“Enchanted—Well, I hope you make it!”

In my concert-going life, I have been late to three concerts, and all three have been in Florida.  My most recent tardy appearance occurred on September 25, 2012 in St. Augustine.  The telling of the story begins with another long drive, an unprinted concert ticket, and my hair.

I had not printed my ticket before packing my printer in Colorado, had procrastinated printing it due to the one million other concerns on my mind, and left for my drive from South Carolina to Florida on the day of the show with the ticket only in its virtual PDF form.  As for my hair, I was certain that, in the Florida humidity, which I was newly reexperiencing, my hair would not straighten properly for my preferred, well-groomed Stevie-concert look.  Once at my Priceline value motel, I decided to forego probabilistically futile hair efforts in favor of spending that time searching for a local Staples Office Supply to print my ticket.  By the time I had found both Staples and someone in Staples that could print the PDF ticket file, the 7:30 concert start time had arrived, and with it, the early symptoms of a panic attack.  I hoped beyond reason that Stevie would have an opening act to soak up some of the time it would take me to drive to the venue, park, and reach my seat, and I once more lamented that I am physically unable to propel myself from location to location through flight, apparation, or some other form of cosmic transport.

Once in the car with the engine running, “Gypsy” came on the radio.  “Gypsy” is my significant song that mystically plays on a radio near me in times of turmoil or despair, so I slowed my thoughts and did not panic.  As I approached the amphitheater, I rolled down the window and heard not an opening act, but Stevie, singing Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll,” the current first song in her set.  The venue parking lot was full.  I steered my car down a street, veered it into an overgrown grass lot, possibly someone’s yard, vaulted out, and sprinted in my concert clothes and boots down the highway (on the sidewalk), across the street, and through the amphitheater grounds—easily a half a mile.  By this time, we were into the second song of the set, “Enchanted,” and I vaguely noted the irony of Stevie singing, “My destiny says that I’m destined to run” as I ran.  I noticed that none of the other late comers were running; I was going flat out.

As I raced through the amphitheater gates, Stevie sang, “Enchanted—-Well, I hope you make it!”  This almost compensated for my tardiness.  The security guard at the gate took a small eternity rummaging through my purse, and then calmly informed me  that I could not take my bottle of water into the venue.  “Take it!”  I cried.  The ticket scanner told me that Stevie had just started, and I thanked her quickly as I lunged up the stairs to the strains of “Wo wo wo—I hope you make it!”  and then down the stairs to the stage as security miraculously waved me by rather than spending their usual five to ten minutes scrutinizing each attendee’s ticket.  When I arrived at the stage area with my hair even more of a humid wreck and my otherwise carefully-groomed appearance a thing of the past, I noticed immediately that Stevie had made a similar hair choice—to not straighten—for the evening, and that, A. Her hair looked better overall than mine, and, B. She was probably on time, not making a time crunch hair decision.

This was the show I needed.  Every part of it mattered, but the moment that made all of the effort—the driving time, the running, the internal near-combustion when the ticket wouldn’t print—worthwhile was a ten-second comment Stevie made in her introduction to the last song.  Her nutshell explanation that night was that “Love Is” is about wanting something, having it, not being able to keep it, and accepting that.”  Something about the way she said this, especially the resoluteness of her saying “accepting that,” was so striking to me.  I learn so much about impermanence from Stevie and from her shows.  With this introduction and this particular performance of this song, I remembered both Buddhist teachings of impermanence, attachment, and craving, and Christian examples of loss, suffering, and acceptance.  Did I mention that I have a now-distant background in comparative religion?  That helps.  Anyway, I forget what I think I should already know and I forget how cravingly I can become attached to things I want or to things that I think should be a certain way, even to ideas and conceptions that aren’t good for me, until I hear Stevie say something about accepting loss or until I have a moment that I try too hard to hold onto.  The big idea of “Love Is” for me now is trying to be happy with reality after our expectations and attachments are torn away.  With hesitation, I would like to add that this was my 17th exposure to a “Love Is” live performance.  Sometimes I require multiple experiences to get the point.

On my more leisurely exit after the show, I realized that I didn’t recognize any part of the venue through which I had spirited myself in my race to the show.  I also realized that my calves and hamstrings were indeed sore after my unanticipated pre-concert workout, that my hair was and will always be irredeemable in the Florida heat, and that I had, through some manifestation of good fortune, managed to turn my car off and take my keys with me, permitting me to spend the remainder of my night in happy contemplation of a concert well lived rather than waiting in someone’s back yard for triple A to show up and let me into my car.  For this and all other graces of the evening, I am grateful.

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Sweet Dreams are Made of This, Part 1

On March 15th, 2005, I had an unexpected day off from work. With the normal structure of my day collapsed, I had to figure out something else to do with myself. I drove to a park to run, and on the drive, listened to (Fleetwood Mac album) “Say You Will.” It sounded new. I had the same sense of impending possibility that I had when I first listened to “Say You Will” two years earlier in my apartment in Maine, sitting on the edge of my futon with a glass of Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, hosting my own private listening party. The feeling was like an emotional flashback, a very clear nostalgia.

I had felt bored recently, and I had begun having dreams of Fleetwood Mac concerts. In one dream, Fleetwood Mac opened their set with “Edelweiss,” to say the least, a unique selection for them, even in the dream world. This is the song that my mom requested to have played at her funeral. At the start of the dream concert, I was in the front and unconcerned. Whenever Dream Me became conscious of where I was or worried about maintaining my position, I was immediately transported to the back of the audience, by myself and away from my place of meaning.

Real-life me had thought frequently of Las Vegas because I had spent time there the previous two Marches with my parents, talking and gambling with my mom. This time of year always reminds me of Las Vegas. I associatively worked my way from these thoughts to thoughts of my mom’s birthday, which was May 10. One of her friends had mentioned having some kind of celebration or merriment that year. My daytime, reality- constrained self reasoned that a journey of some sort, possibly to a concert, possibly to Las Vegas, would snap me out of ennui. No travel was on the horizon, however, so my journeys seemed to remain mental travel into the past.

The question of the moment remained: What to do with my unexpected free day? My first plan, a lunch date with a friend, didn’t take wing because of his schedule. This friend did inquire about my graduate school application, something that I had made into a focal point of self-crucifictory angst and mislaid hope. I had applied at the end of fall to graduate school in the thin and ludicrous belief that this was my only chance to get out of my current life. I frequently characterize my life during those years with a quote from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation, spoken by Clark Griswold when he learns that Cousin Eddy and family will be spending the holidays in their home, complete with their RV in the driveway: “If I woke up with my head sewn to the carpet, I wouldn’t be more surprised than I am right now.” Getting back into a graduate program seemed a reasonable way to keep my head from metaphorically being sewn to the carpet and to circumvent all related lunacies.

No, I hadn’t heard from the program. I established the new afternoon plan of inquiring after the fate of my graduate application, vowing to email the graduate director as soon as I hung up the phone. First, however, I decided to check for pertinent updates on the Stevie Nicks websites, hoping for news of upcoming interviews, concerts to be shown on television, and other off-season pleasantries.

What do my wondering eyes behold?

“Stevie in Vegas!” The headline accompanied a press release from Caesar’s Palace describing Stevie’s four-night engagement at the Colosseum Theater. The show is titled “Dreams,” and it opens on May 10. Stevie, Las Vegas, dreams, May 10. What more encouragement could I need?

My phone rang. My friend Melinda called to tell me that the surf camp we had planned to attend was changed from late May to early June, at a time when I couldn’t go. Had the call come five minutes earlier, I would have been disappointed. Timed as it was, it meant I could channel the money I had saved for surf camp to Stevie in Vegas.

I went to work, fervently looking for ticket information. My dad walked in with the mail, which, as my ironic life dictated, included a letter from the Emory University Neuroscience grad program. I tossed the distracting parcel aside and continued my frenzied research. My dad flabbergastedly exclaimed, ” You’re not going to open it?!” I opened the letter, skimmed it, called out, “I didn’t get in,” and threw the letter away from the keyboard so that it would not intrude upon my ticket mission.

My dad proceeded to mutter and curse, coming back into the room to tell me to not be too disappointed. “Okay!” I said. I was already to the refrain of “Rhiannon,” so we had a picture of him grumbling overlaid with “All your life you’ve never seen a woman taken by the sky…!” I think I disappointed him by not being disappointed. I tried to appease him by saying I would probably be disappointed later, although I knew this would never come to pass. I was too elated to worry. Several months earlier, I was convinced that my life’s progress out of that house and back into life hinged on getting into that program at Emory. Sitting on the edge of my seat, warbling “Rhiannon” lyrics, I thought, “C’est la vie. You win some, you lose some.”

What I learned from this unexpected day and the concerts to follow is to pay attention: The thing that you think is your last and only hope probably isn’t, and the thing you least expect might well be.

The Greatest Show on Earth

I was probably working on some now long-forgotten statistical analysis in the computer lab at the University of Maine on September 18th when I tried my luck on Ticketmaster and pulled a front row seat to Fleetwood Mac in Bridgeport, CT on September 27th, 2003.  I pounced on that ticket—the drive would be only six hours.  Thus it was that I stood front and center for the entire show, soaking in the atmosphere of unconditional positive regard of the audience members for each other, the band for the audience, and, possibly, the band members for each other.  Not every concert creates a unitedly caring and engaged audience, but those people were golden.  These are the best experiences, the sense that we’re all in this together.

A woman to my right had thoughtfully penned and displayed a series of handwritten signs for Lindsey Buckingham to read.  The signs listed the number of shows she and her friends had already attended, which shows they were, and which shows were upcoming in their itinerary.  The woman displayed her signs at times when reading wasn’t obtrusive to the performance, so Lindsey would read a card and nod that he had finished that card, and the woman would switch to the next card.  I liked this.  It was a small story inside the larger story.  After the concert, someone remarked on the woman’s zeal for Fleetwood Mac concerts.  She let him know that she did not attend sporting events, but instead toured with Fleetwood Mac, as though they were her team.  I like that, too.

In between songs, I daresay in between “Landslide” and “Say Goodbye,” (for the possible reader that might be familiar with both titles), a little girl gave Stevie a teddy bear, which Stevie then had to hold behind her back when she and Lindsey immediately started the next song.  “Say Goodbye” was such an intensely personal and quiet song—really not much levity—that the sight of Stevie trying to conceal a stuffed animal behind her back to preserve the mood of the song had the effect of lightening the mood of the song.  I suppose the performance would have been wrecked had she held the bear outstretched in front of her as they sang of the past and lost love.  I remember lamenting at the time that I hadn’t thought to bring a gift, not necessarily an animal, but a little something thoughtful.  I recalled that I had a travel alarm clock in my purse that I could spare, but then reasoned that neither Stevie nor anyone else needed to be handed a travel alarm clock.  Later, after Australia, I continued my friend Vicki’s custom of writing cards, which is probably more reasonable than even the thought of rummaging through my purse for a memento.

This was my fifth Fleetwood Mac concert.  At the start of the show, I though about how familiar they (the band) seemed to me; much more familiar than, say, my elusive academic advisor at that time.  Part of the sense of familiarity at the start was thinking, “I’ve seen this before.” I would be driving to a wedding in Richmond the following weekend, and I had the inkling of an idea to swing by the concert in Washington, DC on my way.  At the beginning of this Bridgeport show, I mused that I might have had my fill.  By the end of the concert, the familiarity transformed into such feelings of joy and wonder that my thought became, “I must see this again as soon as possible!”

The music and live performance is always primary, but they are interesting people to observe, too.  I wonder not how they travel and perform together night after night, but how they go back to leading normal lives after a long time on the road.  Three years earlier, I had developed a time-limited fascination with watching episodes of “MASH.”  After viewing the final episode of the series, I became overly concerned for a distressingly long time with the idea that this group of people had lived together in such an extreme circumstance for so many years (fewer in the actual war than in the tv series), yet in one two-hour finale, all but one of them returned to the regular lives they had been leading before their time in Korea.  Wouldn’t they always question which was the real life, the day-to-day life to which they had returned, or the briefer, more intense life they had together in the war?

Clearly, the split between lives isn’t as great for traveling musicians as for wartime comrades, but isn’t the nature of life somewhat different for people whose passion and livelihood requires that they travel from city to city than for those that work and live in one place and step out for an evening to see the traveling shows?  The Fleetwood Mac people have been doing this for quite a number of years, too.  At what point does a certain way of being become the nature of your life, and am I perhaps thinking about this a little more than is reasonable?  For whatever reason, the Bridgeport show really brought these questions to my mind.  I have since met people that have gone to see Fleetwood Mac and Stevie Nicks since the dawn of time, or at least since the late seventies and early eighties, respectively.  Obviously, I can’t compare experiences across as great an expanse of concert time, but I like seeing them now as older people; I see more of life in them, more story.

For whatever reason (I wasn’t consciously generating these thoughts during the concert), I came out of this show with a sense of peace about unsolved problems and good fortune about life in general.  I thought about moving through time and understanding my own temperament and life, my own way of being in the world.  I had a sweeping feeling about how to accept irreconcilable sadness within the context of happiness, even joy.  I have *no* idea what it was in particular about this concert that allowed me to receive these ideas, but whatever it is has never left me.  I think a lot of what C.S. Lewis said about living in the Shadowlands, that we see a real world only briefly and veiled.  Something about these shows and their aftermaths reveals something genuine that is usually concealed in the rest of life.

My feeling of fortune to be in the world expanded, and it made several days of neck pain due to craning my head at odd angles to look up at Stevie and Lindsey a mere triviality.  Spanning both sides of the chasm bridging triviality and meaning was my post-concert destination.  The morning after the concert, I decided to continue with “The Greatest Show on Earth” theme by visiting the P.T. Barnum museum, a legacy of P.T. Barnum’s Renaissance-esque showmanship, citizenship, and entrepreneurialism.  It was a magnificent spectacle, showing a world of intrigue and excitement that had streaks of both sideshow bizarreness and genuine life.  I could not have been more pleased with a roadside attraction to close my Bridgeport Fleetwood Mac weekend.

The P.T. Barnum Museum, Chang and Eng exhibit

Chang and Eng

Lost in Translation in Sydney

On December 8, 2009, I disembarked from the last in a series of flights that left south Florida several days before and stepped into Sydney’s Kingsford Smith airport.  Harry and Maz were waiting for me when I cleared customs.  They had a new Australian cell phone for me.

During the Sydney portion of the Fleetwood Mac tour, I was to stay at Vicki’s house in Epping, a suburb outside of Sydney.  Vicki was still in Europe, finishing the medical certification program that so conveniently placed her in England during the European Fleetwood Mac tour earlier in the year.  Vicki’s husband, Rob, was expecting my arrival, but he was working at his office when I turned up on the doorstep that morning.  The scene developed into Harry, Maz, me, and all of my luggage—large backpack and supplementary carry-on backpack—arriving to be greeted by Vicki and Rob’s Asian housekeeper, a man to whom Harry and Maz gave the affectionate and perhaps slightly politically incorrect nickname “Mr. Miyagi.”

Mr. Miyagi was not a native English speaker.  Although Rob had presumably explained to him that I would be alighting at the house to stay for a while, Harry, Maz, and I detected that something had been lost in the translation.  We three, in our variants of the English language, tried to explain the purpose for our arrival, and encouraged Mr. Miyagi to call Rob at his office to confirm our story.  Mr. Miyagi called Rob, said, in his own accent, “There are three people here that want to come in the house.”  Pause.  Mr. Miyagi reports, “He said no.”  I have been on airplanes for over 20 hours, across my country and the entire Pacific Ocean, to get to this house.  When the moment of absurdity passed and our stunned faces regained some expression, Harry foraged through his cell phone directory and called Rob himself.  The slightly truncated version of what could become a protracted explanation is that Vicki, still in Europe, had hired a yard service to work on some trees in the yard.  When Rob heard Mr. Miyagi report that three people at the door wanted to come into the house, what he heard was, “There are *tree* people here, and they want to come into the house.”  Harry, Maz, and I, unlike the tree people, were most welcome.

Harry and Maz deposited me for a nap, planning to return that evening to collect me for the show.  I had a second nap, standing up, in the middle of the concert during one of Lindsey (Buckingham)’s chronically extended speeches about how they are all working to overcome their emotional history and learn to just have *fun.*  This might have been the show in which Stevie and John (McVie) attended to the activities of the lighting crew, up in the rafters, while Lindsey spoke.  The show when Stevie, out of the spotlight, propped her leg on the drum kit and stretched out her calves during Lindsey’s first speech of the night was a classic episode from earlier on the American tour.  Moving along in Sydney, I had quite a nice experience mildly hallucinating due to exhaustion and mesmerization during “Gold Dust Woman” but otherwise managed to remain conscious for the remainder of the concert.

At the end of the show, someone in the audience wanted to give Stevie flowers.  Lindsey saw this and retrieved the flowers for her.  She seemed pleasantly surprised and thanked him sincerely, which prompted him to cast around for more flowers to retrieve and present to her.  Upon receiving the second bundle of flowers, courtesy of Lindsey, Stevie offered the first batch back to Lindsey, presumably so that he would have flowers, too.  Watching this scene was like watching school children try to get along.  I found it endearing and added it to my mental list of amusing moments, another episode in the continuing character play.

After the concert, Maz declared that I looked “shattered” (exhausted), and she and Harry drove me home, feeding me Tim Tams on the way.  I was in better shape for the second Sydney concert the following night, and we learned from Maz’s friends what comedy and drama we had missed the night before because of our early departure from the scene.

Maz’s friends had met Stevie.  They had been idling in the back of the arena when Stevie’s car drove out, backed up, and stopped so that Stevie could get out and talk to a wheelchair-bound boy that had been at the show.  Stevie then talked to the friends.  All is well in this story thus far.  After a happy conversation, one of the friends, the one with a larger bosom, shyly held her concert ticket to her chest and asked Stevie to sign her ticket.  In the heavier Australian accents, “ticket” can sound like “teekt.”  Therefore, what to an Australian sounds like, “Stevie, will you sign my ticket?” to Stevie, an American, sounded like, “Stevie, will you sign my t***?”  They say Stevie’s expression dropped; she went from smiling to a look of disbelief and confusion, perhaps quickly devising an exit strategy.  The woman understood what had happened and annunciated more clearly while holding out her ticket.  Stevie reportedly said something like, “Oh!  Your ticket!  Of course.”  I imagine she experienced perplexity similar to our incident in Vicki and Rob’s driveway that morning when informed that we, the tree people, could not enter the house.  Maz, meanwhile, found the story of the boy in the wheelchair inspirational, and announced her idea to beat Harry up a bit and wheel him around after the second night’s show.

By this time in the year, I had an excellent attendance record at the Fleetwood Mac shows.  I do not doubt that other people would best me on an attendance roster, if such a roster were to be made, which would be ridiculous, because this business of concert-going is never about the numbers.  I do doubt that anyone could have a finer time with more interesting people, however.  Near the end of the second Sydney show, Lindsey, long accustomed to my presence, asked me, “Are you coming to Perth?”  I didn’t see how I could avoid going at that point.  The offer of a ride would have been welcomed, but I was pleased enough to continue the journey by my own transportation schemes.

First, however, I enjoyed a day trip to the Blue Mountains with Harry, Maz, and Maz’s nephew Cory.  Somewhere in the Blue Mountains, among the scenic overlooks, is Landslide Lookout, marked by a classic wooden sign that I am fairly certain was public domain.  Maz was busy giving Harry and Cory instruction on how to detach the sign from its post and maneuver it into their rental car as I asked, “Isn’t that your nation’s property?”  “It’s rightful place is in my home,” Maz replied.  I helped push the back seat down and volunteered that if we all hunched over for the ride home, the sign would, in fact, fit into the car.

This sign remains in its original location.

It would not satisfactorily fit into the car.

Strangers on a Train

Imagine traversing the English countryside by train with your Australian friend (or if you are Australian, with your American friend), enjoying beer and conversation, eager in anticipation for the evening’s Fleetwood Mac concert.  Such was the state of my affairs on October 27, 2009, when aboard a Virgin Blue train bound from London to Manchester, Vicki and I shared a seating quadrant comprised of two ample seats per side with a convenient table in between.  I faced the forward direction of the train, and Vicki the rear.  At the start of our journey, the steward for our car, an elderly and affable English gentleman, tottered down the aisle asking after meal requests from interested passengers.  As the English gent passed us and inquired at the section of a mother and son that had boarded shortly after we were seated, I overheard the mother ask the child if he would like the smoked salmon sandwich.  My understanding is that culinary interest in smoked salmon indicates advanced age in a child, even an English child.

Let us fast-forward further into our journey.  Vicki and I are catching up on the various day-to-day stories in our respective lives, enjoying a pint of Guinness (me) and Stella Artois (Vicki), when I see Vicki’s eyes go wide.  I hadn’t said anything extraordinary.  In fact, I recall being in the throws of a rather mundane description of my living situation in South Florida.  I mentally bookmarked Vicki’s reaction to ask her later.  I didn’t have to ask her, because a few minutes later, following a scheduled stop and the disembarkment of passengers seated behind me, Vicki exhaled, rolled her eyes, and shook her head—all one fluid behavior—and told me what she had witnessed that I had missed as I drank Guinness and chattered away unawares.  The mother of the son who was a fan of smoked salmon had proceeded, after giving the boy’s lunch order, to breastfeed the child for their entire ride with us.  This she had done without apparent concern for concealment.  Vicki reported that the woman had summoned our elderly Englishman conductor to her side to retrieve for her a bag from the overhead storage, gesturing vigorously with an arm that extended unabashedly from her fully exposed bosom.  I don’t know, having been oblivious to this entire display, if the woman wrapped her top in any covering before leaving our train.

Vicki noted that the group seated directly across from the breastfeeding duo would have been in a particularly awkward and visually inescapable position.  One of the men in that station had to leave his seat at one point, edging around the woman seated next to him and then around the breastfeeding section. Naturally, Vicki and I discussed the entire scenario for the remainder of the train ride to Manchester as well as on our journey to our hotel, when we should have been reviewing details from past shows to prepare ourselves for the night’s concert.  Vicki pointedly wondered what the group directly next to the breastfeeding area thought, and we acknowledged that their experience was likely to remain a mystery to us.  That discussion got us to our hotel (which was quite lovely), where we forgot about the train incident and proceeded with our concert preparation: nap, champagne, decisions on attire and makeup application.  The show was outstanding; Stevie was radiant.  As though walking lightly on a cloud of joy, Vicki and I floated from the venue and around the street corner, coming upon the Manchester Hard Rock Cafe, where we happily repaired for dinner and discussion.

Seated as we were, across from each other with Vicki facing the interior of the restaurant, I was perfectly positioned to see Vicki’s second wide-eyed expression of the day when, nary a fraction into our post-concert analysis, she exclaimed, “Those are the breastfeeding people from the train.”  Vicki qualified her exclamation by telling me that she recognized these witnesses because they were seated in the same formation, because the man on the inside of the seat made his way out in the same way as he had on the train, and because she subconsciously noted the similarity in motion.  She sped to their table to make introductions.  The group visited our table for further discussion.  In their nostalgic recapture of the events on the train, one of the men asked Vicki, “Did you see the part where he (the child) sat up and drank from a cup before diving back in?”  We then revisited my favorite topic, the smoked salmon sandwich and the age of a child that would request a smoked salmon sandwich.  Following, Vicki and I ate, reflected, marveled, and laughed ourselves into a doubled-over stupor all the way back to the hotel.