What you say to your audience between songs is an art in itself. Walter and I don’t want to break the spell of Dylan’s lyrics with stray patter in our Muscle and Bone shows. So this story, though umbilically melded to Queen Jane Approximately for me, is better essay than segue.
My mother the painter, Jane Weber, raised her children to recognize beauty, to seek it out. What a gift she gave us. In the summer before she died, as my father cared for her in sickness and faith, I’d check in by phone between visits. One evening I ducked out of the café where the songwriters were gathered and called the folks. Once we’d covered the physical discomforts Mom was dealing with, I told them about the small corner of Ohio City spread out before me. White lights on tree branches, muted conversation of people gathered around tables under the street lamps, music wafting over it all. When I stopped talking I heard Mom’s frail voice say, ‘Thank you for telling us what you see.’
I don’t think my heart had ever broken quite that way before.
Mom’s world, and in many ways Dad’s too, had shrunk so small by then. Yet she had one more gift to give me as I stood among the vibrant, throbbing world she only knew through stories. In a time when I felt helpless to comfort her, Mom told me how; just tell her my stories.
Whenever we sing Queen Jane Approximately, I’m reporting my surroundings to her still. Look, Mom, do you see the listeners basking in this warm music? Do you feel their joy, their memories, their dreams? Do you hear the lyrics made of words you loved so much, and the clapping, like roof tiles under an all night rain?
For a short while, in the refrain, she is there when I call, ‘Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane?’
Photo of Janie Weber