Sunday, August 8, 2010
Words & Music Aug. 6th: Danny O'Keefe
Being at Danny O'Keefe's debut, reading his own prose and poetry, was like finding a really good-size agate on your beach walk...a treasure for us mossbacks! He is already a beloved singer-songwriter but, on Friday night, he too walked the tightrope without a net and let his quiet writer's voice out in public. He admitted it was very different to singing, and quite nerve-wracking. I nodded my head, remembering how my own heart had thumped just two weeks before. Danny was just as grateful for the warm and welcoming audience at Pam and Jerry Libstaff's concert series.
His speaking voice has the same sort of soft honey tone and soothing cadence of Garrison Keillor, the same intimacy with the microphone, but his first short story was one that made a Pacific Northwestern, nature-loving crowd lean in. He told us a tale that wove our local wildness, a tale of graceful herons and hunting eagles, the alarm of crows and the inevitability that, for something to live, something must die. Mr. O'Keefe seemed a deeply spiritual man who looks constantly for teachings within nature, our connections, and the day.
One of his poems was still too difficult, though he wrote it beautifully. I know it was hard for him to read it and I must applaud his bravery. I hid in my husband's arms as he read his poem about the image of a woman who dove from one of the towers on 9/11. All I could do was weep and hide from the words, still too near and too painful, seeing the faces of so many firemen we loved and lost, seeing my husband's hometown under siege and trying to find my son. I heard Danny's voice waver and pause before he could finish for he too, like everyone, lost someone that awful day.
Danny's second short story was about sweet friendship, the hellos and goodbyes that bookend those intimate visits, with a song performed within the story, "...will I see you again..." Everyone's eyes began to glisten, and it wasn't because the sun had turned to gold behind him. Danny O'Keefe is the kind of writer who skillfully leaves room in his stories for us, the reader/listener to comfortably enter and bring our own. By story's end, everyone remembered a friend and brought them into the room.
During the break we could admire Tweed's first of two paintings done that evening, Danny O'Keefe as public reader, before it was time for him to reappear as his more familiar self. Tweed (who had been traveling since early morning to get back for the show) did her magic, being drawn in by Danny's. She would begin to dance with his music, curling herself into the paper and easel, colours flying.
Feet were tapping and shoulders moving from Danny's opening song, "...livin' in the Modern Age..." as his guitar pumped us up with this raucous, old-fashioned, wordy Blues. His range was immediately evident when he turned his voice into a sweet harmonica solo. The man could throw his voice, sweetly or sassily, up into head-range with ease and he lightened considerably with a guitar in his hands. His songs were quick and complete stories, full of fleshed-out characters, like Carol the steel guitar player, or (ooh-la) that Lorraine!
He sang of sitting by a window and watching the sunset, as the sun set in true splendor behind him and the Olympic Mountains. He took us to the "...well...well...well..." through Blues and Country and all the other Americana mixes that spawned this hemisphere's Folk Music. What could be more perfect than ending the night with one of my sentimental favourites of all time, sung by the writer himself, "Good-Time Charlie's Got The Blues." I leaned into my husband's shoulder, this time with a smile. The evening was a Puget Sound treasure, our very own Danny O'Keefe.