression: did you know the organ introduction to this song is an adaptation of the Air from Bach's Third Orchestral Suite? Seems that one or more of the band's members were Bach lovers--as am I. This particular Bach piece is usually referred to as "Air on the G String" on compilation albums at Wal-Mart, but it's justly famous; and the Bach-spawned introductory theme in Whiter Shade, played on the fabulous Hammond B-3--we should all genuflect now--is haunting and lugubrious and deliciously sad. It's interesting to listen to the two pieces back-to-back. Annie Lennox did a remake of Whiter Shade of Pale a few years ago, but decided to dump the Hammond and replace it with a synth patch. Bad choice. Take away the organ intro and what are you left with? It reminds me of a favorite line in "Miller's Crossing" about gangster Rug Daniels: "Not a bad guy... if looks, brains and personality don't count.")
So here I am, 1:am and thinking about 10 years ago. My divorce, long coming, arrived in the summer of 1996 and, as these things tend to do, scattered my ordered life to the winds. Pretty much overnite I was without a place to live, and had major decisions to make about work and material things. I found a friend with a vacant living room to accommodate my old Chickering 9 foot concert grand piano, put a futon bed and 20 racks of CDs and a stereo up in another friend's unused attic, and put the rest of my worldly possessions--a fold-out sofa, a desk, an easy chair, boxes of books, a TV, some clothes--in a room in an old office warehouse in downtown St. Paul. No kitchen, no bathroom: just a room. $130 a month. I was on the top floor of this turn-of-the-century office warehouse, which was not a residential building but a number of the painters and photographers and furniture makers who rented space there had set up housekeeping. So I joined their ranks, the itinerant pilot who comes and goes at all hours in his silly uniform. (It was an interesting room, high enough up that bugs were not a problem, and looking out on the final approach to the South runway at the St. Paul airport. I slept with the window open to the sounds of the city, the room suffused with a circus-peanut glow from the street lights below.)
I kept the things I was most likely to need--my cel phone charger, a change of clothes or two, a sleeping bag, a bottle of ibuprofen, my flying bags--in the back of my truck, and I basically lived for the next three years bouncing between these places and whatever hotel I was flying out of.
Man, that's a lifetime ago now. But it's fascinating to look back on how... unfettered I was then. I leaned on my friends a lot, but I was basically on the road flying 2 or more out of every 3 days. I don't think I could survive such an existence now.
It seems odd to look back fondly on something that was rather wretched at the time. But there is a vitality in living that way, a sense of living on the balls of one's feet, as it were, and not being tethered to a bunch of material bullshit. I certainly don't regret my mortgage and car payment now, and indeed life now is very, very good. But all these elements of "stability" close a lot of doors for one, it must be said. My opportunity to backpack around Europe for a summer is a couple decades behind me now, methinks.
iTunes makes it so easy to pick a soundtrack for your life, minute-by-minute.