Thank You Francis Dunnery.
A few years back I read an article explaining why curling yourself up on the floor in a fetal position and giving up can sometimes be a very good idea. It went into great detail about how the act of surrendering is powerful because it jumpstarts great change. Because basically the only direction you can go is up.
It went on to describe a Hindu goddess with a long name of about 36 letters so obviously it escapes me because of my CRS Disease (Can’t Remember Shit). But this goddess put herself in that position by choosing to live on the back of a crocodile. Now if you know anything about crocodiles you know they kill prey by grabbing and rolling them underwater over and over until they drown. The ultimate log-rolling contest if you will, the prize being dinner. This goddess chose to live this way because she wanted to exist in a state of constant change, because with every turn under the water another facet to the diamond that is her soul was carved. The Goddess of Never Not Broken. In a continuous state of being created into new and different facets of herself.
It’s an interesting parable but confusing. The only constant IS change right? We are every day being turned-turned-turned by this crocodile called life. Some of us become diamonds while some of us remain coal and wonder why. Some of us even end up dying at the crocodile’s hands. I think. I admit when I read the story I loved the imagery but found it confusing. How can surrendering be a place of power? Strength?
A decade ago I found myself in that fetal position. Except I wasn’t leaving the floor. My mother had been dead five years, I’d been teaching for almost ten, had been living in a new city for almost six, and yet I faced each day with dread, sadness, and fear reaching DEFCON-10 levels. This was my life. Things would not change and despite being miserable beyond words and my soul feeling like a piece of ash this was just the way things were. Not only was I curled up in a ball, I had dug a hole in the floorboards and crawled into the space and covered myself with the carpet hoping no one would see.
I’ve always been painfully self-aware, too much I imagine. I can never seem to get out of my head which meant at the time I felt myself dying at the hands of this crocodile, my self-sabotaging thoughts turning on themselves over and over with no signs of stopping. But with the help of my husband and some Lexapro and some Trazodone to help bring me down off the excruciating stimulating effects of the Lexapro I began to slowly pull myself off the floor. I went to therapy twice a week which felt like getting a root canal without pain meds. I won’t sugar coat it. Therapy sucks. It just does. Sure it helps. It helped me. But someone telling me for an hour what my problem is? Half the time I know already and to hear it come out of someone else’s mouth is just painful. I know it’s valuable. The process itself just feels like a colonoscopy that never ends. And in my case and I sense lots of others, there’s never really that magical “Good Will Hunting” moment when all the planets align and you’re magically healed forever.
I dreaded each visit. But one of the things that got me through, the most important thing, was the music of Francis Dunnery. He’s a virtuoso guitarist on the level of Richard Thompson but you’ve probably never heard of him. He charted in the UK with his band It Bites but since 1990 has been solo, running his own record label since 2001. His song, “Good Life” made an episode of Scrubs. He’s played with Lauryn Hill, Robert Plant, and Santana. He does an uncanny impression of Peter Gabriel and once during a live show I went to did an entire medley that brought the house down. Francis was actually a serious contender to replace Phil Collins when he left Genesis.
Thank God he didn’t take that job because in my mind and heart his solo work soars. Watching him live? Indescribable. It’s not just he can play his ass off. It’s the words. They stab me in the heart. They kick me in the ass. They’re not flowery uplifting Pinterest-y pretty inspiration quotes. They’re statements that make you think. That make you reconsider your life. It’s like that moment in that great movie Joe Versus the Volcano when he sees the rising of the full moon and realizes how small his life has been up to that point. That’s what listening to a Francis Dunnery song does for me. It’s a sharp ray of light to the eyes, reminding me just how glorious it is to be alive. How lucky we all are to be here and to know one another. And isn’t life grand?
How did I hear of him? WYEP in Pittsburgh started spinning his album “Man” and I immediately took notice. The guitar was amazing, the songs catchy and upbeat, not overproduced. Just well-written songs defying any one genre. I bought the CD and popped it in one day on my way to therapy. That’s when it happened. “Hold Out Your Heart” came on and I was hit. Struck so dumb I had to pull over and have a good cry.
Well I almost died on the I-95
Cause I was driving in the wrong direction
Missed my turn and drove too far
I was headed for redemption
I was running south to look for the sun
But I knew I had to turn around
So I turned my car the other way
Medicine Man and snowflakes
Let your Spirit take your fears away
I said, hold out your heart
And let your Spirit take your fears away”
I *HAD* almost died on the I-95. In 1992 our car flipped three times ending up in the wrong direction. I’d walked away with glass embedded in my hands and a huge knock to the skull. Only seven months prior Momma had been in one much worse, a brain trauma from which she never recovered. I had. At least physically. I’d hoped our move to Pittsburgh would allow me to run away. But Pittsburgh had turned out equally horrible and now I wanted to live in a warm place. But here was a guy saying it’s impossible to escape from your past. Turn and face the music. Go to The Medicine Man and get that mental colonoscopy even though it hurts.
I sat there and listened to the entire song. And listened to it again on the way home. And on every trip to therapy for the next three years. It became my talisman, my reward, my medicine, and my Bible all at once. Some days it was the only thing that got me there.
I was forced to feel what I didn’t want to deal with
We all have to grow up sometime
The umbilical cord gets chopped away
Lying old man and baby
Let your Spirit take your fears away
I said, hold out your heart
And let your Spirit take your fears away”
Ain’t that the fucking truth. Lying in a heap on the floor does nothing for you if you don’t decide to get up. Ever. If you never decide to be an adult and accept Life in all its forms.
How that snow took a long time to melt
But when it did, fresh water
I drank with a thirst of a dying man
I could feel the minerals from the Earth on my tongue
I was close to the Earth
We all must leave our mother’s womb
What of the liars who claim to have found
Too scared to stand on the Earth’s ground
We walk like flowers toward the Sun to know ourselves”
That emotional inner snow did take a long time to melt. With time and talk I got better. I started to look forward to things. The sphere of my world grew bigger. I actually dared to start believing my Spring might arrive. That I might see sunshine again and in so doing, know myself and even feel good about myself because I was able to weather the snow. Francis Dunnery was a huge part of that. I love all his music and still put it on when I feel the darkness coming on. But it’s this song that’s really The One.
Why did I spend so much time telling all of this? Because last weekend, after more than a decade, I was able to see him perform “Hold Out Your Heart” at Kennett Flash in Pennsylvania. I brought plenty of tissues. It was everything I thought it would be. Hearing the song again in such a small venue from the other side of that horribly debilitating depression felt conquering. It felt like growth. It felt like the end of one journey and the beginning of a new. To hear him play it from this perspective of self-awareness, from my new place up off the floor felt good and right.
But Life decided that wasn’t enough. As it sometimes does. I had just left the restroom after the concert, as you do if you’re a middle-aged woman not interested in the “Tena Twist”. Before I knew what was happening this huge smiley man was engulfing me in a bear hug. And saying thank you. It was Francis. I smelled the warm forest smell of his suede jacket, and the utter sincerity, the gratitude emanating off of him. I felt buried in thankful. Have you ever had a real hug? Like one where you feel like you’re being HUGGED? This was one of those. Here was a guy who’d for all intents and purposes saved my life. And he was thanking me.
Somehow word had got around a couple had driven all the way from Virginia to see the show. He hugged me again, hugged my husband, all the while grinning from ear to ear with the happy dancing eyes of a man who’s got it figured out. He signed my album and we talked. About what I have no fucking idea. I could hear words coming out of my husband’s mouth and my own, but it was just blabbering nonsense. It all went by so fast. I’m not one for meeting new people particularly if they’re one of your heroes. I stuttered, I stammered. I think he might’ve mentioned podcasting and I told him about mine maybe? It’s like that when you meet your hero. You feel like you’re flying through the universe at the speed of light. You see all these stars rushing by and it’s all so wonderful and beautiful and you don’t have the words and you just want time to slow down just a little so you can take it all in. You’re so happy and you know it can’t last but you want it to. You really want it to.
The irony of it all? On my podcast I’m the selfie queen. Every interview I preen and plan for that all important social media component. Then I finally meet Francis Dunnery and I didn’t think to ask. What the fuck?!
I do remember one very important thing. I looked straight into his eyes and said thank you. Then thank you. Then thank you again. I told him how his music had saved me from some very deep ugly shit. I told him how grateful I was. He looked back at me, really looked, and the moment held. Right there. And just like that my old journey was ended.
Sometimes, not very often, I can be in the moment and really BE IN IT. This was one of those times. I will turn 49 in a few months, the same age as Momma when she had her accident. The significance of that is not lost on me. And I know Francis is only a fellow human being trying to figure it all out each day. But now when I hear “Hold Out Your Heart”, usually in the car, I don’t cry. I sing. Really fucking loud. And when I hear the verse from his song “Wounded and Healing” that says,
He said I’m gonna break you down
and then I’m gonna build you up again
Stronger then ever before”
I get the parable about the goddess and the crocodile. There will always be change, and grief, and strife. But just roll with it. Literally.
If you do ever get the chance to meet one of your heroes, take it. It’s fucking great. Don’t be nervous. Practice saying those two little words. Because who on Earth, even if they’re not a hero, or a celebrity, or someone you’ve spent your life admiring, doesn’t want to hear “Thank You”. In fact, don’t wait to say them to your heroes. Say thank you as much and as often as possible. Because as Francis says,
If we’re grateful and we’re thankful then we’re spiritual.”
Thank you Francis Dunnery. Thank you.
- Francis does a live radio broadcast every Sunday from 1-3pm EST. Miss the show? You can download the podcast at the very same link.
- His website is being worked on at the moment, but buy his music at his record label, Aquarian Nation. Good stuff people!
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