May you stay

Saturday, Jan. 8 began brightly, in the Lynnhurst gymnasium with coffee-swilling parents and giggly, athletic, clumsy, clueless, gifted sixth-grade girls. It was the first basketball game of the season for the 12-U LARC Laser Cats, who this morning were edged 46–2, and whose performance undoubtedly had the Cats’ parents clawing for a new coach, i.e., anyone but me. So. I was feeling good and sorry for myself even before I got home and turned on the news.

It came oozing out of Tucson like an oil spill of all of humanity’s ills, and didn’t let up. Even when the sound was turned down, the noise was every where, humming along under everything. By 8 p.m. I was cabin-fevered and itching for a better reality, so I hit the bars in search for something meaningful; I needed a drink.

After stops at Kings and the Driftwood Char Bar to see friends, I landed at the Cabooze, where a bunch of friends were in the middle of staging their annual tribute to “The Last Waltz,” Martin Scorsese‘s mythic concert film about The Band’s last gig, with the likes of Eric Clapton, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison and Bob Dylan. The Cabooze was packed, all the way back to the giant black-and-white Elvis Presley and Chuck Berry placards that lord over the place. I said some hellos and grabbed a spot up front by the soundboard and the soundman, who was from Green Bay and rooting hard for the Packers the next day.

Here I would like to report that the night’s mood could favorably be compared to the one at the Turf Club a couple nights after 9/11, when Ike Reilly came in and saved the day for about 30 shell-shocked survivors, but it wasn’t. The crowd at the Cabooze has been through a lot in the last 10 years; we’re getting good at knowing when and how to turn off the noise and transcend it in churches of our own making.

So when Dan Israel as Dylan stepped up to the microphone and sang, “May God bless you and keep you always/May your wishes all come true/May you always do for others/And let others do for you,” I leaned hard against the stage and thought of those people in Tucson and my wife and kids at home. It was “Forever Young,” the song Dylan penned for his son, Jakob, which has been covered countless times, most notably by Neil Young, The Pretenders, John Doe and Rod Stewart. It’s most recent incarnation finds the Band and Dylan’s bluegrass version in a Pepsi commercial and as the theme song for the awful yuppie soap opera “Parenthood.”

This night, Israel reclaimed it for the father-son prayer it is, while simultaneously seizing the moment and remaking it into a very bright star on a very dark night across America. He tilted his head toward the heavens and howled the “forever youngs” into the mic and into the night, as if he was trying to rouse his young family sleeping a few miles away.

That is to say he sang it strong and spirited and as a reminder for all gathered and concerned that when there is darkness there is always light; that the two things are not mutually exclusive; and that a day that starts in horror can end in healing — not bad lessons to keep in mind as we enter these, the darkest days of winter, the historically coldest week of the year.

Postscript: The Laser Cats bounced back the next game, losing 36–11, though it was much closer and we only shot at the other team’s basket once. Before the game, the ref gathered the players and coaches and explained the significance of playing at a park named after Martin Luther King, Jr. that weekend. Laser Cats were as impressed as Laser Cats can be at 10 a.m. on a frozen Saturday morning.

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.