Category Archives: ramblings

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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Rock Stars and Road Trips

Anne Haines playing guitar circa 1978

Daydreamer. Me circa 1978.

When I was seventeen, I dreamed of travel. I loved listening to what I thought of as San Francisco music – 1960s Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, and the like – as well as some of the L.A. singer-songwriters of the time like Jackson Browne, Fleetwood Mac, and Joni Mitchell. I’d never been west of the Rockies, but for some reason California was where my daydreams drifted. (For that matter, I’d never seen the ocean, landlocked Midwestern girl that I was, and I was fascinated by the idea of that as well. Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album, with its ocean sounds, was a big favorite of mine.)

I’d taken guitar lessons for a couple of years, so of course that qualified me to daydream of being a rock star as well. I enjoyed writing songs, sensitive-singer-songwritery things as well as songs I played alone on my acoustic but on which I imagined screaming electric guitars and thunderous drums. I dreamed of riding around the country in my fancy tour bus, performing for appreciative crowds of thousands, and wearing really cool boots.

I won’t say that I didn’t have musical talent. I probably had enough. I’ve always had a good ear, and if I’d spent the time and effort and practiced a lot and worked really hard, I probably would have been a pretty good guitarist and a decent songwriter. Probably never would have been a great singer, but even without taking studio trickery into consideration, there are plenty of singers making a living out there with fairly ordinary voices. But I was shy, and didn’t always play well with others, and I never started a band. And I never had the onstage charisma or the pure chutzpah to put myself out there as a solo performer. Again, something that could likely have been remedied with some coaching and a lot of hard work – having grown up with a father who put himself through grad school and supported his family as a working musician, I have never had any illusions that being a musician was anything other than really hard work – so in the end the fact that I didn’t pursue this daydream is on me, completely, and my decision not to put in the work that would have been required.

When I went off to college in 1979 I sold my electric guitar (a little Gibson Melody Maker, and yes, I still regret this but at the time I needed the money more than I needed the guitar) and took the nylon-string and the Ovation roundback with me. I continued playing for fun but drifted away from practicing with any seriousness. But I still daydreamed of travel. I had a little road trip in mind that would involve driving south to New Orleans, then westward through the desert, on up the California coast to the Pacific Northwest, then home. I used to look at maps. I used to add up miles.

But I was an English major, so when I graduated I was pretty broke. By the time I was making enough money to even think about a six-week road trip I had a job, and cats, and … well, it never happened. I realized too, eventually, that I am not really a road-trip kind of person. I like comfort, and I like planning and having things go according to those plans. I’m not sure I would have done well as a touring musician, to be honest! In retrospect I would have done well to develop some technical skills and do some kind of studio work; I would’ve been a decent audio engineer, I suspect, or maybe even a producer. Water under the bridge, water under the bridge.

Those daydreams never completely go away, though. So that is why I occasionally do crazy things like drive 465 miles each way to Kansas City to see a Bruce Springsteen show (something I’ll be doing in November). It wasn’t until I was in my mid-forties that I had both the courage and the wherewithal to just jump in a car and hit the road for a rock & roll road trip; in 2008 I traveled to Nashville, St. Louis, and Kansas City for three shows in four nights, and that is still one of my favorite things I have ever done. I love driving hundreds of miles – with the right music and good weather it feels effortless as flight – and I especially love when I have a General Admission ticket and make a full day out of it, getting my wristband and lining up and hoping for a decent spot and waiting and waiting some more. I love the ritual of it: being let into the arena finally, finding my place, watching the tech crew make their final adjustments. The guitar tech rings out a few chords just to make certain. The lighting crew climbs up the flimsy monkey ladders into the rafters. Somebody comes out and tapes a setlist down. You can set your watch by all of this. The reserved seats begin to fill with people and the arena begins to fill with voices. Backstage, you know the band is performing whatever pre-show rituals they like to perform. And when the lights go down and the band strides out to claim the stage, which is one of my favorite moments in the world, it’s all the more joyous because of the hundreds of miles and the hours and the waiting and the ritual that led up to it.

Notre Dame's Athletic & Convocation Center, exterior view

Athletic & Convocation Center at Notre Dame

There is nothing better – nothing – than that moment when the lights go down. It’s like all at once the arena becomes as big as the heavens and as small as the pinpoint of a spotlight. The first arena shows I went to, when I was in high school, were in the basketball arena at Notre Dame University – at the time called the ACC (Athletic & Convocation Center) – which was a dome, and so it felt just a little like being inside a spaceship. When the lights went down and the roar from the crowd went up (along with no small amount of, er, herbivorous aroma – hey, it WAS the seventies), for just a moment it felt like you were launching into space. Then the spotlights hit, and you realize you are actually in the same room (albeit a very very large room) with someone whose voice has spent a lot of time in your ears, whose face you’ve looked at on album covers (and nowadays, on YouTube) – no matter how many times I see a performer it seems like there is always at least a momentary flash of “oh my gosh, it’s really him (or her)!”

Heady, and addictive, feelings all around. And feelings you cannot replicate with concert DVDs, with YouTube videos even if they pop up five minutes after the concert ends, with all the bootlegs and clippings in the world. I love recorded music, but man, nothing replaces the feeling of being in the room. NOTHING. And I love the road trips that I make for this. I still don’t think that I could travel for a living – I’m just too much of a middle-aged homebody now. But for a few days, there is something about making the effort, something about spending hours on the road and hours in line all for that unearthly moment of liftoff and the few short hours that follow it. I understand the concept of pilgrimage, now. So when you say I’m crazy to drive over 450 miles each way for a three-and-a-half hour show, yeah, maybe I am. But it’s a kind of crazy I’m in love with.

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Belated Caturday

Hard to believe, I know, that I’ve had this blog up for over one month without a cat photo.

Image of cat pushing her head through the window blinds

Tamarin, honey, this is why we can’t have nice things.

Happy belated Caturday – and a happy belated second adoption anniversary to Tamarin (pictured above)!

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Endings and beginnings

Those of us who live in college towns or who work in education know that the year doesn’t actually begin on January 1. It begins somewhere in late August or early September. Here in Bloomington, this time of year is marked by thousands of 18- to 24-year-olds pouring into town – driving the wrong way on one-way streets, trying to figure out whether you’re supposed to order at the counter or at your table at the Bakehouse, excitedly hugging old friends they haven’t seen in a few months and nervously finding new friends. There is chaos, there is annoyance, and there is the unmistakable energy that happens when you have thousands of people converging in the name of new beginnings.

Photo of sunrise over Mt. Haleakala on Maui, from offshore

Maui sunrise from just offshore

So, yeah. It’s the right time for me to start a new blog – a whole new website, in fact. My old blog has been dormant for a while; I may eventually import all those entries into this blog to make it one entity, but more likely I won’t. That blog hasn’t felt right to me for a while. I started it specifically to write about poetry and writing and related issues, and in fact its title is the title of the poetry manuscript I was working on at the time. That manuscript got finished, and got sent around to a few dozen publishers, and it racked up a few dozen rejections – a tiny handful of kind words, but mostly just rejections. I think there’s still a lot of viable work in that manuscript, but at the very least it needs to be pulled apart and entirely re-envisioned. And I doubt it will have the same title when I’m done.

Not only that, but a lot of what I want to write about these days – well, it isn’t poetry. More than anything, music has been what’s driving me, and I always felt a little iffy about putting for example concert reviews on my “poetry blog.” (I did it, but I felt a little iffy about it.) I also have a job I love and find pretty interesting, and so I may at some point want to write about issues related to libraries, academia, user experience, and content strategy. (My department has a blog where I can do some of that, but I might want to do some of that here, too.)

So I’m hoping that this new blog will find its own way in the world. Expect some concert reviews, some poetry, some travelogue, probably some crazy-cat-lady cat stories. The plan is to write something at least once a week or so, but not necessarily to hold myself to a regimented schedule. As always, you can find me on Twitter commenting on this and that – I see this blog as an extension of that presence, really, and a chance to write at more length about some of the things 140 characters just can’t accommodate.

The website that houses this blog is very much a work in progress at this point. For sure, I want to add a bunch of stuff to the links page. (Fellow poet-bloggers who were on my old blogroll, don’t fret – I plan to add y’all back on here as well.)

So goodbye to the old blog, and hopefully to the stuck-ness I experienced in its last days (months, years) – and hello to new beginnings, new possibilities, new connections. Welcome. Leave a comment if you’re so inclined. It’s a new day… let’s see where it takes us.

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