I have a friend. He’s not a physicist. He’s a helicopter pilot.
He’s also an artist.
And he did something for me and Dave that is priceless, something that meant more than I will ever be able to adequately express.
Before you read any further, go look at Al’s stuff. He’s pretty amazing.
It started with this.
For anyone who doesn’t know, that’s our son’s music logo.
The cat is Tommy. He likes the logo.
Al made it, as he does much of his art, from old metal roofing. That’s our garage. We have a solar spotlight on it now, so it’s illuminated at night.
But some time after Al made that, he asked me if it would bother us if he did a life size sculpture of Nathan. I replied that it wouldn’t bother us at all, that Dave, in fact, had been wanting to have a wall mural made of Nate walking. Al said that he didn’t want to make something that would cause us pain, but something that would bring us joy.
He began with this.
That’s the cover of one of Nate’s early albums. He’s in Southern Pines, North Carolina. He grew up about a block from those tracks. That burgundy jacket belonged to my dad.
So Al began to figure it all out. In addition to planning how he was going to design this, he had to also come up with a way to make old metal roofing look like cloth, not a small feat.
And there were some recordings made of his progress.
Another friend, Debra Whitehouse, put all those videos together with some footage from the film Nathan Davis Still Lives, totally without our knowledge, and made this.
They kept all this a secret until the sculpture was done.
It’s okay to cry. I did.
The logo (same as the one on our garage) is on the right. The words on the left are Man, I had a damn good time. That is a line from The Long Way Home. You can see the railroad track in the upper right corner. Here it is, in Al’s shop in very good lighting. The old metal is, well, rust-colored.
And we thought it would be perfect on our log wall in our living room. We had it all planned.
Here it is against the log wall. That’s in mid-day, with all the blinds open and all the lights in the room on.
In normal daylight, it just faded away to nothing. You couldn’t distinguish anything.
I was just devastated. Dave, being more practical than I am, wasn’t devastated but started figuring out a solution.
Our house is not big. Our living room is not big. A solution involved moving all the furniture in the room, completely rearranging everything, and turning a whole wall into something that resembles a shrine.
Here it is propped up against the newly dedicated wall. Nathan’s piano used to live there. It now resides where the sculpture was supposed to go. By putting it up against a light-colored background, the detail shows much better.
As you can see, all sorts of remodeling has been going on. New floors started it but it’s become a total nightmare. The thermostat hanging out of the wall there was to an old electric ceiling heat unit that we will never use again, so it went away. You can’t tell now that it was ever there at all. I kept telling Dave that the sculpture would cover it but he wasn’t having any part of holes in the wall.
And here’s what the finished wall will look like when it’s finally done. There are three guitars, but we didn’t have an extra person to hold the third one, so you have to imagine it sitting between the two others. The sculpture will be hung on the right, and we’ll have Nate’s hat on a glass head on the table.
Dave cannot just mount this stuff. He has to make special mounting thingies for the guitars (they’re hanging in my office right now with plain hangers, but that isn’t good enough, so we wait). He wants to put a small shelf for the sculpture to actually sit on, and he’s playing with lighting.
It’s going to take a while, because when he gets stuck he goes and mows the grass.
Here’s actual video of Dave working on thinking about how he’s going to finish that wall.
But that brings me back to physicists and particles.
You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.
Every time I go in the living room, every time I pass by that wall, I think about that paragraph. I think about how the particles that were Nathan became Al, and how Al took old metal and with his hands, took those particles and somehow turned them back into Nathan. I think about how he took heat and how that heat was some of the energy that was Nathan, and how that heat in Al’s hands, became Nathan again. And I think about how the photons that were interrupted in their pathway by Nathan’s smile found their way to Rhode Island and became part of the pixels that Debra used to create that video.
I like to think that when Al sits on his porch with us, watching the night settle in, as we did not too long ago, that energy, those particles are all there with him, just like they are here with us in our living room and on our garage and in Rhode Island as Debby dances and in the music that fills the air.
I know that physicists have terribly scientific names for all that, but I call it “love.”
Thank you, Debra Whitehouse.
Thank you, Al Wilson.