Oh please remember me my good friend.
You know nothings really changed.
I will remember you until the end.
Only the end is rearranged.
Jonmark would play local venues, and I’d go with other close friends of ours to listen. There was Sondra’s at the beach, where I’d order a beer and ice cream, or sometimes a filet, and JM would play everything from Neil Diamond to original work which I’d be singing for a few days after. And that gig for some prom at the Old Cavalier, after which we climbed to the top of that tower, then walked for a long time on the boardwalk. Oh, and over on Independence Boulevard the not-so-subtle Fantastic Fenwick’s Flying Food Factory, where I’d hardly hear at all over the chatter of some of the most bizarre characters we’d met back then.
To say we have the same taste in music would be laughably mild. We were barely eighteen, just out of high school, and, more so, just out of options.
So we left.
“I went on the road; You pursued an education.” Yeah, I still think of Jonmark when I hear “James” by Billy Joel. The thing is, we both left—I headed to college on New York’s Southern Tier and he headed to Nashville in his VW van. It was 1979 and this is pre-everything. Pre cellphones, pre computers, back when life was something you did, not something you read about or witnessed on a screen. Back when keeping in touch was nearly impossible if you still didn’t live at home. Back when he said, “Fuck it, I’m headed to Nashville—nothing’s happening in Virginia Beach,” but the music always kept us connected. It was the creativity, the passion, the artistic drive which controlled us both that few people outside the arts can understand. Despite decades apart in a dozen or so states, we continued to grow up together.
Geez, that was almost forty-five years ago.
It’s chilly today but sunny, and the bay is rough from the passing storms which at least cleared the pollen out of the air. I’m at my desk doing work on a new essay for a (someday) book, reading students’ rough drafts, and sometimes looking up in the corner where my two guitars rest patiently in their cases. I’m certain they’ve forgotten my name. I haven’t had callouses in a very long time. When I see them though, two people come to mind: My sister, who had such an influence in my taste in music and my desire to play guitar (it was hers I learned on) back when we lived on the Island, and Jonmark, who made it seem so easy—he is that good. At college, I channeled Jonmark when I played coffeehouses, and later when I sat with Kenny Loggins and the two of us played and sang “Danny’s Song.” “This is what you should be doing,” Kenny told me. “Quit school and go do it.”
But he was too kind to note how much I sucked. A person’s passion for what they do can confuse the average mind into thinking someone is actually good at something. I definitely had passion; and this was long before you didn’t have to be that good to be successful in the music industry; back when success was reserved for those with not only that passion, but talent, and I suppose what is best called “vision.” Jonmark had all of that, and success came his way through hard work, years of playing with the best in the music industry, and some sort of innate ability to string the right notes together. And I wrote, and Jonmark and I continue to this day to be each other’s biggest fans as I continue to attempt to string the right words together to strike a note in readers, but it is more than that. It’s the “old friends” thing, the being there before we went anywhere. I have a handful of people in my life like that, but JM holds the record for the “back then” notation. Carter had just become president; Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” had just come out, and Billy Joel’s “The Stranger” lp. Saturday Night Fever hit the theaters. But we’ve done okay, the two of us; “made it in the minor leagues” as he has pointed out, which is not at all a small thing. Since the Flying Food Factory, I’ve traveled quite a bit and written about it; Jonmark has been part of some of the biggest recordings in the industry, written songs for countless other singers, music for commercials as diverse as Ford Trucks and 7-Up. Man we are old.
No. Older though.
Most of us have someone like this in our lives; someone who sees you for the young dreamer you used to be, but understands why some dreams worked out, why some didn’t; what drives you and what scares you. Someone who can just give you a look and you don’t see sixty-two, you see seventeen and all the possibilities of then, making time circular, and making hope more persistent.
I walked to the river just now, not expecting to need to bundle up, but up north friends of mine are buried in a foot of snow. Still, I sat on the rocks and looked out a long time tonight, thinking about the changes, about what remains the same. I’ve had countless changes in my life in the past five years. And when that happens it is natural to bend toward the familiar, someone who has hung in there through it all, was there before it all. I came home and listened to my favorite Stone recording, “People are Talking,” and stared out at the trees. I’m having trouble with a work I’ve been toying with for—no kidding here—forty years. Parts of it have been published, the jumbled mess was my MFA thesis, but it is one of those stories that I just can’t get right no matter how I approach it; something is missing and I’m nearly certain I will never find it.
So I opened the case of my 12 string—something I did on a daily basis when I first started this monstrosity of a book—and played around with the notes a bit. Then a little more. It felt so natural, like when words come out in just the right order, just like that; exactly like that. Turns out I do still have callouses. That happens at this age.
It’s good to have an old friend nearby to listen and to listen to. Maybe I’ll do that open mic thing after all. Life’s too short not to, right?
We die every day that we’re living
But we live every day that we do.
Listen, my friends, to this recording. Please. It is absolutely one of the most beautiful songs you will hear. I’m not kidding. Then, please, make it go viral. The world could use someone like Jonmark Stone in its life right now. Click the picture below and listen: