The Case for Authenticity

pressed_flower“I WENT THROUGH some very tough years after that and have just found my love for music and life again…I don’t remember much of those years or my life..”

Just hours ago, I read those words in an email from a musician acquaintance I hadn’t talked to in almost ten years. He was in part referring to a connection we made after he wrote and recorded a song titled “Error of Days.” At that time, he’d reached out to me to let me know his song was influenced by my collage, “If I Could Keep Her Like a Pressed Flower” (left).

More and  more I’m learning that Ezra Vancil (the “artist formally known as Ezra Thomas”) is, in his own words, an open book. Open, especially, about what he calls his “decade long life and death struggle with mental illness.” Specifically bipolar disorder.

“So.. really, if you know my story from the last decade.. I just don’t remember much.. like I’m waking up from a black out drunk and everything is in shadows…and spotty,” he writes of those very dark days on his own blog.

I’m just as clueless about what he’s been through, but between his email, the texts we’ve sent back and forth today, and what I’ve read on his website, I now understand how my own open book, my self-disclosure as expressed in this little nine-inch by six-inch work on paper, set the stage for the more beautiful and meaningful art that would be created by Ezra.

In today’s email, he continued:

Yesterday a much more successful music artist than me, contacted me and begged me to play error of days (like a pressed flower) at my show tomorrow, said he didn’t want to go to the grave without hearing it live. I’d forgotten about that song..nobody has ever said a word about it…and have never played it since the recording. But today through some serendipity I remembered everything, how I wrote it and why I wrote it and sitting on that bench for a month (or however long) at Mountain View in a terrible situation, staring at it while I ate my peanut butter and honey sandwiches every day at noon and coming back at night to look at it. And bringing my family to see it. And the disappointment when it came off the wall and I couldn’t afford to buy it.

The bench to which Ezra refers sat in the hallway galleries at Mountain View College, where in 1998 I had my first solo show as an artist, titled Evidence of Grace. “Pressed Flower” was in that show, a confession of my own about a failed relationship and my gradual willingness to let it go. To an old book cover I’d added photographs, a leaf, map pins, starfish, and this inscription scrawled in ink, “If I could keep her like a pressed flower. On second thought, I’d rather watch her grow, than keep her locked away in a closed book. Becoming dust.” Despite my unintelligible handwriting, something of the emotion behind it struck a chord in Ezra, and he transformed it into a piece of music that haunts me just as my collage haunted him.

If you’ve read much of what I write, you might be surprised to know that the transparency I practice does not come easily to me. I constantly second guess myself, questioning whether I’ve revealed too much or made others uncomfortable with my openness. Then, every once in a while someone like Ezra comes along to remind me of what might be lost if I did a better job of editing myself, and once again I hear inside my head the words attributed to Aristotle, “To avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.”

Ezra Vancil will perform “Error of Days” and other songs in a live recording session with guest Fred Rush, tomorrow, Friday, November 22 at Mokah, 2803 Taylor Street in Dallas’ Deep Ellum district. Tickets and additional information here.

To hear (and download a free copy of) Ezra’s song “Error of Days,” click on the link below.


17 thoughts on “The Case for Authenticity

  1. To know Ezra is to love him (and his work). He’s a sensitive soul and I consider him a close friend, despite our geographic distance. Thanks for taking the time to write this up today 😉

  2. I read his story in its entirety and felt his emotion though his writing and his song. I wish I could have seen it. Beautiful connection between artists. To inspire. Isn’t that what we all wish to do?

    • Thanks for visiting, Jenny. If, by “I wish I could have seen it,” you mean you think you’ve missed his performance, you haven’t. It’s tonight from 7:30 to 10:00 at Mokah.

      And yes, both Ezra’s song and his response to life in general are inspiring to me.

  3. Wow that is an amazing story. I ate peanut butter and honey sandwiches for a year at cedar valley.. I did not eat peanut butter for several years after that.

  4. wow. I am getting the honor of performing “Error of Days” live with Ezra this evening, singing the background vocals. Ezra had sent me a number of songs, but “Error of Days” moved me so much, that I asked to perform it with him, at our show. Ezra, of course, shared the background of where the song came from, both visually and emotionally. And, then to get to read your sharing of where you were with the art piece that inspired him, is absolutely amazing. Thanks so much for sharing all of this.
    -Fred Rush-

  5. I was at Ezra’s show tonight. You made one man incredibly overfilled with joy, just by having you be there. And then I watched him become overwhelmed with emotions as you gave him your original “Pressed Flower” …A beautiful ending to a beautiful story.

  6. Lori, thank you. Not that I haven’t learned this lesson before, but last night I had it deeply impressed on me in a way that I can’t shake: I think that we are made to give.

    You see evidence of that in all the rituals we have adopted at the societal level, with holidays and personal celebrations that circle around giving someone a gift. But that’s only the “institutional” implementation of a very meaningful, very personal need that each of us has imbedded in us, perhaps at the level of our DNA. That is, to GIVE gifts. We need to give. We just have to.

    I wish I could describe to you what it felt like to make that happen. Well, now that I think of it, I can. This sounds like a job for another blog post.

  7. Thank you so much for giving my brother Ezra your piece of artwork “Pressed Flowers”. I remember when he wrote the song and how moved he was by your exhibit. He talked about it a lot! Wish I could of been present to watch the exchange of music and art….

    • Esther: Thank you so much for commenting here.

      When Ezra and I met those years ago (seems he and I are both a bit hazy about the details!), I got some sense of his appreciation for Pressed Flower, certainly from the fact it played a part in his writing Error of Days. But until that Thursday before his show when he emailed me, I had no idea he was sharing it with his family so much. I’m so glad to have seen how far those ripples went out, and to have met your parents at Mokah after he performed.

  8. I was out of town and couldn’t be at the show. Now I am doubly sorry. I consider myself the premier expert on all things Ezra Vancil music, but this song has escaped me. Then again I am bad with titles. I expect to hear it at the next show. Thanks for the article.

    • Look for the Soundcloud link just above these comments, Randal, and you should be able to click on it and hear Error of Days. If that doesn’t work, I think you may be able to go directly to their site and search under his name or the song title and find it.

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