I don’t like to write. I am not good at it. Putting words together feels like I am constructing some sort of puzzle. I would rather do math. There is always a constant, predictable conclusion, as opposed to a million ways to say the same thing. Additionally, words are laced with subtle nuances and innuendos that force the receiver to interpret what the sentence means. Does a sentence mean what the writer intends or what the listener/reader understands? My head hurts already. I used to write songs but fell out-of-love with that many years ago. Though, reflecting back, writing always felt a little forced and self-indulgent. It’s easy to avoid; writing that is. It’s not like driving a car, calling someone on the phone, or the many other daily routines we are forced to do to maintain some sort of social normalcy. I just don’t write. Ironically, I am now writing about a dear friend who loved to write, was good with words, and still loved making music.
It was an improbable friendship. It really was. We met in the winter of 2002 in Martha’s Vineyard, both music students at the fledgling Contemporary Music Center. There was only 30 of us. Most of us became friends by default. We were poor, music-making college kids who shared housing on a nearly-deserted, wealth-infested island. Will and I became near-instant friends. We shared a deep love and passion for the same art and many of the artists creating the art. Furthermore, we loved the process of making that art in the many flavors it came in. In the following 12.5 years (yeah I used a decimal, get over it), there were a million reasons why we shouldn’t have remained friends. We both did music separately and had ‘good’ things going separately. We had lives and wives, I eventually had kids, different circles of friends, hundreds sometimes thousands of miles between us. However, we were continually re-united. We played shows, we wrote songs, we worked on records together. By 2008, I had fallen out of love with music and spent much of my day devising an exit strategy out of the business. I was trapped in it. I would get close but then get sucked in for another month mixing or recording another project. I blame Will Gray for that. My cynicism wasn’t enough to ever discourage him. He continually had me playing guitar, flying across the country, and working on nearly all the audio he created or helped create. I felt like having musical talent was a curse. Like something that tugged at you and prevented you from being responsible. My friends can listen to music in the background or sleep while music is playing. I constantly hear, analyze, calculate, absorb, regurgitate, am inspired, am uninspired, enjoy, hate. I can’t ignore it; it is to distracting. It’s embedded deep in my bones, I would do anything to squelch it. The curse of loving something so much and constantly having ideas bombard your head and interrupt your responsible thoughts. Songs never sound the same once recorded and out for the public to consume. Something gets lost in translation. They sound like wrinkled, poor-lighted Polaroid snapshots of the most majestic thing you’ve ever seen… except exponentially lamer. Will and I differed in the idea that he thought the world was better experienced with/through good art. I wasn’t always convinced.
Besides my wife, immediate family, and perhaps another friend or two, there is no one on this earth that I have logged more physical hours with. I am blessed to have that time and all of those memories, not to mention the tangible hours upon hours of recordings I made with or for him. I have an amazing archive and can literally pull up hours of Will’s voice amongst thousands of outtakes. Will would often live at my house for weeks at a time when recording with me. I served as ‘translator’ for all of his records trying to musicize all the things that were in his head. My heart hurts and my brain is littered with thousands of memories of my dear friend. Everyday I am reminded of his life and influence.When I pour my kids’ cereal I am reminded of the way he rolled the cereal bags and placed them perpendicular to the box bottom to retain freshness. Numerous landmarks in St. Louis will remind me of a meal or conversation I had with Will. I drive past the hole-in-the-wall beauty salon, where we searched for hair mayonnaise, or the spot on S. Grand where a man declared Will the ‘chosen one’ and handed him a brick of weed. (which he promptly handed back). Will had a well-documented fear of oversized animals. Only a month or so ago a lady brought her 18 lb. giant rabbit to the park and let it run wild, telling my kids not to pet him, ‘because he may bite’. I immediately snapped pictures and went to text Will, only to realize my dear friend that I had shared so much with was no longer with us.
In a million ways I am lucky to have shared so much with Will Gray and played a pivotal role in the creation of his art. I miss him dearly and wish I could share funny stories or little parts of my life with him and him, me. Though he is no longer here, his influence remains strong in my life. It’s nearly 2014 and I wake up everyday of the week and create, teach, play, or write music. I spent years trying to get out of music and find some sort of normalcy, but Will refused and is the biggest reason why I am still doing it (and have a reignited passion for it). I hope everyone can experience a friendship like I had with Will in his/her lifetime.