I’ve played guitar and written and sung songs since the 1960s. I played bass guitar and was the lead singer in the Whatzit Fore Plus One-aka Junior Jones Reincarnation- during my high school years in the Chicago area from 1964 to 1968, and self taught myself the guitar on the side. I guess I can call myself a professional, because we got paid for many gigs at high schools and universities in northern Illinois. We didn’t get paid much, but it was enough to pay for gas and music equipment. We covered the hits of the times; Beatles, Stones, Chuck Berry, Jefferson Airplane, Birds, Van Morrison.
Whatzit Fore + One- L to R Casey, Wayne Paney, Greg DeBruyne, Roger Holmes and Mike Sims
I did write a few of my own songs back then. The first one, I believe, was in 1967— a complete rip-off of the melody from John Sebastian’s Younger Generation— with these opening lines:
You may wake up and see the sun on fire
Stir the coals and climb back in the eternal mire.
Pull the shades crawl back in her bed and
Wait for the burning ball to set.
And the chorus goes like this:
We live in a world of pain and misery.
We’re fighting a battle that’s just been won.
Lord oh Lord, tell me where did I go wrong.
I’ll just hang my head in misery
and wait for her to come.
I knew the roots of that song. I was awakening to the beat of the anti-Vietnam War protests, the emerging drug culture and a new wave of consciousness flowing through my post World War II generation. As well as my early post-pubescent exploration of the potential wonders of the opposite sex. Yet, I was a mere observer of all these things in high school.
I’ve remained a fan and creator of music and delved into some piano and keyboards. I’ve written several songs along the way and enjoy playing them for family and friends. I converted our attic into a music room and primitive recording studio where I stole away for countless hours. It was kind of sound-proofed, but apparently not enough to prevent the thump of the bass from penetrating the floor into our bedroom below, drawing the ire of Miss Hilary on too many occasions.
In the early 80s a buddy of mine, the late Dick Fletcher, and I went into a real recording studio at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach, CA and laid down a couple of songs each with studio musicians, back-up vocalists— the whole nine yards. It was a lot of fun. We thought this was our big break. Our songs never made it past the demo tapes.
In 1987, in the midst of my heavier song writing days, I came up with what I thought a very cool country-blues tune, and wrote the first verse and the chorus. And that was it. I couldn’t for the life of me come up with a second verse. From time to time I’d play that song, but I could never get beyond the chorus. My style is to “write” by singing. The words usually just come with the music. Not with this one. I even tried to break ranks and hand-write the next verse. Nothing. I couldn’t get word one out of my mouth or on paper. The song was stuck—and stayed stuck for 21 years. Strange.
Fast forward to the middle of December, 2008. Hilary and our daughter Brittany were up in the Bay Area for a pre-Christmas visit with Hilary’s folks. I don’t think Hilary and I had been apart since Jimmy’s accident. It was so quiet in the house. I was comfortable with the solitude. I heated up a chicken pot pie and had a couple of glasses of wine. I looked over at ‘Jimmy’s spot’ on the couch—the place staked out by him so many years ago— the very spot he had stretched out his lanky athletic body four months earlier to watch with us the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing before springing to his feet to join up with some of his friends at a party—the last time we saw him.
I grabbed my journal and wrote a long letter to him. Writing is how I “talk” with my son. Here are some excerpts:
It is just so hard to not have you with us; to touch you, hug you, watch you grow, reach for and attain your dreams here, have a wife, children, more friends, all those things; all the more good and joy you were going to give and bring all those others, and for just a little more time… As you know, I’ve had some very remarkable and wonderful connections and communications with my dad, your grandfather. [
The letter my father wrote to me in 1968 had finally reached my hands the month before as told in the story The Letter]. I know you’ve had a great part in this—I’m very grateful to you for opening that path and showing me the way to my dad and you. It is BEAUTIFUL!!
You, me, my dad—we’re all one and so connected. I will never underestimate or forget this bond; this new/renewed bond; this miracle of mankind and spirit. I know your passion for telling your stories and sharing with others through your writing and your connective intensity of communication is working and coursing through me to share this miracle, this gift, this fact with others. I hope this is OK with you and what you would want. I sense strongly that it is. But it is for you, for us and for always—my son. God, I love you! Dad
I then picked up my well broken-in Yamaha acoustic guitar that I borrowed many years ago from Hilary’s sister Leslie and asked Jimmy “Will you please help me finish this song?”
[Jimmy with John Dale (playing my/Leslie’s Yamaha]
I started playing and singing. I began with the instrumental introduction, moved into the 21 year old first verse and chorus and…. and well I’ll be damned if the rest didn’t just flow out of my mouth. It was seamless. The words fell into their rightful places and when I went back into the chorus, that too was changed up a bit.
I was stunned and it took me several minutes to compose myself. I played the song again and it came out just as it had before. I immediately wrote the words down in my journal, gave the song its rightful title and turned to the couch and tearfully thanked Jimmy.
Here’s a link to the song I recorded shortly after we finished writing it
By: James Gauntt
December 17, 2008
[Original First Verse]
Sun’s breaking on another day
Trying to find my way
Get myself back home
Don’t want to be alone.
Been in a lot of places
Probably a thousand faces
One that I can’t see
Wasn’t meant to be
Pack my soul
With all its pieces
Tell my folks to save their tears
Give this note
To my Louise [Alisha]
The one I wrote all these years.
[Second Verse and Chorus written by Jimmy]
In and out of here and nowhere
Wondering when I’m going to be
Paths have crossed, roads have changed
This is it, destiny.
Please forgive, don’t forget
No excuse and no regret
What it is was meant to be
Me loving you and
You loving me.
Pack my soul
With all its pieces
Tell my folks to save their tears.
Give this note
To those who get it
The one we wrote these last two years.
I had always thought this song was about a young man in prison; he misses his life outside, his parents who are worried about him, and his wife or girlfriend named ‘Alisha. He’s on death row and is to be executed. He asks one of the guards to give to Alisha a letter he’s been struggling to write all these years—a goodbye letter. He’s been in several prisons with thousands of fellow inmates; the only face he wants to see, and can’t, is Alisha’s. That’s what I thought. I didn’t write it with that intention. As I mentioned, when I “write” the words just sort of come out as I sing—those were the words and I surmised that’s what they meant.
I suddenly knew what the song was about—what it had always been about— and why it couldn’t be finished until now. That early Saturday morning of August 9. Jimmy is walking alone on Del Dios Highway. He’d left his friend’s house an hour earlier in complete darkness. He had decided to walk home. He was tired and still intoxicated from too many beers, and he got turned around. He was just “Trying to find my way, Get myself back home.”
He was walking east, away from Solana Beach. He was struck by the first automobile traveling west as it came around a corner. It was 5:30 in the morning, sunrise was at 5:41, with the “Sun breaking on another day“— and in that instant the next journey for him and for us had begun.
He’s “Been in a lot of places, In and out of here and nowhere
” as he explores and becomes aware of his new surroundings. A few days after Hilary and Brittany got home, we had our first reading with Tarra, a medium. Jimmy told us, through her, about the details of his accident, how sorry he was for putting us through so much hell. He also said how cool it is on the other side.</div
“Everything is a thought away. I’m in Rome at a Cold Play concert one moment, and the next I’m in Los Angeles at a Lakers game.”
He/Tarra also laughed and said “And Tupac is here, so that means anybody can get to heaven!”
At his memorial service, I distinctly remember looking over the sea of faces in the Mandeville Auditorium on the University of California’s campus in La Jolla and thinking ‘Jimmy, you must certainly be amazed at all of your family and friends who are here, and feel so loved.’ The place was packed. The Auditorium seats eight hundred. Every seat was filled and there were at least another two hundred people standing in the aisles and in the back of the facility.
“Must have been a thousand faces.”
Of course, Jimmy would not have been able to see his face in that crowd.
If only we could.
In the chorus, I believe Jimmy is speaking to his friends and family who are deeply grieving his loss as well as to others who were involved in the tragic accident.
“Pack my soul with all its pieces, tell my folks to save their tears.”
Pack my soul with all its pieces
. I must say I love that lyric. And as far as I know, it’s original! As we explored in Soul Retrieval
, some of the pieces of our souls too were packed up and went with Jimmy.
I think Jimmy’s also comforting us: Don’t be too sad. Don’t beat yourselves up too much about what happened: “No excuse, and no regret.” No what ifs-woulda, coulda, shoulda. “Please forgive, don’t forget.” “It was meant to be.” “Destiny.”
It’s all love. ”Me loving you, You loving me.”
I don’t know anyone named Alisha. When I sang the chorus that night 21 years later “Louisa” came out. I don’t know anyone named Louisa, either. As I reflected, it occurred to me maybe the name is ‘Louise’ with the ‘e’ pronounced like an ‘a.’ That would fit. Anna Louise was my father’s youngest sister. She tragically, and unnecessarily, died from diphtheria in 1929 at the age of five. Although a vaccine was readily available at that time, her parents were Christian Scientists and didn’t believe in medicines or doctors for themselves or their children. My father referred to this in his letter to me…”a religious fanatical mother I couldn’t reason with.”
Jimmy closes with this request—more of a command really,
“Give this note to those who get it.”
It’s more than a cute play on the words “give” and “get,” as in to receive. By “those who get it” I’m fairly certain Jimmy means those of us who understand and are more than a bit in awe of what’s going on with this song—this story—how someone like Jimmy can write and continue to communicate with us ‘here’ when, seemingly, that should be impossible. Jimmy was four years old when I/we began to write this song. Was his fate already written? I don’t know. I really want to think, not.
But I do believe he’s explaining to us,
‘Don’t be too sad- we can continue to talk and share our deepest thoughts. We just have to do it in slightly different ways now. I’m near—right there on the couch—whenever you want me. I’ll be there, because I love you and you love me—it’s all about love—
that’s the key.’
And that is why we humbly give this note to you.
THIS POST IS DEDICATED IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY BANDMATES MIKE SIMS AND GREG DEBRUYNE. MAY YOU BE PLAYING SWEET MUSIC WHEREVER YOU ARE