…and suddenly it’s Sunday night. My last show is no longer something I’m getting ready for. It happened. And it was a wonderful time. People came from all over. People were there from many states, including Alaska, (though I don’t think the show was the only reason for their trip). But people came from Missouri, Colorado and various other places too, and the show was the only reason for their trip. Amazing.
It was excruciating trying to decide what to play. I’ve put out ten records, and a show like last night’s starts to run a little long if you play too many more than 20 songs, so basically I left out five songs for every one I played. In the end, of course, I ignored the set list I had made and played some different songs anyway, but honestly, I don’t think it mattered too much. Playing music live, for me, is mostly about holding a space to be together for a while.
And, of course, when the show was over and I had talked with everyone who wanted to talk and signed everything that could possibly be signed, I played for another forty-five minutes or so for the folks who were still hanging around. I love playing, and I’ve had to learn over the years that it’s often better to stop than keep going.
And so I’ve officially changed my job now. I’m no longer a performing musician, since there are no performances on the calendar. Some would say I have a new vocation, given that we often use the word ‘vocation’ to mean ‘job.’ Vocation doesn’t mean job, though, it means calling. And that’s different.
There are so many ways to answer a calling. They’re not always dramatic— the sell-everything-and-move-to-Africa callings, or the quit-being-a-banker-and-go-to-seminary callings, though those count too. I’m so glad that people of compassion and vision work at banks and post offices and airports, too, and not just at churches and aid organizations.
Melissa Gutierrez, for instance, who was working at the Guatemala City airport last summer when I got stuck there due to a canceled flight and had to get to San Jose to speak at a huge gathering. After dealing with a long line of other frustrated passengers she took forty minutes with me trying to find a way to get me there on time, and in the end she did. She went far beyond the call of duty and changed my life significantly.
I was on my way to speak to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, the governing conference that meets every two years to decide on the policies and positions of the church. They invited me to spend an hour speaking to the thousand commissioners (the ones who cast the votes to make those decisions) right before they went to do their committee work. In that hour I played three songs, but mostly I shared some thoughts on how it is that we go about changing the world, and what it means to be faithful in that effort.
My plan had been to get home to NC, drop my Guatemala gear, get my suit, guitar and drum and then fly to California the next day, but as it turned out I got into California straight from Guatemala with no suit, no instruments, no sleep, and only a few hours until I had to go on. Still, somehow it all worked, and I thoroughly enjoyed the time. At the end I got a standing ovation.
I wonder whether Melissa ever got a standing ovation in her life. I wonder if anyone ever wrote her a letter to tell her how much the way she did her work meant to them. I wrote one heck of a letter to the airline, I assure you, but honestly it didn’t occur to me to write to her as well.
Most of us just don’t get that kind of appreciation.
And then there’s me. I’ve been aware for a long time that I get much more than my share of it. And it certainly feels good to be appreciated. I’m not saying I should have less of that, but that so many people should have more.
And when it comes to vocation, to calling, it’s not about applause, it’s about doing what you were put on the planet to do. I don’t believe that’s a simple answer for most of us. I don’t think there’s one calling that sums us up. I think we have many vocations, some big and some little, some dramatic and some generally unnoticed.
I’m switching my work now. I’m turning my focus to peace work, and for the next year and a half I’ll be a student of peace making. I’d like to think that my vocation isn’t changing, though. I’ve always tried to use music to remind others and myself of our connectedness and commonality, and increasing empathy is a huge component of peace work.
My sister Margaret owned a design company for a while and studied professional photography, but felt called to become a minister, and needed to answer that call. She was happy before but it became clear to her that this was what God wanted from and for her. My brother John did remodeling and construction and owned a painting company, but it turns out he has a real gift for caring for elderly people in home health care, and I think he’s right where he ought to be doing that work today. My sister Kathy has done a ton of things, from generously and skillfully running my career for several years to being a professional potter, but left the life of an artist to go to Cornell law at age fifty because she’s passionate about addressing the brokenness of our death penalty system.
I think all three of them deserve a big round of applause, along with Melissa Gutierrez. And I imagine you do too.
I’ve been hearing from people in recent weeks about what my music has meant to them over the years, and I treasure every one of those notes. It’s good to know that it mattered, and it’s humbling to hear about how deeply some of these songs have connected with some of their hearts and histories.
Deanna, Mason and I had dinner with my friend Frank tonight (well, Mason actually ate later…), and at one point Frank said “If they can say at my funeral ‘We know Frank loved us,’ then my life will have been a success.” I think that’s spot-on. I guess my point is that if you wanted me to know I’m appreciated, you’ve been a success.
And I want you to know, too. The work I’ve done for the last eighteen years has been directly for you. I was an independent musician, so I’ve never worked for a record company or for a fancy agent. I was an independent contractor: I worked for the people who came to my shows and the people who bought CDs. And you’ve been a great boss.
So thank you. And farewell. Take a bow.
And good morning. And welcome. If you’re interested in staying in touch as this new adventure begins, please do. I’ll be blogging here and will always be happy to hear from you.
Do you remember your set list that you could share with us?
Hi! So, I started to see people put up status messages last week on facebook that said things like “seeing David LaMotte’s last concert,” and just was incredibly sad that I missed the last show! I just wanted to let you know how inspired I have always been by your music and your stories! I am grateful that you have shared them with so many people, and now have decided to take this new direction with Peace Studies. It is inspiring for me as I still discern my vocation! So thanks for sharing your gifts and talents! Wish I could have been at the last show!! Blessings on our new journey!
Kara (from Wooster and Montreat…)
Phil Montgomery says
David, I’m so happy for you. My brother Michael said he got to see your show and that it was a great finale to a great chapter of your work. In Kazakhstan with the Peace Corps, I’ve been doing my best to keep hope ahead of cynicism, and your blog and songs remind me to keep up the fight. It’s not easy. I just have to remember all the many instances of compassion and openness that the local people (teachers, students, host families, random people on the train) have shown me and the other PCVs in our first year of service – and I start to see that there are more good, amazing, unique things here than bad, frustrating, “backwards” things. It just seems easier to complain than to praise and appreciate. So, again, thanks for the music and the message. I’ll keep them with me always. Good luck down under!
PCV Kazakhstan 07-09
seventh sister says
I know that your ‘new’ calling will be blessed as was/is the music with which you have blessed us all.
Jackie Henry says
It may take a little while for the rest of us to catch up to you as you go answer your new call… please give us some permission about that. It is not as though I ever had any doubt that peacemaking was every bit your passion and it is not as though it hasn’t been what you already do (Thanks Steve) its just that you have been living with your next call a bit longer in more concrete ways than some of us.
The last concert? I felt that everything that needed to be said, sung, cried over, held, was absolutely done. What was it like for you to know so many people who didn’t know each other- but mouthed every word to every song? For me it was building community. The spontaneous applause for building in the middle of “Hope”- hey, we all get it! It was the first time that I ever heard you sing “Hope” and felt my heart sing and not just my head. So we’ll keep out the nails and the hammers and instead of knocking on doors switch to building what has begun.
My heart is still very full… and if its okay I still may need to talk about the concert and the leavetaking…. but not in a “don’t go!” kind of way but more like a processing of how the leave taking is percolating in me and through me. More about the after concert later.
We had a bet going about your last song- and “song for you” was The One. Not only is it all the things you said, but it is like a circle.. the beginning and end… non-linear!
Anyway, all that said, at age 50 in 2003 as I drove over those mountains we love from Greensboro to Missouri for the last time as a North Carolinian and the first as a psychologist , I played “Song for You” and “Angels” over and over and cried and cried. As much of your music does, the meanings change over time but each time the meaning digs a bit deeper into the soul. I find that my “heart goes back to these mountains” again and again. The mountains seem to “hold the space” bookmarking concerts, community .. when distance overwhelms me in some way.
So go answer your calling- we’ll hold you in the light . As your music has held us.
Mark Baker-Wright says
Oh, that’s a perfect choice!
Steve – Thanks for asking – it would have been good to include that info in the note…
I decided to end where I started, and I played Song For You last. It was the first song I wrote that I can still remember, penned when I was 15, and it’s a goodbye song and a gratitude song, so it seemed like the right one.
Steve Lindsley says
I like the way you describe both as a “calling.” That’s precisely what I thought of when I saw you in Clemmons last May, knowing that’d probably be the last time I saw you perform. For lo these many years you’ve been “called” to stir us and inspire us through your music. You’re basically going to do the same thing; it’s just that the medium’s changed. Although I certainly hope you’ll find time here and there to pick up the six string and strum a tune or two 🙂
Thanks for everything, and look forward to continuing to keep in touch in the future.
Mark Baker-Wright says
I’ve been wondering ever since I heard you’d be retiring, and now that the last concert has happened (but I couldn’t go to it, or I’d know already), I have to ask.
What was the last song you played? I know several of yours that seem so appropriate for the situation, but I’m not you.
(Which is good, because I still can’t play my guitar worth a darn, despite owning it for more than 15 years, now)