John Denver, the Dungeon, and Thanks for Being Here

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 listening because for the first time I was becoming really passionate about something: music. 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.

(My childhood home.)

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 other men look up to in that sort of “Marlboro Man” sense. Later in life he apologized 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. It was one of the most pivotal moments in my life.

I had been working on the chords to John Denver’s “Take Me Home, 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.

He 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 the next song. Then begin writing my own songs and playing them for others. Record my first album and tour around the country and overseas. Move to Nashville; sign a publishing contract and record deal. All in search of recreating that connection you have with someone because of music.

I’m not talking about compliments so much as I’m talking about what is underneath a compliment, where the music moves somebody enough to respond.

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, while I played and sang “Country Roads” that allowed a stoic Midwesterner like him to open up in a seemingly small way.

(My dad.)

That’s what music is about. That’s why I do it. To connect with others and myself on some level that seems only possible through a song.

So thanks for being a part of this little community. I hope it serves as a reminder that music bridges us in a way that goes far beyond logic.

Always feel free to reach out to me as a friend, music industry resource, or just a fellow human being. Seriously, for any reason — you can contact me directly here.


P.S. As a special gift, here’s my cover of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” It’s only available to you and my Secret Songs Club on Bandcamp.