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I’m sitting here watching the snow fall on the hedges by the road, hoping the roads are clear enough for Leon’s bus to make it through.  But maybe he is already here, having driven through the early hours from Pittsburgh where he played last night.  Maybe he’s getting up and having breakfast at the Corner Room, his long white hair causing a stir as he makes his way through the crowded restaurant to a table by the window.

If all goes well, we will be sitting in the front row of the balcony at the State Theater in downtown State College at 8 tonight, and Leon Russell will sit down at the piano and that waterfall of notes that opens “A Song for You” will tumble down, and the lights will go low and a spotlight will shine on his white hat, white suit,white hair.

With some songs you recall the very first time you heard them, and that’s true for “A Song for You.”  I was lying in the darkness in the house on Europe Street in Baton Rouge, LA, with the radio on softly, maybe at midnight.  I heard that tumble of notes and then that strange, archaic voice with the undefinable Southern/Black Gospel accent croaking out this love song about loving you in a place where there’s no space or time.  It was haunting if you happened to be living in a tumbledown house in the old section of town, not far from the Mississippi, with the fires of the oil refineries on the far side of the river turning the night sky pink and red.

I was taking some writing classes at LSU, working on a manuscript that I thought of as an existential suspense novel that would finally peter out after 200 pages.  But the effort of imagination it required made everything else in my life incredibly intense and concentrated.  Songs and books, car rides to New Orleans or across the Atchafalya Basin, afternoons at the Cotton Club eating soft shell crabs, writing short stories about Florida and Tennessee that would be torn apart by would-be writers ten years younger than me but that I still hold dear, the heat and the smell of magnolia, jamabalya and creole seasoning – everything was seared into a track of my memory.  A lot of those memories are evoked when Leon’s piano trickles down those notes.

The snow is falling fast and there is still a long driveway to clear before it’s time to go.  Hang on Leon, we’re coming.  Don’t start without me.

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