Showdown in Beckley


The game began so long ago we’d forgotten we were playing
The dealers dealt the cards to us
We played our hands as given

A game would end, a new begin; the deck was never ending
We’d discard, we’d draw, we’d keep our score
And promise to remember

The years would pass and players leave; new ones would take their place
We’d win, we’d lose, we’d fold and raise,
And you and I our separate ways.

The stakes are high, the wine is chill, the game this time’s in Beckley
The dealers watch  you play your hands
As cards are played and plans are made

Win or lose, we never knew; but the dealers watched us play.
Though now we play at different tables
From far away they watch us still

And as the game winds down in Beckley, and the dealers game as well
As Bob peers over his glasses at Dill; and Dill who wears a grin
He utters that dreaded word I’ve heard,
And signifies the game is done,
Another to begin.


Paul Kantner

It has been 2 years since Paul passed. At the time I was surprised at how much it affected me. It was 2 or 3 weeks before I could even listen to his music.
In the late sixties, Jefferson Airplane, Grace Slick; I loved the music, the culture. But then in 1971 Paul released the “Blows Against the Empire” album. It was science fiction, a concept album, and he had assembled a remarkable group of talent to make it happen. It was then I realized that it was Paul’s music the whole time that I loved. I followed him over the years, KBC band, Jefferson Starship in its various forms, and saw him many times when he came to New York. I spoke to him briefly at one show. His music became the soundtrack to my life.  He was talented, fearless, gentle, and had a very singular sense of humor. He loved his coffee at Cafe Trieste and sometimes could be found quietly visiting the Porziuncola Nuova across the street, saying a rosary to the Blessed Mother.  I could go on.
After his passing, the first thing I did listen to was on YouTube. I had never seen this performance before. It was the Contemporary Youth Orchestra performance in Cleveland 2011. Sketches of China. One of my favorites from years before. As I watched the children perform I started to tear up. Cathy Richardson sings ‘you don’t even know what this man feels like’ and it cuts to Paul on guitar; how could they have known I thought. I imagined Paul ascending and being conducted into heaven, back into eternity, with this as a soundtrack. And these innocent talented children playing and clapping along, creating this wonderful performance, not knowing that one day soon it would be viewed the way  I did. They have their lives stretching out before them with all the possibilities that could mean. “For they dwell in the house of tomorrow”,  which Paul,  …..and I,  can never enter.
Paul’s death, more than any others in my life, attached itself to my own mortality. I can’t explain it. Maybe I saw him as more of a contemporary with myself, as something of a kindred spirit. Maybe I felt some kind of connection to him. Maybe I just loved the man.
Still tear up.