French Lick Redux | porchlight - Indiana Public Media

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French Lick Redux


Dancing waiter

You have perhaps heard of thin places: Locations on the surface of the earth where a deep spiritual resonance can be felt: Mt. Sinai, Mt. Fuji, the Isle of Iona. Famous ancient structures are occasionally mentioned. Stonehenge is one, though in my own life Stonehenge is two. There’s the mystical stone structure on Salisbury Plain in England and a mystical brick structure in Albany, New York.

This Stonehenge was a large postwar apartment complex set among shady trees at the end of the street where I grew up. Even though the apartments were fairly modest in size and amenities, this second Stonehenge provided what folks once referred to as gracious living. Vehicular traffic was minimal, the grounds were kept green and groomed, and there was a large pond just across the road. My family used to skate there back when winters allowed for such things.

I was never actually inside any of the units, though occasionally someone might answer their door on Halloween. As a child, it was easy for me to imagine an apartment there as being a perfect place to wake up and fall asleep while reveling in the time spent between.

Yeah, I know I’m stretching the definition of thin places here. For one thing, the first Stonehenge was the site of sacred ritual for centuries before the stone monoliths were placed there. And also, while the spiritual is always personal, I would guess the resonance of a thin place needs to be a shared experience, like the miracles that qualify one for sainthood.

So with this in mind, I will now advocate for the inclusion of French Lick, Indiana on a master list of thin places. The ground beneath French Lick began its natural life on the route of the legendary Buffalo Trace, where great herds of bison were attracted to the mineral salts in the open springs. Humans would become attracted to said same. French Lick became a popular spa and bottled Pluto Water. Then in two consecutive summers, music festivals were held featuring some of the finest acts in jazz history performing at exactly the time considered to be the golden age of the genre.

During two August weekends in 1958 and 1959, thousands of listeners gathered in French Lick to experience the magic. This is what it shares with each Stonehenge in being a thin place. A brief coda here to strengthen my case for the second one. The only family I knew of in Stonehenge was a couple with one daughter, a classmate of my sister’s. I met her again at my mother’s funeral. Turns out that after years of living in the Midwest, she had recently returned not only to Albany, but also to Stonehenge. I know her daily view very well. Right across from that pond.

Song, Artist, Album  

Troubadours, Van Morrison, Into The Music

Salt Peanuts, Dizzy Gillespie, Swings

A Change Is Gonna Come, Sam Cooke, Shake (45 rpm) 

Jam, Chico Hamilton, Sweet Smell Of Success 

So What, Miles Davis, Kind Of Blue

Audrey, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Love Songs 

It Never Entered My Mind, George Shearing, Grand Piano  

Misty, Chris Conner, In Person                                                        

Somewhere Over The Rainbow, Sarah Vaughan, Mercury                   

Scotch And Soda, The Kingston Trio, Collectors     

For A Dancer, Jackson Browne, Late For The Sky                              

Stoned Soul Picnic, Laura Nyro, Eli