On the day Nanci Griffith died I received calls and texts from friends far and near like a loved one had passed. It truly was extraordinary. “Thank you for turning me on to her all those years ago…” “What??” I thought, thinking this person only listened to grunge. Another one: “I’m remembering the night you put on “One Fair Summer Evening” and I was dead.” This from someone I don’t recall stepping foot in my home, but okay. As the day rolled on, I remembered a conversation with my dear friend Heidi years ago:
“I think you turned me on to Nanci, right?”
“No, I think it was you who turned her on to me.”
“Or was it your sister?”
“Wait, now I’m thinking it was our buddy Carrie Sue.”
But that’s the way it went with Ms. Griffith. There was a badge somewhere belonging to someone and you wanted to make sure you got it right.
I saw her in concert more than any other artist. And whatever venue we found ourselves in was always packed, which always seemed surprising as Nanci felt like a secret you shared with a few other people and no one else. One night we were seated with a recent Oscar winner who was singing along at the top of her lungs. “What’s wrong with this picture?” we thought.
Her music was the soundtrack of my life for a few years running. Countless late night conversations interrupted by:
“Are we really gonna play ‘Little Love Affairs’ again??”
“I think three times is enough. I’ll find ‘Lone Star’ while you open another bottle.”
For someone who toured consistently, it was astonishing when, almost overnight, she stopped. There were rumors about her health, both mental and physical, but Lord only knows – when it comes to the internet you can’t be sure about anything. She gave no interviews, which made the mystery even that more maddening. There was no cause of death mentioned. Someone told me yesterday they read she’d asked her publicist not to reveal it until a week after her death. Again = internet. All I know is her exit was a jolt I’d not felt for any other artist, save Bowie.
The afternoon I found out I went for a hike in the mountains. Making my way home through the canyons, I put on “Dust Bowl Symphonies.” Although still unnerving to hear Nanci’s music with all those instruments, the added strings made me cry harder. Harder for that life when some blessed soul, whoever the hell they were, could turn me on to someone so gifted that, at least for a time, I allowed them to become the score for my existence – a voice in another room to remind me that I may be guilty, war and the root of all evil, but there was always a light beyond these godforsaken woods.
So in honor of you, Miss Nanci – here’s to all the dreamers, may our open hearts find rest. The wing and the wheel are gonna carry us along, and we’ll have memories for company, long after the songs have played.