At Seventeen, Being brave, best friends, Christine Ohlman, concerts, Dr. Dog, Janis Ian, Joan Osborne, John Prine, Rodney Crowell, Seamus Heaney, Steve Earle, Stevie Wonder, The War on Drugs, Tom Petty, widowhood, Year in Music
Life isn’t some vertical or horizontal line — you have your own interior world, and it’s not neat.
~ Patti Smith
How do I begin to pack the stuff of the past twelve months in a box and tie it up with a big red bow? Just begin. Pluck out a memory and wrap it up. Move on to the next – in my own time.
Shortly after Ken died, I discovered on Christine Ohlman’s beautiful record, “The Deep End,” a song that was then too much for me to listen to, too beautiful, too true – “The Gone of You.” I had forgotten about it until it showed up on my playlist this weekend and stopped me in my tracks, like Steve Earle’s “Fearless Heart” or Lou Reed’s reminder that “there’s a bit of a magic in everything and some loss to even things out.”
I’ve had a chance to thank Steve Earle in person for the songs that have lifted me up and set me down – gently – over the years, this last in particular, and I like to think that wherever they are, Ken has made a point of thanking Lou Reed for the same. So last night I visited Christine Ohlman’s website and then sent her a note, just to thank her for putting in words and music, the heart and soul that truth-telling always reveals.
. . . so many ‘wow’ moments. Ohlman turns out the best blue-eyed soul of her career…’The Gone of You’ fully exhibits how much grief a blues-drenched heart can bear. The whole history of soul music can be heard here, reflected in a passionate life–or two.
Knowing she had wowed Dave Marsh and knowing more about the demands of her schedule, I was surprised to hear back from her, and so quickly. In a lovely note, she wrote to tell me she understood, that it will get easier, that on New Year’s Day it will be ten years since she lost her partner, that Lou Reed was a friend, and that she just worked with Steve Earle in November. Such details confirm for me, that we really are connected, aren’t we? All of us. We just need to figure out the geography, how best to cross the borders between us.
I asked her if i could post here the lyrics to the song that has crept inside a corner of my heart and so “The Gone of You” appears below just the way Christine shared it with me this morning. A litany of truth-telling, it says close to what I’ve wanted to say when the right words have eluded me, when I don’t know how to respond to the people who love me when they ask – or when they don’t – how I’m doing.
“The Gone Of You” Ohlman/Goodwin
© Burnt Donut Music/BMI 10-6-07 Key : A
I miss the taste of you, the feel of you
The heart and the soul and the real of you
I miss the thought of you, the mind of you
The dark and the light and the sight of you
I miss the skin of you, the near of you
The lips and the hands, the not-here of you
I miss the touch of you, oh, how I long for you
I miss the eyes, and the wise, and the gone of you
I want you right now, wantcha right now wantcha right now
I miss the salt of you, the sweet of you
The coming home every night of the week of you
I miss the scars from you, the times I wept for you
The wrongs, and the rights, the secrets-kept of you
I miss the part of me that was a part of you
The wish, and the kiss, the morning star of you
The make-love of you, the true of you
I miss the all-the-way-my-heart-through of you
I’m out here on my own in the big, wild world
It’s a beautiful place sometimes
I keep my eye on the sparrow and my mind open wide
But I just can’t keep from cryin
I miss the gone of you, the gone of you, the gone of you……
But at the beginning of 2014, I wasn’t interested in telling the whole truth, not out loud, nor was I making any New Year’s resolutions because doing so too closely resembles planning. Still, I resolved, albeit loosely, to live this year a bit more like the way I used to, ready to jump in to the deep end, to take a chance, to remind myself of the girl I used to be at twenty, the one with the world at her feet, before America and Arizona, before marriage and the mortgage, power-suits and politics, motherhood and menopause, breast cancer and the blogosphere. And, before being a widow and worrying about whether it would be alright if I just cut my own groove.
I made a point of telling my lovely friends – and they are lovely – that 2014 would be my version of Elizabeth Gilbert’s “Eat Pray Love” year, except mine would have a glorious soundtrack. It would probably be more along the lines of a distract, deny (which I’m sure is what the experts would say), and – with a nod to Roxy Music – dance away, kind of year. There would be hardly any healthy eating and there would be minimal exercise. There would be fabulous music, driving into the night and far away from the desert heat, daily reminders of fabulous friendships maintained from afar, and, by God, there would be laughter. All this was well and good, except when it wasn’t, on those first anniversaries throughout the year when Ken wasn’t here for his birthday or mine, or milestone moments like Sophie’s driving test. My mother would call to remind me ever so gently that I have ‘been through the mill,’ and I am vulnerable; my friend, Rhonda, would sigh with empathy and tell me to be kind to myself; my sensible and stoic daughter would caution me with a superbly adolescent eye-roll not to allow people to walk over me (neither unscrupulous plumbers and auto-mechanics nor ostensibly interested interesting men who are only, let’s face it, in my life “because dad isn’t“) and Amanda – in it for the long haul as best friends are – would tell me to just live, to play it out, because if she gave me specific advice, I would be sure to ignore it, and anyway Ken would be watching over me. Whether or not he would approve, he would understand. I suppose since it’s the most wonderful time of the year for telling the truth, I should also mention that Amanda, in her more comic moments, has mentioned that she would not have been at all surprised to receive an early morning call with a request to bail me out of jail, not for doing anything “bad,” but maybe for making a point about something unfair in the world.
The year’s not over . . .
It has been a full year, much of it spent with those lovely friends who have not been as subtle as they think, watching over me and ready to intervene before or immediately after I have made a spectacular error in judgment. I am much loved, and I know how lucky I am to have these souls in my life. Too, I have spent time re-shaping and re-arranging the home where two of us used to be three, and I have taken stock. I worry now far less about things that ten years ago would have kept me up at night.
After twenty years of managing schools and people in them, and sometimes – I’m ashamed to admit – spending more time with other people’s children than my own, I returned to teaching college students. Financially, it is a step backwards, and even though the kind of money I used to make would be very useful, I am just not ready to return to what often amounts to a whole lot of “adminstrivia” and not a lot about kids and whether they are learning. For now, the classroom is where I am supposed to be, as safe and sacred a space as it was when I walked in to a Belfast secondary school as a twenty-one year old teacher, hoping to make her mark. The only thing different – maybe – is that I have acquired what Ken used to tell me I needed, “some hard bark” – but only some.
So here is my year in music, without the details about the deep end . . .
1. It begins with looking for something new to listen to, so my friend from Philly, Ian (named for Janis Ian and Ian Anderson) introduced me to WXPN 88.5 Public Radio from the University of Pennsylvania. The first song i heard there was “Distant Light.” Apropos then that my new year in music begins with Dr. Dog who stopped in Phoenix for a sold-out show at The Crescent Ballroom. I had never been there, but loved all I’d heard about it. It reminded me of the kinds of places I used to go in Belfast a million years ago – where you could eat, drink, and be merry.
But following the distant light
And I know if I keep walking, I’ll never touch it, but as long as I move it’ll shine down on me.
2. Next was The War on Drugs, again at The Crescent Ballroom. I had asked my brother, Keith, to recommend some music, and in one of our marathon Facebook chats, he told me I should check out The War on Drugs. Keith and I have impeccable timing on such things, because War showed up the next month in Phoenix. Naturally, I went. Instant fan.
What you should check out is The War On Drugs, particularly if you’re in the hammock – here’s a great track, the opener from their latest album. Imagine ‘New Year’s Day’ by U2 or ‘Glittering Prize’ by Simple Minds, only written and perhaps sung by Bruce Springsteen or a young Dylan. Great road music. It is as Dustin Hoffmann observed of the nighttime Las Vegas skyline in Rain Man, ‘very twinkly… very sparkly’.
3. Joan Osborne, MIM Music Theater, Scottsdale, Arizona, May 20 2014
Joan Osborne was the featured vocalist for The Chieftains at Scottsdale Center for the Arts when I saw her back when Sophie was in pre-school. I remember she strode on stage in a black suit and belted out a Billie Holiday song. It was the kind of singular performance that makes the hair on the back of your neck stand straight up. Sophie was with us, just four years old, and interested only in clapping her hands and dancing in the aisles to boisterous fiddle playing courtesy of Natalie McMaster and The Chieftains. I just wanted to hear more of Joan Osborne, so when she announced a stop at the Musical Instrument Museum (MIM) in Scottsdale, a stellar venue with only 299 seats, amazing acoustics, and a good chance of a meet-and-greet afterwards, I bought two tickets, one for me and one for Ian as a birthday present. He wanted to hear “St. Theresa.” I wanted to hear something from her post-Jerry Garcia Grateful Dead days. She obliged on both.
Joan Osborne is so much more than “One of Us” (although she resembled some of us as she sauntered on stage with her cup of hot tea and fabulous red shoes). Accompanied by the outrageously talented Jack Ptreuzelli on guitar, Keith Cotton on piano, and occasionally the drum-track from an app on her iPhone and a tambourine, she purred and sashayed, and at times, she just blew the damn roof off. It was an electric performance, and other than meeting her afterwards, the highlight for me was her rendition of the Dead’s “Brokedown Palace,” which gave me a minute or two to be with Ken again. By the water . . .
Goin’ to plant a weeping willow
On the banks green edge it will grow grow grow
Sing a lullaby beside the water
Lovers come and go – the river roll roll roll
Fare you well, fare you well
I love you more than words can tell
Listen to the river sing sweet songs
to rock my soul.
4. Shawn Colvin and Steve Earle, MIM Music Theater, Scottsdale, Arizona, May 25, 2014.
It wasn’t until after hearing him perform “Fearless Heart” unplugged last May, without The Dukes, that I remembered the song as a much-played favorite from “Guitar Town,” perhaps the last vinyl album I bought from Good Vibrations record shop in Belfast.
You can either get through life or you can live it. And if you’re gonna live it, there’s only two things you need – an inquisitive mind and a fearless heart.
Steve Earle doesn’t know that “Fearless Heart” has helped me put one foot in front of the other some days. It’s become a kind of mantra that I whisper before jumping into the deep end, which might actually be where I belong. I know that many of his songs resonate every bit as much if not more with his legions of fans. I’m sure he knows that too, but I still wanted to tell him, and I didn’t even care that I kept everyone else waiting. I also wanted to talk to him about Bap Kennedy and Belfast and Seamus Heaney. “Did you study at Queens?” he asked. “Were you a literature major? Was Seamus Heaney there when you were there? I fucking love Seamus Heaney. I’ve read everything he ever wrote. And Michael Longley. I fucking love him too. Damn. ” Well, he had me at Heaney,and then there was the posing with a note to Bap Kennedy whose record Earle produced and who will be performing at the gig for Terri Hooley tomorrow night at the Limelight in Belfast. It really is a small world after all.
5. James Taylor US Airways Center, Phoenix, Arizona, June 10, 2014
The last time I saw James Taylor was in the summer of 1984 at Saratoga Springs. With Randy Newman. He was terrific, but I haven’t listened to him much in recent years. He’s become like that sweater in the back of the closet – I never wear it but know it’s there for when I want to just curl up by the fire and wallow in what ails me. So when my friend Suzy offered me a free ticket to a James Taylor concert, I wasn’t sure I would like it, but I like Suzy, so I went. US Airways Center (although it might be called something else by now) is a big venue which somehow doesn’t seem right for songs about Carolina in my mind. JT pleased the crowd, and were you to check, I bet you’d find he did every single song on his “Greatest Hits” album. I wanted to hear only one, and knew when he plugged in his guitar that he was still “a cement mixer for you baby, a churning urn of burning funk.” It was 1984 again, and I was gone to Saratoga in my mind.
6. Rodney Crowell, MIM Music Theater, Scottsdale, Arizona June 18, 2014
Driving home from Morro Bay on the first Father’s Day weekend since Ken died, a Rodney Crowell song popped up on the playlist. Sophie and I just looked at each other. “Wow, mom. It’s like Dad’s talking to us in that song.” (We’re both convinced that Ken speaks to us through songs we hear in the car). In this case, “Closer to Heaven,” Crowell lists all his pet peeves – hummus, nosy neighbors, chirpy news anchors, politicians, buzz words like “awesome” and “dude” – while making sure anyone listening knows he is closer to heaven than he’s ever been, that he loves his family and is much loved by them.
Rodney Crowell is a story-teller, a memoirist, a poet by any stretch, even though he is not quick to assume the role, telling Rolling Stone:
Poets, I think, are born . . . you can’t teach it. It’s genetic – the circumstances of how you were raised… and there’s probably some Irish in your blood lines,” he smiles.
I remembered he was performing in Phoenix but didn’t realize it was the next night. Sophie called Rhonda who somehow scored the last two tickets to the sold-out show.
Afterwards, I thanked Rodney Crowell for that song, and for “Earthbound,” in which he writes about how people like “Tom Waits, Aretha Franklin, Mary Karr, Walter Cronkite, Seamus Heaney, Ringo Starr, the Dalai Lama and Charlie Brown make me wanna stick around.” Another Seamus Heaney fan, he told me about walking through Stephen’s Green in Dublin with our poet.
Oh, to have overheard that conversation . . .
7. Steely Dan, Comerica Theater, Phoenix, Arizona, July 15, 2014
The Jamalot Forever Tour seemed appropriate for me this year, and this was an impeccably tight show with both Fagen and Becker in great form. Walter Becker, wry old card, as Keith calls him, turned “Hey Nineteen” into almost ten minutes of boozy craic about what might happen when you find inside an old shoebox, a stash of “the best chiba-chiba that money can buy” and then, boom, the Cuervo Gold. Now I know the video’s a little shaky, but we were dancing and it was recorded on my phone. So just close your eyes. You may as well be in your bedroom in 1980, playing your new Goucho LP. As my brother says, “the groove is damned tight.”
8. Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Ikeda Theater, Mesa, Arizona, July 24, 2014
One of the best things about Lyle Lovett’s big band is that it includes the phenomenal Francine Reed, who has soul to spare. Like Mavis Staples. When I first moved to Arizona, Francine Reed performed regularly in clubs like Chuys. Hearing her belt out Wild Women Don’t Get The Blues I want to tell Lyle Lovett that the large band – and the entire room – belongs to Francine.
9. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Viejas Arena at Aztec Bowl, San Diego, California August 3, 2014
I can’t help it. I have loved Tom Petty for over 35 years, and I’m convinced that had he met me when I was younger and could hold a tune, Tomcat would have snagged me to be one of his “heartbreakers.” Ken liked Tom as well and always took me to see him when he played in Phoenix. He always made sure we had plenty of Tom on the playlist for our road-trips to California, and earlier this Spring, I’m sure he was looking down at me and laughing when the Hypnotic Eye tour dates were announced with not one show planned for Phoenix, I know he knew that I would convince Amanda to drive to San Diego to see the opening gig – something I would not have been able to convince him to do. A mere five hours away, a road trip to San Diego would require no planning. We only needed tickets, gasoline, a place to stay, at least three outfits, and an assurance to each other that we would be back to Phoenix the morning after to see our girls off to school – my daughter’s first as a high school Senior, and her little girl’s very first as a pre-schooler.
Mission accomplished and worth all of the inconvenience that comes to people who are notoriously bad at planning. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers Soar screamed the review from a San Diego newspaper the next day. That’s all I need to say.
10. The Hold Steady, Crescent Ballroom, Phoenix, Arizona, August 4, 2014
Once upon a time, I read magazines made of paper and held together with staples and glue. That’s where I learned about upcoming artists and bought their new LPs before anyone else and where I found out who would be playing at Slane Castle next. I remembered reading about The Hold Steady in one such publication and that Bruce Springsteen really liked “First Night.” I forgot about them over the years, but for $22, I figured it was worth checking them out when they came to the Crescent. Even Keith agreed:
“Well, the Hold Steady ARE Bruce Springsteen! Apparently they’ve ditched their piano player though. Not sure how I feel about that. “Boys and Girls in America,” is superb. ‘Stuck Between Stations’ is pure post-punk Bruce. Great stuff. Oh, and I like the signage for The Crescent Ballroom – very Asylum-era Tom Waits, that is. Jesus, go!”
So I bought tickets, not stopping to think that this was the day after the Tom Petty concert. Still, true to our word, and in spite of the fact that Amanda’s car battery died in the parking lot during the concert, and a very nice hipster helped us out but only after the entire parking lot had emptied out, we made it back to Arizona just in time for Starbucks to open, so we could see our little girls off to school, coffee in hand and “beer” still stamped on our hands.
11. The Felice Brothers and Spirit Family Reunion, The Rhythm Room, September 28, 2014
This was a special night not just because I love the Felice Brothers, and had been looking forward to seeing them in such a great venue, but because I had just found out that after two weeks of bleeding and a biopsy, all was well.
The results were negative, the cancer had not – and, by all accounts has not – progressed. Turns out, I was more taken by Spirit Family Reunion.
Dusty acoustic guitars, wailing fiddles and weeping accordions, with a woozy-yet-skintight rhythm section– and topped off with burr-edged vocals that sound like they’ve been soaked in a Mason jar for generations — it’s the type of music that blurs the line between past and present so thoroughly, and so deftly, that time feels irrelevant.”
–Paste Magazine: Best of What’s Next
12. John Fogerty, The Arizona State Fair, October 18, 2014
I love a State Fair. My first was upstate New York a million years ago, where I sampled Niagara Wine Coolers and too many roller-coaster rides (or vice versa). I love the midway, I love cotton candy and cracking wise with crafty carneys hoping they will just give me a cuddly toy for Sophie (they always do). I love the concerts too – general admission for the price of a fair ticket. It still seems wrong that Dire Straits performed at the State Fairground in 1992, but not during the Fair. It was surreal to walk through the empty fairground to the coliseum hearing, in my mind, the arrangement of Rodgers and Hammerstein‘s Carouse Waltz at the beginning of Knopfler’s “Tunnel of Love,”
And now I’m searching through these carousels and the carnival arcades,
Searching everywhere from steeplechase to palisades
In any shooting gallery where promises are made
To rock away, rock away, from Cullercoats and Whitley bay out to rock away
Fair to say, is it not, that a State Fair is as American as a John Fogerty concert. Ken and I saw him before, in the Fall of 2005 when he performed with John Mellencamp at the then-Desert Sky Pavilion. We always had a “thang” for CCR especially the ten-minute version of “Heard it through the Grapevine.” For years, in fact, Ken wanted to challenge Alex Trebec who told a Jeopardy contestant she was wrong about who released the record in 1967. Ken, you were wrong, my love – indeed it was Gladys Knight and her Pips.
At the 2005 concert, I remember being stunned by some in the crowd booing him for remarks he made about whatever war we were and are still fighting, and before singing “Deja Vu (All Over Again).” How can anybody boo John Fogerty, in his blue flannel shirt? A Vietnam veteran?. Come on now.
But in ninety minutes, this September, as the review says, John Fogerty belted out a song for everyone there. He didn’t talk much between songs, but that was because of the curfew. So he kept things moving, and he was bloody marvelous.
If you could have harnessed the energy from the crowd as it erupted with the opening chords of “Proud Mary,” you could have supplied enough electricity to power the State Fair for its entire run.
13. Erasure, The Violent Flame Tour, Comerica Theater, Phoenix, AZ October 21, 2014
And now for something completely different and absolutely over-the-top fabulous (which could also apply to the lads who accompanied me to the Erasure concert). Fabulous.
When, half-way through the set, Andy Bell strutted on stage in a tight and tiny pair of sparkly hot pants, I was immediately transported to a Friday night long ago in some thumping night club between Antrim and Belfast, complete with silver sequins, synthesized sound, strobe lighting, and glitter.
Lots of it.
14. Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers with Steve Winwood, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Morristown, Colorado, October 3, 2014
I know I saw Tom kick off the tour in San Diego, but I have never been to the Red Rocks, and I have always wanted to go. And Rhonda had never seen Tom Petty, so it was really more out of consideration for her.
I don’t know how it was for Tom Petty and his Heartbreakers, looking out at thousands of adoring fans between those red rocks, but it was magical for me. As the sign says, there is no better place to see the stars . . .
15. Stevie Wonder, MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas, November 29, 2014
In the middle of October, my brother posted to his Facebook wall a Youtube video of Stevie Wonder performing “Big Brother (Natural Wonder)” with a comment that it was apt, even though it was recorded over forty years ago. One thing led to another the way it does on Facebook, and when Keith told me that Stevie Wonder is one of those legendary performers (along with Bob Seger) that he would love to see in concert, I first rubbed in the fact that I have already purchased my ticket for Mr. Seger’s return to Phoenix in February.
I have been proudly flying the flag for the amazing Mr Wonder ever since I bought his 1986/7 album ‘Characters’ from Ronnie Millar’s Pop-in Records.
And then, on a whim, I consulted Bandsintown to find out that Mr. Wonder was about to begin the Songs in the Key of Life tour to celebrate almost forty years of that record which I first heard on the radio when I was 13 years old. There was no concert scheduled for Phoenix, but he would be playing the weekend after Thanksgiving at the MGM in Las Vegas, only a five hour drive up the road. Now, Las Vegas has never appealed to me, and after all there had been enough bright lights at the Erasure concert to last for a while, but this was Stevie Wonder. In concert. An entirely different proposition.
Coincidence and the universe conspired, and Rhonda and I were on the road again. Such a night. Three hours of joyful noise at the MGM Grand:
. . . and at the close, when it seemed Stevie Wonder had given every ounce of his genius, he dove into the song that brings the party for all time. “Superstition” closed it out, and the song that once rocked “Sesame Street” gave a burst of funk and love on the Strip.
16. John Prine, Celebrity Theater, December 4, 2014
John Prine might be my favorite living singer-songwriter. I first heard of him in the 1980s when my friend, Ruth, and I went to the Errigle Inn on Tuesday nights to hear Kenny McDowell and Jim Armstrong do their acoustic set.
One of the roadies, Eric, told me at the beginning that I might be able to meet John Prine after the show, just to check with him. Sure enough, Eric saved a couple of guitar picks for me, and when the roadies had packed it up and were ready to go, he ushered Rhonda and me backstage. I can’t explain here how special it was, but just know that it was. What a gift to give John Prine a hug and thank him for the songs that have taken up permanent residence in my heart over the past thirty odd years, many of which he performed, “Sam Stone,” “Angel From Montgomery,” “Souvenirs,” “Hello in There,” and “Six O’Clock News.”
Like Rodney Crowell, he is my kind of story-teller, unafraid and quick-witted, the kind who can break his own heart and yours and crack wise. Seamlessly.
I always wanted to grow up to be an old person. Well, voilà.
My brother loves John Prine too and shared a lovely story with me about his little boy, Tom, who recently asked him to play The Sins Of Memphisto. Not that it’s a strange request, but you should know that Tom is just seven years old:
Dad, put on that song about lookin’ at the babies and the factories.’ I was well impressed with that request when he first made it, I can tell you. I was so shocked that I genuinely couldn’t think of the song he was talking about!
17. Ryan Adams with Jenny Lewis, ASU Gammage, December 10, 2014
In 2003, my best friend gave me the best present for Christmas – an external hard drive with more music on it than you could listen to in a lifetime, courtesy of her husband who allegedly is the one with the technological savvy in their household. Anyway, he and my brother are the same age, with similar tastes in music, and he had turned me on to Ryan Adams, “Gold” back then. He and Amanda have seen Ryan Adams several times, but somehow I always missed the opportunity. Not this year. It was very cool that the three of us saw him perform together.
Truly, it was a fabulous show as a gushing New Times review reminded us how Ryan Adams Reminded us All Why He’s So Important
When the lights dropped low and that barking, staccato chord that opens up “Gimme Something Good” rang out, Ryan Adams let everyone know he was in the room. There’s no better entrance song than that, worth every ounce of its Grammy nomination, and that ripping guitar tone like Adams’ own admission that this evening would be one to remember.
And, in the “Seriously?” category, each of us is convinced that the three guys next to me thought they were at a Bryan Adams concert. They left half-way through, seemingly flummoxed by Ryan Adams being a little too sleepy on “When the Stars Go Blue.” I kid you not.
18. Cirque du Soleil Beatles Love show at The Mirage, Las Vegas, Nevada, December 20, 2014
Not really a concert, but this was my first show in Las Vegas and part of what would be a very special weekend – Sophie’s seventeenth birthday. Just the two of us, we drove to Las Vegas, tuned into the Classic Vinyl radio station the entire way, so it would feel as though Ken were behind the wheel. As a back-up, she brought a CD of what she calls “legit dad rock.”
Amanda has been telling me to go see the Cirque du Soleil Beatles Love show for years – she and Todd have been twice – but I just never got around to it. That, and to be honest, I’ve never been a big Beatles fan. I know. Don’t judge. I have a new-found respect for the Fab Four. It was a visual feast, the songs showered down from the ceiling, sometimes as the Beatles would say, “it’s all too much, ” but we loved it. That’s all that matters.
. . . an extravagant mashup of history and hallucinations, studded with dazzling special effects, hot dance moves, and tantalizing gestures
19. First Church Phoenix, Traditional Carol Service, Christmas Eve 2014
Until last Christmas, it had been many years since I had, as my mother would say, “darkened a church door.” But following Ken’s death and knowing neither of my parents really knew what to do to make it all better while here and far away from home last year, I took them to a Christmas Eve carol service at First Church in Phoenix. There, I was undone by two things – the hospitality of the people and the magical glow we created in the sanctuary during “Silent Night” as we turned to light each other’s candles. It is a beautiful ritual, and connects us all again.
20. No more concerts in 2014, except the benefit for Terri Hooley at the Limelight in Belfast. Geography gets in the way again with Ormeau Avenue being a bit far from the desert southwest, so I can’t go, but I bought a ticket, and I am there in spirit knowing that it is to benefit Terri Hooley who is in the hospital awaiting bypass surgery.
Here’s the thing – this gig at the Limelight is not just about Terri. It’s about Belfast, a place that gets it right more often than you might think. It’s about punk rock, it’s about loving music, it’s about buying records from Good Vibes, a smoke-filled shop just down the street from the most bombed hotel in Europe, and it’s about every musician who ever played – and ever will – in Northern Ireland. It’s reminiscent of what Joe Strummer once said:
When punk rock ruled over Ulster, nobody ever had more excitement and fun. Between the bombings and shootings, the religious hatred and the settling of old scores, punk gave everybody a chance to live for one glorious burning moment.
The chance – for everybody – to live for one glorious burning moment.
Maybe 2014 has been a bit like that for me, knowing now what I thought I knew before – that yes, life really is short and it is for the living. I don’t want to miss an opportunity to scorch this earth doing what I love to do, whether singing along with whatever’s playing on the radio, high-maintenance ordering like Meg Ryan’s Sally when I go to a new restaurant with Amanda, baring my soul right here, baking bread, teaching somebody something, rearranging furniture, driving all through the night because the road is right there in front of me, going to concerts and waiting for the roadies to take the stage, to tear it down and pack it up again, waiting to say thank you to these artists whose music never fails to lift me up and set me down again.
And now that my “Distract, Deny, and Dance Away” year is almost over, it is a whole lot easier to say aloud what Christine says in The Gone of You:
I’m out here on my own in the big, wild world
It’s a beautiful place sometimes
I keep my eye on the sparrow and my mind open wide
But I just can’t keep from cryin’
Today is one of those ‘sometimes.’ It really is a beautiful place, here with our beautiful girl. Unlike me, Sophie couldn’t care less about attending concerts, even though she has already seen more bands than some of my friends. Rather than leave her with a babysitter, Ken and I just took her with us. Writhing in my arms or sleeping or playing whatever video game I bought to keep her occupied while Ken and I rocked out to Bob Seger or Springsteen or U2 or my Tom Petty. One day, I think she’ll be impressed with her ticket stub collection. But not quite yet.
And unlike me, Sophie does not emote, as she explains better than I can:
I am almost inaudible, mom; whereas, you are almost breaking the sound barrier.
So for her seventeenth birthday, I knew not to surprise her with a party or too much noise or anything that would draw too much attention to her. I wanted to mark the day with something quieter than Las Vegas, something that would stay with her always.
If anyone would know – still – what to say to a girl on her seventeenth birthday, it would be Janis Ian. I first saw her perform “At Seventeen,” in July, 1983, at the RDS in Dublin. I was twenty years old and in college, with no notion of what I would do with my life, other than trade in Ireland for America. She, along with Peter Frampton, played warm-up for Chris de Burgh. I know. That makes no sense.
I saw her perform it thirty years later at the Rhythm Room, where she will be again in February 2015. I was then fifty years old, six months after a cancer diagnosis that had placed a question mark in the middle of my life and eight months before Ken’s death placed a period on it.
Sophie wasn’t with me – the Rhythm Room is a “21 and over only” kind of place, but I may as well have been seventeen myself, sitting there with a stiff gin and tonic, unsure about what tomorrow would bring but sure that I would show up for it, even if it meant jumping in the deep end. Again.
So thank you for that, Janis Ian, and thank you to everyone who had anything to do with the “wow” moments this year.
Here’s to many more.