Let’s Talk About Love For a While

28 04 2016

My grandmother, Marsha Lilly, passed away a week and a half ago.

At first I had taken it as a given that finding some catharsis through writing something would be a part of my grieving. But I tried to get just the right words together for quite some time, and ultimately gave up. Everything that I could write seemed crass and not quite enough.

But I CAN share with you a random story about a bit of catharsis I found last night, which is almost as good, because it allows me to reflect the colors of my vibe without actually telling the story I shouldn’t tell. The story of my grandma’s life, and of her death. The story of my family.

See, I feel somehow that this blog is only licensed for MY stories. Like a screenplay which has to keep rollicking forward at speed, no sub-plots. Step into my private life; come along; just don’t mind that ajar closet door – you wouldn’t want to look in there anyway. It’s full of schmaltzy stuff like old strings of beads and sweaters still smoked in someone’s perfume; family stories, and superlatives of “best” and “always”. The kind of stuff that would make a writer cringe.

Embarking on the adventure of saying goodbye has been so perfectly sandwiched in my 3-month pilgrimage home, it makes one rethink one’s notions of fate. As I stepped out onto the curb at LAX this January, and called up my parents to tell them my plane had arrived safely in California, that’s when they broke the news that my grandma had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. 3 to 6 months. This coming weekend we’ll bury her beside my grandpa at the military cemetery on Point Loma, overlooking the waters of the San Diego Bay. And from San Diego I’m getting on a plane straight back to Salt Lake City, where it’s time to get back on the tour-guiding carousel.

It’s a good carousel to be on, after the inertia of the past months. As I traveled and traveled this winter, my ambitions shrunk and shrunk: Bike tour Asia! Hmm, maybe just go work at a hostel or something in the Arab world… Or on second thought, maybe just work in a hostel in Europe. Or try to find a job in Mexico. Like close to the border. OK, or maybe I’ll just live in Santa Cruz or LA or… You get the picture. In the end, I was so burned out that I flopped down on my parents’ doorstep, knowing that they were happy to have me.

In hindsight, if I could do it all over again I might go for for the second-least ambitious option. But I try not to regret anything, and this time living in the house where I grew up is no exception. I built up extra energy, detoxed from partying, slept a ton, reread books, and thought about the way I am and the way I want to be. I reconnected with some of my best friends from elementary school, whom I’d grown apart from during my teenage years; and even grew really close to them again. I biked on steep mountain roads through the deep woods of bay laurel. I biked on long avenues through the suburbs that always change and always stay the same. Most importantly, I was here for my grandma.

But life is what happens when you’re busy with other things, and I’m ready to get busy again. My parents’ rhythm is not my rhythm, Silicon Valley is not my town, and in my heart of hearts I know that this life is not my life.

I drove with a group of friends to Davenport for a beach bonfire last night, which only confirmed this. God, how I miss the coast. On our way back we were listening to KPIG (the best radio station in Santa Cruz) and an ad came on for some live show happening soon. The announcer mentioned two names – then a little sound byte of music.

Which I recognized.

“OH MY GOD,” I said loudly. I jumped like I had been electrocuted, making our headlights jiggle in the long brambly tunnel of Highway 17.

“What? What?” my friend Michaela was exclaiming.

Rewind. Flashback. Senior year of college. I’m in Carlos, my car, listening to KPIG, the same radio station. I remember exactly where I was: the intersection at the base of campus, where the last hill-neighborhood tendrils of Santa Cruz end at a swath of green ranchland that sweeps up the campus, gleaming on the hilltop above. That song had been playing, and I remember concentrating intensely to remember the lyrics. I wrote down a good chunk:

“And oh,

The sweet caress of dawn,

The ruins of Babylon,

The smoke that rises like a lepress to the sky…”

Or was it “the tender light of dawn”? Oh well, I thought. Usually when I hear a song I like (this was in the pre-Shazam days), I only write down a single line of lyrics anyway. But this could be a hella indie song, and the lyrics were pretty generic:

“Let’s talk about love for a while,

Loooooovvve for a while,

Let’s talk about, let’s talk about…”

Which is why I had a whole damn verse. Should be safe, I figured.

Well, I snooped online later that night and… nowhere. Nothing. I tried every combination of the lyrics I could remember or invent, in every search engine. But it was like in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”: the mysterious song had disappeared. Except this wasn’t an indie book in the damn 90s, it was the Internet era. Which made it ten times weirder. It was like the song didn’t exist.

Ah well, I thought. Santa Cruz keeps its secrets. But still the refrain of that song, which I had heard only once in my life, would occasionally play in my head. I’d think of the obscure-ass local musician who must have played it, who never made it big enough to be seen by the SEO machines. Looking for a listener. And like a ship in the night, there was me: looking desperately for his song. It made me feel a sweet-sadness about how big and lonely and mysterious the world is. Eventually, though, I gave up hope of ever actually hearing the song again.

And there it was. Two full years later. I made Michaela write down the names of both guys mentioned in the radio ad (whose names were very hard to spell). And even with the names it took some snooping to find the song – the lyrics apparently aren’t online at all, which explains a lot. But I found it. Bought it using my dad’s iTunes money. (Sorry, Dad. It was only 99 cents.) And pressed play.

There it was. Holy $&!%. Just as I remembered it. That soulful blast of the organ. That slowly ticking blues rhythm, rocking you as perfectly as a porch swing in an evening wind.

And suddenly I started to cry.

I cried for the home I had in Santa Cruz, which I don’t have anymore. I cried for the friends who are now scattered across the earth. I cried for my grandma. I cried for her California, wild California of windswept fruit trees and abandoned beaches, which gets harder to recognize with each passing year.

And suddenly, in a flash, I had a vision of everything that had happened. I saw the ruined towers of the Ehrenfels, my grandmother and my twelve-year-old father asleep at their feet. I saw the strange constellations reflected in the river Rhine beside them. I saw the Santa Cruz bike path at sunset, with the sun shimmering gold on the grass, the town where I belonged enveloped in the arms of the bay below. I saw my old lover lying in a bed of wild poppies. The blinking lighthouse of Pigeon Point. A tent spread beneath an avocado tree. A fat squirrel. A blue guitar. A frail figure at the edge of Lake Tahoe, long black dress whipping her ankles in the wind. I cried because I knew it all must disappear. The song. My best friends from childhood. I cried because I knew it all comes back.

Today, I have a contribution to the world. I’m sure the SEO gods care just as little for me as they do for Keith Greeninger, blues musician and spokesperson for the Santa Cruz Guitar Company. But if anyone else should ever find and lose that same song that I did – “Love For a While” – maybe they’ll have an easier path back to it than I did. Because from now on, somewhere at least, the lyrics are on the Internet.

“Love For a While”

Keith Greeninger (from the album “Soul Connection”


Hey, what’d ya come here for?

Say you still want more, but you never care

Ain’t no way to live


The circle comes around

Every heartbeat makes a sound

And it has a place

It’s a life, it ain’t no race


And oh, the offering of the smile

It only takes a while

To think beyond ourselves every now and then


And oh, the sweet relief of pain

The dope that hits the vein

Oh, one man lays his anger down and then


We’ll talk about love for a while

Love for a while,

bout the time it takes to open up

let the spirit fill your cup


Love for a while,

love for a while,

about love for a while.


I hear you sing your song

I wanna sing along, but I don’t know the words

It’s a language I never heard


But I can feel the groove

Whatever makes ya move is a real good thing

You can dance, you can sing,


And oh, the shimmering light of dawn,

The ruins of Babylon,

the smoke that’s risin’ higher to the sky


Oh, the poems of all this time,

The broken heart’s crooked lines,

The last embrace before we say goodbye


Let’s talk about love for a while,

Love for a while,

‘Bout the time it takes to open up

Let the spirit fill your cup

Love for a while,

Love for a while,

About love for a while.


Alas, the song itself is nowhere to be found for free. Not on Youtube, not on some sketchy Pandora ripoff site, not anywhere. And WordPress is hopeless for embedding songs or videos these days. So after all that fuss, I can’t really show you the song itself.

But maybe you’ll find it.

And that – as my grandma would have said – is just another part of the adventure.