A Tree Full of Words
All of a sudden there it was in my Instagram feed, this clip from 1969 of Joni Mitchell and Johnny Cash harmonizing on “I Still Miss Someone” in front of a live television audience. The video quality is a bit hazy, the audio has an almost mono feel to it, and the background orchestration carries that Lawerence Welk lilt. Gosh I loved it. I wondered if my father watched that when it first aired on ABC? Dad had lots of favorites when it came to music, I mean lots. But he loved Johnny Cash.
1969. I would have been two years old, and let’s see, my father would’ve been a clean shaven preacher boy of twenty-nine in love with my mother and Jesus, probably in that order. Johnny loved Jesus too, but I bet he loved June just a little more. Flesh and blood needs flesh and blood/and you’re the one for me, that’s what Johnny wrote and sang about June in 1970, two years after they were married.
Needs. Note the word choice.
I’m reading Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (BN). I consider Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking (TYOMT) to be almost the perfect book, I constantly recommend it. TYOMT tells the story of a death, that of her husband John Dunne. BN tells the story of another death, her daughter’s, Quintana Roo. I highly recommend it too.
This line from BN got my attention. Didion is talking about Quintana Roo’s fear of being abandoned.
Had she no idea how much we needed her?
Needed. Note the word choice.
That line got my attention because my mind expected her to write “we loved her.” But Joan Didion would no more use the wrong word in a sentence than use the wrong fork at brunch. Say what you will about Didion’s cultural views, but don’t question her etiquette. And she chose “needed.”
Joan Didion and John Dunne loved Quintana Roo. They needed her.
Johnny Cash loved June Carter. He needed her.
Dad loved Mom, and Johnny Cash. He needed them.
How intensely human, isn’t it? And how beautiful.
We often talk of love as something that should be unburdened by such words as needs or needed, that somehow such words taint the rarified air love should inhabit, make it less pure or something. Crazy talk if you ask me. Love is like the oak trees outside our picture window full of birds of every feather except it’s full of words without which it wouldn’t be as lovely, words like needs and needed.
Can words like needs and needed get dark and possessive and stifling and wicked? Yes, such is the risk, always has been. Such are the dazzlingly odd complex creatures we are, creatures who, at a time when autonomy seems to be the grail, actually achingly need one another and need to be needed. Need to love, and be loved in return.
I loved my dad. I needed him. And that’s why the clip from 1969 of Joni and Johnny singing struck me so. I still miss someone.
Thank you for naming this. And for including the birds-in-a-tree imagery just to cinch it.
It's freeing how honestly you take 'need' into account. I always say that we need to be loved - everyone does. And Donald Miller says somewhere that he needs heaven to be real despite people makign fun of him for believing that. He just needs that. Period.