Month: November 2016

Rarefied Earth

“Nothing makes a sound in the night like the wind does, but you ain’t afraid when you’re washed in the blood like I was.” So goes the lyric in one of my favorite Don Williams songs. It’s a fond recollection of an unspoiled childhood in simpler times coupled with the confusion of middle age. If I listen to it too closely it brings on an allergy attack, and my eyes get a little watery. He references fallen heroes, lost religion, and fallen friends. I’ve dealt with all of that the older I’ve gotten. It leaves you scratching your head, “What do you do?” I wonder.

This week I’m choosing to focus on being thankful rather than angry; thankful for the way the world was, not angry at how it is. I grew up on a road that wasn’t paved yet with a one lane bridge over the creek. We had to take the tractors the long way around to get to the “back of the farm” because the bridge was too narrow. There was still a country store within a mile in either direction. My school was a couple miles down the road, and church was just a mile. We watched TV on a thirteen inch with rabbit ears (it was color though). For fun, we would rent a VCR and movies on the odd weekend. That’s right; we had to rent the machine too. My prized possession was a Knight Rider bigwheel that I literally ran up and down the sidewalk till the wheels came off. A trip to the combine junkyard for parts was better than a day at the beach. Western Sizzlin was our preferred restaurant destination if we were lucky enough to go out to eat, and you could count on pudding for desert.

School life was simple back then. When you got in trouble bad enough to get sent to the principal, you were going to get spanked twice, once by the principal and once when you got home. The teacher would have you go out to dust erasers at the end of the day, if you’d been good. We were still saying prayers in the public elementary school. Timed tables were the preferred method for teaching math. Sentences had to be diagrammed. There was an annual talent show where we could showcase our lack of talent, and when you got sick Mrs. Patsy would take care of you until Mom could get there.

Grandmother was right up the road, ready with a deck of cards and cookies for your visit. There was a neighbor who’d go out for a drive on his lawnmower, and another that drove his tractor to the store. Yet another hauled seed and fertilize in the back of his car. No dually pickup was required to farm in those days. Even on the bad days we were making good memories. Like the time I got to see a bull fly. “If I’m lying, I’m dying,” to quote Jerry Clower, who we listened to enthusiastically. That bull did fly. I suppose I should devote an entire article to that someday. Later that day he tried to kill me, so I eventually punched him right between the eyes. Not sure if the punch did it or not, but we respected each other more in the years that would come. He never gave me any trouble after that. There were times we got two tractors stuck in the mud because we weren’t smart enough to know it really was that wet. There were barn tiers that broke because the tobacco was that heavy, and times we came within an inch of death doing something monumentally stupid. There were a lot of bad days all together that add up to a lot of good memories. When someone tells you that you’ll look back and laugh, they’re right. However miserable it is, odds are that enough time gone by will turn the tears into a grin.

There’s a humorist that I like to listen to named Dylan Brody. He did a piece one time about how his life had been a “slow flow of glass.” It’s a great story about his childhood and how we’re all “going to be what we’re going to be.” You don’t get to be the person you are overnight. It happens slowly, like a pane of glass that starts out perfectly flat, but morphs over time. I recommend looking him up. The guy has an interesting perspective. I’m not always happy with the person that I am today, but I’m a work in progress. As I give thanks this week, I’m thankful for the quirky, backward little community in which my foundation was laid. It was far from perfect, but in retrospect it was rarefied earth. I grow fonder of it with each passing year.

24 Karat Gold Tour Review – Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders at Bridgestone

Some stars burn out. Some fade away. Others smolder, and reignite when you least expect it. That’s what I witnessed in Bridgestone Arena in Nashville this week. For our anniversary, I had gotten my wife tickets to tick a mark on her bucket list and see one of her lyrical heroes, the Gypsy Queen of Rock and Roll, Ms. Stevie Nicks. Personally I have always considered Rumours to be a herculean feat of recording, but I am not the super fan that she is. Still, The Pretenders were the opening act, and they fit right in my wheelhouse. They’re the type of band I love because they were good enough to break into the mainstream, but also deep enough not to achieve the kind of pop music success that ruins so many artists. Front-woman Chrissie Hynde is the type of snarling, guitar slinging, prancing singer that makes a rock show worth seeing.chrissie

As we sat, waiting for the lights to go down Monday night, I was nervous. I’ve seen a lot of bands over the years: Up and comers, prime-timers, and over-the-hill guitar heroes just looking for a place to play. I was expecting this show to fall into that later category. Would they be able to pull it off, or would we cringe with embarrassment when their voices cracked? Would it be so technologically enhanced that we were basically listening to robots animatronically lip syncing to a digitally remastered copy of their formerly great selves? You take a great risk when you go to a show like that. Avoiding it is the safe thing. Not going means you can remember the greatness when you heard them on the radio as a youth; going means you might be stuck with the memory of their later day faltering. If they falter, that is. Not going also means you never know. I like knowing, and life is all about taking risks. This time it paid off as we witnessed one of the all-time, top-five greatest rock shows I’ve seen. The Pretenders opened with a ferocity that sounded and looked like their heyday. I’ve seen enough artists onstage and met enough offstage to know that makeup can do amazing things, but Chrissie looked outstanding. Wearing an Elvis t-shirt and fitted jeans, she looked exactly as she should. Her vocals were spot on as she sang over pounding drums and the hard hitting baselines that give the band their signature sound. The only thing missing from their set was a piano, which would’ve helped on “My City Was Gone” and “I’ll Stand by You.” Other than that, they were perfect; setting the bar very high for what was to follow. They plowed through their set going from hit song to deep track back to hit song with little interruption. And then, it was time for the Gypsy.

As excited as I was, not many people were there for Chrissie. The night belonged to Stevie, and the crowd of what had to be 15,000 or more welcomed her and her technically perfect band to the stage with a thunderous applause that only a superstar can generate. When the music started and she began weaving her spell no one would remember that it was 2016, or that she was 68 years old. All that was evident was that she was doing what she was born to do. The name of the tour is 24 Karat Gold, and it’s appropriate. Her hits have not tarnished over the years. The “old-new” songs, as she called them, were great too. She referred to them that way because she has recorded a number of songs in recent years that have been locked away since her most prolific days of songwriting. Newer songs she’s written are still quite good, even if you can’t sing along because they never had the benefit of being drilled into your brain on Top 40 radio. She was singing them for her, she said; singing them because she liked them. I heard no disagreement in Nashville. When the time came for “Stop Dragging My Heart Around” (the Tom Petty duet) Chrissie joined her onstage and sang Tom’s part. That was a treat in and of itself. The ladies seem to share a deep mutual respect, both complimenting the other. My one complaint from the show was the movie screen and background videos that ran throughout Stevie’s performance which were a bit distracting at times, but complimentary at others. “Stand Back” was one of the standout times when the screen worked, as the stage was transformed to undulating gold streamers that fit the eighties groove that makes the song so fun. That was my favorite song of the night. Eastwood said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” That goes for a songstress too. Time will catch up to all of us eventually, but in 2016, Stevie Nicks and The Pretenders are still doing what they were born to do. And doing it very well.