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Wyatt Emmerich: Reflections after making another lap around the sun


Wyatt Emmerich



Another birthday. Time for my annual rumination about life.  


I have always been a long-range planner. That's my strength, but now I am realizing that the best laid plans of mice and men are easily led astray. 


How interesting to watch the kaleidoscope of life unfold in its infinite variation. How silly the desire to control its progression. It would be worse if I even could, for that is the domain of God. 


When you plan long term, you conceptually know that external factors beyond your control can possibly blow your plans out of the water. But like accidents, diseases and death, you always think it won't happen to you. 


I am reminded of the last song John Lennon wrote. It was a beautiful song about the joy he was anticipating watching his young son grow up. The last line: "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." Shortly after, a deranged man shot him to death. 


It's a strange feeling when you watch the great musical artists of your time pass away. 


Going through a Bob Marley phase is now a rite of passage for college males, but in my day, it was the real deal. He had little more than a cult following when I started listening. 


As an editor for the Harvard Crimson, I interviewed Marley after he played at Harvard's Soldier's Field in 1979. You can Google "Bob Marley and Wyatt Emmerich" and read my article. 


At one point in the interview, I asked him if he found a contradiction in playing before an Ivy League crowd of affluent students when his music was about poverty and disenfranchisement. He looked at me and just laughed. 


Twenty years later, I was in Negril, Jamaica with my new wife Ginny and we went to hear Rita Marley play an outdoor concert. 


The comet Kohoutek was blazing in the moonless sky as I stood next to a friendly seven-foot-tall Rastafarian. Rita launched into a slow torch song about Bob. "When asked a question, you would just laugh . . ." she sang. Yes, I thought, I do remember.  


I remember driving up to hear the Grateful Dead at the Pyramid in Memphis in April, 1995. A year before, I had heard the Dead in Atlanta where the police were dragging people out by their hair for lighting up a cigarette. In Memphis, you could barely breathe with all the pot smoke. No police at all. 


The last time the Grateful Dead played in Memphis was 1970 to a crowd one-tenth the size of the 1995 concert. The police turned on the lights during the concert and started arresting people for inciting a riot. 


After the 1995 show, we were hanging out in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, when the band joined us. What a fun night! 


Bob Weir sat next to me, chain smoking. "Man, Memphis has changed," he said. 


I asked Weir if he owned any Grateful Dead t-shirts. "Do I own any Grateful Dead t-shirts?" he said, repeating my question. Ten years later I was reading a biography of the band and the writer commented on Bob Weir's annoying habit of repeating any question he was asked.  


The only band member missing was leader Jerry Garcia. "Where's Jerry," I asked. "He'll probably come crashing through the skylight, arms outstretched any minute," the keyboardist said, looking up. 


In fact, he was probably using in his room. Four months later, he was dead. We all make choices. After 20 years and 20 or so concerts from Ventura, Calif., to Cape Cod, Mass., it was the end of my musical youth. 


This year Greg Allman died. Like the Beatles, Bob Marley and the Grateful Dead, I grew up with their music. Melissa, Whipping Post, Jessica, Southbound, Blue Sky and Ramblin' Man. Life moves on. 


My mantra has become, "Life is easy if you just do what you're supposed to do." But people don't. That's just the way we are. It is a great mystery to me, but I think it has something to do with taking bites of forbidden fruit. 


I am a recovering perfectionist. I'm beginning to realize the natural state of this world is imperfection. I now get nervous around perfection. I'm more relaxed if my table has a scratch and my car has a few dents. 


I learned the essence of a good marriage years ago: Two sinners refusing to give up on one another. That hasn't changed. 


One weird sense I get as I age: I am more and more struck by how fundamentally similar we all are yet life feels so unique, personal and individualistic. It is a strange contradiction: Billions of unique individuals. 


It's been a really full life so far. I have been blessed. As you get older, things become more simple. Like, if you have your health, you have everything. We're not driving. Attitude is everything. God forgave you so you must forgive others. You've got to maintain a sense of humor. 


You never know what's waiting round the corner, but don't let that slow you down. 


Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]



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