Chapter 3: Music, South American and Irish
inally the lights came up in the cave and the audience began to drift away. There were low moos and moans and bays and brays as the various creatures slowly moved to the entrance and disappeared into the night. I don’t think there was a single creature passing our table that didn’t acknowledge Rua and Aoife by name. And they seemed to know each of the others as well. Maybe half-a-dozen humans passed by as we sipped our beers and they too all delivered salutations. My companions, it seemed, were widely known.
On the stage, the three musicians were breaking down their gear. I didn’t see any roadies or helpers, just the band members themselves moving equipment and placing it in road cases. On the side of each fiberglass case was the emblem of a long-eared rabbit on the run with “Red Rabbit” in big stenciled letters.
“Small operation, Rua?” I asked.
“Aye,” he replied, sounding a bit rabbit-drunk. “T’e b’ys are travelin’ light t’is go-round.”
I was a little surprised, considering all he’d had to drink, that the rabbit could speak at all; but, then, I really didn’t know what kind of tolerance for alcohol a rabbit might have…particularly an Irish talking one. He seemed remarkably lucid, so I pressed on.
“Aye. T’ey’re only here for t’is one night and then t’ey’re off. Goin’ to t’e UK for a few shows, t’en back home.”
“And where’s that?” I asked.
“Indiana!” I heard an unfamiliar but distinctly Midwestern voice say. I looked from Rua to see the smiling face of a tall man – over six feet – as he thrust a hand in my direction. “Randy…Randy Bryant.”
I stood up and shook his hand recognizing him to be the drummer. “Friend of Rua’s?” he asked as he pulled a chair away from another table to sit down at ours.
“T’at he is, Randall!” Rua rasped rabbitly. “How are ye, boy-o?”
“I’m good, Rua.” He looked at the cat and smiled, “Aoife! Beautiful as ever.”
Aoife purred in approval, “Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrandall. Greetings.”
As we both sat I said, “I’m Dale Marchand. You guys sound great. Very big sound for only three people.”
Randy nodded. “Well, thanks. Sometimes playing in a cave can make your sound pretty full,” he laughed. Then, “How do you know Rua?”
“Just met tonight outside The Middle House,” I answered.
“The Middle House?” Randy asked, more than a little surprised. “In Doora? That’s got to be over fifty kilometers from here! Rua…”
“Ah, Randall,” Rua said sheepishly, “Don’t tell ‘im t’at. T’e b’y has no idea how far he’s trekked tonight.”
“Fifty kilometers!” I shouted. “That’s impossible! We were only in the countryside for an hour, at most. We couldn’t possibly have run fifty kilometers!”
“Over fifty kilometers,” Randy repeated.
Rua was silent, looking away from me. Aoife, for her part, had her eyes pressed tightly shut, her tail occasionally lifting and falling. I looked back at Randy, incredulous and trying to understand.
“But…” I began.
“Hey,” he said, cutting me off. “It’s Ireland. What seems unbelievable everywhere else on the planet is perfectly normal here. I mean, look around you.”
And he sat back in his chair and gestured at the rest of the cave. Two ponies in aprons were sweeping the floor as Daimhin and three other gorgeous goats cleared tables and sat dozens of empty mugs on the bar. The bartender, whom I hadn’t even noticed until now, was some kind of deer-like creature, an antelope perhaps; he was methodically washing the mugs and stacking them behind the bar. Half a dozen other creatures were doing this-and-that around the cave and all moved with silent purpose. They were quickly putting The Uaimh Bhinn to bed and preparing it for the next evening.
“I see that,” I said, taking his point. “Still…”
“T’ere’s no p’int in bot’ering wit’ it,” Rua said with rabbit lightness. “It’s just t’e way it is, t’at’s all.” And I knew he was right.
I turned back to Randy.
“But I really do want to how your band has come to play here,” I asked.
“Not much of a story, really,” he said. Then, slightly louder, he called out, “Daimhin, dear: can I get a soda from you?”
The goat, pausing in her duties, said, “Why, certainly, darlin’.” She quickly brought a bubbly glass to him with only two or three ice cubes.
“Thanks,” he said. “I love you,” he called after her playfully.
“And I love you,” Daimhin cooed, already busy with something else.
His voice dropped, “The Irish are very proud of their ice, you know.”
“I’ve noticed,” I replied. “And don’t try to get a refill, either.”
“Noooooo,” he said, smiling.
Looking at his glass, I asked, “Not a fan of the Guinness?”
“Not so much,” he said, taking a sip and being careful not to swallow any ice.
“Randall, like our good friend Aoife, avoids the stout,” Rua said, slurring a bit.
“As well as all the rest,” Aoife chimed in. Randy lifted his glass to her in salute.
“A rock musician who doesn’t drink?” I said with mock wonder. “That may be the single most incredible thing I’ve witnessed yet tonight!”
“Oh, I doubt that,” Randy said. This was a happy man, a genuinely contented individual and I found him immediately likeable.
“So, your band at The Uaimh Bhinn- how does that happen?” I asked again.
“Best audience in the world, bar none!” I heard over my shoulder from another new voice, another American. I spun around to see the bass player standing there, wiping his forehead with a small hand towel.
“I can believe that,” I said, standing again and offering my hand. “I’m Dale. Friend of Rua’s.”
“Then that’s all I need to know!” the bass player smiled, offering his hand back. “I’m Steve…Raymond.”
He pulled up another chair and sat at our ever-expanding circle. It reminded me of how the group of musicians at The Middle House had slowly grown one-by-one. “Rua bring you on one of his midnight romps, did he?” he asked good-naturedly.
“Yes, he did,” I said. “I’m still a little confused about that.”
“I wouldn’t worry about it,” Steve chuckled with genuine warmth. He held a small tumbler filled with clear liquid and a section of lime. “Hair of the rabbit!” he toasted and took a sip.
“Hair of the hare!” Randy laughed, pleased with his pun. Everyone smiled and lifted their glasses, with the exception of Aoife, who opened her eyes ever so slightly and took a lap of her milk.
Rua, by now clearly under the influence, stood to his full height and lifted his mug.
“Fad saol agat, gob fliuch, agas bás Eirinn!”
Not waiting for anyone else to toast, he completely drained the mug – which was still almost full – and collapsed face-first on the table.
“Rabbit down!” Randy laughed. Steve reached over and readjusted the rabbit’s posture into a less crumpled position, asking, “Rua?”
Getting no response he chuckled, “Well, he’s out.”
“What did he say?” I asked. “What was the toast?”
Randy answered, “Something about a long life and dying with a wet mouth in Ireland.”
“A wet mouth?” I asked.
“As opposed to a dry one,” Steve said, gesturing with his drink.
“Oh,” I said, understanding. Rua was already snoring a deep rabbit snore.
I looked to the stage area where the guitarist was talking with a large goose. All the equipment was neatly stacked at one end of the stage and the guitar player and goose shook hands – hand and wing, actually – and he jumped off the stage, heading to our table.
“I told Russell we’d have everything out by morning,” he said, dropping into a chair outside our circle. He looked at me briefly then at Rua. “What happened to him? The usual?”
Randy replied, “Yep. I think he was pretty buzzed when he got here. Am I right?” he asked me.
I shrugged. “He didn’t seem too bad. But I bet he had five or six beers after we arrived.”
“Sure,” the guitar player murmured. “For Rua, five or six isn’t even getting started. Where’d he come from?”
I was starting to become annoyed. The guitarist hadn’t even introduced himself and seemed to be in a bad mood, but I answered, “Aoife and I and Rua all came in from Doora…The Middle House.”
“Really?” he said. “Doora? That’s quite a hop.”
“Jeff,” Randy said, sensing my discomfort, “This is Dale. He’s new to The Uaimh Bhinn.”
“Dale,” Jeff acknowledged, more at me than to me. Then he stood up and walked to the bar where he said something to the antelope bartender. I felt a bit of an affront.
“Don’t worry about him,” Randy said. “He just tired and he’s really pretty shy. Comes across a lot of the time like a jerk.”
“He is a jerk,” Aoife growled.
Steve laughed. “Aoife loves him, but she likes to pretend she can’t stand him.”
Aoife switched her tail rapidly three or four times, then jumped from her chair and walked over to Jeff at the bar. She glided cat-like up onto a stool next to him and I could see they were talking.
“They go back a long way,” Randy said. “Aoife’s the main reason we came over here the first time.”
“Right,” Steve said.
“The first time?” I said. “When was that?”
“1984,” Steve said. “Almost ten years ago.”
Randy continued, “Ireland was different then…real different. Not a pot to piss in and the ‘troubles’ were still happening. Still, there was the music, and that’s what brought us.”
“To Ireland?” I asked. “A bit far to come, wasn’t it?”
“I know,” Randy said. “Seems odd that a three-piece rock band from Indianapolis should end up in Ireland, but it all was just a series of small things that brought us here.”
We were all quiet except for Rua who was sounding like some small appliance that had gone terribly wrong, wheezing and choking and rumbling in a drunken rabbit way.
“Jeff’s a Joyce,” Steve said.
“Jeff Joyce?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “His last name is Purvis, but his mother was a Joyce, and the Joyce’s go deep on this island. That whole area up around Galway is called ‘Joyce Country’. One of the Twelve Tribes.”
“Twelve Tribes?” I asked, becoming more confused.
“I don’t understand it all, by any means,” Steve shrugged. “But if you get him started on it, he won’t shut up.”
“Yeah,” Randy chuckled. “Jeff’s favorite topic is ‘Jeff’.”
Aoife and the guitarist were strolling back to the table, overhearing our conversation.
“True enough,” Jeff said with a sardonic grin. “I’m my own greatest fan. Right, cat?”
Aoife, tail arched high, sighed, “Someone has to be.” He nudged her with his leg and she purred loudly and rubbed up against him.
Steve observed, “You two getting along again?”
Jeff grumbled, “Not really.” But it was obvious they were.
And even though no one had asked, he began, “The Twelve Tribes go back to the invaders that occupied the area around Galway Bay about a thousand years ago…”
“Here we go,” Randy mumbled.
“…and the Joyce’s were among the most prominent. Tradesmen, merchants, and the like. Not always a very pleasant crew,” Jeff pointed out, somewhat proudly.
“And now, centuries later, the area’s still called Joyce Country,” he said. “My mother has all kinds of kin around here. Early in the eighties when I was out of school I looked a few of them up.
“The band was playing quite a bit back then,” he went on. “We played all through college- fraternity houses, sororities, bars. We were actually doing pretty well, but one night – it was New Year’s Eve – after some drunk had requested the same song for the fourth or fifth time, I turned to Randy and said, ‘I’m done’. And I was.”
No one spoke or encouraged him, but he went on.
“The next morning I packed up a few things and began hitchhiking out west. My brother was in Colorado – Boulder – so I spent some time with him; then I drifted down to California, Mexico, eventually wound up in Bolivia where I worked on a tobacco plantation for one season.”
He fell silent, looking down at the table.
“That’s when I discovered yopo,” he said.
“Yopo?” I asked. No one else seemed to be listening.
“Ground-up cohoba beans. Kind of like snuff on steroids,” he said. “Hallucinogenic.”
I shook my head. “I’ve never heard of it.”
“I’m not surprised,” he said. “The shamans have used it for centuries in South America…snorting it, smoking it. You can eat it too, but you’ll wish you hadn’t. Puke your guts out. Face turns purple…heart races. If you eat enough, it can kill you. Yopo’s got the same active ingredient that’s in the skin of psychedelic toads.”
I grimaced and Jeff chuckled. “I licked a couple of those, too.”
Aoife’s tail was twitching quickly. Rua’s snore had become a hypnotic drone, rising and falling, rising and falling. Randy yawned a couple of times and seemed about to fall asleep himself. Steve caught my eye as if to say, “I’d love to rescue you, but once he gets going there’s really no stopping him.” And maybe it was the early morning hours or the beer or the clank and rattle of the various creatures busy around the cave, but somehow I wanted Jeff to go on.
“Licked a toad, eh?” I said, sipping my beer. “In Bolivia?”
“And elsewhere,” he sighed. “Anyway, it was probably the third or fourth time I’d smoked yopo that I met Aoife. I was in Oruro and it was raining…raining harder than I’d ever seen it. Or maybe the yopo just made it seem that way. Warm, not unpleasant. The yopo made it so the raindrops seemed to be clinking off notes of music. Sounded kind of like a marimba, but maybe one made out of glass. Suddenly, as I’m walking down the street, all of it came together and I hear the rain playing this melody as it hit the pavement. Beautiful melody! And then I hear a voice singing along with it, as then I notice it’s me singing. Singing a line I’ve never heard before right along with rain and it’s playing a perfect accompaniment.”
I could see he was becoming emotional. His eyes were glistening and he jabbed a quick finger under his nose.
“It was incredible. It was perfect. After I’d walked away from the band New Year’s Eve I really hadn’t thought about music much. Put all my gear in storage at my parents’ house. Didn’t even have a guitar with me; but there I was, wandering around Oruro and singing this wonderful song that the rain had given me. I wasn’t singing in the rain: I was singing with the rain.”
“Powerful stuff, this yopo?” I asked.
“Oh, yeah,” he answered, scowling. “But this had never happened before. This was new. This was someplace I’d never been.
“It was really overwhelming, and – I guess because I was singing out loud – I noticed that other people on the street were staring at me and talking. But I couldn’t stop. I think I must’ve felt the way the shamans feel when the spirits take control of them. You really can’t resist. So I ducked down an alley and leaned up against this big cast iron gate and just let the rain and the music take me.”
He was quiet again and I looked up to see that most of the work seemed to be done around The Uaimh Bhinn; only a couple of goats, one of them Daimhin, the antelope bartender, and the goose Jeff had been talking to onstage were still there. Everyone else had left.
Randy’s eyes were shut now and Steve had gotten up to speak with the goose. I could tell Jeff was going to go on, so I just sat there, quiet.
He was looking at Aoife who returned his look with wide-open, enormous-pupiled feline eyes.
“I heard a second voice singing the rain’s song,” he said, very quietly, not looking away from her. “A beautiful voice. It almost caused me pain to hear it, it was so gorgeous. And then my voice and her voice, they’re moving together in a kind of crystalline harmony and the rain is playing a counterpoint to both our voices and just then – suddenly – the rain stops. Like somebody turned off a tap. And our two voices stopped right with it on just the perfect resolution of melody and harmony and I look down at my feet and it’s a cat. A cat’s been singing with me.”
He shook his head with amusement. “Naturally I thought it was the yopo. This singing cat. And once the rain stopped the sun came out almost instantly, like it does down there, and everything was so soft and warm and wonderful that I sort of slid down the gate and settled on the pavement and then I was asleep.”
Randy and Rua were asleep too. Steve was nowhere to be seen and only Russell the goose was still in the cave. Aoife had curled up and her eyes were only tiny cat slits with just a hint of light escaping. Her tail moved slower and slower.
“Should we be going?” I asked. “Do they need to lock up?”
Jeff looked around. “Lock up?” he chuckled. “The Uaimh Bhinn doesn’t have a door. They don’t lock up.”
He stretched back in his chair and folded his hands on his stomach. “Do you know what a ‘familiar’ is, Dale?”
“Like a ‘familiar spirit’?” I asked.
“Yeah, exactly,” he answered. “When I woke up I could tell from the way my head and stomach felt that the yopo had worn off, but the cat was still there, right beside me. Just sitting there, like she was waiting for me to wake up.
“I reached out to pet her, but she pulled back a bit, then leaned her head into my hand, the way cats do. She had to be the one to initiate contact. Not me. So I scratched her head a bit and was just sitting there and then – I swear – I heard her speak. ‘Isn’t the Bolivian sun wonderful?’ she said.
“The first thing that came to my mind was that I’d done so much yopo that I’d broken my brain, that I was on a permanent yopo trip. And I was terrified. I mean, I loved yopo, but I knew that I could never stay high like that forever. You’d go nuts. You couldn’t function. You’d eventually jump out a window thinking you could fly or drown yourself believing you were Aquaman or something. It just wouldn’t work. I was scared.
“But then she spoke again, saying something about having been waiting for me, thinking she’d meet me first in Colorado, then in California, eventually working her way around Mexico and the Yucatan, and finally catching up to me in Bolivia, waiting for just the right moment. ‘I could tell you were ready,’ she said.”
Aoife now was motionless, probably asleep. There was no other sign of movement or life in the cave, just Jeff and me, surrounded by its great emptiness and a handful of sleeping companions.
“Ready?” I repeated.
“Yeah,” he said. “Ready. I’m still not sure what she meant. But I knew she was right. And once I came to terms with the idea that the yopo may have taken up permanent residence in my head, I really was absolutely fine with a talking cat. A talking Irish cat in Bolivia. I mean, none of this made any sense or added up, but then…” And he made a motion toward the empty cave. “Ireland,” he said with amused resignation.
“I don’t get the Ireland-Bolivia connection,” I said. “Why was she there?”
“To come for me!” he said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. “I don’t understand how it works, and I’ve learned to just let it go…let it be what it is. Somehow, thousands of miles from Indiana, a talking cat in Ireland knew she was to meet me thousands of more miles away in South America in a rain-soaked alley in Oruro. Is it really any more miraculous than anything else that happens in our lives? Boy meets girl? Sperm joins egg? Newborn draws breath? It’s all a miracle! It’s all an incredible, inexplicable gift! All we have to do is calm down long enough to accept it.”
He looked over at Aoife, now oblivious. “I think that’s what she meant when she said I was ready. That moment when I was able to hear the music in the rain, when I was able to join my voice to her voice, without even knowing why or where it might take me, I was ready. That’s when the music that was in me was able to come out.
“Ten days later we were in Ireland, in Galway and Ennis and Doora and then right here at The Uaimh Bhinn and I began to hear music in a way I’d never heard it before. And songs began to just jump out of me and I had no control over them. I might hear a thunderbolt, or a bird’s cry, or a branch falling into a stream, and suddenly a song would simply fall into my head and I’d be singing it- verse, refrain, lyrics. Full blown. Fully developed. I just had to get out of the way and let it happen.
“I bought a little cassette player and a cheap-ass guitar and started recording the songs and when I had maybe twenty or so I mailed them to Steve. I worked here in the cave at nights and slept in an abandoned barn during the day. Eventually I started playing in some of the local pubs for drinks and food and that’s the way it went for six months, with me sending off cassettes to the States every couple of weeks. Then, one night, when I was singing for maybe half a dozen people at The Middle House, who should walk in but Steve and Randy!
“Even meeting a talking cat in Bolivia didn’t surprise me any more than when I saw those guys!” he said. “And just like any other musician in town they carried in instrument cases. Steve had one of those acoustic bass guitars and Randy a bodhran and they pulled up two chairs and just kind of looked at me with these shit-eating grins as if to say, ‘Well?’ I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know what to say.
“So, Steve – always calm and collected and in control – says, ‘Let’s do I Am the One’, and I’m looking at him like he’s speaking Martian and he says, ‘Your song…the one on the tape.’ And then I know what he’s talking about and Randy gives me a wink and suddenly we’re playing one of my new tunes and they never missed a beat. It was magical.”
Jeff’s voice dropped to a kind of hushed incredulity. “We played three hours straight. Never got up. Never went to the bathroom. A lot of my new tunes and a bunch of our old covers and the folks in the pub kept egging us on. So many of the tunes were ones we’d never, ever played before, but it didn’t matter. We nailed it. Nailed it shut. It was like the Irish air was keeping us all tied perfectly together, like the chanter and drones on a set of pipes.”
Steve had rejoined us and – unlike the others – didn’t seem sleepy at all. He shrugged. “You were warned,” he said to me, nodding toward Jeff.
“No, it’s fine,” I said. “It’s an amazing story.”
Jeff laughed aloud. “Oh, it’s amazing, all right.”
He put a hand on Steve’s shoulder and said, “You may not know it to look at him, but Mr. Raymond here is pretty well off.”
Steve smiled. “I do okay,” he said.
“Yeah, he does okay,” Jeff went on. “A Midas touch, this one: everything he touches turn to gold. Everything digital, anyway.”
I looked at Steve. “Digital?” I asked. “You in computers?”
“Software,” Steve answered. “Mostly business programs, accounting applications, that sort of thing.”
“Really?” I said. “Ever hear of Digital Now!”
“Sure!” Steve chimed. “I think I have every edition!”
“Well,” I said with genuine pleasure, “That’s who I write for. That’s why I’m in Ireland.”
“I thought your name was familiar,” Steve said. “You’re that Dale Marchand! I read your column all the time. Very insightful.”
“Thanks,” I replied. “Not many people know my work. Nerds mostly…no offense.”
“None taken,” Steve laughed. “If the shoe fits…”
“Anyway…” Jeff broke in, seeming a bit peeved. Steve looked at me with a helpless I-told-you-so look and the guitar player went on.
“…Steve’s done well for himself and it turns out that he’d financed a road trip for himself and Randy. And all our gear. Shipped every piece of our personal rigs to Ireland. It was all in a warehouse in Shannon and the next day we rented a little truck and brought it all up to Doora. He rented a cottage that was basically one big room with a bathroom and a kitchen and for the next six weeks we did nothing but play. We tried every imaginable version of all kinds of tunes, mostly mine, and soon we were playing at a couple of clubs in Galway and Ennis. I knew we weren’t ready for The Uaimh Bhinn, but we were getting close. And there was the small matter of introducing them to Aoife and the whole concept of talking animals, let alone a rock club in a cave in the middle of nowhere that was patronized primarily by a non-human audience.”
I looked at Steve and raised an eyebrow; he just shrugged.
“They knew I’d been camping out in this old barn before they got to Ireland,” Jeff said. “So one weekend I told them I’d like to show them the place and the surrounding country. Said it was in a particularly beautiful area and that they’d probably see some things they’d find surprising.”
“Something of an understatement,” Steve said wryly. I nodded.
“It was a typical overcast, drizzly Irish day. Steve had bought a used Mini a couple of weeks after they arrived and I drove it as close as I could get. Left it parked on the road and we walked probably half a mile to get to the barn and when we got there Aoife was sitting on an old hay bale.
“‘Look,’ Randy said when we walked in, ‘Comes complete with a barn cat!’ At which Aoife mutters, ‘Well, this is a barn and I am a cat; but I’m no barn cat’ and I thought Steve and Randy were both going to pass out. Their jaws were pretty much on the ground. Randy’s never much at a loss for words but he didn’t say a thing. And Steve just looks at me and says, ‘Did that cat just speak?’
“‘Yep,’ I said. ‘She did.’ ‘She?’ he asks. ‘Steve,’ I said, ‘this is Aoife. Aoife, Steve.’ Then I introduced Randy and I don’t really remember the conversation after that, but – and this has always struck me as odd – it really wasn’t long before everybody just accepted everything and it all became, uh…normal.”
“At least as normal as having a conversation with a cat can be,” Steve added.
“I get that,” I said.
“I told them there was something else I wanted them to see and we set out for The Uaimh Bhinn, Aoife leading the way through the woods,” Jeff went on. “As we got closer, Randy said, ‘Smells like somebody’s cooking Sunday dinner.’ Steve went, ‘It reminds me of Christmas’ as we came to the entrance.
“‘A cave?’ Steve said as Aoife darted inside. ‘Somebody’s cooking in a cave?’ And then he looked at me with the oddest expression and said, ‘Purvis, what the hell have you been up to?’ ‘Hang on,’ I said. ‘Just trust me,’ and we went in.”
“I’m pretty sure I know what happened next,” I said. “Loud music, a rowdy animal audience, beer everywhere?”
“Not so much,” Jeff answered. “It was only about 2:00 in the afternoon and nothing much was happening. Russell and Daimhin were getting things ready for the crowd that evening…and him,” and he pointed at the snoring rabbit collapsed on the table.
“Rua?” I asked. “He’s here a lot, eh?”
Jeff laughed, “All the time. He owns the place.”
Suddenly so many things added up. “So that’s why everybody seems to know him,” I said.
“Everybody does know him!” Aoife meowed.
“And you?” I asked. “What’s your connection?”
“Just part of the background,” she purred.
Steve said, “Oh, she’s more than that. Much more than that. Aoife’s the official talent scout for The Uaimh Bhinn.”
I turned to the cat, now completely awake. “That must be a difficult job…always having to listen to a bunch of wanna-be’s,” I said. “I assume most of them are awful.”
Aoife absent-mindedly licked at one paw and smoothed out an ear. “I never listen to ‘wanna-be’s’. The Uaimh Bhinn doesn’t do auditions. When an artist is right for us, I go to them and bring them here.”
“Travels all over the world,” Jeff said. “Like when she came to me in Oruro. Sometimes the people she’s tracking haven’t even fully come into their own as musicians, but somehow she knows…knows who they are, what they can do, where they’ll be. I don’t know how she does it, but she can hear them, wherever they are in the world, even whenever they are…future, past, right at this instant. It doesn’t matter.”
“How does that work?” I asked her, deeply confused.
She seemed to ignore my question, continuing to smooth her ears; then she turned to me, squeezing her eyes almost shut.
“Music is the medium the universe is suspended in,” she purred softly. “It’s the same way the ocean’s water fills the sea and holds all the life in its grasp, suspending it, surrounding it. And just like the great leviathans can hear each other’s songs from anywhere on the globe, I hear every song that’s ever been sung, every hum that’s ever been hummed. There is no past or present: the melody is one unbroken and eternal symphony that began in the first instant of creation and moves in every direction, filling every corner of the cosmos.”
I was struggling to understand.
“All life is made of music. All light, sound, taste, smell- it’s all music. An infant’s first laugh, a lover’s first kiss, the last breath of our earthly journey…all music. You began to sense that when we first met this evening. For those to whom it is given to understand this, the world changes and becomes infinitely richer. The Uaimh Bhinn is the one place in the world that showcases those musicians who truly understand, who truly hear. I hear their songs and I find them – wherever they are - and I bring them here to Rua and the rest. There are no auditions, no casting calls. Those who perform on our stage do so because they were destined to from the first light of the first day. I simply help them on their journey. I am their guide.”
When she finished the cave was perfectly silent; even Rua’s rattling rabbit snore had quieted. Still, somehow, the rich warm smell of the place and the odd cavernous angles of its light formed a fabric of melody and harmony that was so delicate that I wasn’t sure if it was really there or not. It was like the hint of some perfect and exotic spice in an expertly prepared dish, providing just the right texture of aroma and flavor. I looked at Aoife and – I swear – she smiled.
I wasn’t sure how to respond; but after a few moments, I did.
“Thank you,” I said. And she smiled again.
Jeff and Steve were smiling too. It was as though we all were in on some enormous secret, and the simple pleasure of knowing it made us happy.
“So,” I said to Jeff, “the three of you came here with Aoife. Then what?”
“Then,” Jeff said, “after Randy and Steve overcame their initial shock at the place, I introduced them to Rua and Russell. Aoife sat there quietly through the introductions, then stood up; just before walking away, she said to Russell, ‘They’re ready.’”
“Ready for The Uaimh Bhinn?” I asked.
“Yep,” Jeff replied. “The Uaimh Bhinn. From an artist’s standpoint, the single most important venue in the world, even if nobody’s ever heard of it. Russell just nodded and motioned us over to the bar where he keeps his booking calendar and two weeks later we played a rock gig for the first time in almost a year. We were nervous…I was probably more nervous than I’d ever been in my life; but the audience was incredible. They were feeding us so much energy from the very first note, and by the fourth or fifth song we were in it. Steve and Randy were laying it down like I’ve never heard, and – sometimes this happens – it was as if there was no perceptible difference between me and my guitar: we were one. I wasn’t thinking about what I was playing or planning or anything. The music just fell out of me.
“You know that line in Jimi’s Manic Depression, ‘Feeling, sweet feeling, drops my fingers’? That’s the way it was…the way it is when I hear songs I write. They don’t come from anywhere: they’re just there. That first night we played here, the music channeled through us. I’d call out a title, Randy would give us a tempo, and then we’d just stand back and watch it happen.”
“Listen to it happen,” Steve corrected.
“True enough,” Jeff conceded. He looked at the bass player with a grin. “I’ll bet half the stuff we played that night we’d never played before,” he said.
“At least half,” Steve laughed. He looked at me. “One of Jeff’s great joys is throwing us headfirst into something we’ve never done before.”
“I like the danger,” Jeff chuckled. “I like going across that wire with no net. Always the chance you might fall to the ground and just explode. Ka-boom! And these two,” he gestured at Steve and Randy, “are absolutely fearless. Soon as I see a path to go down, they’re right there with me, side-by-side, ready for anything.”
Silence again. “It’s very special,” he murmured, his eyes misting. “You just don’t find true partners like that very often. Not often at all.”
Chapter 4 - Red Rabbit