The Friday Morning Listen: Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny – Beyond The Missouri Sky (1997)

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By Mark Saleski

Have you ever been minding your own business when an old experience, one you hadn’t thought about in years, just pops into your mind? That happened to me the other night, and I have no idea why. I had been up late reading, had just returned from the bathroom tooth-brushing thing, and was about to get into bed. TheWife™ turned over slightly, pulling the covers with her. As I saw the white sheet slide across the mattress, my father’s voice, circa 1967, came ringing back: “Good night….sleep tight…don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

What the hell?

That is, of course, what dad you to say to me after tucking me into bed. I hadn’t thought about that in years, maybe even decades. Why now?

The answer has to do with a task that I’ve been thinking about but have been putting off for a while now. Longtime readers of this column are familiar with the craziness of my recent past, but newcomers need to know this: starting in the late spring of 2008 through early 2009, I lost my mother, my sister, and my dad. The task that I’ve been avoiding is to put the entire experience into an essay, maybe for publication somewhere. To be honest, I don’t really care if it’s published, the important thing is I get all of these ideas out of my head and onto paper.

For some reason, I think the process might be therapeutic. We shall see about that. It wouldn’t surprise me if the exercise has both good and bad outcomes. Looking back at all of it, I’m surprised that I had any lucid thoughts whatsoever. I did though, while listening to Beyond The Missouri Sky late one Thursday evening:

Your hear a song and think, without hesitation…that you’ve heard it before. You’ve heard it your entire life. The tune has been around forever. That melody has been floating around the universe for millions of years just waiting for humans to show up.

This idea pops into my head occasionally when a song resonates very strongly with me. With Roy Acuff’s “The Precious Jewel,” the resonance is so strong that I get that feeling every time I listen, almost like it’s the first time. This particular version finds Charlie Haden’s bass carrying on a beautiful conversation with Pat Metheny’s guitar. You can hear the friendship between the two men.

Last night, me and TheWife™ were sitting out on the back porch, enjoying the cool breeze and the silhouettes of the bats diving against the fading western sky. The cool and quiet seemed especially nice contrasted with the ugly heat wave that brutalized us earlier this week. We chatted a little but mostly let the music and the twilight flow over us. When “The Precious Jewel” came on, the sky seemed to open up — to the immense past and equally infinite future. That’s an abstraction that I can’t put much more detail to at the moment. Let’s just say that we’ve been going through a lot recently but have managed to take pleasure in the smallest of victories. A few minutes of togetherness, music, and visual calm means a lot to us.

So not only was the song new again, it seemed like it had been waiting around for just that little moment. “Victory” might be too aggressive a description for all of this. Still, I guess I’ll take it. It would be unkind of me to reject it, seeing as how it’s been millions of years in the making.

I wrote that on June 13th, 2008. The day before my mother died. At that point she was staying in the hospice room of a local nursing home. My sister had just arrived for a visit, hoping to spend as much time as possible with mom in her last few weeks. We didn’t know that she was down to a matter of hours.

So I want to write this story because that last day, and the strange months that followed it, were full of unexpected moments of both grief and beauty. There’s a story in there worth telling…if I can manage it.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to, and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at
Mark Saleski
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