Category Archives: ramblings

Greetings from the Polar Vortex

photo of icy treesAnd greetings to anyone who might still be following this blog! Yes, it’s true, I’ve been frozen in the polar vortex… we haven’t had it as bad here as folks just a few miles to the north, because when the storm came through on Sunday we skated right on the rain/snow line for quite a few hours. I woke Sunday morning to about two inches of snow, but then it changed over to rain… and sleet… and slush… and snow… and freezing rain… and some big fat white globs that rocketed straight down from the sky and looked for all the world like a giant horde of birds was flying over and pooping on us. Every time I looked out the window, we were getting different precipitation. I fully expected frogs to start falling from the sky at some point.image of radar display showing precipitation

Eventually it started to change back over to snow, and I went outside to clear the 2-3 inches of pure gross slush off my windshield and other parts of the car before it froze solid overnight. That was a very, very smart move on my part. This morning I saw a guy across the street trying to chip about 2-3 inches of pure gross frozen-solid slush off the windshield of a mini-van with what looked like a kitchen spatula. He was also not wearing a hat (the temperature was hovering around 5 below zero at that point), so I’m thinking he might not have been the sharpest snowflake in the tundra. But I felt a little smug as I looked out at the perfectly clear windows of my own car.

Anyway, to make a long story short (too late, right?), the temperature dropped below zero shortly after midnight Sunday night/Monday morning, and stayed there until around 11 am on Tuesday. We didn’t get the foot of snow that Indianapolis got, but our roads are covered with bumpy frozen slush, which has its own … er … joys? Campus was officially closed both Monday and Tuesday, which was fantastic, as I am relatively sane and didn’t really want to venture outside in the 30-below-zero wind chill. I have been very, very lucky in that my furnace never gave out on me, I never lost power (a lot of people did), and my pipes didn’t freeze. It was on the cool side in the house even so, but I bundled up in fleece and blankets and enjoyed the heated throw I bought on Saturday for the occasion – as did the cats. I have basically spent most of the last three days underneath various combinations of lap cats. It’s been very, very nice.

3 cats on top of electric blanket

note the box in the background, which has not been opened & contains a brand new space heater bought for the occasion. If my furnace had given out during the polar business, I was PREPARED.

 

High Hopes album artSome people bake cookies when they have a snow day… I apparently write album reviews. If you’re interested in knowing what I think of the new Springsteen album, you can read my review over at Blogness on the Edge of Town. It won’t surprise anyone that I mostly like the album; when I write about music I’m actually less interested in the kind of review that pins the album with a certain number of stars or whatever, and more interested in just delving into it and asking “what’s going on here? what does the artist’s intention for this music seem to be, and does he succeed?” Especially with someone like Springsteen, who’s earned my respect and trust as an artist over the years, I make the assumption that he knows what he’s doing; I am more interested in examining the trajectory of the album and poking at it to find out what makes it tick. I’m not articulating this very well, I think. And I’m not really a music reviewer; to the extent that I have a strategy for doing that sort of thing, it comes more from what I’ve learned about workshopping poetry than from anything else. Anyway, I have a lot of thoughts about the album that didn’t make it into what I wrote, so stay tuned for more, perhaps.

Stay warm and safe out there, everyone – if you go out, wear your hat and mittens and for goodness’ sake clear the snow off of ALL your car windows before you drive! (I shoulda been a mom, huh?)

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Cicada Summer

It’s not officially summer yet, meteorologically speaking. But here in Bloomington we’re a week into IU’s summer session, the Bloomington Speedway has begun its Friday-night whirring buzz (a sound I’ve associated with summer since childhood), and the landscape is green, green, lush and green. I call it summer.

Many of my East Coast friends are currently freaking out about the impending onslaught of Brood II cicadas. These are the 17-year dudes, so they’ve been burrowed underground since 1996. Cicadas are another thing I associate with childhood summers – both their sound and the brown shells they leave behind when they molt, along with the occasional shed wing, transparent and fascinating. Here in Indiana, our 17-year cicadas come from Brood X (that’s roman numeral ten, not X as in X-files); they last emerged in 2004. They don’t cause trouble really, though when they emerge in huge quantities you’ll see the tips of some tree branches turning brown and droopy – I remember this being fairly noticeable in ’04, though the damage didn’t last beyond that summer. Mostly they just make noise. It is a mating call, and it can be LOUD. (C’mon, the poor things have been waiting seventeen years and they only have a few weeks to live. You can’t blame them!)

cicada and cicada shell

Brood X cicada and shed skin / photo by the author

It’s also said that immediately after a major seventeen-year cicada emergence, editors of literary journals should prepare for an onslaught of cicada poems. We can’t help it, we poet types – when a natural phenomenon is that loud and that noticeable AND it has to do with sex, well, we can’t help but write about it!

I turned out my share of cicada poems during the 2004 emergence, and so for my east coast friends currently bracing themselves for Brood II, I’ll share this one which was published in the anthology And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana.

 

Brood X
Periodical cicada (Magicicada septendecim)

They’re here already,
the tiny mounds appearing around trees
at the edges of Dunn’s Woods,
hundreds of thousands per acre,
the seventeen-year cicadas.
What kind of life is it,
dormant in dark soil,
weathering seventeen winters
and emerging? I imagine
seventeen years of my own shed
dreams, the crisp brown husk of them,
hard translucent covering over the eyes,
the split down the back where the bug
escapes, fat as a congratulatory cigar,
green-black and shining,
singing, alive in all the trees,
alive enough to balance out, in one
hot summer, that seventeen-year sleep.

- Anne Haines
published in And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (ed. Jenny Kander & Charles Greer; Indiana Historical Society Press, 2011)

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Dear Boston, Dear World

Boston. Oh, Boston.

 

I’m working my every-other-Monday split shift, 10-3 at my desk and a 6-9 pm shift on the reference desk. The news of the Boston bombing breaks just as I am on my way out of the building to get dinner. I spend my dinnertime – usually a relaxing couple hours of reading, journaling, enjoying a rare leisurely meal – scrolling through tweets on my phone, trying to sort out the credible from the sensationalistic and the rumormongering and the well-meaning-but-misinformed, trying to share what information might be useful to my friends and my friends’ friends, calling on Boston friends to check in, please. (They do, and they are all fine.) Because this is what we do. We connect. We crave that.

I text a friend. I mean to type “human beings” but it comes out “human wings.” We are hurtling through air, we are moving so fast we can’t stop, we are much too far from the loam and gravel of the earth – or so it seems sometimes.

Later, I am at the reference desk. I am surrounded by windows, and on the other side of those windows are trees breaking into bright green leaf, sunlight filtering through the awakening branches. Beauty, beauty. In between questions I continue to poke at Twitter and other sources of information both good and bad. I read that one of the people killed in the bombing was an 8-year-old child. I don’t know whether this is true or not (I find out later that it is), but after that I find it difficult to smile.

Here in Indiana, we are many hundreds of miles away from the horror. We are living our lives. I remind myself of this, remind myself that all we can do is keep on living. I think about a presentation I attended at a conference a few days ago, which described a study of “librarian approachability”; one of the conclusions was that librarians at the reference desk are more approachable, easier to ask for help from, if they smile at patrons. I remind myself to smile. There is nothing I can do from here, really, but to try to do my job. To help people find the information that they need. To help them feel welcome here. To share a moment of kindness. I try to meet their eyes as they walk past the reference desk, a little more than I usually do. I try to smile at them, and some of them smile back. That’s all I can do tonight: just try to share a little kindness, try to make some human wings feel welcome on this hard planet of ours.

 

 

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies — “God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”

   — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. from God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (1965)

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Heart of winter

I tend to be a little quiet in January, I think. Something about the cold, and the stillness of being in the heart of winter. (Even though, compared to places like Minnesota or even where I grew up in northern Indiana, the winters here in Bloomington aren’t that bad. It’s unusual for us to have more than a couple of deep snows – by which I mean the kind you have to shovel if you want to get your car out of the driveway – in any given winter.)

photo of sunset on a Maui beach

Maui sunset

I’m thinking back fondly on a couple of midwinter trips to Maui. I went in February both times – the first was totally on a whim, spurred by stumbling across a truly amazing airfare. It was shortly after 9/11/01, and people just weren’t traveling by air very much at all. Americans weren’t going to Hawaii because it involved significant air travel, and folks from other parts of the world weren’t in a hurry to jet themselves over to the U.S. either. So I found an airfare that probably covered the airline’s cost and not much more, and although I didn’t even have a whole week of vacation time to spare, I headed for Maui – and promptly fell in love. I’ve said many times that when I got off the plane at the Kahului airport, having boarded in the gray, wintry Midwest, it was like that moment in “The Wizard of Oz” where Dorothy opens the door and the movie suddenly goes from black-and-white to color.

Even though I can’t go back to Maui this year, I can still almost feel the warm water I snorkeled in, can almost taste the incredible fresh pineapples and mangoes and bananas. Before I went to Maui, I didn’t even realize there were different kinds of bananas! Around here, there are just … bananas. I had apple bananas for the first time on that trip, and it was like a whole new world. And don’t get me started on the coffee there! So, so good.

What I love about having great experiences (travel, and concerts, and so on) is how they stay with you even years later. In the below-zero wind chills we’ve been facing these last few days, sometimes I find myself closing my eyes and dreaming back to Maui. Knowing it’s still out there, waiting for me…

Here’s a whale poem I wrote after my second visit to that beautiful island. It appears in my chapbook, Breach.

O

(Maui, February 2002)

The boat slowed, stopped, small waves
breaking gently on the hull like breaths.
Whale watch veterans of almost two hours,
we shaded eyes, peered at glittering water.

That moment of pure and waiting silence
knowing she was near, then O!
the breach, explosion into air, so close
I felt it in my bones like a great drum

struck. Then struck again. The dark
curve of her body fell toward us
as she crashed back into sea, mountain
of a whale, the mammalian world of her

all I knew just then, all I could take in.
I don’t know if I breathed
until she breached again, and yet again,
great muscular mountain of a whale, sonic

boom of a whale, whole planet of a whale,
wrenching breath from us as we stood
gasping on the drifting boat.
And then the holy stillness.

For those moments we each became
whale, breathing of her, surrounded
by her power, her arc and crash
an actual gravitational force as sure

as heartbeats rocking the salt water
world within the womb. She raised
up her body, her whole cetacean self,
between us and her new calf,

sleek and vulnerable to our well-meant
intrusions. The echo of her sounded
in my own warm-blooded body as my hands
touched before my chest like prayer:

O, mother, mahalo, mahalo.

 

["Mahalo" - thanks/gratitude]

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Happy New Year!

2013

As I write this, there are fewer than 24 hours left of 2012. I’ve been mulling over a year-in-review post, but in some ways I don’t even know what to say about the year.

There were some incredibly good times this year. Lots of great time with family and friends, including meeting up with friends I don’t get to see often enough (and some that I met for the first time) at concerts. And those concerts! Five Springsteen shows (Atlanta, two nights at Wrigley Field, Louisville, and Kansas City) – five very different experiences, every one fantastic. And a bunch of other great shows: Carolina Chocolate Drops, Peter Frampton, Bonnie Raitt with Marc Cohn, Mary Chapin Carpenter with Tift Merritt, Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, the Lotus Festival (most notably MC Rai, Hanggai, and Delhi 2 Dublin), Ani DiFranco with Pearl & the Beard, and Indigo Girls with the Shadowboxers. An embarrassment of musical riches, right there.

There were also some poetry readings, and although I didn’t get a lot of poems written in 2012, I did have a small handful of publications including diode, the Cossack Review, Bluestem Magazine, and Sweet (which gave one of mine a Pushcart nomination). Publication isn’t the be-all and end-all, and it isn’t why I write, but heck, it’s nice.

There were some hard times this year, too – which I generally don’t blog (or tweet or Facebook) about, for the most part – but enough hard times to make the year feel a little rollercoastery. My hard times are about like anyone’s. Family health issues, money stuff, the usual worries and woes that make me mutter “it’s hard to be a grownup.” Life isn’t all rock shows and fun with one’s friends, and it’s the weaving of good and bad times that gives life its rich texture. Well, let’s just say that 2012 was … very textured.

And so, on to 2013. I know that I have poems coming out in at least three journals next year, and I know that I have tickets in hand for three concerts already (Emmylou Harris, the Gaslight Anthem, and Josh Ritter). I’ll be going to a couple of work-related conferences (ACRL and Confab), and even though I’m not the biggest fan of that sort of thing in general, I’m really looking forward to both of these. Okay, I’m looking forward to ACRL as much because Henry Rollins is the keynote speaker as anything else – yes, THAT Henry Rollins, and yes, it’s an academic library conference – but still, it’s nice to be excited about work stuff. And I hope for some Springsteen dates here in the US (he’s already announced a bunch of overseas shows, including Australia and Europe), as much for the excuse to go to random cities and get together with really great people as for the music itself.

I think my biggest disappointment in 2012 was that I didn’t push myself to write more. I wrote some concert reviews and blog posts that I was pretty happy with, but I am sorry for not making more time and space in my life for poetry this year. I don’t do New Year’s resolutions, but I do want to read and write more poetry in 2013, for sure. And by “want to” I mean “kind of need to.”

So here’s to 2013. Here’s to rocking out with friends and finding peace with family. Here’s to reading and writing and dreaming. Here’s to good health and happiness for each one of you reading this – may the new year ring in grace, and wisdom, and something that feels a lot like love.

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Sadness, happiness

There’s been too much sadness in the world lately.

There is not much I can say about the Newtown massacre that hasn’t already been said. In the wake of such a terrible thing, I know that if I woke up tomorrow morning and every gun had vanished from the face of the earth, I would not be sorry. That’s not going to happen, of course. And humans aren’t going to magically just stop being violent and horrible. I hope that, somehow, people with guns and people with power will choose to honor the memory of those who were killed – and the many, many others killed by guns every day in this country, children and adults – and find some way to make this kind of thing stop happening. I’m afraid I don’t have a lot of faith in that possibility, but maybe if those of us who have neither guns nor power persevere and try to be kind in small ways every day, things will slowly change. Maybe. I’d like to believe…

Another sad loss hit the poetry world recently when poet Jake Adam York died suddenly, unexpectedly, and much too young. I didn’t know him personally, and for that matter didn’t know his work as well as I would have liked to. But I thought of him as a poet who was doing important work. I’m grateful to know that his work will survive. And it makes me think – if there’s work you feel you are supposed to be doing, you should do it instead of waiting: waiting to have more free time, waiting to get the old work published before working on the new work, whatever your particular excuse is – and yes, I’m talking to myself here. Because you just don’t know.

Lil' Bub and me

Lil’ Bub and yours truly

A small happy thing this weekend – I got to meet “famous on the Internet” cat Lil’ Bub! Voted “best cat on the Internet” this year, Bub is a funny little thing – born as the runt of the litter to a stray mother, she has a number of genetic mutations that end up making her very distinctive and super cute. She lives here in Bloomington with “her dude” and you can read more about her on her Facebook page. Anyway, she’s developed a huge fan following online, and her dude has used her fame to raise money for animal rescues and shelters, which is really cool. She does personal appearances around the country and locally, and this weekend she was at a local winery’s tasting room downtown. (The event was “Lil’ Bubbly” – all tips and sales of sparkling wine went to benefit the local animal shelter, which had a table there displaying adoption info.) Bub was perched on a table, with her dude sitting watchfully nearby, and people could pet her and take pictures with her – I got there early and by the time I’d given her a little love and bought a few gifties (her merch also benefits animal causes), there was a really long line of people waiting to meet her. She is tiny, very soft, and incredibly sweet. If there are magical creatures in this world, I think Bub must be one of them.

Another small happy thing: 2013 is shaping up to be another good year for concerts locally (and semi-locally). I now have tickets to see Emmylou Harris, the Gaslight Anthem, and Josh Ritter. Yeah! Life always feels a little better when one has upcoming shows on one’s calendar.

And a not-so-small happy thing: looking forward to seeing some family at Christmastime. Reader, I hope you are also looking forward to some holiday time with someone(s) you love. In this season just past winter solstice, as the light slowly begins to return, may you find warmth and comfort.
winter moon
photo credit/Grant MacDonald

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Luck

I’ve read that you have a greater chance of being killed by a vending machine than of winning tonight’s Powerball drawing.

I believe in math.

I also believe, a little bit, in fate. So I bought one Powerball ticket. One. That way, if it’s meant for me to win, I’ve done my part to open the door for Fate to do its work. Buying twenty tickets wouldn’t, mathematically speaking, significantly increase my chances – but there’s a good chance I’d wish I had that forty bucks back at some point. Two bucks, I can squander.

So do your thing, Fate. I’ve got a long list of people I could make a little happier with a few million dollars in my grubby little hands. :)

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Are We Missing Anybody?

With just a few shows left to go this year on Bruce Springsteen’s current Wrecking Ball tour (if you are on or can get to the West Coast, GO – some shows are better than others, but what that means at this point is that they vary from great, to greater, to ridiculous), and with the emotional residue of the holidays upon us, I find myself reflecting a lot on the overarching themes of this tour. Loss, survival, ghosts.

It has been fascinating, over the five shows I’ve attended and the many I’ve heard and read about, to watch how the songs and the shows (not to mention the band itself) have evolved. The setlists have loosened up dramatically, but that doesn’t mean they’ve veered from the essential themes. “My City of Ruins” remains at the heart of it. Unveiled at the Apollo Theatre show (which I was able to listen to live – thanks, SiriusXM; I knew I was saving that free trial for a good reason), it was clear that the song would be something special on this tour. The horn arrangement was, and still is, gorgeous and adds so much emotional texture. When Springsteen declared “Roll call!” and introduced each member of the band, I thought it was a little early in the show for band intros but was willing to go with it. Then: “Are we missing anybody?” made me catch my breath – and again, to make sure we all understood: “Are we missing anybody?”

(It wasn’t until Atlanta, my first Wrecking Ball show, that I realized the moment also included spotlights on the places where Danny Federici and Clarence Clemons would have been standing.)

And then the promise: “If you’re here, and we’re here, then they’re here.” Which, of course, reduced me to a soggy mess of tears as I listened that first time. I was more prepared for it in Atlanta, but it still wrecked me a little.

As the tour went on, the song evolved – not the song itself (which retained the stunning horn and choral arrangements, always underpinned by a particularly graceful Garry Tallent bass line) but the interlude. I’m not sure exactly where along the way Bruce started talking about ghosts. The first time I heard it, it made me catch my breath. Here’s how he said it in Chicago:

It’s great to be here at Wrigley Field, because this is a song about ghosts. When you come into old buildings, old cars, old ballparks, they carry so many ghosts of so many people that left their blood and their sweat in the dust and on the ground. This is a song originally about my adopted hometown struggling to get back on its feet, but since then it’s become about a lot of other things, and one of the things it’s become about is ghosts… ghosts… ghosts. You get older and a lot of ghosts walk along with you. Which is good. When you were a kid, you know, ghosts were scary. But when you get older they remind you, they walk alongside of you and remind you of the value of time and the preciousness of love and of life. Old ballparks, old cars, old guitars, old houses, old people. So we’re gonna do this tonight for our ghosts, and for your ghosts. May you walk with them well, and listen to what they’re telling you.

Listening to “My City of Ruins” on my way to a family Thanksgiving gathering, the message struck me all over again. Like any family, ours has missing pieces. And of course, this is always particularly apparent over the holidays. The rituals that aren’t quite the same, the voices that aren’t there.

This year I found myself the last one up on Thanksgiving night after everyone else had gone to bed. I sat down at the kitchen table to have a snack of cold turkey breast with a little salt, the way my dad always used to. He and I were the late-night people in the family – in fact when I was very small I once declared to my mother, “When I grow up I want to be a night owl like Daddy!”

My dad died in 1994. As I sat there eating my midnight snack, I thought about how he would have been up late with me, and imagined what we might have been talking about. Music, maybe. He was a musician and put himself through grad school in psychology by playing, though he gave up playing professionally when he got his doctorate and took a faculty position in a new state far from his musical community. Although our musical taste wasn’t identical he always encouraged me to love music and to go to concerts. In fact when I was an undergrad I once complained that I couldn’t afford to go to a particular show, and though he didn’t have much to spare (thank goodness for scholarships and part-time jobs), he started sending me a small allowance every month specifically so I could indulge my musical needs.

I sat there at the empty table for a while, sitting with my ghosts in the quiet, sleeping house.

Then I felt the need to acknowledge the empty place a bit more publicly, somehow. So I picked up my phone and tweeted, “I miss my dad.” And wouldn’t you know, of all my Twitter friends, it was a musician who responded. Ghosts everywhere, man. Ghosts everywhere.

The other thing Bruce Springsteen does now during “My City of Ruins” is to ask for some quiet. It’s not the traditional “moment of silence” in memory of someone, but a time to just sit with the ghosts – whoever yours may be – and listen to them, honor them. Given the predilection of an arena containing 18,000 rock fans to make some noise, and the unfortunate way a quiet moment makes a few folks think “hey, if I scream right now, Bruce will hear me and only me!” – he’s had variable success in accomplishing this quiet. In Kansas City it happened for just a moment: a soft, quick hush across that huge arena. Just a moment. Just long enough to breathe.

It reminded me of how silence is an essential part of music: you can’t have the beat without the spaces in between. And just so, the missing pieces are what make a family. We have ghosts in common, and sometimes we find the same silence to acknowledge them. Are we missing anybody? Yes, we are, and that’s what makes us human together. We should treasure our ghosts, and honor how they remain inside of us always. And to quote Mr. Springsteen: May you walk with them well.

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Crazy Kindness: Some thoughts on love and authenticity

This past weekend I made a whirlwind trip to Kansas City for, yes, a Springsteen show. Drove there on Friday, went to the show Saturday, drove back home Sunday – a total of about 960 miles round trip. I got what I expected – hours in the car to listen to music and sing at the top of my lungs where nobody will hear me, some time spent with friends I don’t see often enough, and an absolutely fantastic concert (see my review on Blogness). I also got some surprises along the way, all of them good ones, all of them occasioned by kindness.

Anne Haines and Steven Van Zandt

Anybody know this guy? He seems cool.

Yep, that is me with Little Steven, aka Stevie Van Zandt, aka Miami Steve, aka Silvio Dante, aka someone who has been one of my heroes for many years. I had the incredible good fortune to be offered a pass to his pre-show meet & greet, and so I doubled my lifetime count of E Street Band members I have met (readers of my previous blog will recall that I met Max Weinberg when he came to Indianapolis with his big band a couple years ago). He was exactly like you expect him to be: relaxed, funny, a little sarcastic, charming, and definitely the center of attention in the room.

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes, because you will inevitably be disappointed. But that hasn’t generally been my experience. I mean, I don’t expect them to walk on water. I’m old and I’ve seen a few things and I’ve gotten over thinking anybody walks on water. I haven’t met anybody, ever, who was fully incapable of being a jerk now and then. (Okay, I never met Mother Teresa, but I bet she lost her sense of humor a lot.) I think sometimes people have ridiculous expectations when they meet somebody they admire. It’s a real test, sometimes, to just make yourself stay in the moment and enjoy it for what it is. I’ve had varying levels of success with that (not that I’ve met THAT many famous people, mind).

The thing I have always admired about SVZ, perhaps most of all, is that he seems to be someone who’s determined to be exactly who he is at all times, no matter what, and not try to change himself to fit somebody else’s idea of who he should be – even his own idea of who he should be. He’s been known to piss people off by making political or artistic statements, by wearing what he likes to wear, by doing all kinds of things. And the sense that I got (in the oh, minute and a half that I got to chat with him, and the half-hour or so – ok, I don’t know, I wasn’t exactly checking my watch! – that he was in the room with the group of us that were there that night) was that he’s someone who is very comfortable with who he is. Yeah, being who he is has paid off pretty well for mister rockstar/actor/DJ/record label guy. But you get the impression that he’d be the same person regardless. If he were, I don’t know, a factory worker or an elementary teacher instead of a rockstar, he’d probably be out there supporting local bands in the evenings – as it is, his “local” is international in scope, and when he discovers a band he loves he has the means to help them get a wider audience instead of just being one guy going to their shows and maybe dragging his friends along sometimes. Just for example. There are things that he cares about pretty deeply, and you get the sense that he would care about those things whatever his position in life happened to be, it’s just that he’s got the wherewithal to care about them louder than most people do.

I could be completely wrong about the guy, of course. This is just what I’ve surmised about him from following his career(s) for a few decades, and from the deep sense of authenticity I got from him in the brief time we were in the same room. (Okay, we were also in the same room for three hours afterwards, but the Sprint Center arena is a REALLY BIG ROOM and he was pretty busy at the time.) I’m sure he is thoroughly human. I’m sure he has bad days, and I’m sure I don’t ever want to piss him off. *grin* But he inspires me to try to be more authentic myself, to let myself care deeply about the stuff I care about, and to work hard while still managing to laugh a lot of the time. Not a bad sort of hero to have, methinks.

[And before anybody else asks. No, I do not have any advice to give you on how to arrange for a meet'n'greet with anyone in the E Street Band or anyone else. I really have no idea how these things usually happen. Mine came about via the good fortune of being in the right place, in the right time, and perhaps with the right attitude about such things although who knows. All I can say for sure is, enjoy the experiences you get and be kind to the people you meet, and you won't have too many regrets.]

* * * * * * * * * *

Getting to meet someone I admire so much was just one of several memorable kindnesses that were extended to me over the course of the weekend. I was a lucky, lucky girl. I got to spend time with some friends I don’t get to see often enough, and I got to meet some new friends I liked a great deal. Even the crescent moon over the gleaming silver Sprint Center seemed to be shining down with a particular benevolence on Saturday night.

After the meet & greet I found my way to the arena floor and, because it was the sort of weekend when things happen easily (like walking near the arena and turning around to realize that a Twitter friend that I’d hoped to meet just happened to be walking right behind me), I almost immediately located two different groups of friends at the back of the pit. I said hi to both groups, filled them in on a bit of where I’d been and what I’d been doing; and then because I had to choose one group to hang with during the show, I chose the ones who were over towards the side of the back of the pit. There was a lot of room there, which meant we’d have room to dance and an unobstructed view of the stage. And since I probably would have been hanging with these folks during the lottery anyway, I was in the same spot I would’ve been in regardless, which assuaged any lingering guilt feelings I might have had over my good fortune that evening.

Given the events of the evening, I will never be able to be objective about the show itself. I was in a happy place and there wasn’t anything that was going to shake that. Luckily, it’s easy to say that the show was great and feel confident about that. Personal highlight for me was “Incident on 57th Street” – an early song I absolutely love, and one I’d never gotten in concert (and consider that, although I haven’t been to nearly as many shows as a lot of folks, my first Springsteen show was in 1978 so I go way back). I may have hyperventilated a bit when the song began, and it was just gorgeous. I’m now down to two “all-time favorites I’ve never heard in concert” songs: “The Promise” and “Lost in the Flood.”

My other highlight was “My Beautiful Reward,” which opened the encore. Bruce dedicated this very rarely-performed song to his cousin and road manager, Lenny Sullivan, whose unexpected death forced the last-minute cancellation of the Kansas City show in 2009. It was hauntingly beautiful, exquisitely performed with a spare arrangement featuring Soozie Tyrell and Nils Lofgren, and clearly deeply felt by Bruce. I still had a lump in my throat when the lights roared up and “Born to Run” ripped the arena wide open – I think it might have been the first time I wasn’t ready for the full-on celebration that song always elicits.

Since I was in the very back of the pit, I had a great view of Bruce whenever he sang from the platform between the pit and the main GA floor. I’ve seen the “Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out” tribute to Clarence Clemons a few times on this tour, and it’s always moving as the audience gets its chance to celebrate the Big Man’s memory. The recent addition of the late Danny Federici to the memorial slideshow has made it bigger and better, I think; a celebration of everything about the E Street Band that is now lost to the past – just as time causes all of us to lose aspects of our youth.

Bruce always stands on the rear  platform, mic held high to catch the audience’s cheers, and silently watches the slideshow. I’ve thought a lot about those moments – how it must feel to him to look at what are in a sense old family photos in front of thousands of screaming fans, what led to his decision to perform this particular tribute in this particular way. Because it is, make no doubt about it, a performance. I’ve seen fans commenting as though Bruce is putting his private grief on display as he watches the images – and I think it’s way more complex than that. I think it’s very possible that what he feels at that moment may be anything but grief (it’s been a couple of years, and he’s been through this tribute many many times now, and it can’t possibly be the fresh raw wound that some fans seem to want it to be) – but I think that he is performing grief in such a way that the audience, and for that matter the band, and for that matter Bruce himself, can access grief from the past, or the future, or the depths of the present.

I guess this is old news to people who are performers, but I’m just beginning to understand it myself – even though I’ve had some small experience with performance via poetry readings. I know that when I read a poem, I’m not exposing my deep inner self or whatever; I’m voicing a made thing that has, in a funny way, a life of its own outside of me even though I wrote it. I’m pretty sure it’s the same for a singer. He doesn’t have to feel terribly sad in order to make the audience weep during “My City of Ruins” – he only has to embody the feeling of sadness, which is a different thing. By offering up the grief performance of the “Tenth Avenue” tribute, Bruce is offering access to a set of feelings that the audience may choose to participate in. Which is not to say that it is a dishonest thing – and here we are, back to authenticity again. The feelings, even while being a performance, are very real. It’s like the important difference between facts and truth. Bruce may not necessarily be offering facts in his songs, even the ones that sound pretty damned autobiographical. But he is, absolutely, offering truth. And in the case of a Bruce Springsteen performance, that truth is conveyed in the music, in the lyrics, in the tone of voice, in every muscle of his body (he is perhaps the most physical performer I’ve ever witnessed, taking bodily risks as he crowd-surfs, making himself physically vulnerable to the audience, pushing himself to muscular limits).

Sometimes I am very aware of the performance as performance, as Springsteen enacts the persona of Springsteen. Now we’re going to have Goofy Bruce, now Mighty Rocker Bruce, now Serious Intense Bruce. It’s not that he is being inauthentic, but he is definitely in character. And sometimes, at moments, despite all that I know about it being performance, the truth of it shines so brightly that it makes me catch my breath. During “Tenth Avenue” in Kansas City, there was one of those moments: as a full-face portrait of Danny Federici filled the screen, Bruce reached his hand out towards it as if to touch — as if he could reach through time and mortality and use the genius of his physicality to touch his lost friend again. Yes, performance. Yes, he may even have rehearsed that precise gesture. But it was authentic, it was truth, and it pretty much broke my heart right there.

Bruce Springsteen and projected image of Danny Federici

photo / Stephanie Korby @PenskeMaterial

And in a weekend filled with acts of kindness and generosity, maybe that was the biggest one. Bruce isn’t standing there on that stage saying to the audience “Hey! I’m having feelings! Look at me!” (Okay, he’s definitely saying “look at me” sometimes – a performer’s got to have an ego! – but bear with me.) No – he’s saying “Here. I made this thing out of feelings and memories and muscles and sweat. I made it for you and I am giving it to you now, here, tonight. Keep it in your heart and maybe you can use it for something someday.”

Maybe that is kindness. Maybe that is even, in its own way, love.

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(Not a) Jersey Girl

Flooded neighborhood in Seaside, NJ

Seaside, NJ. photo/Office of the Governor

I’ve been to New Jersey a time or two, but never spent any time “down the shore” as they say – unless you count the time I visited a friend in Delaware and we took the Lewes-Cape May ferry because it seemed like a fun thing to do (and I’d never been on an oceangoing vessel before). We turned around and came right back, so that doesn’t really count anyway. And I’ve really only been to NYC once, over twenty years ago.

But still – the images of devastation from Hurricane Sandy are hitting me hard. Like any diehard Springsteen fan, the Jersey shore is dear to me, with landmarks that are familiar even though I’ve never visited in person. (When will I learn that “I’ll get around to doing it next year or the year after” is a line of thought guaranteed to end in regret?)

I watched the storm roll in on CNN and the Weather Channel – and on Twitter, where one by one my east coast friends tweeted “there goes the power” and went silent to conserve battery. It was a strange sense of being simultaneously very connected and very disconnected. Since text messages often go through when neither voice nor data will, I offered to receive texts from friends and pass along information to loved ones who might not have the ability to text or receive texts themselves – a sort of information bucket brigade. A couple of friends said they might take me up on it, though neither ended up needing to, but offering made me feel a little less helpless. As the days go by and it becomes more and more clear just how devastated the area is, though, I feel more and more helpless. I’ve done what I could in terms of trying to share information on Twitter – retweeting info about open gas stations, places to charge cellphones, etc. – and have been grateful to see friends checking in that they are OK (cold and dark, in some cases, but basically OK). I’ve made a tiny donation to the Red Cross, and will try to make another when I can. Meanwhile I’m living more or less my normal life – going to work, feeding the cats, voting (Indiana has early voting now so I went on Saturday) – and it feels kind of weird to be living a normal life when so many of my friends are literally battling the elements.

What can you do? This so-connected world is both larger and smaller than is really comfortable… so small that my heart breaks for people and places I’ve never laid actual eyes on, too large to be able to reach out to help. The human condition, twenty-first century style.

All I can do is to keep living my life, I guess. To that end – tomorrow night I am going to see the Indigo Girls here in town, and then Saturday I’m zipping a couple hours south to Louisville to see Bruce Springsteen, who will undoubtedly sing a few songs about the Jersey shore. (If you’re home tomorrow night, by the way, there’s a hurricane benefit show on TV and Springsteen is one of the headliners – and the E Street Band will be serving as the house band. Should be worth watching, and maybe make a donation while you do so?) That’s the world, I guess: terrible things happen and you feel helpless and at the same time you go on, you make what connections you can and you go on and live your life.

You can make a donation for disaster relief at the Red Cross website. I’d be interested in recommendations for other organizations doing relief work, as well.

EDIT: Here’s a nice list of ways to help courtesy of the NBC news show “Rock Center.” Includes the Humane Society, which is working on animal rescue – important work that sometimes goes overlooked in funding.

Here’s Springsteen & the E Street Band from Rochester NY on Wednesday night. Bruce introduces “My City of Ruins” by talking about the Jersey shore and how it will rise again. Video is shaky, but audio is good.

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Filed under ramblings, Springsteen