Legendary Love

I went to a concert last night at the Port Stanley Festival Theatre. “Legends of Memphis” was the story of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. One day way back when, they were in the same recording studio together. Yesterday they were together again, enjoying each other’s smiles and music. Jerry favoured us with “Great Balls of Fire” while Johnny told us about the travails of some fellow called Sue. Elvis contorted his hips throughout “Jailhouse Rock” and I don’t remember what songs Carl sang. He could sure play guitar, though.

Many of us were moving and grooving, clapping our hands, singing along. It was so much fun but the best was yet to come.

Near the end of the concert, Elvis walked to the front of the stage and announced that he’d like to sing the next song to a lovely lady. He stepped down and stood in front of a woman sitting in a wheelchair in the front row. She wore a smart green dress for St. Patrick’s Day, and a tiny emerald hat was perched on the side of her head.

Elvis reached towards “Jennifer” and held her hand as he started singing “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” She wore a huge smile and her body shook throughout the song. Elvis wore a pretty big smile himself.

Does your memory stray
To a bright sunny day
When I kissed you and called you sweetheart?

As the last chord faded, Elvis kissed Jennifer’s cheek and she returned the favour. Time stood still … and then we burst into applause.

Old sweet songs. Inspired musicians. Great voices. But none of that held a candle to Jennifer and Elvis.

Heart Wide Open

I lined up in the dark last night in front of the Aeolian Hall in London.  There were about twenty people in front of me and I wondered if I’d meet any of them at the concert.  We were here to see Irish Mythen, a singer-songwriter who’s transplanted herself from Ireland to Prince Edward Island.

The room was set up as a quilt of small round tables.  I strolled to the front and saw a couple sitting at one of them.  They were happy to have me join them.  I enjoyed talking to Elaine and Neil.  They’re world travellers and embrace the word “adventure” with all their being.  I told stories and they told stories.  We inspired each other.

And then there was Irish, a short firecracker of a human being with a voice that’ll rattle the dishes in your cupboard.  Loud and pure.  Her newest song is Maria, who I think was Irish’s aunt, and the recipient of great affection:

When I was a girl, you were a God … You were love, you were laughter

And I believed every word, such was the power of our singer.  Irish blasted her way into my heart.  Right at the beginning, she said “I promise you a hell of a show.”  And she’s a woman of her word.

Irish told us about an Irish priest who’d walk around with a paper cup of tea, with the tag from the bag falling over the side.  Most people didn’t know that the content of the cup was liquor, not Earl Grey!

And here are some quotes from this most “out there” human being:

She was talking to an Australian politician about being proud of her dual heritage – Irish and Canadian.  Last night, she flashed us some skin just below her collarbone – a colourful map merging the two countries.  “I didn’t show him my chest.”

And from a song whose title escapes me:

I want to dance with you
We’ll go laughing and howling at the moon

Oh, Irish.  You’re definitely a moon howler.

To us audience folks: “How are you?  I like to keep the audience happy.”

“I want to admit to you that I’m a … Catholic.  Not many lesbians would tell you that.”

Near the end of the concert: “Let’s pretend that was the last song.”  Big smile.  And we onlookers stood as one, applauding wildly.  Irish bent over and covered her face.  She was crying.  Gathering herself, she told us the stories behind each of her final three songs (“to save time”) and then proceeded to launch them at us, rapid fire.

We stood for her
We loved her
We marvelled at the divine entity standing before us

Australian Folk

I’m sitting in the main room of the London Music Club with about 40 other folkies, awaiting the songs of Daniel Champagne.  He’s from Australia, and clearly well thought of:

“Daniel Champagne exudes a natural ease onstage, as he sings poignant lyrics and beautifully crafted melodies that invariably whisk the heart up with grand romanticism.  Coupled with an exhilarating guitar talent that transcends mere acoustic playing to replicate a whole band, Champagne is just magical.”

Wow.  I want to meet this guy.  And now five folks have joined me at our table for six.  I don’t know them.  They’re all friends.  Plus they’re all friendly.  The way life should be.

Daniel smiles his way to the microphone and starts hitting his guitar with a whirl of hands – one sound on the wooden back, another on the neck, and an atonal strumming of strings way up by the tuning pegs.  And it’s all amplified!  Almost like gunshots.  I’ve never heard anything like it.

Often Daniel jumps up and down as he plays, and stomps his feet.  Then he’ll hoist the guitar skyward, the strings vertical.  He’ll look way up and still crank out the melodies.  My jaw dropped, again and again.

Daniel wrote a song called Nightingale.  One time he was playing it at a venue in Australia.  A woman who was at the concert wrote him later that the chorus of that song inspired her to go home and tell her boyfriend for the first time that she loved him.  Years later, Daniel sang the song as she walked up the aisle on her wedding day.  Lovely.

Sometimes when he played for us, Daniel would twist a tuning peg to gradually change the note of a string, and then start singing in that new key.  Often I couldn’t hear the words but his whole body seemed to exude joy – the voice forced itself into my mind while his head and body jerked here and there.  Getting the lyrics wasn’t important.

Daniel’s grandmother liked drinking and partying.  His friends loved partying with her.  And she loved Don McLean, the American songwriter who penned American Pie.  Daniel sang us another of Don’s songs – Vincent, an ode to the painter Vincent van Gogh.  When he sang “This world was never meant for one as beautiful as you,” I melted.  Lost in the moment.

Mr. Champagne was just so darned alive, and all six of us felt it.  As did the rest of the audience, judging by the standing ovation that he received.  Often the music was quirky, the guitar playing outrageous, and the words unknown, but Daniel truly entertained us.  We were in the presence of a full human being.

You Shine in a Very Lovely Way

Another day, another concert for me.  Hugh’s Room, an iconic folk music venue in Toronto, has reopened after financial trouble.  Saturday night was a gala fundraiser, featuring fourteen excellent musicians.  Being in the small hall was like coming home.

There were gentle songs and raucous songs, and everything in between.  I was happy.  Then Laura Smith stepped up to the microphone.  I’d say she’s in her sixties.  And here’s what she has to say in “The Blues and I”:

Everything is moving
So why am I standing still
Looking for a star?
Let there be a star …
Guiding me

The words are lovely but Laura onstage is inexpressible.  Her face has the hollows of an older person.  The eyes reach out, warm and wet.  The mouth holds the words gently.  The voice soothes.  But the whole is infinitely greater than the sum of the parts.

When Laura began, all of me stopped.  Only one other time in my life has a person filled the room like this.  She was a teacher at the Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts.  And Laura was right there with her.

I said hi to Laura after the concert.  She smiled.

***

Wow.  There’s nothing to say.  The written word doesn’t get the job done.  You’d have to be there and listen.

Only twice in my life.  Has a human being of such transcendence ever come your way?  I think you’d remember if they had.  In fact, I know you’d remember.  Inside your head, you would have heard …

Oh my God!

Close

I went to a concert at Koerner Hall last night.  Two violinists, two cellists and two violists.  The ticket said that I was in Row AA.  And was I ever!  At the very front, virtually in the middle.  About ten feet from the performers.

It was astonishing.  I saw fingers smash against the strings … and then caress them.  I saw glances between musicians, and smiles.  I heard the worlds of Brahms and Tchaikovsky in sound surround.  It was all so vivid, so immersing.

***

I thought back to the Three Tenors performing in Toronto’s Skydome.  Jody and I paid nearly $100 per ticket (unheard of!) and took our spots way up high on the far side of the stadium.  Mr. big Pavarotti was reduced to Mr. tiny ant.  Several times during the performance, I pulled my eyes away from the JumboTron.  No way was I going to watch TV at a hundred bucks a throw.

Decades later, I’m a regular at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London, Ontario – capacity about 60.  To hear Jez Lowe sing his ballads right in front of me, with the passion of the songwriter, is transporting.

***

I have many hobbies.  One is wandering down residential streets, looking at the furniture on the porch.  If two chairs sit there, I hope that they’re right next to each other, so the unknown occupants can hold hands.  Alas, there’s usually a sturdy patio table in between, or maybe just a swath of blank space.  Hands can’t reach that far.

***

Speaking of hands, many couples stroll my way, and so very few of them are holding each other.  Oh, there might be a brush against the other’s thigh every so often, but no real contact.  The exceptions include young and old who swing their arms together gaily, or reach the other hand over to hold the back of their lover’s, or just gently press the soul into the flesh.  I like that.

***

On the subway, some folks will stand rather than take the empty seat beside me.  Others will sit down, and our bodies are in contact for the rest of the ride.  I’ll take option two.

***

Life erupts all around us, sometimes with joy, and sometimes sorrow.  Or it flows like honey.  May I always face the action, and move towards it, where the sweetness (or bittersweetness) lies.

 

Not Necessarily So

Tonight I went to hear Archie Fisher, a British singer-songwriter, at the Cuckoo’s Nest Folk Club in London.  Here’s what I know:

1. It’s important to get there early.
1a. I got there at the last minute.

2. It’s important to sit near the front.
2a. I sat in the back row, virtually the only seat left.

3. It’s important to see the performer.
3a. I could see the back of Archie’s head.

4. It’s important to hear every word.
4a. I couldn’t understand a lot of the lyrics.

5. It’s important to remember the words and Archie’s comments that I loved.
5a. I’m sitting here not remembering any of them.

***

I loved the concert.  Archie’s spirit filled the room.  We laughed, again and again.  Occasionally I was close to tears.

I watched the people in front of me.  A man’s hand over his wife’s shoulder.  A young fellow singing along.

I bugged a woman in the next row and to the right.  “Would you please move?  You’re blocking the wall.”  She chuckled.

***

A standing ovation
Smiles all around
All is well

David Francey

Off I went on the subway last night to the first of my three concerts at Hugh’s Room, a small folk music venue. One of my musical heroes – David Francey – was the reason for the evening.  I was given a table for one tucked into a corner at the back.  I had a great sightline to the stage and “back” was actually pretty close.  I arrived really early because I had made a dinner reservation.

As people started coming in, I looked at them.  Almost all couples (sigh) and hardly anybody as old as me (no sigh).  Lots of laughing, lots of hugging … the room was bright and sweet.  I sat back in my little alcove and smiled a bit.  The universe was flowing along as it was meant to do.

A couple maybe in their 60s took their seats at the table in front of me.  She was on the left and he on the right.  I didn’t see them touch.  As David began singing, the gentleman leaned his head way to the right.  At first, I concentrated on maintaining the tiny window I was left with, but later I let in the distance between man and woman.  I urged them closer in my brain but that was not to be.

At intermission … how wrong I was.  My unknown friends shared large smiles.  He put his arm over her shoulder and she rubbed that arm lovingly.  And so my persona as keen analyst of the human condition frittered away.

In front of these two was a waist-high wall.  Beyond that towards the stage, the seating was lower so all I could see of those folks was their heads.  During the break, I saw a grey-haired fellow right at the front, looking ahead.  A woman was leaning the back of her head against his back.  How lovely, I thought.  Just the type of relationship I enjoy observing.

How wrong I was.  It was a trick of the eye, my view of this couple.  In fact, they weren’t a couple.  They weren’t even at the same table.  She was leaning forward, talking to her friends.  Gosh, a fellow can only be wrong so many times.  Can’t he?

And then there was David’s music.  He creates word pictures that any human being can relate to … all the emotions that bubble up over the course of a lifetime.

The joy of youth, as revealed in the song “Paper Boy”:

And my feet flew in the morning light
Racing the dawn as the sky grew bright
And everything in the world was right
When I was a paper boy

The angst of teenage passion (“Broken Glass”):

Saw you standing in the cafeteria line
I’d have given the world just to make you mine
Saw you at your locker, in the high school hall
And it didn’t take a minute for my heart to fall

The loss of love (“The Waking Hour”):

She was once my heart’s delight
My need and my desire
She was my day, she was my night
My water and my fire
And I was once the same to her
When we still walked together
But the heavy heart at the waking hour’s
Expecting heavy weather

Thank you, David, for your humanity
And the same gratitude for my fellow audience members

All Of Life’s Hues

Life is timing, I’d say.  Months ago, after Jody died, I decided to buy a ticket to see Celtic Woman on March 25, 2015.  Jody and I loved to watch their DVDs.  Some truly enchanting songs.

Nearly four weeks ago, I started coughing.  Bronchitis, the doctor said.  It subsided for awhile but came back with a vengeance maybe four days ago – deep coughs, lots of mucus, stuffed nose, and intermittent nausea.

So, what to do?  Well, go to the concert.  I sat down next to my unsuspecting neighbours and tried my darndest not to cough.  The first song (three sublime female voices and a brilliant violinist) wasn’t bad, but halfway through the second one I was rocked with eruptions.  Totally unfair to the audience members.  I told the woman to my left that I’d be leaving at the end of the song, and to be ready.  She was feeling for me.

I made my stumble along the row, apologizing mightily.  Then down the tunnel to the concourse, where I just about fell onto a bench.  Down went my head and up came the mucus.  Later, I wondered how my noises echoed in the empty space, empty except for several employees getting ready to serve drinks and snacks.  One woman brought me over a paper cup for water.  Thank you.  A supervisor said she’d search for an empty area in the arena where I could enjoy the show and not disturb other patrons.  Thank you.  A third woman suggested I stand beside her in the tunnel and catch a glimpse of things that way.  Thank you.

But I wasn’t ready for any of that.  My ample supply of Kleenexes was dwindling and the mucus wasn’t.  And I was dizzy.  Somewhere far, far away I could hear the sweet strains of “Danny Boy”, one of Jody’s and my favourites.  Beauty and spasms with their arms around each other.

Later, I felt strong enough to stand in the tunnel, leaning on the handrail.  Such a unique view of the music.  Then, from behind a blackout curtain, came the supervisor.  She had found a spot for me.  Up the escalator we went, and then past a balcony filled with folks enjoying their meals at tables.  Through a secret door, and then another secret door.  And there I was – in a private box, which normally would seat twenty, but tonight was dark.  Thank you again.

Coughing continued, but at least people were far away.  And down below me, I listened to the magic of melody and harmony: “Amazing Grace”, “Caledonia”, “You Raise Me Up” and “The Parting Glass”.  Jody and I held hands and sang along.  I cried when she raised me up.  She thanked me for bringing her.  “The pleasure was all mine, my dear.”

Just your basic date night.