Category Archives: Music

Remembering my friend

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

Darren plays guitar for our band, The Grenadines, at a show in The Colony in 2006.

My co-worker, bandmate and close friend passed away almost a week ago. Today we held his memorial service at a local church, which was filled with his family, friends, fellow educators, and many students – past and present. I was asked by his sweet wife to speak on his behalf and to play the harmonica. I stayed up until nearly 2 a.m. writing and practicing “Amazing Grace.” Though it was strange to play solo without my buddy by my side on his guitar, I asked my friends and family for prayer, and the Lord delivered. These are the words I shared today for my dear friend and for my hurting co-workers, bandmates, and our students.

Before I share some memories and thoughts about my friend Darren Ryan, I want to share something else with you.

Like many people in this room, I experienced a flood of emotions when I got the news. I was sad, angry, confused, distressed, and mostly stunned. It didn’t make any sense that my friend Darren was gone.

Here’s what has encouraged my heart the past few days. I hope it encourages you.

Though I don’t have any answers, and I don’t think God promises us answers, I do believe he promises us peace. I find this promise in scriptures like Philippians 4:7 which talks of a peace that surpasses understanding to those who trust in Him. Jesus talks about this peace in John when he says, “My peace I give to you, not as the world gives… Let not your hearts be troubled or afraid.”

The passage that I’ve thought on the most has been in Psalm 107. We are told “Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble and he delivered them from their distress… For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.”

I believe these promises are for you and me, especially in times like this. Are you troubled? Cry out to the Lord. He’s not bothered by your doubt or shame. He knows, and his response is love and grace and mercy. He’s rich with it. And He’s longing to pour it out. So ask him.

Mr. Ryan prayed hard over me when I was unconscious in a hospital bed in Denton more than two years ago, as did many others. My family told me stories later of his fervor in prayer and how it blessed them in those desperate moments. God heard those prayers. So I don’t think he’d have any problem with me asking you to plead with God for peace in moments like this.

Darren Ryan has been my dear friend for the better part of the last ten years. We were colleagues and bandmates. We bonded over good food, bad puns, and great music. I want to speak briefly to a few groups of folks here who knew Darren.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

Darren poses in our old school building on the last day for us to be inside before it was demolished to make way for the new building. He was a student himself in this old building, class of 1983.

To my bandmates in the Grenadines and anybody who ever came to hear us play, I’m so glad for you and for music. Because that was my entry point to bonding with Darren and getting to see his beautiful spirit and loyal friendship for all it was. Darren had a habit of wearing sunglasses on stage when he played, even indoors. I know it’s because he got a touch of stage fright before our performances. But all that melted away when he started to make those Fender guitars moan and wail, and a smile as wide as these Texas skies would stretch across his face. Occasionally, he’d turn himself over to the music completely – it was usually late in the evening – during a performance of Mustang Sally or Play that Funky Music or Fire by Jimi Hendrix, and he’d go completely off-script on a solo – and we’d follow him. I’d throw a glance back at Eddie on the drums, he’d shrug and smile back. Darren was in a good place, lost to the music.

To my fellow faculty and staff members at LHS, I know well how much love you have for your own, and how much more for someone as beloved as Darren. I know you’ve already gone out of your way to care for and support Pam and his family, just from the way I’ve experienced it as his friend. Here’s what I’ll remember about Darren as a colleague. How much he cared about doing what we do so well. How he always got to school early, was always going the extra mile to prepare for his classes and support his fellow teachers, especially those in his department. And how he did it all with that 100 watt smile and signature sense of humor… I’ll miss bumping into him in the hallways or the faculty workroom where he always called me Dr. Hale, and I always called him Dr. Ryan. It’s impossible to measure how much LHS meant to him.  Which brings me to the last group…

His students… past and present. I knew when I was gathering my thoughts for this moment that you would show up here by the boatload… and I was right. I know this because, like many of his friends, I remember so many times out and about in Lewisville with Darren when we were interrupted by “Mr. Ryan! Mr. Ryan!” So many former students would come out of the woodwork to speak with him, and I swear, hand to God, that Darren would remember the names of practically every one. He’d remember details too… or even the fact that he had their brother or sister in class as well. You loved him. And he loved you too. You must know that. He rooted hard for all of you. He was a role model to me in that sense. I asked my students time and time again to tell me what their hardest class in high school, and almost every time I’d hear AP Psych with Mr. Ryan. Then I’d ask the same students who their favorite high school teacher was, and without hesitation, they’d say Mr. Ryan. You could not have paid him a higher compliment. Truly. I mean that.

From Darren's Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

From Darren’s Twitter. Graduation the Saturday before last.

Darren told me once years ago that he was considering leaving the teaching profession. I asked him what he thought that he might do. He didn’t have a clear answer. And he stayed on the job. The next year he was named campus Teacher of the Year. Have no doubt, that Mr. Ryan could have had any number of careers and been successful. He is one of the most capable, reliable, talented men I’ve ever known. But I believe God made him a teacher. And I see evidence of that in the pews here today. You are Darren Ryan’s legacy. And if he meant something to you, take that to heart and live your lives well. Live passionately and love others extravagantly. That’s what Mr. Ryan would’ve wanted.

Thank you.


What matters most

I didn’t know spring until I came here
Here we’re pushing up the lid on the cool hemisphere
Everything melts I know even your tears
Here in this hemisphere

What matters the most is what you do for free
Me believing in you and you in me
You try to find work and you do your best
You get what you get and you deserve the rest

– “When The Ice Goes Out” by John Gorka

trinity churchI went to visit my girl this past weekend in a region of New York known as the North Country, up near the Ontario border. She’s been staying up there for the past three weeks, visiting old friends and family. I went to get a taste of the place and people she so often talks about and found that she didn’t exaggerate when it came her descriptions of the land and the souls who live on it.

It started snowing the night after I arrived and accumulated several inches by the time it was time to leave the next day. I had never seen so much snow outside of the Rocky Mountains and it was beautiful as it blanketed the Grasse River, frozen in parts, still running in others and visible from the kitchen window. I kept saying how beautiful this place was and everybody kept replying, “No, you really need to see it in spring or summer when it’s so green.” But I’ve seen incredible, lush green, this summer in Seattle and the Puget Sound, everything growing and constantly saturated with a sheen of fresh rain.

But all that white frosting a rural area like this was something I wasn’t used to and it WAS beautiful. Still, I get the point the locals were trying to make. The green of springtime, at the end of so much winter white, must really be breathtaking.

As we were driving around town on that last day to meet a friend with a more winter-ready car to drop me off at the airport, I tried to imagine what spring might look like. I remembered a line from a song by one of my favorite songwriters, “I didn’t know spring until I came here.”

In Texas, everything is flipped. The summers seem never-ending and often brutal. Fall is what I look forward to here, and it comes late, but when it finally arrives with that first crisp turn in the air temperature and a hint of woodsmoke in the air, it’s a joyful occasion for me. Spring seems to last about a day in comparison. There’s the first break in what we consider winter, then bluebonnets, maybe a tornado or two, then the mercury rises and rises and rises.

I don’t have an appreciation of spring, not like these winter folk do. But I kept reciting those lyrics aloud and came to the next line. Maybe one of my favorites.

“What matters most is what you do for free.”

This fall (and really even a bit longer than that) has been a time of learning for me. Learning about what really matters. Learning to silence the premeditated resentments of expectation, edit out the constantly-comparing language of pride, and to reframe life’s goals, joys, pleasures and treasures in terms of what truly lasts.

I’ve always liked Gorka’s lines but there’s a double edge to them. On one hand, the things that are most important are things for which we don’t receive a check – being good husbands/wives, raising a family, glorifying the Creator with all the blessings He’s given us. Or even some of the more trivial things, talents, hobbies, pursuits we do simply for the enjoyment of them – music, cooking, writing, art.

On the other hand, there’s the implication that we assign value to the ways we spend that “free” time. Look at how we spend our moments away from our day jobs or routine responsibilities – what does it say about what matters most, deep in our hearts? The lyric used to make me smile. Now it convicts me. I think good music can do both.

What matters most to me is changing, slowly but surely (it’s just the way I seem to operate). Because I’ve been coming out of a winter of sorts, and it seems that I’m starting to truly know spring for the first time myself.

For Honey Boy…

I first saw David “Honey Boy” Edwards more than 10 years ago on John Hammond‘s documentary, “The Search for Robert Johnson.” As I watched Honey Boy and Johnny Shines, I couldn’t believe that guys who had played and traveled with Robert Johnson were still alive.

Johnson still seems like more of a vapor from the past – no video exists, perhaps only three photos and less than 30 recordings from a person who is a Titanic musical figure in my mind. To say that you actually knew and played with the man seemed more akin to saying you had once ridden a unicorn.

Shines passed in 1992 at the age of 76. Honey Boy, the more raw-sounding and acting of the two, and the one who had actually been with Robert on the night he was poisoned, died yesterday morning, a month and a day after turning 96. Though reports had him announcing his retirement on July 17, he actually had been scheduled to play yesterday at noon in Chicago.

I got the news this morning while checking the Associated Press on my iPhone, something that Honey Boy couldn’t have fathomed when he played his first show in 1928 at the age of 13. I shot a text to a friend and fellow blues enthusiast, who simply pointed out a fitting change in our Texas weather.

A bluesman had died. And we had rain for the first time in weeks.

He had played with everybody – and I mean, everybody. Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Robert Lockwood, Muddy, the Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Eric Clapton, everybody. He was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1996 and won his first Grammy in 2008, followed by a lifetime Grammy in 2010. With the death of fellow bluesman, Pinetop Perkins back in March, Honey Boy’s death really does represent the end of an era for the earliest recorded Delta Blues singers.

The man was a walking history book of the blues. He was always fond of saying “The world don’t owe me nothin,'” and that may be true. But I am glad that in the past 20 years or so, he got at least some of the recognition he was due.

Rest in the blues, Honey Boy. Your ramblin’ days are done.

Honey Boy as I first saw him, playing with John Hammond.

Honey Boy playing a little “Catfish Blues” for his 95th birthday at the Crossroads Guitar Festival.

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Walking in Memphis…

Listening to this tune as I pack for a trip to Missouri is reminding me of my trip to Memphis last week. I’m going to try to use some of my free time from this fellowship to edit a few of the photos I took on the trip. When they’re ready, I’ll put them up on the photo blog.

This is an old tune by W.C. Handy that put Beale Street (or Beale Ave. as it was known then, they changed the name after this song came out) on the map.

Beale Street was okay, but it’s a pretty touristy today. It was cool to walk the same streets as some of the blues, jazz and early rock legends, but there’s not a ton of the old scene left.

But Memphis is a city that does a good job of putting its history on display. Sun Studio, Stax Museum, the Civil Rights Museum are all fantastic.

But this was the gem of the trip.

More photos and stories to come.

Walking the line between faith and fear

I had a talk with a close confidant yesterday, and we spent most of the discussion about the contrast of faith and fear. We talked about how those two concepts are opposites of each other and how deep self-deception can run when fueled by fear. I don’t have time to go into more detail now, and I’m still fleshing out all my thoughts on the subject, but it was a very enlightening conversation.

And it reminded me of the song below by the Old Crow Medicine Show. Not sure if I know the exact sentiment behind this song, but I love to play it on repeat when I’m driving or just working around the house. It’s a slow tune with a weary end-of-the-trail quality to the lyrics, but there’s hope beneath it all. I think that’s my favorite sort of song.

Yes, this is my first post of 2011. It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say. I just haven’t been exactly sure about how to say it. More to come…

We’re all in this together – Old Crow Medicine Show

Well my friends, I see your face so clearly
Little bit tired, little worn through the years
You sound nervous, you seem alone
I hardly recognize your voice on the telephone

In between I remember
Just before bound-up, broken-down
We drive out to the edge of the highway
Follow that lonesome dead-end roadside south

We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Well my friend, let’s put this thing together
And walk the path with worn-out feet of trial
‘Cause if you wanted we can go home forever
Give up your jaded ways, spell your name to God

We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

All the hour there’s a picture in a mirror
Fancy shoes to grace our feet
All there is is a slow road to freedom
Heaven above and the devil beneath


We’re all in this thing together
Walkin’ the line between faith and fear
This life don’t last forever
When you cry I taste the salt in your tears

Don’t be a Vader Hater

This is genius. Thanks to Graham and College Humor.

Rest in peace Moff Tarkin, indeed.

More West Texas ear candy

Also mixing well with the windy bleak dust of Lubbock and the bland decor of the La Quinta lobby are the outstandingly simple songs of the Nick Drake-esque Alexi Murdoch from the “Away We Go” soundtrack.
“Away We Go” (John Krasinski, Maya Rudolph) was easily the best film I saw in 2009, and the soundtrack is perfect for the reading and journaling I’m doing today. Folky acoustic guitar, Alexi’s smooth, strong baritone – do yourself a favor and check him out on iTunes or Pandora. The soundtrack also includes tunes from George Harrison, Velvet Underground, Dylan and The Stranglers
Guys like Alexi and Ray Lamontagne are slowly restoring my faith in new music and I’m thankful for that.

Lubbock or leave it…

So I’m in Lubbock again for what has become a semi-annual trip to the UIL Regional Academic meet. We got in on Thursday, but my two students don’t compete until Saturday. So I’ve got a free day and a half here in America’s Playground.

We were surrounded by storm clouds yesterday with a tornado watch on for the area.

Darren, my bandmate and roommate for the trip, sat with me in our room as we watched The Office and 30 Rock but were continually interrupted by breaking weather updates. The big green screen radar map included several coiled graphics with capital “M’s” on them. I joked that the “M” probably stood for mesocyclone. Darren laughed. It was less funny when I turned out to be correct.

But the most we saw near the La Quinta was some rain and a lot of lightning.

So here I am spending a Friday morning in Lubbock, which seems a good time as any to listen to some Wilco. This place just has that kind of vibe. And I’m all out of Buddy Holly.

So here’s a “video” (actually just the album cut with one still image behind it) of the song that made me fall in love with Wilco’s music (thanks to Adam Chamberlain for sharing his excellent taste in music with me).

Either Way

Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will blow away
Maybe I won’t feel so afraid
I will try to understand
Either way

Maybe you still love me
Maybe you don’t
Either you will or you won’t
Maybe you just need some time alone
I will try to understand
Everything has its plan
Either way
I’m gonna stay
Right for you

Maybe the sun will shine today
The clouds will roll away
Maybe I won’t be so afraid
I will understand everything has its plan
Either way

The Hard Part…

A little spiritual uplift courtesy of the great David Wilcox… like David, I like to think of this as a love song coming from up on high.

Favorite lyrics? There are two lines that really move me in this song.

You want a cool breeze to dance with your flame, a long lost lover who knows your true name, a secret garden beyond this shame, and it all comes down to this


You think your drowning hope will die in a sea without a shore, but I can drink that ocean dry and still come back for more

Thanks David for all the wonderful songs and music-as-therapy moments over the years…

The Hard Part by David Wilcox

I see the look that’s in your eyes
That says “I must keep most of me inside
‘Cause you’d never love me if I didn’t hide
the secrets of my heart”

Well I’m not here for the surface stuff
I just get bored with all that fluff
So show me the edges even if it’s rough
And let the real love start

You think your shame and deep disgrace
Are more than I can bear
But you can go to your darkest place
I will meet you there

And I’m strong enough to take it
And I know what you’ve been through
You’ve got a whole heart
Give me the hard part
I can love that too

You look at me with some surprise
And I see the doubt that’s in your eyes
Like something deep inside you cries
With a hunger to be known
Like a tiger born in a city zoo
There’s been no place for what’s inside of you
You try to live like the others do
And it leaves you so alone

I know you think that the heat of your pain
Is more than I can stand
Burn it all in one big flame
And I will hold it in my hand

I’m strong enough to take it
And I know what you’ve been through
You’ve got a whole heart
Give me the hard part
I can love that too

Now your eyes well up with tears
As desire mixes with you fears
After so many wounded years
Can you long for what you’ve missed
You want a cool breeze to dance with your flame
A long lost lover who knows your true name
A secret garden beyond this shame
And it all comes down to this

You think your drowning hope will die
In a sea without a shore
But I can drink that ocean dry
And still come back for more

I’m strong enough to take it
And I know what you’ve been through
You’ve got a whole heart
Give me the hard part
I can love that too

I’m strong enough to take it
And I know what you’ve been through
You’ve got a whole heart
Give me the hard part
I can love that too

You’ve got a whole heart
Give me the hard part
I can love that too

Hotel Rooms and Streaming Audio


I’m back in a hotel room for the second time in less than a week.

I think Don Chaffer’s daddy said it best. These rooms are lonely places. Sometimes that Gideon’s Bible is your only friend.

But it’s also nice to have free wireless internet in the room, and some deep cuts from a few new Pandora radio stations. I mentioned Pandora a while back. I don’t get to listen as much these days, but when I do, I always hear something cool.

My latest stations?

  • Kim Wilson (harmonica and vocals for the Fabulous Thunderbirds)
  • Lazy Lester (a harp player I heard about from Brian of 3 Time Fool Blues Band.
  • Gram Parsons
  • Mother Earth (former band of Bob, our new bass player)
  • Mark Olson (Jayhawks greatness)
  • Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings (You just have to hear “100 Days, 100 Nights.” It’s like opening a time capsule.

That’s all for tonight. Goodnight from Lubbock. And in the words of Buddy Holly… Oh boy.