Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Live Music & a "Top Ten" Experience: Jen Chapin in Concert

We all know that the marching order of life and subsequently the world is change; constant, unending, mostly uncontrollable change. It impacts who we are, how we define ourselves, the way the world constructs and reveals itself to our senses as well as the channels and technology that carry said change. As my life advances, I look back at a plethora of experiences; I find myself appreciating live music and concert performances more than ever.

It is a casual observation that life is becoming increasingly "digital," with people who can visit or call one another often resorting to text and IM's to communicate. Hard media is going away as we gravitate towards an "on demand" world of what we want, whenever and wherever we want it, via a device of our choosing to consume it. There is nothing wrong with this as anomalies will usually flare up to demonstrate that the past does not easily die; the popularity of vinyl records today I feel is an apt representation of this.

Live music though is different and does not easily fit into the digital realm. Artists may be presenting Stage It events that allow you to witness a digitized live event as it happens but nothing replaces the feeling of being physically present as they render forth their creation; a co-creation, really, as the energy of the audience is factored into the whole. It is a commitment from both parties to travel and hopefully give their best. The artist surrenders the polish and emotion of the song and the audience grants precious attention to said artist's performance.

I have been to a variety of venues in many different locales, choosing to support the artists that I admire by purchasing their work. I pay with my time, my attention and legal tender. Sometimes I am fortunate to have that expenditure mature into a tremendously worthwhile investment, one which pays immediate dividends of delight while witnessing it live, followed by countless hours of good feelings while thinking back to it and listening to the music heard at the show. This is what I call a "Top Ten" experience and I have been blessed with many more than just ten in my life.

Some of them have been huge events; going with a friend of mine to Madison Square Garden to sit from 6 pm until midnight at the MUSE concert (Musicians United for Safe Energy) which then ended with a three hour Springsteen concert, leaving us limp, exhausted and exhilarated at 3:30 am that morning. Traveling up to Toronto with a van full of friends to see Gordon Lightfoot at Massey Hall (and getting to meet him on the street near his office) was another. James Taylor has provided several "Top Ten" shows as has his son, Ben Taylor and his daughter, Sally Taylor. Vienna Teng (World Cafe Live in Philly) still gives me thrills when I listen to her music and Jim Boggia at the same venue with a full band and brass section remains an awesome memory to this day. (Thanks for eventually putting out the CD of it, Jim!) Another incredible experience was seeing Paul McCartney in Philly in 2002 (Twelve years ago? Really? Wow...)

I can go on (Keali'i Reichel, our favorite Hawaiian artist was so incredible in San Diego), and on (Steely Dan, who I never thought I would see play live, playing one of the best shows ever at the PNC Arts Center in NJ) and on (Billy Joel, before he became BILLY JOEL, in the multi-purpose hall on the Rutgers campus, solo on piano)... well, you get the idea.

One man who was a consistent "Top Ten" was Harry Chapin. His rapport with the audience was unique and whether his voice was ragged as hell from overuse or spot on, you knew that you were getting his best, no mater what. The two-night retrospective he did at Avery Fischer hall in NY with his brothers (and including his dad, jazz drummer Jim Chapin) was as good as it gets.

And now I am thrilled to add a show to this cherished list: Jen Chapin, who I have seen play live before, performed at The Cutting Room in Manhattan with her full band and featured her latest album, "Reckoning." This was how The New Yorker magazine highlighted it as a weekly pick:

"With songs delivered in a style that ranges from tender fragility to unexpected steeliness, Chapin brings a jazzy edge to the folk form. Sometimes she explores a fleeting emotion, sometimes she weaves a solid narrative—not at all surprising from the daughter of Harry Chapin, a master musical storyteller. She’ll be performing songs from her new album, “Reckoning,” with a fine band including her husband, Stephan Crump, on bass, Jamie Fox on guitar, Dan Rieser on drums, Chris Brown on piano, and Erin Hill on harp and supporting vocals. (Cutting Room, 44 E. 32nd St. 212-691-1900. Jan. 17.)" -- The New Yorker

The room was equally comfortable and lush while both food and service were excellent. The sound was superb and the performance by Jen and the band wonderful. I am getting shivers (the good kind, not because it's 12 degrees outside) just recalling it as I share this with you. A harp! Erin Hill played a harp while singing accompaniment. An enormously talented and tight band framing some of the best songs that Jen Chapin has ever written in a transcendent performance; that's what I was lucky enough to be part of.

You had to be there. And that's why I am taking the time to write this.

If you love music, it ain't "live" unless you are there. Make a decision to support the artists that you love by purchasing their work and going to see them play live at a favorite venue. It is magic when it all comes together, truly a "Top Ten" moment of time well spent.

To me, life is a series of moments strung together on a necklace called time. Doesn't it deserve a damn great soundtrack? Thanks, Jen, for adding to mine last Friday in New York.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

In Tribute To My Dad

I sit here, thinking about both of my parents. My father unexpectedly transitioned earlier this week in Florida, as unexpectedly as one can get at 86 years old, I imagine. I had spoken with him three times in the first five days of the new year; once just after midnight on New Year's day to wish him well and then later to chat and see how he was doing. Finally we had our normal Sunday call and I alerted him to the NFL playoff game that was going on in frozen Green Bay. And that was it.

There will be no more Sunday calls, no more trying to be heard and understood over the blaring television in the background. Our story is complete and what a story it was.

Like most children of divorced parents there was drama and in our case, quite high pitched drama it was. In the late Seventies, about the same time that I began writing my Christmas poems, I did what most of us do in life; I made a choice. I chose my mom and took sides as the war began with a sudden blast. The passion play had me and my father standing on the front lawn of the family home screaming at one another. I threatened to kill him out of "love" and concern for my mother and the deep personal hurt and betrayal I was feeling.

When you lose the cherished illusion of a happy family setting, it can trigger a massive wave of pitched emotion. I judged him as severely as one can judge a parent. The first lesson I learned is that judgement is a boomerang and in ways that I will not go into here, it returned to me in bitter, ironic and angry fashion as I went through my own divorce years later. As one of my high school teachers reminded us, when you point at someone else remember that you have three fingers pointing back at yourself. Experience has shown me that this is true.

I  made hateful, hurtful decisions in the years to come, blowing up all ties with my father's family... my family, by not inviting him to my wedding and then cutting all ties to them when they refused to attend because of my decision. To seal the deal, I did not acknowledge or attend my grandmother's funeral when she transitioned. If one could ever harden hatred and rage into place, I did it well.

In 1996, eighteen years after all of this began, my younger brother (and only sibling) died. With his passing, my mother began the slow decline that lead to her end in 2002. I took her to the service and the funeral meal afterwards in the "belly of the beast," a fractured family setting that included everyone that I had cut off (or never even met) throughout the years. I saw my father there. He looked devastated. There was no conversation with him or any of them. I made another decision, one of the hardest and most emotional ever. I would attempt rapprochement with him.

I wrote him a letter explaining my feelings in the best way that I could. He agreed to meet me over a lunch, one that would last almost three hours. We agreed to try and patch things up. I knew it was a good start because after the meal, he introduced me to his friend who owned the restaurant. He introduced me as his son. For all of the personal, spiritual work I have done in my life, that was one of the most dramatic lessons of forgiveness that I have ever participated in.

Many other lessons in life were experienced over the course of the next seventeen years including a couple of visits to him in Florida after he moved, leaving the cold Northeast behind. Jeri witnessed how one's body can be wracked with pain as you process deep emotions and move the energy during one of those trips that she accompanied me on. In so many ways, my father was one of my greatest teachers and I am thoroughly "amazed and amused" to recognize that.

In the end, the most important thing is that he undoubtedly knew that I loved him and I knew that he loved me, although he would never say those words. He wanted so much to have the rift within his family healed and it proved difficult from both sides. I think that he's beaming now from his new perspective as he knows that this healing has started. Both sides have reached out to one another and tears have already been shed. My one cousin has said to me, "Well, he wanted this to happen and he made sure of it in his own way." Indeed he did; indeed he has.

One last note to bring it back to the start; I think every child would love to believe that they can get their parents back together after separation and divorce. As I sit here, sipping on a cup of Kona coffee, I smile in recognition that I did manage to do that in my own sly way.

In her final years, I had treated my mother to estate plantation Kona coffee. With their permission, I had scattered my mom's ashes in that same plantation on the Big Island of Hawai'i. She was one with the trees whose product she had so enjoyed. I ordered that same coffee as a Father's day gift and had it sent to my dad. "How's the coffee?" I would ask him "Delicious," he would always reply.

I would smile and think about the "family reunion in a cup." Now they both are in on the joke.