I’m sitting in the living room watching TV when my phone starts buzzing.
It’s YouTube notifications, comments on a video I had posted more than a year ago. Almost all are from viewers in Sweden who have just watched a Swedish TV documentary featuring a homeless singer.
*** 15 months earlier ***
December. The air is brisk. I walk out of a Goodwill thrift store on Charlotte Avenue and get into my car. I begin to turn the ignition when I hear singing.
It’s Nashville, so that’s not uncommon, but this is different. The man’s voice is like nothing I’ve heard before. Somewhere between Hank Williams and a character out of a John Steinbeck novel. So much mystery and loneliness and complexity that I just sit and listen not knowing what to do next.
I decide to get out of my car and walk toward the voice.
The singing comes from an older man sitting on the sidewalk, leaned against the brick exterior store wall. He is strumming a black guitar. I stand listening and looking around. It’s just me except for a Goodwill employee in the distance on a smoke break.
He finishes the song, and I’m star struck, but muster the courage to ask his name.
“Doug Seegers,” he says and offers his hand to shake.
Then I do something out of character. I ask if I can record him singing another song.
Fumbling through my iPhone apps, I finally get the video rolling while he begins a song about going down to the river to wash his soul again. It is utterly gut wrenching.
Afterwards I realize I have no cash to drop in his guitar case. I’m embarrassed. I offer a ride and a bite to eat. But he says he’s already eaten at the Mission on Charlotte Avenue. He says he’s happy sitting there in the warm sun.
So we say goodbye and I speed home to show my wife the video. Later that night I post it on YouTube.
*** Back to YouTube notifications 15 months later ***
Names like Björn, Normark, Turgidson and Olsson keep showing up in my inbox. The comments describe the same feeling I had when hearing Doug for the first time.
“I heard his voice on the tv I just got tears in my eyes! It is so good!”
“I heard it too, my family heard it… and I as well got tears in my eyes. His voice has a sound of pain…I want to say a lot more but I am speechless.”
“Oh sweet lord what a story, voice and song…”
The obvious question is, So what happened between when I saw him and now? I’ll leave you to figure that out. It’s well documented (you can google “Doug Seegers” or start here).
For the sake of this blog post, I’m sharing this with you because, one, it’s such a strange thing that happened to me.
But two, I hope that in the future you trust the things that move you inside. I struggle with this a lot. Knowing what to do when something different is happening in my chest. Whether it’s an idea, relationship, or a homeless singer’s voice. But let’s you and I make a promise to each other to at least pay attention. On behalf of Doug Seegers.
P.S. If you’re someone who enjoys reading the novel before the movie, listen to the audio I recorded of Doug, then watch the video.