I found several albums of Woody Guthrie songs on Miles’s computer. I wish I had known he liked Woody Guthrie because I would have shared the Mermaid Avenue albums with him. The Guthrie estate gave a bunch of songs to Bragg and Wilco to record, resulting in the Mermaid Avenue albums.I love how Billy Bragg and Wilco interpreted the Guthrie songs, especially this one.
I wonder about my influence on Miles. I always talked to him and shared things with him and often talked to him like a teacher about arts, culture, and the world. I assumed he was listening and I hoped he might remember some of them. I always assumed that what I did and the way I behaved was more important of an influence on him than what I told him explicitly. I still think this is true, for better or for worse. Musing about how much I influenced him and how is a curiosity, one of the things I ponder when I think of everything we shared.
At the memorial service we held for Miles a few days after he died, his good friend Walt spoke. Walt and Miles grew up in Morgantown. Since Miles moved to Lewisburg in 2010, he visited Morgantown often and spent a lot of time with Walt. On his last trip back in summer 2014, he and Miles had coffee and walked downtown. Miles gave Walt a paperback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Slapstick. Walt told us at the funeral that it was Miles’s favorite Vonnegut novel and Miles gave the book to him without an expectation of him returning it. Books, Miles told him, are meant to be shared and passed on. I am so glad that Walt shared this story because I am glad they had that connection. I am glad Walt has that book and that memory.
I remember talking to Miles about books and about Vonnegut, and I told him that my favorite books were Breakfast of Champions and Slapstick. Did he hear me? Is it a coincidence? Was it an unconscious influence that he forgot but which he carried with him in the back of his mind and maybe it influenced his reading? I don’t know. Most people hate Slapstick. I liked it a lot when I read it in college. So did Miles. I am glad we had this shared experience, twenty years apart.
I listened to Mermaid Avenue with Miles when he was younger. I listened to Woody Guthrie a few times. I told him about folk music, about “This machine fights fascists,” and about the dustbowl at various different times in our conversations. Did my words lead a path for him toward Woody Guthrie or did he get there on his own? It does not matter really. I will never know, but I wonder where my fingerprints are in his experience and if I mattered more or less than I think I did.
I worry sometimes that I behaved as if every interaction with Miles was too instructive, as if every moment and every day and week and year was merely a prelude to something better, something more important down the road. Did I not live enough in the moment with him? I am worried that every day in my mind was leading to something more important in the future and that I was too conscious of influencing him and not simply appreciating him enough. I was worried so much about him growing up to be the finest man he could be, but I think maybe I worried too much about his promise for the future and did not appreciate the boy he was when he was right there with me. I love what I have and there are so many great memories of helping him grow up that I can access to remember his love and my love for him. But I worry about the past too and wonder what I could have done differently.
I like this song and I like the video too. I hope Miles saw it once at least, maybe when I showed it to him.