Musings on a not-quite-so-recent weekend of music
At the end of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, HBO aired the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 25th Anniversary concert. I usually approach these sort of things with a modicum of wary disdain – televised concerts are never the same experience as live; and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame shows tend to smack of the music industry’s self-serving, self-congratulating tendencies. "Blah blah blah", "legend this, influence that"… waah waah waah… I have to say, though, this one was a little different. Maybe it was the incredible lineup. Maybe it was the amazing music. Maybe it was a 44 year old woman in her family room, rocking out, with an ear to ear grin, enjoying a musically generated and enhanced jog down memory lane. Coulda been my post-Thanksgiving mood – not at all snarky but ready to soak in and enjoy the soundtrack to so many years of my life. But the thing that grabbed me the most, that struck me, was all of these amazing musicians, cultural icons – playing together, honoring one another, and appreciating each other.
Legends from each decade, honoring legends who came before them: Sam Moore, Dion, Buddy Guy, Darlene Love… Jeff Beck doing the "I Am Not Worthy" bow to Buddy Guy; Springsteen bowing chivalrously on bended knee, blowing Darlene Love a kiss; Stevie Wonder calling BB King "The King Of Blues; Fergie and Mick, gyrating and dancing, not quite Mick and TIna, but who is? (and someone correct me here if you know any differently – but who wants to bet that Fergie’s had more work done than Mick?)
There were amazing moments of watching old (and I do mean OLD) favorites play together once again; CS&N, Simon & Garfunkel; James Taylor, Jackson Browne: timeless music and harmonies of some of my favorite, famous voices. The joy of Stevie Wonder, of Aretha Franklin; the silliness of an ancient Jerry Lee Lewis still smashing his piano bench after Great Balls of Fire, or of Ozzie Osborne (who shall forevermore be silly – this he did to himself via reality TV)… Dion, of the suit and skinny tie, back in his day (and HIS day was certainly not MY day, LOL) strolls out with a Kangol on his head, jeans and leather (!) Crooner, yes. Rocker? Mmmm, not so much. But he was having so much fun, it seems callous to make fun.
Most of my musical outings these days are to see The Fab Faux or whichever drama club, I mean, band my husband’s currently playing in. These are a far cry from the hazy, smoky, boozy memories of various arenas, stadiums, theaters and clubs from my past. I watched, fondly remembering the concerts I’d gone to, sadly regretting the ones I’d missed, the ubiquitous T-shirts and even more ubiquitous old boyfriends long gone. Lights dimming, jumping to my feet, that rush of adrenaline and emotion as a blast of sound and light explodes into your body and brain. Among my best concert memories live Bruce and Billy… playing the Brendan Byrne (not Continental!) Arena in the Meadowlands… the two consummate showmen who would consistently give their all for crazy four hour shows, singing, playing, screaming… and in the case of Billy Joel, actually swinging Tarzan-like across the stage from a cable.
One thing that is so much fun about watching this at home (because clearly the $1000. + tickets just weren’t coming my way last fall) was being able to Google and Wiki any piece of info, trivia or lyric that had wafted out of my brain during less sober times. Landeaux and I love one-upping one another with music history and useless information. After that first solo viewing, which was more like standing in a downpour of music and memory, I watched again, together with the Hubster, lap tops and iPhones at the ready. I knew I wanted something of this experience to wind up here on Pandoration, so yes, repeated viewings were seen from a slightly more emotionally disconnected, already writing, sort of place. But that first time? Alone, letting my music wash over me.
This was my concert to watch again and again, sitting on the couch, reminiscing, showing off my knowledge of rock trivia and history, making snarky comments about singers with aging voices… marveling at those whose voices have not aged… getting up to dance with my kids. I’d written down a very Jane set list, complete with commentary and lots of bolded words with exclamation points. But here’s the thing. There are set lists available in other places. There are plenty of reviews.. A Jane review would be a gazillion, gushing words long. (Although it may yet show up here, in another incarnation). My takeaway from this show which I loved watching was this: musicians performing at their best, not competitively but complementarily; enjoying and celebrating one another. And me, celebrating them and myself.
Over the same Thanksgiving weekend, Lizzie was out and about, thoroughly enjoying a local band. I think she has a lot to add about musicians enjoying one another, as well….
Jane, my post-Thanksgiving concert experience seems almost out of place after the panoramic view you have provided of rock and roll history. As I read your gorgeous description of the televised HBO concert, I almost felt I should have my hand over my heart–or my head bowed–in deference to these greats. I am not the encyclopedia of classic rock that you are, my dear. But…we did both find our hearts beating faster and all sarcasm/smirks/cynicism vanishing as we basked in the post-Thanksgiving glow of musical artists jamming together and honoring one another.
Let me explain…my story takes place on a much smaller and more intimate scale.
I arrived back in my small town after Thanksgiving about as blah as blah could be. (Long, irrelevant story.) And my good friend Deckard, seeing my in my grey funk, said hey, why not come on over to see Acoustic Burgoo with me? They’re playing in town tonight. "Acoustic Burgoo"…wheels turning…name vaguely familiar. But I can’t qui-i-i-ite place it.
"Elaborate, please, Deckard. What, pray tell, is this intriguing-sounding Burgoo?"
"Remember? I told you about them? The local kids who graduated with your oldest daughter."
Flood of memories. Sort of an experimental bluegrass group that four of my daughters’ friends had formed while still in high school. I had never seen them perform, but I knew they were cool kids. One of the guys had played flute with my oldest in junior-high band–a move of pure sex-role-defying chutzpah, I remember thinking at the time.
Another one of the male members of the band had been the AP World History teacher’s adored pet (according to Charlotte, my oldest). This was a woman known for her drill-sergeant qualities and her staunch refusal to suffer fools lightly. But she had had a very noticeable soft spot for this smart, winsome, long-haired kid.
And so of course I went to see Acoustic Burgoo that night. While I’m not generally a fan of bluegrass (well, "soulgrass," as the group refers to their genre), I thought it sounded fun and sweet and energetic–just the thing to blow those grey clouds away.
Deckard and I arrived late, as it turned out. We had heard the wrong time, and we arrived at intermission. Our town has a brand-new performing arts center, and as we tried to slip in unobtrusively, I noticed that the small venue was packed with smiling fans–most of them about my age. Small groups of moms, dads, aunts, uncles, and neighbors chatted with one another animatedly as the intermission ended. And then the young band members–all of them juniors in college–took the stage.
Blonde Melissa, who has a sweet, china-doll look belying her mature, throaty voice, is billed as the band’s vocalist, But they each had opportunities to sing solos–and to be in the spotlight with their instrument. Harmonica, voice, guitar, mandolin, bass–each solo was not only full of energy and joy…but the other members of the band were clearly celebrating what each one could do. Rudy’s guitar strap slipped off, and Erik dashed to the back of the stage to get him a stool. Melissa jokingly remarked on the lucky coins that she had had all the band members put inside their shoes.
They played, they laughed, they improvised, they experimented, they jammed, they joked, they filled that hall with the sound of bluesy alto vocals, impossibly rapid strumming, and wailing, intricate harmonica melodies.
Wow. They were good.
And, best of all, they performed as artists who were also great friends. Who knew one another’s strength and quirks. Who had grown up with one another, said goodbye to one another at graduation, and–improbably–come back on their holidays to perform together in this rare, celebratory, community-drawing way.
At one point, Melissa sang a solo in her pure, soulful alto–a song she had written with the title, "Old Dominion." A (slightly ambivalent) tribute to her home state–and my adopted state–Virginia. In a region that it pretty well homogenized as the DC Metro Area, I was touched and surprised to see this young woman my daughter’s age describing lovingly Virginia’s "diamond skies" and its country roads that she would miss when it came time to leave home. "Your highs were so high, and your lows were so low./ You taught me the rain, and you taught me the snow…." Eyes suddenly stinging. Gulp. No Deckard, I’m fine, really. Just got something in my eye.
And, during the uptempo songs, like the lighthearted "We’re Naked Right Now," I found myself tapping my feet, laughing, enjoying the group’s musicianship and camaraderie– and just feeling all-around happy.
So that is how two altogether different concerts became the subject of Jane’s and my post-Thanksgiving phone chat. And how they suddenly came to seem more similar than different.
Music as invitation to remember, to congregate (even if only in spirit), and to join in.
Music as celebration and tribute.
Music as overflowing spontaneity and delight.
Music as friendship and appreciation.
No room for grey funks in the presence of such pure and vibrant colors.