restricted access 20. The Last Session
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Twenty The Last Session Danny held his final jam session on April 25, 2001. He died two days later. He had been working in his yard, waiting to take his daughter to school, when he suffered a massive heart attack. I was at home that Friday morning when I received the phone call I had feared for months. By chance, a musician friend had called Danny’s house just after the ambulance left. Delilah had the great kindness to call a small circle of other women in the music community who were close to him. Word spread quickly among the network of Danny’s friends and students. His death wasn’t confirmed for a few hours. But no one held out much hope. The numbness, the phone calls back and forth, talking to Steve, trying to reach Harton in Louisiana—it all kept my grief in check. I didn’t cry until I stopped to take a shower. Alone, under the cleansing water, I began to think about Danny—the loss of his mother so fresh, and now gone himself. Then I wept, for all of us. The phone call wiped away much of what I might have recalled about our last session in the garage. I had made my usual tape recording , but I gave it little thought in the days following Danny’s death. It was such an intense and emotionally difficult time. But Danny would have been happy, I think, to know the music never stopped. We played through our tears, sustained by the music and the community around it. It started the next afternoon, when Danny was supposed to have played at Kermit Lynch for another one of their outdoor festivals. Steve and I sat in with the group of musicians who took his place— Suzy and Eric, Marty, a few others. We laughed and cried, huddled together on the edge of the crowd, drank good wine, and told funny stories. It was small, intimate. “Like a Cajun wake,” someone said. That night, Sauce Piquante had to play for the Cajun dance club in San Jose. I found it hard to imagine going through with this, but 220 The Last Session 221 I didn’t see an alternative. And I knew Danny would have expected us to keep the commitment. I felt Danny’s presence, unnerving but steadying, that whole night long. The promoter—rumored to be “born again”—insisted on leading us all in a prayer circle at the end of the dance. I found myself oddly comforted—although I did request a silent meditation, so we could each pray in our own way. A week after the last session, Steve and I made our usual Wednesday night drive to Fairfield, but this time it was for Danny’s visitation and Rosary service. It felt so strange to continue past the turnoff for his house. I was glad to have Harton with us. He’d flown in from Louisiana a few days earlier, and he would spend the rest of the week at our house. We returned to Fairfield the following day for the funeral mass and interment. There, we could see all those people Danny had touched, the pieces of his life: family from Louisiana and Texas, Pennsylvania and California; his motorcycle club, in full biker regalia ; neighbors; members of his church; fellow musicians and protég és; his fans; his many friends. So many communities, diverse and overlapping, claimed a piece of him. Freida spoke, at Danny’s request . Harton sang a hymn in Latin, his ghostly voice floating from above and behind us, where he sat sequestered by himself, in the upstairs room usually reserved for the choir. Afterward, we returned to the house, along with Danny’s family and some of his friends.The garage had been closed up—completely filled, I heard, with furniture shifted out of the house to create more space. Guests filled the house and yard, visiting and eating. I had a sudden wish to ask if I could go inside the garage, one last time, just to sit for a few minutes. But I didn’t. On Saturday, a week and a day after Danny’s death, the California Cajun Orchestra was scheduled to play at Ashkenaz. Suzy transformed the CCO gig into a memorial dance. She wanted everyone to share in the music. One by one, in large groups and small ones, musicians stepped to the microphone and remembered Danny—in...


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