Thursday, October 22, 2009

Sense and Colonel Brandon

I somehow got away with not reading any Jane Austen until I was out of college. Don’t really know why; I guess she didn’t appeal to me until I was old enough to have had some of the life experiences she dealt with in her amazing novels. In the last ten years or so, however, I have grown fond of Ms. Austen and her cavalcade of characters: the righteous Mr. Darcy, well-meaning Emma Woodhouse, mischievous ne’er do wells like Wickham and Willoughby. But lately I am especially enamored of the saintly Col. Brandon of Sense and Sensibility fame.

For those not familiar, Col. Brandon is pretty much the perfect man. He’s wealthy, steadfast, reliable, good-natured and though he is not conventionally handsome, he is not unpleasant to look at. He’s a good friend: kind, generous, brave. He’s modest, soft-spoken and self-assured. But what’s best about the Saintly Colonel is his uncanny ability to be at the right place at the right time, to offer hope and salvation to the hopeless. He’s a Knight in Shining Armor come to life for Marianne Dashwood, that’s for sure. Heartbroken and defeated after a traumatic and doomed love affair, she goes for an ill-advised walk in a rainstorm and passes out. Things look grim for the luckless Miss Dashwood. Grim, that is, until the ubiquitous Col. Brandon—who has, true to form, kindly volunteered to brave the storm in search of the beleaguered young lady—comes upon her limp form lying in the sodden grass and proceeds to carry her a not insignificant distance back to shelter, whereupon the unfortunate Marianne comes down with an infectious fever of some sort (aka “heroine disease”) and becomes gravely ill. Her sister Elinor, who has been nursing her, encounters the good Colonel roaming the halls outside her sickroom (what else would he be doing?) and when he asks what he can do to help, she instructs him to go fetch their mother as the younger Miss Dashwood may not last the night. This being Jane Austen, you just know what’s going to happen next, don’t you? Why of course—the saintly Colonel returns with Mother Dashwood post-haste, Marianne recovers, Willoughby (the cad who dumped Marianne in the first place) gets his comeuppance, Brandon marries Marianne, and all’s well that ends well. Sigh. If only…

I was thinking about Col. Brandon last night driving home from a visit with my sister. It seems life has never been easy for Nicole—poor decisions, depression, a host of physical ailments, career setbacks. She has had a couple close calls along the way, but she has never given up. I don’t know how she does it sometimes, because for my sister, the good luck that usually follows bad for the rest of us never seems to come to her. She’s not a weak person, but she is a lot more fragile than she’d care to admit, and I often become frustrated and angry at the world for all the things it keeps doing to her. She’s made mistakes—we all have—but does she have keep paying for them her whole life?

Nicole has always managed to get through it all somehow, but those of you who know her know that this year has been especially trying for her. I hadn’t seen her in a while, and when I visited with her yesterday, I was taken aback at how sad and defeated she looked. I hadn’t seen her look this bad in a long time. I know it’s bad, because she’s usually pretty stoic, and last night she confided to my mother and me that she was really struggling. We left her place very concerned for her safety and well-being, and I lay awake worrying about her much of last night. Well this morning I received the news that indeed, things had gotten worse after we left her, and the sinking feeling I had carried with me most of the year was drowned in waves of sadness and despair. We all have our ups and downs, but dammit, why can’t Nicole catch a break? What has she done to deserve this?

Today, needing the movie equivalent of comfort food to distract me a bit, I indulged in the umpteenth viewing of Ang Lee’s Sense and Sensibility, which, being a huge Kate Winslet fan, is my favorite film version of the masterpiece. But instead of taking my mind off my worries, today the movie only reminded me of them. Why, I thought, does my sister keep encountering the Willoughbys of the world when she so richly deserves a Col. Brandon?

Well truthfully, we all--male and female--deserve a Col. Brandon figure in our lives, don’t we? Even if we like to think of ourselves as strong, independent, capable, don’t we all secretly hope that if, heaven forbid, something terrible happened, there’s a Brandon waiting in the wings out there somewhere ready to Make it All Better? Don’t we all want to believe that the good guys win and the bad guys get punished, want to trust in the ultimate fairness of the universe?

I don’t know what’s going to happen to Nicole, I really don’t. She’s gotten through this type of thing before and gone on with her life, but for some reason she has never really been able to completely move past the trauma and get a solid foothold. I am not sure why; perhaps it’s because she really does need a Col. Brandon-like figure in her life. Not so much for the financial security he’d offer, or even for the romance. No, what Nicole really needs her Col. Brandon for is the simplest, most basic thing of all—something that sadly, she’s lacked most of her life. My sister needs someone who’ll be there when she needs him, who'll listen with compassion and without judgment, make her feel safe and secure, needed and most important, loved. In short, my sister needs Col. Brandon the friend. But really, don’t we all?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

God's Driftin' in Heaven

At one time missing a Springsteen show at The Spectrum would’ve been unthinkable to me, but lately it just hasn’t seemed to matter that much. Not even the fact that last night was the last time he’d be playing there—for real this time—made a difference to me. He could play my dream set list and I’d still feel there was something missing.

And there was. Yeah, despite the fact that he played not one but two of my handful of favorite (and obscure) songs—one of them hadn’t been played in 28 years—I remain convinced that I would have, on some level, been disappointed by last night’s final performance at the venerated arena in South Philly had I been there. Convinced because even with superior song selection it was still a performance with no coherent set list, a show that relied on two major crutches—playing an entire album in proper sequence as part of the set, and having “stump the band time” (in which people wave signs with song requests at him). These things—coupled with shameless audience pandering, booty shaking to teenage girls younger than his own daughter, oversinging, sluggish arrangements—all this and more (poor fan behavior, for example) made the City of Brotherly Love a place I didn’t want to be last night.

So nope, though my first ever Springsteen show was at The Spectrum in December of 1980, I didn’t feel the need to be there for the swan song. I used to believe in poetic justice, in events aligning themselves just so; at one time, being at The Spectrum last night would have been a no brainer, missing it unimaginable. But listen to the songs—Bruce is always talking about living your life, finding your place in the world, connecting with people, taking care of each other. And I think, upon reflection, that I can honestly say that I’ve done those things—maybe not as much as I should have, but I’ve tried. I’ve tried to break out of my closed off shell of a personality, discard the self-hatred, attack the despondence and depression. I’ve gone out and lived in the world. And to me, that is far more important than any one show--even by The Boss himself.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Know Thyself

My mom doesn’t know who her father was. Not literally; he did live in the same house with her and her mother and older brother for a brief time. But he was never there much, she was really young when he left, and he never really had much to do with her anyway. So though she knows his name and dimly recalls his appearance, she can’t really say that she ever really knew him.

When I was a little girl, everything surrounding my grandfather—her dad—was a big mystery. I knew the man my grandmother—we called her Nana—was married to at the time was not my mom’s dad and was curious about what the circumstances were that brought her to divorce my grandfather and marry him, but I knew better than to ask. Whatever had happened with my grandfather was not to be spoken of, and I somehow knew this without being told. Later on, as a pre-teen, I went through a box of old photos that had been in my grandmother’s attic, and noticed that a bunch of them had half the photo cut away. It had not even occurred to me that I might find a picture of my grandfather in there, but the mutilated photos were concrete evidence that whatever had precipitated my Nana’s divorce from my grandfather must’ve been pretty bad. Must’ve made her angry enough that she never wanted to see his face again, not even in old blurry black and white photos. Angry enough that she didn’t care if my sister and brother and I—her grandchildren—ever got to see what their grandfather looked like. She was pissed off that I had even found and pilfered the box of photos, I guess because she knew I might try to ask her a lot of difficult questions on a subject she did not wish to discuss. Of course the mere fact that she yelled at me for doing it was enough to keep my mouth shut, so I never worked up the courage to ask anyway.

My mom doesn’t know who her father was, so she can’t really describe him to us except for some vague memories—how he smelled, the sound he made coming in the front door from work each evening. But he must’ve been pretty good-looking because my Uncle Brooke—mom’s older brother—was quite a handsome young man, and my mom was a knockout in her day. She used to get mistaken for Ali McGraw all the time—and this was with wearing no makeup and already having two young children and a third on the way. I know my uncle was good-looking because Nana kept a photo of him from his days in the Coast Guard on a bureau in one of her spare bedrooms. I remember curly hair, a round smiling face, a devil-may-care grin and twinkle in the eyes that told me he must have been Trouble.

Indeed, my mom always spoke of Uncle Brooke—when she could be persuaded to speak of him at all—with palpable resentment, because Nana just adored him, and never tried to hide the fact that he was her favorite child. She always favored boy children (and grandchildren), and my uncle was the apple of her eye. Got away with murder, so my mom said. I never met him, though; despite the fact that Nana kept his photo around, Uncle Brooke was, like his father, persona non grata. We children didn’t know anything about him except that he was married and had some kids of his own who were our cousins. We didn’t know where he lived or what he did for a living or the names of his wife and children. Like my grandfather, he just wasn’t talked about. In fact, most of the time it was like we didn’t have an Uncle Brooke at all--that is, until the day when my mom got the phone call informing her that he had died. It was one of the only times I’ve ever seen my mom cry, and I still remember the look on her face when she hung up the phone. Seems our uncle—like his father before him—had drunk himself to death. Of course, we knew none of this till years later, and only then because we questioned my mom about it; she wasn’t giving up any information on the subject on her own, that was for sure.

I have a couple friends who were adopted, and who don’t know who their birth parents are. Matter of fact, one of my best friends in high school was adopted. She was totally up front about it and didn’t really seem bothered by it. But just from my own experience with the mystery surrounding my grandfather, I know it’s got to sting. The insecurity, the not knowing. The fear that people are going to leave you, that you don’t really know yourself: why you do certain things, look a certain way. These feelings of loss and confusion can make dealing with adoptees a difficult proposition at times. Intimacy is difficult, complicated. In my own experience, it’s just so hard getting them to trust you as a friend, companion, lover. I want so much to tell them that I understand; that, as with them, there are things about myself I don’t yet know and may never discover. Want to look them in the eye and tell them that it’s ok; that I care about them for the people they are, not for who their parents might have been. That despite knowing my parents and most of my immediate family, I don’t really know myself that well either.

But there are times when I look in the mirror and think—did my grandpa have this nose, these eyes? This temper, this tendency toward self-loathing and despair? Did the black cloud of depression hang over his head, too? And I wonder—if I had known him, would it help me know myself?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Like a Bridge

A couple days ago they were handing out free promo CDs at work, which they still do on occasion (yeah, believe it or not there are still labels out there and they still manufacture actual CDs), and I came across Live 1969 by none other than Simon & Garfunkel. I couldn’t believe a) that something of that magnitude had come out and I didn’t know about it (it was actually released in April) and b) that no one else had already absconded with it. I mean really, people, Simon & Garfunkel. I know it was a long time ago and all, but geezus, at one time they were as big as The Beatles here in the U.S.


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How time flies, and how tastes change. Funny thing is, theirs is the type of music that is so unique that they really were and are their own genre—to me, they exist out of time just like Dylan or the Fab Four or Beethoven—so in my mind, it’s not a question of being in or out of style. It’s about total frickin’ genius. And this particular CD—an assemblage of selections from various dates on their 1969 U.S. tour—is just stunning. They're at the height of their powers, their voices at their pristine best—the harmonies that are at once so complex and so intertwined it’s as though you’re listening to one voice instead of two; they know each other so well, complement each other so perfectly. And the material, which is culled from their first three albums as well as from their forthcoming masterpiece, Bridge Over Troubled Water, is just stellar. It’s all there, from the whimsical “At the Zoo” to the tuneful “59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” to the profoundly moving “Sound of Silence.” Listening to these songs and these voices again, I am instantly transported back in time to when I was five or six years old. All of this was brand new then, and in a time of chaos and bloodshed, of assassinations and unrest, riots and war, these songs, this music—so soothing, so literate, so biting and true—were just what we needed.

I listened, and the lyrics came back to me instantly, almost as if I had always known them, and in a way, I guess I had. After all, I grew up on this stuff—literally. My father was a huge fan and early supporter of the boys from Queens, and it was perhaps the only time that he and I were passionate about the exact same music, one of the few times we actually agreed on something. And it was gone all too soon. But for those few years, 1967 or so to the end of the decade, we shared something something ethereal and fleeting, a bond deep and unspoken. We didn’t really talk about it, but when my dad went out to the record store to buy Bridge Over Troubled Water the week it came out, I was right there with him. It was as if we both knew this would never happen again.

And the audiences at these shows had to know that they were experiencing something that happens only once in a lifetime, too—you can hear it in the profound silence of their complete attention, in their enthusiastic response to the performances. It’s totally mesmerizing, and totally unforgettable, that old cliché about genius—you can’t really define it, but you know it when you experience it. But the real jaw dropping moment on this CD is one that the audience is completely unprepared for. But really, though you know it’s coming, nothing can prepare you for it either—how does one prepare for a watershed moment? You hear Larry Knechtel (yes, that Larry Knechtel—S&G were touring with their studio band, which just happened to include three members of Phil Spector’s famed Wrecking Crew) play the opening arpeggios that are so familiar to you, and you think to yourself that this audience has no idea that after hearing this song, they will be forever changed. That’s right, they are going to hear “Bridge Over Troubled Water” for the very first time (can you imagine?)—no studio arrangement, no lush instrumentation, just Larry on the piano and Artie’s unearthly tenor. You can picture him standing at the mike, a single white spotlight, hands in pockets, eyes closed—even on CD it’s breathtaking, one of those indelible moments you never forget. He finishes, the final chords fade, and there is a stunned silence, a pregnant pause followed by long, loud ovation. It’s truly a cathartic moment on an album filled with them, and I just wish I could have been there one on of those nights to witness it in person.

Night after night (so the liner notes indicate) in that turbulent fall of 1969, audiences had the exact same reaction—in packed concert halls across the country, people felt the power of Simon’s profoundly moving lyrics, Garfunkel’s crystalline harmonies, and for a moment, the real world was forgotten; the turmoil and despair a distant memory drowned in waves of sound.

We needed Simon & Garfunkel then, and didn’t realize how much we’d miss them when they were gone. But (as Bud Scoppa so aptly states in his excellent liner notes), history is cyclical, and everything comes back again. In this era of unrest and uncertainty, we need them again, perhaps more than we ever did. Well, with this essential release, Simon & Garfunkel are back and in their prime, as if they’d never been away. I just wonder if anyone’s listening.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Au Revoir, Les Giants

So that’s it for Giants Stadium, and for the epic event known as “Bruce at The Meadowlands.” Over. Done. No more. And not only was I not there, I wasn’t in contact—The Twitter, The Facebook, The Blackberry—with anyone who was. And you know what—that's just fine with me.

Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m not a big fan of these technologies, but that wasn’t the reason. Nope, the reason was I simply didn’t care. That’s right, Didn’t Care. To me, Giants Stadium is not hallowed ground, a place in which everything of significance in my entire life has taken place. It holds no special piece of my heart, no acreage in my memory bank. Nope, to me, Giants is merely a place where New Jersey’s masses go to Party in the Parking Lot and Maybe Hear Some Music Later. You know, pay way too much to park (take up two or three spots—one is needed for car, the others for grill and/or tent, chairs, etc.), get really drunk on (mostly cheap) beer, play with fire/grill, toss a football (or some other available object), play whatever new conglomeration of game—hacky sack, etc.—that passes the time and you can play whilst inebriated, pee in really disgusting porta-potties, eat way too much, talk really loudly about yourself and where you’re sitting tonight, blast some random bootleg that everyone’s heard a million times, ogle that hot girl/guy that just walked by and generally annoy everyone in the immediate vicinity in whatever way you can. Giants Stadium is New Jersey’s Main Street, The Parking Lot to that great big outdoor shopping mall known as The Garden State. Never wanted to be anything else, never tried. And to me, that’s exactly as it should be.

But not being from New Jersey, I have never understood parking lots or tailgating. You might get to an event a bit early to scope out the place, but in Washington DC in the ‘70s there was no such thing as hanging out in the parking lot. You got your ass inside and into your seat, and that was that. After all, there was a game to be watched. My parents were Washington Redskins season ticket holders back in the day, so I know from game day activities. On Sundays (and later Monday nights too) you’d get up and get down to the stadium no later than 11:30 am--just in time for pre-game warm-ups (except every once in a while you’d maybe grab a hot dog along the way if Mom hadn’t had time the night before to make sandwiches). It was well nigh impossible to get into RFK Stadium in those days, and by god you were there to pay attention. There was no thought of doing anything else. And to this day, the smell of peanuts and spilled beer makes me nostalgic for that simpler time when football was just football, when it had the power to miraculously unite one of the most diverse, divided cities in America around a single cause for just those three hours or so on those long ago fall afternoons of my youth.

So tailgating, not so much. And beyond that, well, I have already discussed my feelings about Bruce, about this tour. I felt at the beginning—and this opinion hasn’t changed—that the latest record was rushed, poorly thought out, mediocre. Bruce didn’t seem to have anything of any great import to say on Working on a Dream, and the live shows were just concrete evidence of this. I don’t know whether it’s getting older, being distracted by parenthood, or maybe just life getting in the way—realizing that there was more than just The Music—I don’t know, and maybe he doesn’t either. But I do know uninspired material when I hear it.

And then there were the performances, which to me reeked of desperation, of trying too hard. And for someone like Bruce, for whom it was once all so effortless—the danger, drama, excitement, pathos, despair, resurrection—to have fallen to the ranks of the mere mortal, well, I just couldn’t bear to watch. He once spent hours carefully plotting out set lists, orchestrating each moment of his nightly marathons, and this laser-like focus resulted in some of the best live performances on record. But the shows he does now have no direction, no purpose. And sadly, though he has recognized that there is something drastically out of whack, Bruce seems to have absolutely no idea what’s wrong or how to fix it. So he’s resorted to the old throw-it-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks method: light shows, giant graphics or crawling lyrics on a giant screen behind the stage, backup singers, stage dives, endless audience participation schtick and most heinous of all, request time. I don’t know what’s worse, the fact that the shows are so lackluster that Bruce needs to do these things, or the fact that he’s up there doing shows at all. All I know is that the whole thing made me cringe, made me embarrassed for him, made me want to get up and shake him to his senses. At one point in my life I would have been so distraught that I would have written him a letter or something, but now I just can’t be bothered. Because to me, though he spends hours in the gym, rehearsing the band, etc., Bruce just doesn’t seem to have a real good reason to be there, and if he doesn’t care, why should I? What once meant Everything to him now seems like something he’s doing just because he doesn’t know what else to do with himself. I don’t know, maybe it’s just that he felt like he needed to get out of the house for a while. But for god's sake, do I have to pay over a hundred dollars to see it?

I know some of this is just me (and Bruce) getting older, having different priorities. But dammit, I know in my heart that he’s still got it in him; the Seeger Sessions Tour was proof of that. I know the old, risk-taking Bruce is in there still, but it seems that something has made him sad and desperate, has sapped all of the old desire and longing and purpose from his music, from his life. He thought he was falling into the bottomless pit of aimlessness known as Midlife Crisis, and so he grabbed at the one thing he knew he could always count on: The E Street Band. I wish I could tell him that he doesn’t need them anymore, that he has all he needs within himself if he would only dig a little deeper. I want to take him and shake him and tell him those old things don’t matter anymore. I wonder if he’d even listen.

But All Things Must Pass, or so they say. To me, The E Street Band’s finest hour, its apex, was the 2004 Vote For Change Tour. I really hoped Bruce would see that, too, and would call it quits. But his myopia is such that he can no longer see what’s right in front of him, no longer sense what used to be second nature. And that just makes me sad.

So no Giants Stadium for me, and maybe even no Spectrum, too. I don’t know if I’m going to any more Springsteen shows this year at all, and I can’t really say that I’m too upset about it. Life goes on and all that. Besides, there’s this band from Liverpool that has a new box set out…

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

In Memoriam

Arlington Memorial Cemetery is one of my favorite places to visit in my beloved hometown. Today, for the first time in a very long time, I visited the cemetery grounds with my mom. She doesn’t go often; it’s always very emotional for her, and so we try to make it a special occasion, to really give it our full attention when we go. It was a typical fall day in DC—warmer than you dressed for, but not as humid as it has been only a few weeks before. We like to walk rather than taking the ever-present Tourmobiles; you see more that way, and anyway we were stiff from being in the car for a while. But everything in Arlington is uphill, so it takes a while to get to the spot we like best: the front lawn of the Lee Mansion and the JFK gravesite just below.

Arlington is a favorite destination of mine because it’s quiet and peaceful, demands solicitude and respect from all who enter; it seems to be one of the few places left in this country in which people actually show some degree of decorum without being browbeaten. (Sad that it takes the sight of literally thousands of gravestones to evoke this reaction.) So it’s quiet when we reach the grounds of the Mansion on top of the hill and look back across the glistening Potomac to the broad vista of the Nation’s Capital. It’s miraculous to me that so much riverfront acreage has remained undeveloped; if you concentrate (and if no planes fly overhead) you can see pretty much the same view they saw from that very same hilltop 45 years ago.

It’s hard to believe it’s been that long since the JFK funeral. My parents, like hundreds of others, felt they had to be there, and I am told that I was there too—I was almost two years old and my mom brought me in a stroller. Time has gone by outside the cemetery gates, but it seems to have stood still within them. Not much really changes here: grass is mowed, leaves raked and bagged, graves manicured. And to my middle aged eyes, it looks the same as it did all the other times I was here—as a little girl not knowing what she was seeing, a teenager struggling to understand, a lost and confused adult still trying to figure things out. Looks the same, but really it’s not, because they’re having funerals again here.

I don’t remember there being funerals here when I was here before, though I’m sure there were. It’s just that the funerals were for older veterans of more distant wars; nowadays they’re burying people in Section 60, a new area designated for the service people from new conflicts in old places we still can’t quite pronounce. Today while we were walking up the hill we heard rifle salutes—three distinct shots—several times. It’s chilling and heartbreaking. You know what it means but you don’t want to know, don’t want to think about the fact that they’re probably burying someone young enough to be your son or daughter somewhere down that hill.

My mom likes to come here; she was (and is) a proud Kennedy supporter, and always makes a point of stopping off at the Eternal Flame and the small white cross a few feet to its right (RFK). Only now there’s another white cross farther down past it. It’s hard to imagine Ted Kennedy being buried there; hard to grasp that the huge, vital presence we were so used to seeing out and about on the streets of DC was here, forever stilled. It’s probably the last time my mom’s going to make it here, so I gave her a few moments to herself to take it all in.

It’s always hard to go back home again, and I never leave DC without a pervading sense of melancholy. Doesn’t help that it’s fall, the season that always leaves me unsettled, homesick for a place or time I can’t quite pin down. I loved living in Washington, but am not sure I’ll ever live there again, and that saddens me. I had so many wonderful experiences there, too many to count. But though it’s still a great city, it’s not the city of my youth anymore, and I would want something from it that it was no longer able to give if I tried to live there now.

So we drove back to my mom’s place in Pennsylvania, the first beginnings of autumn color appearing on the fields and foliage we passed. I don’t know where I’m going to end up settling now; so much of my life has been unsettled, and I am not sure where home really is to me anymore. I’ve often heard that home is the place you go where they have to take you in (or some such thing, it’s a Robert Frost quote, I think), but I’m not so sure. I think maybe home is where you are most comfortable, where you are your truest self. I guess I’ll know when I find out who that self really is.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Slow Down, You Move too Fast

Ok, I know I’m not Miss Cutting Edge. Never have been. As a matter of fact, I would say that if life were like a vacation getaway, I’d be not the young painfully hip trendies with the “Let’s Go” book under one arm and a backpack over the other, I’d be the person in sensible shoes and slightly unkempt but comfortable clothes perusing the Frommer’s guide whilst trying not to spill coffee on myself.

I know I’m not at the forefront of anything, which isn’t to say that I don’t discover great stuff—it’s just that I usually latch onto it relatively late in the game. Of course, I’ve always told myself—and I do believe this—that it doesn’t matter when you find something; the important thing is to find it. This doesn’t help, however, in this day and age of searchable files. These days, you can dig up info and stories on just about anything on those wacky Internets and drive yourself absolutely nuts finding cool stuff you weren’t a part of, fabulously rockin’ bands and hot clothes and dark, dangerous rock’n’roll bars and brilliant novels that you love passionately but that are long past their prime, that are not even yesterday’s news but last year’s. Go crazy wondering why you weren’t there, trying to figure out where you were instead, what you were doing, and what it was that kept you from whatever fabulous trend/movement/phenomenon you’ve discovered months and sometimes even years too late. As in, “why why why wasn’t I there when The Clash played Shea? When Bruce was at The Capitol Theater? When Joey got onstage with that great garage band at The Continental?” Answer: because I was a) 200 miles away from most of this and b) painfully unhip.

And though I have made some concessions to modernity, things haven’t really changed very much in my world over the years. I don’t have an iPhone or a Blackberry. The iPod I was given over five years ago sits on a shelf unused. I still haven’t really figured out the digital camera I was given several years back. Oh, I am not in the Dark Ages by any means—I text message, I have a Facebook account—but I don’t do the Twitter, don’t know what # or @ mean except “number” and “at.” That’s who I am, and it’s far too late to change.

But really, does it matter? I’m far past the age at which it’s reasonable to make massive changes in the way I do things. Little alterations, maybe, but not life-altering drama. Really, do I need to know that this or that FB post was “sent from a Blackberry” or “via MobileWeb”? How does this make my life better? What am I supposed to do with this information? Seriously, you’re already telling me what you’re eating for dinner; do I need to know you’re telling me whilst sitting on your ass clipping your toenails?

A month or two back I was feeling really exhausted mentally and physically, and took a mental health day off from work. Did nothing but play with the cat, eat my favorite food and walk on the beach. No computer, no phone, no technology of any kind. And you know what? I had more energy the next day than I had had in weeks. Lately I’m finding that keeping up with what’s what on Facebook, MySpace, Yahoo, Google, etc. is an undue stressor in a life already crammed full with stressful stuff, and frankly at my age, who needs it? After all, it’s not the technology; it’s how you use it. It’s living each day to the best of your ability and being happy with what you have. Enjoying small things, like the way your cat looks at you when you rub her chin, the way the sun plays off the breaking waves of the Atlantic, the way a cold drink tastes when you’re thirsty.

Yeah, I’m a Frommer’s girl in a “Let’s Go” world, and for me, that’s just about right.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Apologia

Ok, true confessions time. I know the previous post was more than a little self-pitying; so sue me, I’m in that sort of a mood. But I do believe in telling the whole truth—well as much as is relevant, anyway—and the whole truth in this case is that I haven’t been a terribly good friend to my Springsteen fan compatriots of late, either. So asking people to contact me out of the blue about a particular event when I haven’t written, called, emailed, or texted myself is perhaps a bit much.

I have been remiss, and for that I am sorry. And truthfully, it would’ve been a tossup as to whether I would’ve gone to the Costello taping anyway being as my bestest friends Maybe Pete were having their CD release party at the exact same time.

I guess what I’m trying to say is there are two sides to everything, and I’m constantly looking at the glass half empty side. Sorry ‘bout that.

[But really, were y’alls phones and ‘puters not workin’ last week or what? ;) ]

What's So Funny?

I just finished watching the recent film version of the Edith Wharton classic The House of Mirth which, for those not familiar, is the story of a woman’s slow decline from the heights of Gilded Age New York society into poverty, addiction and eventually, death. It’s a story that might happen to anyone: a person who is industrious, intelligent and attractive endures a series of setbacks that, taken one at a time might be relatively insignificant, but experienced in rapid succession, they become so overwhelming that he or she loses heart. The courage and self-confidence required to rise above circumstance are gradually eroded as the person is swept downward by an inexorable tide of tragedy. In Wharton’s novel the woman—Lily Bart--is forced to repeatedly demean herself in order to survive, and the friends and relatives upon whom we all depend in times of trial grow fearful of the social repercussions of associating with a “tainted” woman and begin to distance themselves from her as she sinks lower and lower. At length she is offered assistance, but it is too little, too late.

The real tragedy of this tale, of course, is not Lily’s demise, but the failure of those closest to her to intervene on her behalf. In turn-of-the-century Manhattan, it’s every man (or woman) for himself. Unfortunately, here in the 21st century of iPhone and Internet, things don’t seem to be all that different, and I wonder what that means for the future. Technology that is supposed to bring us all closer has made us ever more self-absorbed, less conscious of each other, less cognizant of the simple joys of life, of the small miracles—a butterfly on a flower, a bird’s song, a phone call from a friend, the sun reflecting in a puddle—that make each day unique. But it’s not technology’s fault, really—it’s how people use it that has eroded our humanity.

Lately I have been thinking a great deal about why it is that I have not felt compelled to trek up to the lovely Garden State to partake of the current run of Springsteen shows at Giants Stadium, and I must say that a great deal of it has to do with how his fans have begun to treat each other these last few years. I remember a time when it was so difficult to get tickets that you pinched yourself when you walked into a venue because you couldn’t believe that he was actually going to be on that stage right in front of you later that evening. You didn’t care where you were sitting, or that your friends might have slightly better seats. You were all in the building, and you were going to share this magical experience together. And for less than twenty dollars, you got three-plus hours of pure adrenaline—an emotional rollercoaster ride that was elating and cathartic. It was such a high that all you could do was talk about it. Your unadulterated joy was such that you would develop an overwhelming desire to share it with others, to bring them to a show with you just so you could watch their reaction. You’d sit for hours in the rain and the cold overnight on the sidewalk just to make sure you’d get a ticket, and if you were short a dollar or two, someone else in line would lend you the money. You always knew you’d get it back—we were Springsteen fans, and there was a rare, unspoken level of trust amongst us unlike anything I had ever experienced.

But no more. Just last week, Bruce taped a segment of Elvis Costello’s “Spectacle” show for The Sundance Channel at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. Tickets were difficult but not impossible, but I seriously thought that there was no way I would ever get into the event, so I didn’t really follow up on initial efforts to gain entrance. And I’ll admit, a great deal of this lack of effort also had to do with the increasingly privileged attitude taken by some of Bruce’s most ardent fans. What was once the most uplifting, unifying experience imaginable to any music fan has now become nothing more than an exercise in self-importance. It’s no longer enough just to be there—you now feel compelled to look around (I’ll admit I’ve done this myself) and see where everyone else you know is sitting, confirm that you have a better (or worse) seat than they do (how did that happen? Who do they know that I don’t?), make a mental checklist of who didn’t make it in at all and feel very smug and self-satisfied that you are well connected (it’s never luck, you see) enough to be there. And while this is by no means indicative of the behavior of every single attendee, it’s prevalent enough that, though I shouldn’t allow it to bother me, it detracts so much from my enjoyment that I can’t concentrate on the show. And yeah, some of that’s my fault, but dammit, whatever happened to being satisfied with what we’ve got? With feeling blessed by our good fortune, with wanting to share that good fortune with others? I knew perhaps a dozen people who ended up gaining entrance by one means or another, and not one of them—not one--contacted me either to find out if I were going or to perhaps offer assistance. Of course, it turns out that, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, I had the power to get in all along and didn’t even know it. But unlike Dorothy, there was no Glenda the Good Witch to point that out to me, so I spent the night of the taping elsewhere.

There’s a great bit by comedian Louis CK on a recent episode of Conan O’Brien in which he opines that people are never satisfied, that everyday life in the Modern World is nothing short of a miracle: high speed Internet on an airplane thousands of feet above the earth, telephones that beam signals back and forth like fireflies, a new technological marvel seemingly everyday, and yet people complain about the mechanical wonders that were unthinkable even ten years ago. “People bitch about stuff that, five minutes ago, they didn’t even know existed,” he cracks. So true, and so sad. What has happened to us?

So yeah, I didn’t go to the taping, which was, by all accounts, an amazing experience. And while I am sorry to have missed it, what has made me saddest of all is that, like Lily Bart, I was left to my own devices at a time when I needed help, and though I was in nowhere near the level of danger she experienced, I was nonetheless, for all intents and purposes, cast adrift. Not attending the show was bad enough, finding out I could have attended after all was worse. But what hurt most of all was being left to fend for myself by my friends and fellow Springsteen fans, when a simple phone call, email or even text message would have meant everything.

So the next time someone speaks of the Springsteen “community,” I will smile and shrug and turn on some Elvis Costello.

Transformation

10-2-09

It’s Friday night, the first Friday in October, and somewhere a couple hundred miles or so to the northeast Bruce is about an hour into the second of five shows at Giants Stadium, the soon-to-be-demolished monstrosity just off of Exit 16W on the New Jersey Turnpike. I should be so upset that I’m missing it, that I’m probably going to miss the entire stand—the Last Hurrah at the fabled venue. I should care—I’ve loved Bruce, lived for him since I was a teenager—but instead I feel nothing at all.

The concept of romantic love is, by historical standards, a relatively recent phenomenon. Its mythology reaches back hundreds of years, back to a time when marrying for love was a luxury, was the exception not the rule. Romantic love has been examined ad infinitum in literature, film, art. It’s fantasy, really, but we’re raised on it, and so we grow up believing in “true love,” in finding the one person for whom we’re perfectly suited, with whom we can walk off into the sunset and live happily ever after. But people are imperfect; circumstances change, priorities shift; over the years, because we are human, we evolve. We become bored if we stand still, so we seek new challenges, hunger for new ideas and experiences; we are in a constant state of forward motion until we die.

The institution of marriage, on the other hand, depends on stability, reliability, steadfastness, compromise. On being true to another person in body and mind, acting as one half of a whole regardless of the inevitable ebbs and flows of emotion, attraction and desire, or of different rates of change within each individual. To ask both members of a romantic couple not just to be flexible and accommodate such changes, but also to absorb them and then synchronize their own growth and transformation to them seems a well nigh impossible task.

And so it is that many romantic couples break up; over time, whether married or not, they slowly, almost imperceptibly, distance themselves from one another until they have grown completely apart. This is often a painful process for one if not both of the parties involved, because one person may have moved at a different speed or headed down a different path from the other, leaving him or her behind in the process. And it’s tough leaving someone you care about. Relationships are difficult, marriage is work, this we know. But what if all the work and all the tribulation and effort no longer bring both parties to common ground? Human beings hate stagnation; we love nothing more than adventure, broadening our mental and physical horizons. The surprise, therefore, is not that we break apart, it’s that we can ever stand to be with each other for any length of time in the first place.

Tonight Bruce is playing Giants Stadium, entertaining some 80,000 people on a chill autumn evening in a building that will soon be nothing but dust and rubble. And I should, by all rights, be there. But it’s 2009. He’s 60 and I’m not far behind, and nothing is the same anymore. The shows are shorter, more stagey, less dangerous. The tickets are more expensive, the fans less intense in their dedication, more self-absorbed. And, inevitably, as Bruce and I have grown older, both of us have changed. The things that seemed so important to us have, as he once wrote, “vanished into the air.” I have found new passions, new interests; he has married and raised a family. New people have entered our lives and others drifted from sight. I once thought Bruce and his music would always mean as much to me as they did in my youth, just as he himself once thought rock’n’roll would always be everything to him. But I must now admit to myself—as he no doubt has—that that is no longer the case.

So tonight I am experiencing the breakup of what has been a long, intense relationship, and I should be devastated. Instead, for the first time in a very long time, I am optimistic about the future. Bruce’s music is still great, and it will always be there. But tomorrow holds the promise of new experiences, new people, places to go and things to see and hear and do. Perhaps that’s what he really meant for those two characters in his classic “Thunder Road”—that the couple was never really running away from something, but running toward something—the exciting changes that lay just ahead down that dusty beach road. Or perhaps not. But really, what can one do but wait and see?