I recently read a wonderful book, Becoming Duchess Goldblatt. It’s a memoir, written anonymously, about a writer who assumes the guise of a fictional character, Duchess Goldblatt, on Twitter. Twitter was made for Duchess Goldblatt; Duchess Goldblatt was (quite literally) made for Twitter. She is warm, arch, strikingly original, and extremely funny. Her tweets betray a deliciously skewed way of looking at the world, and an infectious joy in language and humanity. The memoir itself is equally delightful, although it is laced with a quiet sadness. Even as the writer enchants her followers with the Duchess’s online wit, she struggles with the breakdown of her marriage, in particular being forced to give up full-time custody of her beloved child, the legacy of her parents, and the perennial struggle to remain creative in the dour face of everyday life. The Duchess, though, offers her an escape from all that, a sniff at redemption. And then there’s Lyle Lovett.
Lyle Lovett, you see, is a fan. He loves the Duchess’s tweets, and amplifies her voice through the prism of his own celebrity. He invites the writer to one of his shows. They become friends. The book describes this relationship with equal parts humility and charmingly giddy disbelief. As soon as I finished the book, I wrote a review, full of praise. I posted a photo online, all that stuff, and added at the end, “Plus, you know, @LyleLovett.” The Duchess wrote back (she always writes back), thanking me. I tweeted a reply. And then, to my surprise, Lyle Lovett liked my tweet. So of course I immediately took a screenshot and posted it. Lyle Lovett had liked my tweet! I sent a text to my son, a musician, bragging about it.
I saw Lyle Lovett play about sixteen years ago, an outdoor show in the shadow of the giant college football stadium in the Missouri town where I live. I’d never heard his music before. I remember driving home afterward in a fog of euphoria, the music still coursing through me. The next day I went out and bought all Lyle Lovett CDs that I could find (this was back when people still bought CDs.) I began listening obsessively. A deep vein of soul runs through every Lyle Lovett song. For every twang of a steel guitar there’s some deliciously funky stuff: Hank Williams meets Louis Jordan, you might say. This is music that lifts you up, and wakes you up, leaving you a little more attuned to the world. It is music of joy, and delight, and wonder. In other words, it’s everything music should be.
All this came flooding back to me when, after Lyle Lovett liked my tweet, I listened to one of his albums as I walked my dog in the rain. Despite the rotten weather, I had a huge grin on my face. The songs came back to me, warm and familiar, old friends in my ears. I remembered every note, every line, just as if I’d listened to them the day before. In fact I hadn’t listened to any of Lyle Lovett’s music for a decade.
My first marriage ended ten years ago. After my divorce I was so eager to turn away from the previous thirteen years and to start afresh that I abandoned as much of my previous life as I could, including things that gave me joy and delight: those once-loved CDs had been gathering dust on the shelf since then. Without realizing it, I had put Lyle Lovett into emotional quarantine.
Music occupies perilous emotional territory for me. I have a playlist on Spotify that is called Songs That Make Me Cry. It is accurately, if unimaginatively, titled. I listen to it regularly, to my wife’s stupefaction. She cannot fathom why I would deliberately listen to music that I know is going to make me sad. She’s missing the point, of course. It doesn’t make me sad, not really; those songs trigger a visceral response deep within me, and that’s one good way to remind myself that I am still alive. I write novels for a living, so I know a little bit about the emotional power of a good story, and Lovett, more than most, knows how to tell a tale with his songs. Sometimes his lyrics are smart and funny; sometimes they’ll crack you open and leave you a helpless wreck on the floor. Either is good with me.
I arrived back home from that dog walk, wondering why I’d turned away from Lyle Lovett for so long. I concluded it was a question of self-preservation. They say that smell is the sense most closely linked to memory, but for me music is far more likely to come freighted with old sensations and emotions. Abandoning his songs had been a way to inoculate myself against all of that. It’s one thing to choose to listen to my sad Spotify playlist; quite another to be hijacked by unwanted memories that might linger in old tunes.
But I’d been unduly cautious, it turned out. Like the song says, it’s funny how time slips away – but pain, too, diminishes as the years pass, until it’s just an echo of an echo. Perhaps the intervening decade had had a mellowing effect – I was, after all, ten years older, if not wiser. Whatever the reason, any treacherous memories that might have once lurked in those songs had been erased by time. All that was left, blessedly, was the old, familiar joy – with just a small twinge of regret about those ten Lovett-less years. I quietly mourned all that time spent not listening to him that I would never get back now.
Ten years of silence isn’t an answer to anything. Those songs deserved better. Hell, I deserved better. So I’ve made a resolution: once the musical rehabilitation of Mr. Lovett is complete, I’m returning to my CD collection, to see what other forgotten treasures I can find. Memories, even sad ones, should not be cast in shadows and silence. They’re still part of who we are. I have a feeling both Duchess Goldblatt and Lyle Lovett would approve.