Years and years ago, when I saw Spalding Gray’s Swimming to Cambodia, I fell in love with Gray’s notion of a perfect moment. It is that moment which takes you by surprise, reorganizes your molecular structure and shoots you out the other side a changed human being. I paraphrase. For Gray, those moments broke open his consciousness and allowed him to see life differently, more clearly.
Ever since, I look for perfect moments. Everywhere I go. Vacations. Music Festivals. Book Festivals. I think they can happen anywhere. They are meant to lift you, for a brief moment, out of your life so you can return more grateful, happier, more aware of how your skin touches the air.
This weekend at the Texas Book Festival, my perfect moment occurred in the music tent at 4 pm on Saturday. There, amidst all the words written by my fellow authors, was this songwriter who really sounds like no other. His medleys are like short story cycles. They drift through you so that you have the feeling you’ve been to that cafe, met that waitress, even tipped her. And his voice. It is wind and gravel and night. It sounds like the way life is in your soul when it’s quiet and empty, like a west Texas night.
I’m talking about Terry Allen. His impish grin and hair brushed by grey hairs only begin to suggest the complications this man might know.
Terry was at the festival because he had just completed this gorgeous book (University of Texas Press) which put a binder around his life as a visual artist and songwriter. On Saturday afternoon, accompanied by his son Bukka and Richard Bowden, Terry tore off the binder and took us on a ride through his song lines.
At this point in the post, I might embed a Youtube video of Terry singing. But I can’t. Oh they’re there. You can look. But none of them convey the moment of sitting there when the lyrics, the mandolin and the accordion take you some place you hadn’t been before.