Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Brothers and Sisters

One of the first quality records (if not the first one) I purchased was Brothers and Sisters by the Allman Brothers Band which was released in August of 1973, a month before I turned fifteen. I bought it because I loved the single “Ramblin’ Man” but I quickly became enamored of the entire album. “Wasted Words.” “Jelly Jelly.” “Southbound.” “Pony Boy.” “Jessica.” “Come and Go Blues.” What’s not to love?

I also quickly became captivated by the picture on the inside of the album cover. (As an aside, let me say that we really lost something when with the advent of the 8-track tape, the cassette, the compact disc, and digital music we lost the great artwork and photography that came with a vinyl record album.) When you opened up the album cover, spread before you was a photograph of the band members with their extended family—wives, girlfriends, children, crew members, and a couple of dogs. They were all sitting or standing on the porch of the house at the Allman Brothers’ farm in Juliette, Georgia, which wasn’t far from my hometown of Barnesville, although, as I have whined about elsewhere, I never went there.

I confess to having had some adolescent wonderings about what it would be like to be part of such a collective. What I didn’t know then but know very well now is that a couple of very significant individuals were missing from that picture. Duane Allman, one of the two brothers whose name the band wore, had been killed in a motorcycle accident in Macon in 1971. Bass player Berry Oakley had died under eerily similar circumstances in 1972. Brothers and Sisters was the first complete album the Allmans had made since Duane’s death (some of 1972’s Eat a Peach had been recorded before Duane died) and Oakley played on just the first three tracks of the new album before he died.

When I look at that photograph now, I am reminded of what happens in and to families (while in no way asserting that the Allman Brothers Band family was “typical”). People live; people die. People come; people go. When they go, they leave a space that cannot be filled while also creating a space where others can come and grow and develop. All of life is about change and about adapting to change; it is about mourning our losses while celebrating life and moving with hope and trust into the future.

Duane was the heart and soul of the Allman Brothers Band; there is no way they should have survived without him. And yet here in 2014, forty-five years after they started, the band is still going; they will play the last concerts of what has been billed as their final tour next month at the Beacon Theatre (where they have played, amazingly, around 300 shows in their career) in New York City. The band has been through a lot, much of it admittedly self-inflicted, but they have hung in there. Not all the relationships survived; I doubt that, except for Chuck and Rose Lane Leavell (who have been married for 41 years), any of the couples pictured in that photograph are still together and some band members have departed while others have been added. But they are still the Allman Brothers Band.

I’m writing these words on the eve of my 56th birthday; during this life I’ve had a lot of people come and go but the only sibling I ever had—the brother I almost had—died before I met him and when I was too young to know that he had even existed. Right now my Good Wife, who was blessed with three older brothers (one of whom died a few years ago) and two older sisters, is with her family in Dothan, Alabama where her oldest sister is hospitalized with a serious illness. Having no personal experience with sibling relationships, I am grateful for the ways in which they love and relate to one another. In recent weeks I have participated in the funerals of two of my childhood friends. On the other hand, a month from now we will be celebrating our only daughter’s marriage. People go; people come. People leave; people stay. People cry; people laugh. People mourn; people celebrate. It is the way of the world.

We are most blessed, I think, by those who, given the choice, hang in there with us for the long haul and we are most a blessing to those with whom we hang in there for the long haul. That’s the case whether we are talking about our family, about our family of friends, about our community family, or about our family of faith.

Gregg Allman has a song in which he affirms, “I’m no angel.” He sure isn’t (I’ve read his book). But neither are you. Neither am I.

But when you’ve fought and tried and failed and succeeded and won and lost and helped and hurt and struggled and survived and the smoke clears and the blood dries and you pull yourself up to take a look around, those who are still there with you are your true brothers and sisters.

Even if you only see one or two, be grateful. Be very grateful …

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