Two years ago today, Doc Watson died, and I had a flat tire.
It was my first bike commute of the year at the old office: a straight shot eight miles up the trail. The morning run had gone swimmingly, but when it came time to ride home, with the news full of Doc Watson’s passing, I found one tire completely flat. Five thirty found me alone in the covered walkway outside the building trying desperately, through tears, to get through the unfamiliar motions of patching a tube so I could get home and grieve with my musical family.
And all the while, I felt a little silly that I felt his passing so profoundly: this gentle old man I’d never really met. But that was Doc.
I only saw him perform live once, in Burlington, VT, with my father and brother Jim and some friends I knew via a lively, tight-knit mailing list for flatpickers: FLATPICK-L. It must have been around 1999 or 2000, because I was a newly fledged flatpicking guitarist myself. I’d loved Doc’s music from the time I was a baby: as kids, my brother John and I literally wore out tapes of his music. (I later did the same with a tape of “Memories,” playing it over and over in my car stereo until it wore thin and finally snapped.) I’d always loved his voice, his conversational way of putting across a song; but when I started my guitar attempts, it made me appreciate his musicianship on a whole new level. He could really make that guitar sing, and make it look so easy.
But as many times as I’d listened to his recordings (and oh boy, we’re talkin’ a lot of times), it still didn’t prepare me for the experience of seeing him live. He had an uncanny knack (particularly for someone who couldn’t even see his audience) for drawing you in, making a big concert hall feel like an intimate performance: as if you were relaxing in his living room, just chatting and sharing a few tunes. You couldn’t help but love him. He made you instantly feel like a friend of his. It blew me away.
So yes, I cried when Doc left us. He gave the world so much. I doubt I’d be playing music today if it weren’t for him–and I can’t count the ways music has enriched my life, bringing joy and friendship, teaching me about perseverance and practice, and simply introducing me to the pleasure of a fine wooden instrument resounding at my touch.
Thank you, Doc. For everything.