Marty’s Violin: Guest Post by Tom Bentley

[l1]I[/l1]n the years since we met in Seth Godin’s online network, I’ve met Tom Bentley in that ethereal thing called real life more than once—too few times and each too short. Twice I’ve managed to whine him into writing song lyrics for me, despite his persistent insistence that he’s not a songwriter. We’ll address that later. For now, feel free to form an opinion on whether or not he’s a storyteller:

Years ago, three of my best friends and I went to the desert for a camping trip. During the long, hot drive there were a number of disagreements about our schedule, food preparations and campsite setup. We couldn’t agree on anything, and the car’s poor air conditioning didn’t help. The last half-hour of the drive we sat in sullen silence.

We set up camp, exchanging few words. The afternoon heat had crested, and though still hot, the air hinted of cooling. Not so with our tempers—we sat awkwardly in camp, hardly speaking. Then Matt said he was going for a walk. A few minutes later, Lynn, my girlfriend, said she was going for a walk as well. She tried a neutral, “Do you want to come with me?” but I couldn’t let go of the hard words we’d had, and I declined. She moved off in a direction opposite Matt’s.

That left Marty and me, and since I felt he had started all the arguments, I didn’t want to stick around. I got up, said a quick, “Me too,” and moved away through the sandy dirt toward some craggy hills, avoiding both Matt’s and Lynn’s paths.

The desert began to work its magic. It is a place of subtle beauty and crisp vistas: soft, stark colors of scattered sage and creosote, harsh rock outcrops, heavy air. I walked for a while, sweating, but felt the cooling of early evening.

When I headed back to camp, I was still irritated, but no longer felt an active sting. Still a good distance away, I heard a faint, melodic sound. I couldn’t quite make out the series of reverberant, high tones. As I got closer I realized that the rich sounds were from Marty, playing his violin as twilight fell.

The great silences that fashion the desert air were a perfect medium for the arching, yearning melodies pulled out of the instrument’s strings. Though I couldn’t identify the composition, its message was clear: there was beauty in the air, beauty all around us. We just needed to listen, to hear, to see.

Do you know that saying that food tastes better when you’re camping? Well, there was something about the desert air, the soft twilight, the ethereal, lingering notes of the violin that washed over me—music is better when you’re camping as well. Even for overheated savage beasts, music can heal.

It was uncanny; just as I got within site of the camp, I saw that Matt and Lynn were approaching too. Marty’s playing was a siren song, but instead of dashing us on the rocks of destruction, it brought us together. He didn’t say a thing as we approached, but just continued playing, a small smile on his face.

The first stars began to show in the still-bright sky; a slight breeze came up. We found places to sit while Marty painted the air with sweet sound. When he finished, we burst into applause, and then into laughter. There were no more arguments in camp, nor on the way home. Music has magic, and words aren’t the instrument to convey its captivation. We were spellbound, and then we were released, friends again.

If you’d like your verbal treasury expanded, read everything Tom has written. If you’d like your own words polished a bit, Tom’s Write Word will turn what you said into what you meant without stripping it of its soul.

9 thoughts on “Marty’s Violin: Guest Post by Tom Bentley

  1. One vote for storyteller.

    Love the imagery. I could smell the desert while I listened to the violin. On our honeymoon 10 summers ago we drove through Arizona. As the sun set in front of a long stretch of fast highway the desert was red on both sides and Jamie Sieber’s enchanting cello was playing. Loudly. Like a rock concert. For a desert of red rocks. It remains a high point of my life. Tom’s story evokes this stirring memory for me.

  2. I love the desert, too. Interesting that a year and a half later, Best Beloved and I were honeymooning just north of those red rocks in Arizona.

  3. “music is better when you’re camping as well” – I couldn’t agree more! Backpacking with an additional tent just for the instruments feels like a crazy idea – till you start to play…. Beautiful story Tom! Thanks for sharing it Joel!

  4. Believe it or not, Tom, another vote here for Storyteller Extraordinaire.

    ~ and a resounding “Yessss!” to Dorothy’s words.

    Like you, Joel, I haven’t been camping in jeans and t-shirts in years, either, but I spend at least 2 weeks a year “camping in costume” (see for for more info than you ever wanted 😉 ) in Western PA – and the day and night music (dumbeks to bagpipes; muezzins to minstrels) from our camp (or camps half a mile away) is a huge part of the magic.

  5. “…a siren song, but instead of dashing us on the rocks of destruction, it brought us together” is one of my favourite reversals of a well-known cultural touchpoint in years. And Tom remains one of my favourite writers.

  6. Oh, duh—I forgot about this newfangled stuff of posting and commenting on these bloggie things. (I still have a public phone booth in my house.) But I stumbled back here—Joel, move that slippery rug, please—and saw all of youse guys’ nice comments. Thank you! Glad you liked the story—it really was a hauntingly lovely experience.

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