I was visiting a small Kentucky church, and during the opening music, led by a smiling young woman with an acoustic guitar, one of the songs caught my attention in that nagging “where have I heard that before?” kind of way. Then it struck me: I wrote this song.
I performed it only one time in public, years before. I vaguely remember someone coming up to me after the service to ask if they could have a copy of the lyrics, then promptly forgot about it. I didn’t consider it to be one of my best songs, and I left it in the guitar case collecting dust. And yet, here it was years later, adopted and cared for by a church full of people that wouldn’t know me from Adam (Sandler).
A ripple effect, proof that something you’ve created has started a chain reaction—however small—is an amazing thing to witness.
Another time, I was leaving a favorite bookstore, purchase in hand. On the way to my car, a young couple crossed the parking lot with their son, who held a large blue helium balloon that bobbed up and down like a soap bubble. The balloon was caught by a sudden breeze, and leapt out of the boy’s hand, up into the sky. The boy did not cry, but just stared at the shiny blue ball as it flew over the trees and out of sight. This event lasted no more than thirty seconds.
On the way home, I thought of a charming French movie I had seen in college called The Red Balloon, a short, wordless film about a Parisian schoolboy whose only friend is a huge red balloon that follows him everywhere. The boy’s schoolmates become jealous of the unusual friend, and hurl rocks at the balloon, destroying it in a lonely, junk-strewn field. The boy is overcome with grief, but the balloons of Paris gather from every circus, birthday party and street vendor, and carry the boy away with them into the sky.
At the time I had also been brooding about a bad job situation—how it was becoming intolerable, and how much I was longing for a “pressure valve” in my life to alleviate the stress. I started humming a tune while caught in gridlock on the bridge over the Ohio River leading home, and a piece of lyric slipped into place. I began singing it out loud. Before I reached home, I had a finished song locked in my head about the themes of escape and innocence. I recorded the song (“Red Balloon”) on an album entitled Sleep Without Dreams a year later. Some time after that, I produced and directed a video of the same song.
In late 2005, I received an email from Armin Vit, the host-creator of the design blog Under Consideration, saying he had been asked for permission to use some comments I posted on the topic of music packaging. The comments were to be used in a CD for an Irish “alt-folk” band named Guggenheim Grotto. I went to the band’s web site, listened to some of their music, and enjoyed it tremendously.
Early in 2006, I received the CD with a little red leatherette book all the way from Dublin, and sure enough, my comments were printed within.
In the current media client, ripples spread faster than ever. Some people call it “going viral.” That’s what social media is all about.
I look at it this way: wonder begets wonder. When something inspires you, grabs your interest, and fills you with a sense of childlike joy, it always seeks to replicate itself. It charges up your “wonder batteries” all over again.
A discarded song becomes worship in a small Kentucky church. A random comment on a web site becomes an Irish band’s CD cover. A chance encounter in a bookstore parking lot produces a song, a video, and now, as I write about it years later, a story.
You never know where ripples end up.