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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Best Books of Indiana 2012

cover image of And Know This Place: Poetry of IndianaSome happy poetry news to report this weekend. The lovely anthology And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana (edited by the indefatigable Jenny Kander and C.E. Greer), which includes my poems “Brood X” and “Eight-Bar Solo,” was named as the “Best Book of Indiana 2012” in the poetry category. These annual awards are given by the Indiana Center for the Book in the Indiana State Library. Here’s what the judges had to say about the book:

And Know This Place: Poetry of Indiana is a wonderful volume, richly produced, with gorgeous cover art and a fitting allusion to T. S. Eliot in its title. The book is outstanding as a comprehensive anthology of the best and most important of Indiana poetry through the generations. The editors, Jenny Kander and C. E. Greer, have done a magnificent job of selecting representative works of all the poets, and the foreword by Roger Mitchell is exceedingly informative and accessible. The variety of styles, drawing from the full historical corpus of poetry in the Hoosier state, is extremely impressive, offering something for every imaginable taste. As an encapsulation of an essential part our state’s literary history, this book is deserving of a place of honor in the personal library of any lover of things either poetic or Hoosier. As a resource for connoisseur or novice, it would be well placed on a bookshelf next to Czeslaw Milosz’z A Book of Luminous Things and Garrison Keillor’s Good Poems.

Needless to say, I am delighted that my work is a small part of this fantastic (and now award-winning) volume, which was published by the Indiana Historical Society and can be ordered directly from them should you be so inclined. (It’s a gorgeous, substantial book. Feels nice in the hand. Go on, give yourself a present!)

You can see a list of the winners and finalists in all categories at the Indiana State Library’s website. And if you are an Indiana resident, you can borrow any of them from the State Library or even request them via interlibrary loan through your local public library! Libraries are cool, y0.

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Movie reviewish: “Not Fade Away”

Caveat lector: This isn’t really a proper movie review. I don’t know much about movies, and wouldn’t begin to try to critique a film from an artistic standpoint – I think you have to really understand a genre in order to do that. For a good example of a proper film review, I liked Leonard Maltin’s. This is pretty much just my own personal reaction to the movie; very personal, as you will see by the end.

"Not Fade Away" movie posterGiven that David Chase’s coming-of-age film  “Not Fade Away” is basically a love letter to rock & roll, it won’t surprise anyone that I liked it. Okay, I think it had some issues with pacing – there are times when scenes blow by quickly and I wasn’t really sure whether I had maybe missed something. There were some subplots that were interesting but never got fleshed out – the bit about Grace‘s hippie sister, for example. I was disappointed that the female characters were generally pretty two-dimensional, especially Grace herself; she’s just the pretty but slightly confused girlfriend, and though she’s on screen a lot, we never really get to know what makes her tick. And while I loved the last three minutes or so, the final arc towards the ending (the L.A. part) seemed a little muddled and out-of-place to me.

But you know what, I still loved this movie. I loved it a lot. The soundtrack, as one would expect given the involvement of Steven Van Zandt, is absolutely killer. The Van Zandt original featured in the film, “The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre,” is catchy as hell and just a great song. (You can read my review of the soundtrack album over at Blogness.)  The scenes where the band is learning to play are beautiful; the one where they’re working out “Bo Diddley” in particular made me want to run out of the theater and go start a band. There’s a hilarious cameo by Jay Weinberg (son of E Street drummer Max Weinberg, and until recently the drummer for punk band Against Me) as a drummer entirely ill-suited for the band he’s playing with; for the benefit of those who get it I will mutter here “No junior Ginger Bakers.” The acting is generally very good, especially leading man John Magaro, of whom I bet we will be seeing a lot more, as well as Meg Guzulescu who plays his sister – a tiny role, but she really shines. Anyone who grew up in the sixties will appreciate the attention to authenticity and detail throughout the film; it felt absolutely real. And I dare you not to walk out of the theater humming and/or dancing.

But mostly, and this really isn’t that much of a spoiler, I love that “Not Fade Away” isn’t a success story. It would have been easy to make a movie about a band that makes it big, or for that matter about one that crashes & burns dramatically. But as the lead character’s younger sister says at the beginning of the movie, this band is like most bands – you never heard of them. Does this mean this is a film about failure? No. The message of the film, to me, is that following your dream and doing what you love is not wasted time, regardless of whether you find “success” or “failure” or something in between. More specifically, the movie posits rock & roll as something worth pursuing and holding on to and in fact as the greatest thing American culture has produced.*  You can argue about that latter point, but you can’t argue that the movie and its characters come most alive when they are playing or listening to the music they love. And that has nothing to do with recording contracts, commercial success, or anything else.

As the daughter of a musician who made a modest (very modest) living for a while playing in your basic hotel-lounge cover band, and as someone who took guitar lessons for a while and came close enough to not sucking at it to have some pretty daydreams, I have a complicated relationship with the idea of musical “success.” When you spend hours and hours practicing your craft and you never have the kind of success you daydream about, have you wasted all that time and effort?

I think about that a lot, actually. When my dad got a “real job” teaching psychology at a university and moved us to Indiana, he pretty much stopped playing music. He probably could have found some guys to play with on weekends for fun. But having been good enough to play professionally, I think he recognized that no longer practicing regularly meant that his chops deteriorated quickly, and I think it was hard for him to enjoy playing if he didn’t have the facility with it that he used to have. So he stopped. Like him, I have enough of an ear to hear that when I pick up the guitar to bash around on it now, I kind of suck. I was never a professional-level musician but I was coffeehouse-level good once, and now I can’t even play that well. It’s hard for me to do things just for kicks, without wanting to be good at them. And so, mostly, I don’t play.

And what “Not Fade Away” tells me is, fuck that shit, just play. If it makes you feel alive, it doesn’t much matter if you suck or if you’re good enough to get a record contract. Being good enough to get a contract doesn’t mean you’re going to end up famous anyway. Like all those other bands you’ve never heard of, you probably won’t. You may find yourself in a strange city living a life entirely different from the life you were dreaming of, but on some street corner you might hear music and remember what it feels like to be alive again. And that, this movie says, that is what matters.

So if you’ll excuse me, I have a guitar that needs my attention now. Rock on.

___________________

*At the very end of the movie Evelyn, younger sister of main character Douglas, turns to the camera and says “I had to write a term paper, and I wrote about how America has given the world two inventions of enormous power. One is nuclear weapons. The other is rock & roll. Which one is going to win out in the end?” The question is left verbally unanswered, but Evelyn begins dancing in the middle of the deserted street, a graceful little go-go sequence that celebrates youth, rock & roll, and life itself. I would argue that her dancing answers the question pretty definitively. Rock & roll wins out – if we let it.

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A poem and a New Year toast.

A video post from me to you on this New Year’s Eve. What can I say – I’m having a quiet evening & wanted to play with the new tablet. 🙂 I look like a goof, but that’s par for the course around here. Happy New Year! P.S. the poem I read in this video is by Gregory Orr.

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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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Bits o’good news

Cat playing with writing pen

Tamarin helps me write.

I always feel weird announcing good news online, but then when other folks announce their good news I’m happy for them and glad to know about it, so.

I’m pleased and grateful that the editors of Sweet have nominated my poem “Night Language” for the Pushcart Prize. From their Facebook page:

Sweet is honored to nominate some of the amazing pieces we published in 2012 for the Pushcart Prize (the only hard part was deciding amongst all the terrific work): Laura McCullough, “What a Good Dog Knows” (essay); Jocelyn Bartkevicius, “Ice” (essay); Liz Kicak, “Summer Sky” (poem); Anne Haines, “Night Language” (poem); Todd Kaneko, “We Sleep Like Horses” (poem); Jennifer K. Sweeney, “Call and Response” (poem). Much thanks to everyone for sharing their mind-blowing writing with us, and for carrying the light of words out into the world.

Don’t get too excited; hundreds of poems get these nominations every year and only a few are selected for the anthology – the odds of that are very long indeed. But it is nice to find out that your poem was one of the ones that not only appealed to an editor enough for them to want other people to read it, but that also stuck in their memory at the end of the year. So yay, and thank you to Sweet!

Also got word today that New Mexico Poetry Review has accepted one of my poems for their spring issue. Always fun to have something to look forward to, and always nice to get a “yes” instead of the more usual “no”!

I don’t post about the rejections when I get them, but trust me, I get my share. After all these years, I don’t mind them much – there’s the occasional one that makes me say “awwww, man!” but beyond that, it is just not a big deal. If you send out work long enough, you begin to realize that the editors aren’t rejecting you personally, but the work itself. (And even then, there can be a billion reasons why they don’t take a particular poem; it doesn’t mean it’s a terrible poem – I’ve had editors enthusiastically accept poems that had been rejected a dozen or more times. It might mean the editor had read sixteen volcano poems that afternoon and yours was the seventeenth and they couldn’t get past “good grief, not another volcano poem.” It might mean one of your line breaks struck them wrong and they couldn’t get past that. Or, you know, it might even be a terrible poem – there’s not a poet alive who hasn’t written tons of those and most of us occasionally get confused about which ones are good and which ones aren’t!)

And I think being able to get that distance – realizing that your work is not your self – is crucial to maturing as a writer. Yes, your work comes from a deep place within yourself. But it also comes from craft, and time, and labor, and luck. And the fact that all of those ingredients don’t gel every time doesn’t necessarily make you a bad writer, much less a bad person.

You can call it “developing a thick skin” or you can call it “distancing yourself from your work” – in any event I think it’s good for a writer to figure out how to do this. It can mean the difference between being a writer who feels she has to pour out her soul onto the page every time and then not change a word because “that’s just the way it happened!”, and being a writer who uses her heart and her skill and her craft and her experience to make a thing that can be sent out into the world on its own merits.

Now if only my poems would go out and get a job. And maybe cut their hair and stop wearing those ripped-out jeans all the time….

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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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