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

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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.