Sunday, May 18, 2014

There Once Was a Man from Revillo...

Little Henry 1.2
Ray went home this past week, and I tagged along. We stopped in the northeast South Dakota town where Ray grew up. We cruised around town, as returnees do, remarking about the changes and what and who had gone missing—the old gas company outpost, the hotel, his parents.

Then we drove on to Alexandria MN for the wake/memorial/par-tay in honor of our missing friend, Bruce Kelly ( Ray has known Bruce since his early college years, and knew OF him before that, when Bruce’s family moved from the farm into Ray’s hometown. Ray and Bruce passed boldly through the “drop out and become famous rock & roll musicians” phase together, and they've played music together in one band or another ever since—about 40 years. In the past decade or so, the band they had in their 20’s, Little Henry (the boys lived together in a farmhouse back then), had been getting back together to play gigs once or twice a year.

Bruce’s memorial service was as close to a perfect funeral as I’ve seen. The “service” part was [un]officiated by someone who knew and could share his own memories of Bruce, a couple of poems, and some words of comfort; Bruce’s brother Norm and Bruce’s three children shared beautifully touching and funny memories; I read a poem; and musician friends near & dear to Bruce sang songs that had been some of Bruce’s favorites. No “sermon,” no rote readings from a standardized service, just broken-hearted joy.

Little Henry 5.0
The rest of the day was 300 or so folks reconnecting, connecting for the first time, hugging, weeping, laughing, eating, drinking, and sharing Bruce stories. I talked some serious kale & quinoa with Bruce’s daughter—Bruce’s quick wit and constant humor is alive and exponentially multiplying in his amazing kids. Many of the musical amalgamations with whom Bruce had played over the years (he was a monster bass player) took the stage and cranked out tunes—probably what Himself loved to do most in this life. Even his wife Annie got up and played her accordion on a few tunes. Bruce was probably late for the funeral, having stopped along the way to have a beer and tell someone about this one time when…

Little Henry 5.2

There once was a man from Revillo, who hid golf balls under his pillow...

I have lots of Bruce memories of my own, but the thing I come back to over and over about Bruce is this: Having come on the scene later, I am not part of the Little Henry history. Even so, Bruce welcomed me unconditionally as LH family. He encouraged me to sing with the band, always treating me like an essential element, not like a “band wife” or “chick singer.” He emailed songs I HAD to learn. The last Crackbook message I got from Bruce said “I’ll sing with you anywhere, anytime.” Shortly after meeting her in 2006, he got his future wife, Annie, a newspaper editor, interested in playing music and brought her (another interloper not part of the LH history) into the LH family, as well. Maybe I’ve romanticized Bruce’s larger-than-life-ness in my addled brain, but it seems to me that for Bruce, there were no insiders and outsiders, no people who did or didn’t belong. There were only people he loved.

We’re wrong to think of anything as permanent, I know. Everything is temporary. We live most of our lives with fractured hearts precisely because we cling to the unrealistic expectation that things—and people—will stay. So Ray and I will move on, we’ll keep playing music and telling bad jokes. And if, while I'm getting ready for today's Sisters of Perpetual Disorder meeting & celebration,  you hear me say, “I’m making a fokken salad nicoise,” well, that’s just a wee bit ‘o Bruce.


You go on ahead, out into the galaxy.
Learn the chord changes
for these new songs, warm up the band.
We’ll stay here a while to celebrate
your unconditional kindness,
your constant humor & generous hugs,
your joy in family & friends.
We’re glad and grateful, knowing
you join the music of the universe,
notes so true and full of love
they’ll ring out in this temporary dark
until we find you again—
your mischievous smile in the crescent moon,
your twinkling eyes in bright planets,
your heartstrings in light trails
left by shooting stars.
We’ll have to stay here a while,
without your hands to hold,
but our road is less troubled,
our burdens lighter somehow,
because now and always,
you fill our bruised & aching hearts
with laughter and song.


  1. Thanks M, its not really a good enough word but it'll have to do. I love your blog, and I love you and your family.

  2. Oh I loved this post....such a tribute to Bruce! He was a one in a million wasn't he? I read this over the weekend ~ it's not how long you live that sums up a good life. it's how well.