Thursday, March 23, 2017

DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC-(It's like trying to tell a stranger about rock & roll)

My tendency to go off on tangents while writing these blogs is the main reason why they seem to appear with the same frequency as the Hale Bopp comet. There is no doubt that I am saddled with an alphabet soup bowl full of undiagnosed childhood learning disabilities. When I was in school, there was never any discussion about ADD, or ADHD, although I'm pretty certain that my main problem was probably an acute case of DGAS (didn’t give a shit). So I can be writing about the Grateful Dead and next thing I know it has morphed into an article about tracking the elusive Yeti. In any event, this will be my first attempt at streamlining the process, trying to keep things neat, concise, and on point, but always keeping an eye out for potential Abdominal Snowman sightings.
    For me music is and always has been about magical moments, those shiver down my spine, little hairs rising up on the back of my neck moments. As an addict in recovery I spent far too much time chasing that feeling with drugs and alcohol, when in reality it was never farther away than a turntable, radio, or concert venue. When I did finally take those first few wobbly steps down a path of recovery and sobriety, music was a constant and healing companion. As the fog started to lift, I realized that I had turned my back on my one healthy addiction, an addiction that was capable of bringing me the pleasure I spent a lifetime seeking through unhealthy and destructive means.
Every addict knows the feeling, the constant daily chase for the thrill of that initial high, as futile as a dog chasing its tail. Music has a limitless capacity to bring me to that place, and the beauty of it is that I never know when it will happen, the music decides.

   The houselights go down as 20,000 fans  rise up, Bruce Springsteen's voice cutting through the darkness, wondering if any of the 20,000 fans sitting in the Hartford Civic Center this night are alive. Yes we are, and every single nerve ending in my body is on fire before a note has been played. There is not a drug in the world that can produce the adrenaline rush and goose bump inducing chill of that moment.

The above scene has played out at the start of every single one of the over 100 Sprinsgteen shows I have attended, and I can easily fill a whole blog with memories from those shows, or from the hundreds of other shows I have attended while supporting a three concert a week habit. For the sake of this article however I am choosing to stick with the moments that have occurred after November 3, 2003, because music took on a whole new meaning and dimension in my life as a sober man.
    While many of my early concert memories have now become an amalgam of clarity and purple haze, I have a clear and sharp focus from every show I have attended while sober. The angelic voice of Lisa Hannigan, echoing through the Mohegan Sun Arena. Ostensibly  a backup vocalist for Damien Rice, her unique vocal style added  a depth and quality to Damien's music that has been missing since she left to pursue a solo career. To be fair, neither artist has done very well without the other, which I guess is further evidence that romance and the workplace don't mix. In stark contrast, the headliner that night, Fiona Apple countered the almost  whispered  beauty of Lisa's vocals with ear bludgeoning primal scream therapy. Yoko Ono on steroids. Hey, not every moment is magical, and I didn't stick around in hopes that a volunteer would be summoned from the audience to saw her vocal cords in half. Now that would have been magic.

The Webb Sisters, singing Leonard Cohen's musical prayer, “If It Be Your Will, their perfect harmonies echoing to the rafters of the Waterbury Palace Theater, punctuating what had already been an incredible three hours of music from the 74 year old  Leonard. This concert, and  encore performance have taken on greater significance with Leonard's recent passing at the age of 82. Leonard's spoken portion of the prayer/poem reduced the 3500 seat theater to pin drop quiet, the reverent stillness of the crowd enhancing the dynamic power of the Webb Sisters vocal. As the crowd filed out that evening, there was a sense that we all had just received a special gift. I know for me personally, it has been the seminal concert of my life, and I still get those same chills every time I watch this video.

Some of the best moments seem to occur when I least expect it. Driving in my car, radio playing as usual, but I am more focused on the law abiding doofus in front of me. He has obviously decided that 40 mph means 40 mph, failing to realize that I am late for golf. Just as I’m thinking that this person had used up his allotted supply of the Earth's oxygen, a song that had slipped through the fissures in my mind (they were once cracks but have widened considerably  as time marches on) is coming through the speaker. As is often the case, it's a long forgotten Dylan song, and suddenly the Amish guy in the horse and buggy in front of me  isn't as important as Dylan, in his distinctively nasal tone  singing to me  about the "Tight Connection to his Heart".

    Now I am perilously close to rambling again,  failing to live up to my promise of streamlining this process. Once I begin to relive these special musical moments it's  very difficult for me to stop.
It was a thrill to see my good friend Sal Annunziato realize a  dream by  recording a CD of all original material, and in the process receiving a preview of each song as it was recorded. The finished product "Own Trip"  is a testament to his musical influences and  life long love of music. As I described it in a short review, it's modern themes behind a classic rock sound, produced beautifully by Sal and his friend Eric Lichter. It's pretty cool to be driving down the road with the music on full volume, and suddenly your friends voice is coming through the speaker, singing my favorite song from the CD  "Something Better".

So I will end where I started, with Bruce Springsteen. My last Springsteen show was May 2014 at Mohegan Sun Arena, and joining the band for this tour  was Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello.It was the usual intense and rocking three hour plus show, which of course for Bruce was not unusual.The shows at Mohegan were the last two shows of what had been a long worldwide tour, and despite the energy, to me,  Bruce looked weary, understandably so. After sending what had to be an exhausted band off to bed,  Bruce appeared solo, guitar in hand, for his final encore. For some reason at that moment I was filled with melancholy, the thought  that  after 42 years, this could potentially  be my last Springsteen concert. Through the early E Street Band Shows, the early 90's "Other Band" tour, Seeger Sessions Band (still my favorite tour) , solo concerts, and then back with the reincarnated E Street Band, I had seen at least one show on every tour, usually multiples. There was never a moment after any show where I felt like Bruce didn't leave everything he had out on that stage. Hell, one of the reasons why I thought this might be my last Bruce concert was because at 61, I couldn't hang anymore, the three hour plus shows at my age are exhausting. Bruce is three years older, imagine how he feels.
The show ends with a song that seemed like a summation of his career for his lifelong fans, or maybe a pledge to his new ones. In any event, "I'll Work For Your Love" turned out to be that  never broken promise from a clearly exhausted Bruce. The weary humble bow at the end of another marathon show seemed so poignant to me, a final acknowledgement to my 42 years of loyal fandom. If the rumors are true and Bruce does decide to tour again as a solo artist,  I will be there. As long as I can sit my tired old ass down in a seat, I can listen to him all night long, because for me, no one has produced more magical moments than Springsteen.

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