I think he was in a white phase.
White cap, white shirt, white pants, white shoes.
Head to toe.
I’d just finished presenting the songs and letters from the first evolution of For The Sender and I was now standing in front of him, not intimidated but not not intimidated. This guy had helped change a lot of lives, including mine. He’d written the best-selling book in any genre of the entire decade when I was growing up. I’d seen him on Johnny Carson and Phil Donahue and even a PBS special in my twenties, when I was randomly flipping through the channels and heard his deep, gravely voice say Don’t die with your music still in you.
I said to myself That’s me! I have music in me! And off I went, chasing a dream that couldn’t be caught, a dream whose dying embers lit the way to my standing in front of him right now.
Where I learned that my first book inspired what would be his last book.
I say what would be, because neither of us knew back then that it would be his last.
We had a hell of a few years, though. We shared many stages in beautiful spaces in front of incredible crowds. He met my parents backstage in Vancouver and held my mom by her shoulders and told her I love your son. And she was so proud. She didn’t want to show it, but her eyes were glistening and I knew. Because my eyes were glistening, too.
Sometimes we watched Miami Heat games in his hotel room, me still in whatever I’d worn on stage that day and him usually in his underwear by then. We’d talk about my girlfriends or lack thereof and question if everybody’s really supposed to be with somebody, or if some of us are just supposed to ride alone. But not always alone, because we’d usually ride together in black cars meant only for him, from hotels to the performing arts centers. And early one morning, as the car crept through the Manhattan mist, he invited me to be a part of what would be his last PBS special.
What would be. Those are hard words to say today.He’s been gone a year.
After about a year he encouraged me to work with one of his beautiful daughters, and she and I became friends through singing together and co-writing and my producing an album for her. He sent me the most heartfelt words of thanks after he’d heard the album, and another door opened between us.
Sometimes I’d share my frustrations with him about our publisher or the business of selling books or the futility of trying to cut through the noise, but he never once told me to manifest my dreams or attach myself to divine light or hold space for success.
He told me truths he’d learned the hard way, growing up like my mom did, in foster care and orphanages, and stories of his success that were won through hard-fought battles. He always had those stories to light up whatever truth he was sharing.
That’s one thing he didn’t have to tell me… the stories matter.
But the truths were hard.
The most important truth to me is what he taught all of us through his enthusiasm for living an inspired and empowered life. That was his music: giving the gift of what he believed could help you or the planet, from the wisdom of the Tao to coffee enemas to his unwavering belief that we can turn this thing around.
And that truth is what I heard him say one day twenty years ago on a PBS special.
Don’t die with your music still in you.