Looking at the pictures of the wildfire damage, I felt that I, like the very atmosphere of earth, was suffocating. The thought of how this will affect our planet, how long our world will suffer, the effects that we will never know and will never be able to stop…  all crushing the life out of me. But then, after looking at the fiery scene, I was brought up short. The distant fire glowing neon through the smoky darkness stole my heart back to a distant smoke-filled memory from a more innocent time, when smoke was a good thing, and we never even considered the damage to our own lungs, or to the lungs of the earth…
I was a traveling blues musician, working the back road clubs in Europe. Those were days when people went to clubs to remember, just for a night, that life was itself an occasion for celebration. There were no designated drivers, no “political correctness”, and no non-smoking zones — there was smoking, and lots of it. Cigar smoke mixed with the multitude of European cigarette varieties – French Gauloises, British Senior Service, and the rich nutty aroma of Balkan Sobranies.  Through it all filtered the perfume of whatever the folks were smoking backstage, creating a haze that hung stale during the day and was revived fresh every night. Looking at the crowd from onstage, all the faces were softened by the blur of the smoke, which added an aura of warmth and beauty. The buzz of conversation and laughter seemed to be amplified by the smoke, merging with the vibrations of my guitar until the thick air seemed alive. It felt like life, excitement and joy, and I inhaled it with all the intensity of a man being saved from drowning. You bet your ass, I inhaled.

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