My friendship with Ken Jolly goes back to my high school days. He was in a local rock band. I was a fan. I’d met him and the band, the Moderns of Rockville, Connecticut, at a battle of the bands that I helped organize in my hometown. They did not take the top prize that night but we found ourselves all at an after party event. That was the beginning of a fun couple of years becoming friends, dancing the nights away.
I went to school at UCONN; Ken went to Vietnam. We lost track of each other.
Fast forward through decades. On my ramblings through Facebook I occasionally try to find old friends but never had any luck with Ken. Entering his name yielded a wild-looking guy with long white hair and beard — in Tennessee. I gave up until one of my friends from those days said she’d connected with him on Facebook. Back I go. I look again. Look at his eyes. Damn it was him.
We exchanged brief life synopses. His wife, my husband. Our rescued dogs. Our work. He was still making music, though now it was blues and country leaning, in Tennessee. I’d been a journalist and PR person and migrated to Massachusetts. We tended to “like” each other’s posts. I also became friends with his wife–when NEELIE’S TRUTH came out, she invited me to do a book club discussion. And to my surprise, he offered a song.
Then I waited. It’s been just about a year. There were two rounds of lyrics, very different from each other. A mention earlier this year that he was booking studio time. Then, last week, a head’s up that he was in the studio recording.
An MP3 arrived by e-mail. “Neelie’s Theme.” I had been enjoying my meditative morning coffee with my dogs doing their yoga stretches on the carpeting in front of me. I had no idea what to expect when I clicked on the file. It had been a long, long time since I heard his voice. I remembered his covers of Mustang Sally and When a Man Loves a Woman.
I held my phone up, the better to hear. Guitar, sweet and thoughtful, played out around me. Then Ken singing about Neelie’s secret, her story, her loss. I listened with tears.
I’ve been grateful for so much: the art for Neelie’s Truth designed by a good friend; the enthusiastic reviews by other authors and readers; the love and support of my husband, daughters and extended family. But as the song sighed to a close, I was also grateful for the sharing of this fictional person who is real to me. And real in Ken’s singing.
Somewhere, I’d saved his cell number. He’d given it to me when we were talking about the lyrics. I’d never called because I decided that the lyrics were his, not mine. No editing. I dialed the number now.
“Thank you thank you thank you,” I said. Give a listen. NEELIE’S THEME
Photo credit: Ken Jolly 2015, John Nicolosi, Niko Records Studio