John Denver in the Dungeon


My dad had an office in the basement. He never used it. In fact nobody really used the basement. It was like a dungeon. Musty and dark. The laundry was down there. So was the deep freeze. That's about it. So as it were, the basement was the perfect place for a 15-year-old boy to practice guitar and singing without the threat of someone listening. 

I didn't want anyone listing because for the first time I was becoming really passionate about something. Playing guitar and singing just felt right. Like I was somewhere I belonged and doing something I might even be good at. And if anybody heard me and had something bad to say, I might just be entirely destroyed. So I kept it safe and hidden in that office down in the dungeon. 

One time I could hear somebody coming down the creaky staircase. I paused playing and singing, which is what I normally did when the occasional “intruder” came down. Usually it was mom changing over the laundry. I was surprised when I heard a knock and saw my dad's head peek in. 

Something you should know about my dad is that he doesn't say much about what he's feeling. He's also a man that other men look up to in that sort of "Marlboro Man" sense. Later in life he would tell me he was sorry for never complimenting me on my music. He said he didn't want to give me a big head. What's funny, though, is when he told me that, I realized he didn't remember his dungeon visit. Because that's exactly what he did. It was one of the most pivotal moments in my life. 

I had been working on the chords to John Denver's "Country Roads" and trying to sing and play at the same time (which if that's you -- just keep working at it!) when my dad poked his head in. We just sat there in silence for a bit. He saw the guitar tab book open and asked if I would play what I was working on.

Well, my dad might as well have been John Denver back from the grave because that's about how nervous I was. I remember playing and singing for the first time in the sense that I was letting someone in on something that meant so much to me.

When I finished there was some silence but then he said, "You have a nice voice, Aaron."

That's all I remember. (I mean, he probably also said it was time for dinner or something, but…)

Maybe it doesn't seem like much but it changed my life. It didn't matter that he never complimented me after that. It was enough for me to get to the next song, and then the next song. To begin writing my own songs and playing them for others, record my first album and tour around the country and overseas, get a record deal, sign a publishing contract. Move to Nashville in search of recreating that connection you have with someone that music allows you to have. I'm not talking about compliments so much as I am talking about what is underneath the compliment, where the music moves somebody enough to respond.

And even though for my dad it was just telling me I had a nice voice, I know that something must have happened in that moment beforehand, while I played and sang "Country Roads" that allowed him to open up. 

That’s what music is about. And that's why I do it. To connect with others and myself on some level that isn’t possible without music, or is at least a lot more possible.

And that's why I want to thank you for joining my email list. Sure, it might not seem like much. Regardless, here we are. And it's not really about music so much as it is connecting with each other and having a sense of belonging. 

So honestly, thank you.

Anyway…that's probably enough sentimentalism for now. I sometimes get carried away. (I’m a songwriter after all! I share my feelings for a living! :)



P.S. If you're seeing this post and NOT on the email list, you can join the Aaron Espe Loves You Club here.