Blackbird

Randy was a character—a lawyer, but the kind of lawyer who helped people and never seemed to get any richer from doing it. He was quirky and strong, always in a blue denim jacket and a floppy-brimmed hat to keep off the Portland drizzle. I met him a few months before my divorce and he looked over my papers for free because I was broke at the time and he wasn’t about to let anyone take advantage of me—he was that kind of guy. 

Randy was one of the first people I ever sang for, and quickly became one of the loudest voices in convincing me to branch out from my classical roots to explore songwriting. In fact, my band’s first show was an impromptu set that he shanghied us into playing at one of his parties. I still remember him there, grinning mischievously behind the lens of his camera, snapping pictures while we played. We were an eclectic gathering that night, with little in common, save that he had claimed us as friends, and we had claimed him as well.  

A few weeks after the open house, I got a call from our mutual friend. I was at work, and she asked me to sit down, because she had something difficult to tell me. Randy had been found that the morning on the kitchen floor. It was a heart attack. Sudden. No suffering or pain. I hung up, and stared at the wall, stunned, thinking about the last time I’d seen him. It was at a Sherry’s restaurant. We were there eating pie with friends, and I’d been telling him about an upcoming show I was going to play, and he’d told me he would be there, that he was proud of me, and that I had to keep singing no matter what happened in my life. We paid the bills and waved goodbyes in the parking lot, neither of us knowing we’d run out of time.

His funeral was a few days later, and his little clan sat together, taking up a whole section of hard-backed pews. We watched a slideshow projected over the pulpit with pictures from his life—him playing Santa Claus in quirky homemade films, then summer scenes with him wearing enormous flower-shaped sunglasses, and being dog-piled by grandchildren. Next was a series of him painting a nearly-nude model in zebra strips from head to toe as part of the Body Art movement which was trending in Portland at the time. It caused tittering through the audience, and the bishop coughed nervously and blushed. I grinned inadvertently, and felt sure that Randy too was enjoying the stir he was causing...wherever he was.

There was an open share in the reception after, in a room with low-suspended ceilings, and flickering lights. Many stories were shared, some told through choked tears, some causing so much laughter that we felt a little ashamed. He’d lived a remarkable life, and was the first to tell you what a dysfunctional man he’d been in his younger years. Randy's childhood had been dark, marred by abuse and neglect that had led him to alcoholism, battles with anger, isolation, a handful of divorces, and many demons he’d fought for decades before becoming the beacon of love and kindness that he was to his friends. He was a remarkable, imperfect, glorious mess, this man who had compelled me to sing and who saved so many people from self-destructing.

His stepdaughter got up to say a few words, and when she sat back down, my feet brought me to the microphone, before I knew what I would say. I spoke to the room from my heart, told them how brief and impactful our friendship had been. There was one last song I had to sing for him before I let him go. It was a song I hadn’t been able to get out of my head since he passed. I swallowed my emotion and closed my eyes, picturing him there at the table with us:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free

Blackbird fly, Blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night

Black bird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise

When I finished, I felt his peace and happiness radiate throughout the room. He was free, and despite all the many obstacles of his life, he had finished his journey well, with joy and love. We mingled an hour or so longer, enjoying his presence there, until it was time to go, and we were ready to continue the work of healing ourselves and the world, like Randy would have wanted.

And somehow, I knew that I would always feel him there when I sang.