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"From this hour I ordain myself loos'd of limits and imaginary lines, going where I list, my own master total and absolute, Listening to others, considering well what they say, Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating, Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me."

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Thursday, December 09, 2004

Beth the First

Function: verb
Etymology: Middle English, from Middle French composer, from Latin componere (perfect indicative composui) -- more at COMPOUND
1 a : to form by putting together : FASHION b : to form the substance of : CONSTITUTE c : to produce (as columns or pages of type) by composition
2 a : to create by mental or artistic labor : PRODUCE b (1) : to formulate and write (a piece of music) (2) : to compose music for
3 : what I did for Beth

This story starts in 1977. I was playing at the Jade Tree in Myrtle Beach. It's one of the nicer things I remember from that time in my life, something that happened right, that worked, that was good for the sake of just being good and for no other reason at all. With that caveat, you'll pardon me for starting this round of personal history with this tale.

I would do a set in the bar, then go do another set right afterwards walking around in the restaurant, serenading tables. It was usually kind of fun, strolling up with my guitar and choosing a song that I expected would fit the people at the table just right. I usually nailed it, too. Many times I would have the entire restaurant singing and clapping along, having a rollicking time as I darted from table to table like a modern day minstrel.

Most of the clientele were older people, retired couples and singles. The owner was an old Jewish gentleman named Mr. Bauer who I thought a lot of. The bartender was named Linda, she had been tending bar for a long time, and the chef was named Geechee and could throw down a mess of fried fish that would make your toes dance then follow it with a perfect filet mignon.

One night I was strolling from table to table and at this one table were a girl and her father. She was very pretty, extremely classy looking, and had a knockout smile. I chose a romantic song, of course ("Killing Me Softly" I'll bet, or the ever popular "Feelings" that I grew to hate with such a passion) and they listened quietly, smiling, enraptured.

When I finished and the clattering of applause in the restaurant had ceased, the father asked, "Do you know any songs about a girl named Beth, because that is my daughter's name?"

"DADDY!" she said, staring at him with eyes wide in mock embarrassed outrage.

I thought for a minute. "No, I don't. But if you come in here tomorrow night, I'll have one."

It was a deal, they agreed. The next morning, several friends and I sat on my deck and wrote one. First, I settled on a nice delicate fingerpicking riff. Then starting putting words to it...

I play my guitar for you and you smile...
I play an extra song or two so I can stay awhile...
Your eyes light up the darkness of my live as I play for you
As I sing for youuuuuu....

I give you an invitation to come hear me play...
Maybe you'll take me up on it someday....
Then you walk out the doorway of my life
Good bye, good bye....

BETH.....you are beautiful
And I really want you to know that I think so
I'd like to tell you better but Beth, you've already left.

Yeah, talk about cheesy lyrics. They don't get much worse without using the "roses are red" line. Then again, it sounded a lot better than it reads.

And it did say "Beth."

Not just any Beth, but this Beth. Cheesy or not, both her and her father loved it. And this night, her mother (who I think had not been feeling well the day before) was there too, and she loved it just as much. Her mother was stunned, Beth was teary eyed as a high school girl would be in this moment, and her father figured I was one of the best songwriters in the whole country.

Hey, home run. You don't hit too many of those.

So we went out of a lot of dates and fell in love and....oh, sorry, got carried away there. That's not how it went at all. Matter of fact, we never once went on a date. Not so much as sharing a Coke.

Fast forward to 1978. Furman University. I'm now a sophomore sitting in the lunchroom and guess who walks in, a brand new freshman. Yep, Beth, the girl from the Jade Tree. And my goodness, she was pretty, even more so than before. Just looking at her, you knew she was radiating class and family money like the Sun on an August afternoon.

Yep, I figured, out of my league. My summer high was fading and with it my self confidence. So I contented myself the next three years with the occasional hello when our paths crossed.

She did, as far as I am aware, come to every one of my concerts at Furman. And she always gave me a smile.

Hey, even classy ladies remember home runs, ya know.

In summer, the song sings itself.
--William Carlos Williams, US poet (1883 - 1963)

Permalink: 12/09/2004 01:02:00 AM |
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