This morning, as I often do on mornings when I have time, I leisurely perused a number of music blogs that are favorites as I drank my coffee.
One of those blogs was Any Major Dude With Half A Heart who, on this particular morning, had posted a regular feature called In Memoriam, paying tribute to those involved in music that had recently passed away.
The last thing I expected to find in a music blog by a fellow who had grown up in Germany and is living in South Africa – if I have the plot straight – was mention of someone I personally knew.
Yet that is how I learned of the passing of George Green.
The name is unlikely to mean much to most unless they absorb liner notes with considerable recall, but music fans are likely familiar with songs which they probably (and mistakenly) attribute to having been written solely by John Mellencamp.
George had been the one who had penned the lyrics to songs like Hurts So Good, Crumblin’ Down, and Rain On The Scarecrow.
As a high school senior, a number of classmates had argued for Minutes To Memories from Mellencamp’s Scarecrow album, which had been released at the beginning of the school year, to be class song.
(we were growing up two hours from Mellencamp’s hometown)
Three years later, I’m in college and working in a record store with a woman, Kat, whose husband had written Minutes To Memories and that is how I got to know George.
As I recall, the first time that I met George was to ask if he would be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me for graduate school. Kat invited me over, introduced me to George, and promptly left the room.
I honestly don’t remember if he wrote the letter or not. We spent the afternoon listening to albums that he wanted me to hear.
(10cc’s How Dare You being one)
One thing that does become more obvious as the years pass and is that people who are a part of your life – sometimes even an intregal part – often drift out of your orbit. It’s been close to ten years since I last spoke with either Kat or George and I’ve often meant to make an attempt to reconnect with them, but…
I did have the chance on a number of occasions to spend time with George, though, and those are times that I treasure as he was a gifted writer and a good guy.
During those infrequent visits, he would often recite to me things that he had written, one being a poem that he had composed and read at his grandfather’s funeral.
It was a stunningly beautiful and poignant work.
This land, today, my tears shall taste
And take into its dark embrace
This love who in my beating heart endures
Assured by every sun that burns
The dust to which this flesh shall return
It is the ancient, dreaming dust of God
As special as that particular afternoon was, it’s one that I couldn’t truly appreciate at the time.
While I, with human-hindered eyes
Unequal to the sweeping curve of life
Stand on this single print of time
Only now, with the passage of time – and now the man – do I truly recognize that moment for the gift that it was.
Not long after, I was living in a different city, but having a conversation on the phone with Kat. As usual, I asked what George was working on.
She proceeded to tell me that he had a song on the then-forthcoming Mellencamp album.
I asked it it was anything with which I was familiar.
“Do you remember that poem…”
I admit that I was a bit skeptical. The poem was so amazing, so perfect, so brilliant and so fully realized.
I wondered if its use in a song might diminish the power of those words, words that needed nothing more than to be read in the unassuming Midwestern voice of their author.
I should have known better.
Human Wheels took love and grief – emotions that we all feel yet few of us can put into words – and put them into words.
I suppose that’s what great writers do. They take “the sweeping curve of life,” bear witness, and through their words make us feel more connected to one another.
At least that’s what George Green did.
John Mellencamp – Human Wheels
from Human Wheels