No, I haven't run away and joined the circus (or a rock & roll band... same difference). Still here.
I have been restless and impatient ever since returning home from my oh-so-short road trip a couple weeks ago, feeling centered only when listening to music, bashing away at my guitar, or writing. I feel like something's come unplugged.
Rock concerts -- at least the ones I go to and love -- give the audience full permission to express and enjoy a couple of things that are, intentionally or not, less than abundant in my life: unbridled romanticism (from"the screen door slams, Mary's dress sways / Like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays..." all the way to "big wheels roll through fields where sunlight streams / meet me in a land of hope and dreams") and unfiltered sexuality (cue up any throbbing bass line, any drumbeat shuddering through the air and into each and every body in the room, any scorching guitar solo). Hell, just immersing yourself in -- giving yourself over to -- music that's being created by other human beings to the extent that your body moves, almost involuntarily, with what those other humans' hands are doing... that's almost frighteningly sexual in and of itself. Rock music isn't sexual because of its lyrics, but because of its pure, immersive physicality, and the expectation of surrender. So... yeah.
Strong stuff for a middle-aged hermit. No wonder I'm ready to run off and join the circus, huh?
You know, if I had my life to live over again, the one big thing I would do differently is: I would push myself harder with my own music, make myself learn to sing even if it's emotionally challenging (which it is, for me, for some reason -- more than physically or technically challenging -- singing in front of people feels like standing there naked), not put down the guitar just because I'm busy doing other things. Because as much as my fangirlcelebritystalking ways are exactly that -- at the heart of it, it is much more that I long to be a part of the larger thing that is the music itself. I would much, much rather be someone's lyricist or even background singer (yeah right) than their groupie. Much as I get all fangirly about the musicians I love, I don't give much of a shit about celebrity itself -- if you put me in a room with, say, Tom Hanks or some other megasuperstar and a minor-league musician I happen to love, it'd be the musician I'd get all tongue-tied talking to. Because they are the emissaries of the Music, corny as that sounds.
(Which is how it happens that a middle-aged doofy poet gets all swoony over being given a little plastic guitar pick by a middle-aged doofy rockstar. Trust me, I know how silly this all is, but it's truly in service to something larger. And knowing that, my friends, is part of what makes it different now -- and deeper -- than what it was like seeing this same band thirty years ago, when it was just wild and fun. All the deeper stuff was there then, but I didn't know it yet, at least not with the brain part of my brain.)
At my age (forty-eight in a few short days!) I'm obviously not about to run away and join the circus. I know it, you know it, my colleagues at work know it, my cats know it most of all. I'm too fond of having health insurance and of sleeping in my own bed at night. Certainly "Chasing Angels," the manuscript I'm working on these days, is in part my stab at living vicariously through my characters, imagining the good and the bad of being a full-time touring musician. If I can get the thing written and (cross fingers) published, it will certainly serve in part as a very public love letter to the music and the people who create it.
It's all my dad's fault, really. He was a musician and I grew up in a house full of music -- my dad's band occasionally practiced in our living room (when they couldn't use the drummer's basement for whatever reason) and music was just a part of the air I breathed. And then when I was 12 years old he got his doctorate, got a faculty position, packed us up and moved us to Indiana, and never made an effort to find himself a musicians' community or people to play with, and he pretty much gave up playing. Which is just tremendously heartbreaking to me, even now. He always loved music and listened to it, but he was never a part of it in the same way again.
What would it be like to reach middle age without having given up on your greatest, craziest dreams?
Getting a little taste of that, even from a distance, is another reason I love Springsteen/E Street Band concerts. In part it's what they're selling us -- the dream, the romantic sense of belief. I know that. It's a circus, it's a show; they're performers, playing their parts. But also, there's something there that's much too real to be just an act, just entertainment. You watch Bruce on that stage with every cell in his body committed to what he's doing (living the dream he's been working on since he was a kid, really) and as you sing along and raise your arms in the air and become a part of it, you can't help but believe the message on some level. "Dreams will not be thwarted / Faith will be rewarded."
Late in the show on a Saturday night (Milwaukee, 2008)...
Bruce: "Don't you [people in the audience] gotta be in church tomorrow?"
Steve [Van Zandt, guitarist]: "We're in church."
Steve: "We're in church now."
Religious experience? Sure, maybe. I really don't care what you call it. All I know is, when I go to these concerts, I become a part of something much, much larger than myself. Call it Music, call it God, call it twenty thousand people getting sweaty together in a very large room. Call it a little corner of joy and hope and letting your whole body be alive. Call it whatever you want... all I know is, I want more.