Friday, August 10, 2007

An Act of Simple Devotion

Certainly, there are more important things in this world. War, death, taxes, a good job, a roof over your head.

Certainly there are.

Absolutely there are.

But while I can be as practical as I need to be - and lord knows being skint means having to be ingeniously practical - there is part of me that is hopelessly devoted to music. My music. The music that keeps me mentally afloat at the hardest of times.

It will sound foolish to some, surely, but I'm so tremendously disappointed that I won't be hearing Crowded House play in Philadelphia tonight, I could cry. Go ahead, roll your eyes, but it's true. I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Neil Finn could make me swoon and sigh just singing pages from the phone book.

I've seen Neil solo a couple of times, and it's been fantastic. Not only is the music beautiful, full of hooks and anchored with lyrics that Paul McCartney *wishes* he'd written, but the Finn man has such a lovely rapport with his audience. He loves letting them sing along - he gets this almost rapturous smile on his face as his fans echo back his own words and music. It's a really lovely thing. You get the impression that Neil is one of those people you'd like to just hang out with in a coffee shop, talking about whatever, and he'd treat you decently and appreciate you - not just tolerate you like many pop stars probably would.

Sure, I don't know that's true. It's just a little daydreamy fantasy, but it's a very pleasant vision I'd like to hold onto. Go figure, when I have fantasies about musicians or actors, it's not about fame or steamy seduction, it's about hanging out and having a cup of coffee.

Or tea.

Yeah, sometimes the fantasy is tea.

Even when I was of an age when I more frequently went all crushy on pop stars, it wasn't about the hot luuuuvin', it was always about hanging out, talking, maybe taking a road trip somewhere. Honest. I've always had the most clean-cut fantasy life ever.

I think part of that comes from the fact that, in real life, I couldn't ever get any guys interested enough in me to even go to a coffee shop and talk. So, my psyche is forever taking baby steps, I guess.

Back in college, of course y'all already know, my big crush was on Thomas Dolby.

Dolby then

All retro suits and round glasses and floppy blond hair. Swoon material, for certain. Over the years, my crush faded. In its place, there's great affection, occasional vexation, and tremendous admiration. I once told a good friend - with a wistful laugh - you just can't have a crush on someone once you've seen pics of their kiddos in their cute Halloween costumes. Guess I'm just too Midwestern for that! I'm just so pleased to see nice folks in the limelight having a wonderfully normal, happy family life, that any crush is, well, crushed at that point. And hey, I'd take a friend over a crush any old day.

Dolby now

But I can still have my harmless coffee shop fantasies. Once, in a strange synchronistically dazzling moment, I had one of these fantasies come true when I encountered one half of Tears For Fears (the talented half) in one of those ubiquitous chain coffee joints right here in Bethesda. Freaked me out. I made myself late to work because I had to stop and say hello. And he was charming and kind and talked with me much longer than he was surely obligated to. Much to my chagrin, the Sasquatch probably walked right past said coffee shop on his way to the Metro and missed out on the whole chat. Bummer.

But moments like those are few and far between, even in my Weirdness Magnet existence. You just don't generally walk into a Bethesda Starbucks and find international pop stars nursing a tea in the corner. (I did encounter Adam Ant waiting for a prescription at a pharmacy here, too, but that's another story altogether...)

Crowded House then

It's not that I figured if I made it to the Crowded House gig in Philly tonight, I'd have any one-on-one time with anyone in the band. I'm not delusional, honest! It's just that, I've never seen them perform together, and the vibe that seems to come off all their gigs is warm and welcoming and you're part of the in-jokes. So many bands touring right now - the ones that have been around for a long time... I dunno... The rapport just isn't there anymore, either between the members of the ensemble or between the band and the audience. I think there's a lot of them going through the motions and just hauling in a lot of cash (overpriced Police reunion tour, anyone?) But when the band members are friends, when they genuinely enjoy each other's company and just soak up the energy of the crowd? Man, that's so good. Not to be trite, but we can feel the love.

Crowded House now

When the Sasquatch and I saw Erasure perform at the 9:30 Club back in 2005, we got that vibe from Andy and Vince. There just seemed to be such a deep friendship between the two guys on stage, it was genuinely moving and just enhanced the music on a totally different level. (By the way, Erasure's new CD, Light at the End of the World? Fantastic. If you love old school Erasure - the fun electronic pop we all danced around to in the 80s and early 90s, you will dig this. It's a total return to their roots, and I love it.)

I'm not sure that I'd want to hang out with Andy and Vince. (I couldn't keep up with Andy, the perennial clubber. Although I find the thought of Vince and his wife living in some quiet Maine town pretty hilarious. I wonder if his Yankee neighbors know he's this electronic music demi-god?) Some performers I love, but I imagine the coffee shop fantasy would fail.

Morrissey? Well, crap. He still makes my heart race a bit faster, but he probably wouldn't even want to shake my hand, let alone hang out, since I love a good steak and am looking forward to a juicy slice of turkey or two at Thanksgiving. On the other hand, Morrissey seems incredibly intent on connecting with his audiences. When he is on stage, he is there for you, dear listener. And that is a beautiful thing. No wonder he gives the ladies (and 10% of the gents) serious palpitations.

Joe Jackson, on the other hand, does not give me palpitations, although his music utterly kicks ass. Joe gave off a bit of an F-U vibe when the Sasquatch and I met him a few years back at a book signing in DC (although there were mitigating factors in JJ being less than cordial.) No coffee shop fantasies there, although I'd love to see him in concert again, with all his caffeine and nicotine energy pulsing through gangly limbs and a Gollum-ish pale face, powering out unbelievably, soulfully good tunes.

Just no coffee shop time with Joe, thanks. (He'd probably boycott coffee shops in Maryland, anyway, as they're all smoke-free, and Joe is all about being able to smoke wherever the hell he wants.)

Truth is, being musically talented doesn't necessarily mean that you have superior stage presence or know to connect to people or even want to connect to people. I assume, at the heart of things, musicians make music for themselves first and foremost. That need to create comes before the need to share. Some people have that added element of charisma or charm or a sincere desire to reach out to others - live, in person - that boosts them from "just" talented musician to successful performer.

Of course, there are some people who don't personally connect with their live audiences, yet that somehow translates into "mystery" and increases their cachet. The Sasquatch tells me Michael Stipe used to turn away from his audiences when he sang. That would have driven me nuts in concert, but it only served to increase his legend. Of course, now that Michael is comfortable in his own skin, we get to see waaaay too much of Stipe-y boy. I love me some good R.E.M., I'm just not sure I need to see him modeling for Marc Jacobs.

There was this alt rock-ish band I used to go see in London - Felt. Loved their sort of atmospheric tuneage. But they had so little rapport with us, it made the concerts feel superficial. I liked the music, but their lack of engagement with us in the here and now translated into a less passionate appreciation of their stuff on my part. When these guys took the stage, the lead singer simply muttered "We're Felt" into his mic, and that was that. The music poured forth, but there were no more words, no thank yous. Just nada, zip, zilch. I own everything Felt ever put out (great study music), but do I really listen to it now? Nope.

On the other hand, when Dolby returned to the stage at the beginning of 2006, there was such a sense of joy from his audiences, and seeing him grinning from ear to ear like an ecstatic Cheshire cat, reflecting our glee, just boosted the pleasure. Since there was no band with Thomas, there was no one to share banter. But he told us stories and acknowledged us - sometimes directly - in his cheerful, yet slightly shy English way. It will be really neat to see how the storyteller modifies his one-man show talk in September when he returns to us on the East Coast with the Jazz Mafia Horns. I've never seen him share a stage (except at IT conference panels, that is), so this will be fun.

The EP (available at or on iTunes) is really damn good!

But the relationship with the Jazz Mafia Horns is a relatively new one for Thomas, so it's not the long-standing blend of performance and life that Crowded House has behind it. Yes, the mercurial personality of late drummer Paul Hester is gone, but definitely not forgotten. But in his loss there seems to be an even stronger bond between Neil Finn and his remaining band mates. I've been reading concert reviews this week from other fans and the snippets of hilarious banter that these old friends toss back and forth and the efforts they take to engage the audience far beyond what I've personally experienced at other groups' gigs. Something that really touched me was the report from a New York fan who got to see a freebie preview show back in July. At one point, Neil added new lyrics to one of their classic songs, wondering what the next point would be when the audience would sing along with the band again.

That's just cool.

I once saw Neil pull a woman out of the audience at the 9:30 Club to come and sing with him. She was so lovely, a bashful, zaftig woman who swayed to the music as she sang next to Neil - just another fan, but one with a great set of pipes. He invited her to come along and sing again at his next gig the following night in Philly.

And that's where I'd like to be right now. In Philly. Waiting for Neil and Nick and Mark and Matt to take the stage. Waiting to be enveloped in that music and mood that resonates with so many of us. I'd like to be part of that crowd, listening for familiar strings of notes and poetry that reminds us of specific places and times and makes us feel good or laugh or ache.

But the tickets were expensive for my empty pocketbook, and the car needs new brakes (as in, the brake light is now illuminated, which ain't good.) The rational mind won out; I couldn't justify the cost of a ticket and gas and a place to sleep, which would equal out to the cost of the brakes, more or less. So, instead, I've fantasized about someone giving me a ticket. Ridiculous, sure. But you know, a girl can dream.

Lemme go back a few years and explain why this situation is so much more painful than it probably should be for a grown-up. In 1994, Crowded House came through DC for the very last time before breaking up. April 1994, to be more precise. Okay, April 10, 1994. Lisner Auditorium. Sheryl Crow opened for them. (Might explain why Neil is the male harmony voice on "Every Day is a Winding Road.") But you see, when the tickets went on sale, I was out of the country. Kazakhstan, to be precise. I was staying in a foul hooker-ridden hotel (you'll read about it in the book) with none of "teh Internets" or even a reliable phone line. It was me, the hookers, the snow coming in through the hole on the balcony door, two TV channels that showed a Kazakh soap opera 24/7 and a hotel cafe that serve weevil-infested soup.

Good times, good times.

I had asked a friend to buy me a ticket for Crowded House while I was doing the grand tour of Borat-land. But he forgot. Honestly, he just forgot. He'd started dating someone new while I was gone, and, frankly, I think he had much more important (or at least more, uh, interesting) things on his mind than picking up a concert ticket for me. "Crowded What?" I absolutely do not fault him for this. He had no clue just how much I wanted to hear these guys. Hell, I myself might have forgotten, too, under similar circumstances.

When I got back to DC, though, the tickets were long gone. Sold out. None available. And I'm too much of a straight arrow to have even thought of finding a scalper.

Missing that concert was one of my big "things that got away" - I've thought about it many times in the 12+ years since, believe it or not.

That's how much my music matters to me.

Look, I've got no husband, no boyfriend, no kids. Music is a refuge for me. I have a soundtrack for my life. It makes me smile, it makes me cry, it helps me dream. And when I am in a room full of people who love that same music - and with musicians who want to reach out to you and feel the love you have for them - that can be pretty damn profound. It's a positive human connection - strangely intimate in less than intimate circumstances - that is often lacking in my "real" life.

And I'm missing it tonight.

Two nights ago, someone here in the DC area posted to the Crowded House forum - she had two tickets she could not use for Philly. She had given up on selling them and she wanted to give them away.

I was too late. I missed her post by minutes, but it was too late. I'm happy, though, that they went to someone else from the forum. Means they went to a fan for whom this would be a joyful experience. I was willing to light candles on my dashboard for the car to hold up and sleep in a rest area had I gotten the tickets. Just wasn't meant to be.

I just read a few minutes ago that Neil's voice is in bad shape after their gigs in NYC and they had to curtail a live radio performance for WXPN at World Cafe Live at noon. It's questionable as to whether his voice will hold up for tonight's gig.

Guess it really just wasn't meant to be.

I'll just hope that the boys come back for another tour. I'll hope that this CD sells well enough to call them back to this continent that has never been very kind to them sales-wise. I'll hope that the love they get from all their audiences will be enough. (And the revenue from the t-shirt sales, of course. Concert t-shirts cost more than some tickets now. Kinda makes me glad they don't make them in my size - no temptation at all!)

Okay, if you're gonna have a concert t-shirt in your collection,
this one's pretty cool.

So, Philly friends, fellow fans - enjoy tonight. Here's hoping for clear skies and good health for the man who has to belt 'em out. But hey - even if Neil can't sing his heart out, you can sing back to him. Sing one for me.


Anonymous said...

...but something tells me that if you'd been the one to snap them up, we wouldn't have gotten this lovely trip down memory lane. :o)

Cyn said...

You know we're sharing the same boat. But not only the missing the CH show boat -- I also have those hanging-out-over-a-cup-of-coffee fantasies.

I mean, when I was younger, I did have my conversion to Mormonism and an entire big LDS wedding to Donny Osmond all planned out - but luckily that fell through. (Life without Coke Zero? Unthinkable.)

It must be hard for someone who has fans to have to live with the prospect of random interruption and recognition (maybe I'm projecting because I enjoy solitude though!) but I still give huge credit to those who are cordial when approached. Because in some ways, it's part of the job, ya know.

You're lucky to have that friendship with Dolby. And he's lucky to have a cool (and articulate, smart, insightful, witty) fan like you.

Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog while cruising for Crowded House goodies online. Was at both NYC CH shows this week, and Neil was in fine voice, so his NPR/World Cafe thing surprised me (I listened earlier this evening)... I thought he sounded fine last night.

You wrote about imagining that Neil would be one of those people you'd like to hang out and chat with... I had the opportunity to meet him a week ago after the show in CT and he indeed is just that. We sat and talked for a good 20 minutes and he was very genuine and quite lovely and warm.

And I've always said, I'd love to hear him sing the phone book too... :)

Scholiast said...

M, you should post stuff like this earlier, as in not just hours before the show, then how's surprises going to reach you in time?! If you'd mailed me about Rufus after it was too late I wouldn't have been at all pleased..

Liseysmom said...

Damn, damn, damn, damn, damn - I went to that show ALONE because I couldn't find anyone to go with me!! Oh, I wish I'd known... We could have semi-carpooled to the show.

The show was great, but chilly. I swear when I left Baltimore it was 90+ degrees and when I got to Philly it was 62. I shivered the entire show but I didn't care!!

Anonymous said...

I gave away tickets to another concert show tonight (NOT CH), as a friend I'd gotten them for couldn't go, and I didn't care, but the struggling on two low-paying jobs mail courier I gave them to was THRILLED. So, yeah, glad the giveaway CH tickets went to someone who could use them.
I used to have dreams about Jackson Browne. Thee best ones were us hanging out, not just meeting, but hanging out at places equivalent to a coffee bar. So, I'm not the only one who doesn't dream sweaty sex dreams for the celebrities we drool over? Jackson was always real nice in person when I'd see him at small shows, too. Blue October at 9:30 Club within the last year were all really nice to their fans, btw. Some truly conversant and decent musicians are out there:) p.s. -- my child is 13 -- 1994 is 13 years ago. I had to miss Jackson Browne's show the July my daughter was born. Hopefully, you'll get CH next time!

Mary A Brown said...

Merujo, I'll carry you with me in my heart when I see the lads twice in a couple of weeks! I'm really sorry you're missing them yet again. I look forward to their next tour when they will support a CD that is really theirs, rather than this patched together Neil solo/CH sorta one.

Neil is quite the sweetheart. I was really hoping to take advantage of my fan club life membership this year and get to be at the soundcheck but it wasn't meant to be. I think I'll hang around to say hi though. They remember who it is that keeps their paychecks coming so they have always been accomodating to their fans. Now if I can just stop having these nightmares that I miss the concert...

Oh, and FWIW, my celebrity fantasies are pretty tame too - the ones with Neil they only include some kisses because I know he loves Sharon too much to cheat on her!