“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.