We would fight to take turns feeding the dog, eagerly doling out the scoops of cheap kibble until down deep in the bag a corner of the coveted plastic sleeve and blank black cassette tape could be seen. It was some promotional idea by the dog food company, that if you found a tape that had a message on it, you’d be something like a million dollars richer. But for us? All those blank tapes? You couldn’t put a price on that prize.
We’d hurry to our old cassette deck, packed full of dreams and ideas, press record and spill out songs and stories- our fingers holding the faint scent of canine cuisine, but we didn’t care. We were creating fresh dreams out of rented rooms.
He’d lock himself in our only bathroom for hours, standing in the shower for the elevated acoustic quality as he wrote and performed song after song, recording and listening until I thought those ol’ cassettes would break - redoing, redefining, until he finally found a sound that felt like home.
Being two years younger and a lot more passive, my “on-air” time got squeezed out to the occasional live interview with him, that he had taken the liberty of writing out for me, or production crew: equipment hauling or video camera holding. But I didn’t mind, not really. I got a front row seat to watch something beautiful be born. Even at six years old, I knew it. There was an energy released when he was in his element, an atmosphere sharp with the static of expectation and possibilities.
Twenty-five years later, I enter a packed performance hall, sit behind a pair of older women whose fur coats left draped over the back of their seats tickled my knees. I’ve got my own son, seven now, beside me. Older than I was when this all began. The air no longer smells of kibble, but still holds that familiar buzz that comes before witnessing something great. The lights went down as the orchestra tuned, the rumble of the timpani drums and strained sighs of the violins sounding off until collectively they stilled.
He walks out on stage, and even from the back of the hall my sister-sense can tell that he is nervous. When we had talked before the event, he made it clear that he knew he was playing by another set of rules, surrounded by other amazing musicians, and that all eyes were on him to keep up. I think we all held our breath those first couple songs, the symphony and Cory finding their way to each other, beautiful but cautious until 'Pale Blue Dress' broke down all formalities and the true collaboration could begin.
For 90 minutes I listened to songs that he had created - All of those nights listening and re-listening, learning and phrasing his way into his art, teaching himself guitar, those tireless licks running over and over until I, in desperation, had stuffed blankets under my door jamb to keep them out. Those nights had led to this. I listened as these beautiful songs were transformed from wandering ballads sung by a skinny man with a guitar, to full piece orchestrations, which seemed to live and breathe all on their own.
At one point in the night he mentioned that when songwriters are first starting out, that they never even dreams that a night like this could happen. That he certainly never had. But from my familiar spot in the audience, feeling the beauty and electric filled air surround us, I just shook my head, smiled and whispered that