Friday (March 11) for naptime, Merida, my three-year-old, wanted to listen to “Willie Goggin’s Hat” from Jack Hardy’s CD The Passing. As usual, she asked if he would sing it when he comes to visit. She also wanted him to do her other favorites, “Sile Na Cioch (Sheila),” “The Boney Bailiff,” “May Day,” “Blackberry Pie.” She says that about Ringo Starr and “Yellow Submarine” too, but with Jack it’s different. She’s seen the pictures of him at Rebecca and my wedding. She knows he’s been in our house.
Once she was asleep, I went to my computer. I looked at Facebook, which I hadn’t done in a couple of days. Someone had tagged Jack in a photo. I clicked on it, and was about to close the window when I saw that whoever had posted it had put dates, 1947-2011. I thought that was an odd way to date a photo. I looked at it again. Maybe it had Friday’s date—I can’t remember…I was starting to realize…I literally felt a clenching in my stomach. (This is one of the feelings that is difficult to convey in fiction without drifting into cliché.) But I felt it. I went to his Facebook page and saw the posts.
I met Jack the way many others did: with a group of people playing their songs. I was living in Manhattan (having moved from Austin to NY at the beginning of 1995). In 1996, I went to the Kerville Folk Festival, in Kerville, Texas. I was sitting outside the tent I was sharing with my friend Dale Barnard. A singer-songwriter friend of Dale’s named Andrew McKnight was there, playing a song.
Jack was walking by and recognized Andrew’s voice. He stopped and sat down with us. At the time, he was involved with a songwriter named Wendy Beckerman. I had seen her perform once at the Fast Folk Café in NY. She showed up a few minutes later. Jack played his song “20th Century”. I was pretty amazed by the song. And still am. I had some of my writing with me, a short piece called “Fenster’s Wisdom” that I later (ten years later) incorporated into my story “Sidewalk Factory: A Municipal Romance.”
Jack invited me to come to his weekly songwriter’s meetings. He said he liked it when all types of artists came, not just songwriters. I attended every week until I moved from New York to Massachusetts in autumn 1998, and then occasionally if a trip to New York coincided.
I never felt like I was a complete part of the songwriter’s meetings, mainly because I don’t play an instrument. Sometimes I would read my fiction, but mostly I ate pasta, drank wine, and listened. A lot of people passed through, some I got to know, some I didn’t. Some probably wondered who was this guy who didn’t play a song or say much. I didn’t have any book out at the time, with only a couple of stories that had appeared in obscure journals. Before having a book published it was harder to be public about my writing. I felt like the introvert amongst the performers. Which also happened to be a trait of the character from my first novel, Circus of the Grand Design. Confidence has come with publication. I’m still an introvert, but I’m a more assertive one.
Though not a fiction writer, Jack had an influence on my writing. He encouraged me to have confidence as an artist. He said I should quit my day-job so I would have more time for writing. Which I did.
I reference him in my first two books. In In Springdale Town, Richard Shelling remembers an old girlfriend who wrote a song for him called “Only One Sky.” The footnote informs the reader that Jack Hardy is the song’s real author. And in Circus, Joseph Dillon, the ringmaster and owner, approaches some musicians at a party, pulls out a tin whistle, and asks if they know “The Tinker’s Coin.”
Over the years, I stayed at his house a few times, got to know his children. He visited me after I moved to Ohio. After Merida was born it became more difficult for me to find the time to keep in touch with people, Jack included.
One day, in Spring of 2001, Jack called and asked if Tipp City, Ohio was anywhere near me. Which it is. Turned out there was a branch of the Studebaker family in this area. They hold a big family reunion in Tipp City every five years and asked Jack to come play. He brought some musicians, and they all stayed with us. The last time I saw him, the last time he came through town, was for the reunion, July 2006.
My last communication with him was May 2010. He had just returned home from playing some dates in Italy. His flight home was delayed because of the volcano in Iceland, so he spent a few extra days in Italy.
Glad you were someplace where you would want to have flights canceled. Anyone who would complain about extra time in Italy is someone we wouldn’t want to know. And the tour was good too?
It would be nice to get you to play somewhere around here, but I don’t know where that would be. I might check into the nonstop institute, which is a glorified name for some of the former faculty of Antioch, as a transitional thing between the school’s closing and alleged re-opening. You could do a concert (with some talk) of mostly political social commentary songs (that’s what would interest them the most so that’s what I would propose). But I don’t know that they have money to pay. I think they make their events free. Maybe could do it as a cover to pay the artist thing. Anyway, will look into it if you’re interested.
Otherwise, how’s things?
And his reply:
robert, the closest i might get to you in the near future is port city in very southern ohio. i am always interested in playing anywhere but it is nice to get payed for it. ah, the lucrative worlds of folk music. the italy tour was fantastic. how’s the lucrative world of novels? – j
Maybe I wrote back, but I don’t think so. Many times, I meant to call him. You always assume there will be another chance.
I still don’t know all the details of what happened. The New York Times ran an obituary on Sunday. Christian Bauman has a great blog post here. There are other notices on Jack’s website that I haven’t had time to read.
Jack never received enough appreciation for the art of his writing. He believed that poetry (song poetry) was a form of conjuring. He said that some of his songs, such as “I Ought To Know” had all their meaning on the surface, but others were metaphoric, and were meant to transport the listener. Unfortunately, we live in a time of surface.
He often said he wouldn’t be famous until after he died. I do hope that happens. But whatever attention comes now, I’d rather have a chance to hear him play some songs for Merida.