Saturday, May 30, 2009

"Everything's a circle and everything can fly"

When Annabelle was 20 months old, this is what she was drawing---lots and lots of circles, overlapping and spiraling down the page. I clipped some of them and saved them. When she was three, she told me, "Everything is a circle and everything can fly." I think there is some truth to that. Now she's ten and is drawing a cartoon about an ant that dreams in his sleep of a sugar mountain, tries to hide his report card from his pearl-necklaced ant mom, and writes his own comic, where he is a superhero with laser antennas, who saves the day and gets the girl (ant that is), and marries her.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

School's Out

Today the 6th graders at Tomahawk walked the halls of the school one last time while the lower grades stood by and watched. Teachers and parents cheered them on as they made a left turn near the office and walked out the door. They are leaving grade school behind forever.

This brought tears to some of the parents' eyes, present company not excluded. My little girl was going to junior high. Well here they call it middle school --whatever. Fewer crayons. Less innocence. More peer pressure. More adolescent angst.

But it wasn't that, so much as saying goodbye to all the stages of Lilah that had passed through those halls. Knowing how small she had been when she started Kindergarten there. And then came the book reports. The dioramas. The construction paper art projects. The costumes. The plays. The violin and the flute she lugged to school. The choir concerts. And how small she seemed through all of it, as if she were guaranteed to stay small.

Then today I look up and she's outgrown the elementary building that nurtured her for the last seven years, and the teachers are hugging her and waving goodbye. Her 1st grade teacher, now retired, came back to see them off. Which reduced me to soggy veclempt-ness. I saw another mother wiping her red, watery eyes. More veclempt-ness. This is only the 6th grade. How oh how will I handle high school graduation!

I was standing outside when the other kids burst out of the school. They were coming back in the fall, and their feelings seemed less complicated. They were FREE. A lot of them didn't hang around to say goodbye.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

No Puppy No Cry

We are still in search of our new puppy, the girls' birthday present. They have been begging for a dog for easily half their lives. Well I am ready for a hairy, smelly, slobbery new friend.

We're waiting to hear from two foster parents who have puppies posted online, and we're making the rounds at the pounds. We visited a shelter yesterday, and I was overwhelmed with this thought: "I am doing the wrong thing with my life. Who gives a damn about shelving policies and classification schemes for "information packages" when there is such a huge yawning NEED right here. These dogs need help!

I knew I wasn't being entirely rational. What was I going to do --be a dog handler? Become an animal control person? Open a shelter of my own? If I was so moved, probably the best way I could help was to become a volunteer at the shelter, and make an occasional donation.

But nonetheless, I couldn't shake the feeling that I wanted to go to work every day knowing I was really making a difference. Working hard yes, but doing work that counted with whatever time I had left on this earth. Well, those are nice thoughts. I guess the first test of my sincerity would be whether or not I show up again at the shelter to volunteer. The nice girl we talked to said the girls and I could help out with socializing the animals.

I often have the same thought about finding work that helps people more directly. Yeah, yeah---librarians help people. They're performing a public service --blah, blah, blah. But the job is pretty removed, actually, from human suffering. I think the work of teachers is more important. But I don't have the right temperment. I learned that working as a substitute teacher for five months in Miami, in the spring of 1990. Social work and counseling ---too scary. I don't think I have the entrails to deal with people's problems so closely. So I don't know what to do.

In other news, I went to an estate sale on Sunday and I found a pair of tap dance shoes covered with purple glitter for a dollar! How could I pass them up? You just never know when you might need a pair of purple glittery tap dance shoes.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Stardust and Fairy Dust

Last night I dreamed that the vintage clothing spots in Kansas City had dried up. The stores had closed, or didn’t carry vintage anymore. I searched through various rooms, dismayed at the empty racks. Then I thought----“Oh that’s right. All the good stuff is in the basement.” But when I went down there, the hangars were bare. One of the shops was called The Black Rose. Knowing it had closed upset me. But then, I remembered Lawrence. A college town full of artsy types who would keep vintage stores in business. “I can go to Lawrence,” I thought. “Yes, Lawrence. That’s not too far.” I was so relieved.

Coming back from lunch yesterday, I drove past one of those big corporate lawns outside an office building. I saw two small clusters of people on the grass. A man was trying to walk from one group to the other carrying a spoon full of water. Oh Lord, I thought. Is that a team-building exercise?

I feel magical today. I am bespeckled with purple fairy dust. It’s in my fingernails and under my skin. I sprinkled purple glitter onto Lilah’s fairy wings, and sprayed her hair purple, to get her ready for her play. I was practically gassing her. Colored hair spray is toxic and nasty. Lilah made a graceful entrance, spinning onstage in her purple dress and silver slippers. She waved her wand and tantalized Pinocchio with the prospect of being a real boy. But first he had to meet her stringent requirements: be honest, respect and obey his father, and go to school. That’s a school play for you, always slipping in a plug for THE MACHINE.

Someone told me today that when her son was little she sang him the song "Woodstock" by Joni Mitchell to help him go to sleep. She sang:

By the time we got to woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration
And I dreamed I saw the bombers
Riding shotgun in the sky
And they were turning into butterflies
Above our nation

We are stardust
We are golden
We are billion year old carbon
And we got to get ourselves
Back to the garden

He's grown now, but not long ago he asked her to sing "the song about the planes turning into butterflies".

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lilah's Greatest Hits

Lilah turned 12 yesterday. In honor of her birthday, I went through some old e-mails I wrote when she was 3, where I described her latest antics to family members, and I read them to her. The e-mails are dated between January and March of 2001. Here are some excerpts:

One thing Lilah likes to do these days is to brush Annabelle’s teeth. Annabelle will actually sit still and let her do it.

Yesterday Lilah said, “I wrote “apple” . I looked to see that she had drawn an absolutely perfect capital “A”.

Lilah’s getting better at drawing faces. At first, when she added hair, she drew hair all over the face. Now she keeps the hair on top of the head. Her heads look more like small boulders than heads, and the eyes are big, gaping holes, but each person she draws bears a crooked smile, and looks quite amiable indeed.

Lilah calls McDonald’s “Old McDonald’s.” She’ll say, “We got french fries at Old McDonald’s.”

Lilah said she wanted to eat some “mouse cheese.” What kind of cheese was that? I asked. She said it was the kind “with the holes in it.”

Lilah’s been drawing people with long bodies. She calls them “carrot people.”

Lilah still mangles a few words. She says “grave” for “gave” and “grive” for “give”. She says “bemenber” for “remember” and “beleven” for “eleven.”
When she has something to tell you, she says, “Did you mamber” (Do you remember) and then launches breathlessly into a monologue about something you might remember or something you have no prior knowledge of.

Lilah asked where she would be if I wasn’t here. I said I guess she’d be with God in heaven. Lilah said, “I don’t know how to go there! That’s too far for me to walk…I’ll get tired. It’s hard to get there, you know.”

(One night when we were babysitting another toddler, named Adrienne.) :
Lilah found some shoes that she considered tap shoes, and she wanted to put them on and dance in them. That made Annabelle want some dress shoes too. So I went to hunt some up, and then Lilah decided that all three of them should have tap dance shoes. While I was trying to find shoes to fit and put them on, Lilah got more and more excited. “This is gonna be GREAT! We’re all gonna have tap dance shoes!!” she said. When I expressed some doubt about the shoes fitting Adrienne, Lilah said confidently, “I know they’re fitting. This is gonna be GREAT!” In reality, Annabelle quickly grew tired of wearing the shoes, and Adrienne didn’t want to dance, but Lilah wore the shoes and danced for us.

Lilah is excited about Valentine’s Day, because she knows it involves chocolate! When she woke up this morning she asked what day it was. Then a little later she asked when we could start eating the candy. She told me several times last night that Daddy had bought me chocolate, and then told me that it was supposed to be a secret.

Lilah talks about what it would be like if she ate too much. “Then my stomach would get REALLY big and you’d have to lift me up with a crane!!!”

Lilah again on eating too much, on a separate occasion: “When your tummy gets big you have to be lifted up by a crane! You gotta hold on!!”

I made a comment to Lilah that throwing up is no fun. Lilah agreed. “It’s not a game,” she said. “It’s boring.”

Lilah was talking about how her lips were too dry. “I want my lips to be slimy like a slimy snake.”

Lilah was watching a show where the toys come to life. “When will they get into real?”

Lilah and I were making microwave popcorn. Lilah was anxious to turn the microwave off and make it ding, but I told her it wasn’t time yet. The popcorn was still popping too fast. As the popping finally slowed down, Lilah said, “It’s getting tired.”

It’s been fun to watch Lilah’s drawings of people evolve. Now the eyes are no longer big gaping holes, but are a circle within a circle. And now the nose has sprouted two little growths on the side that look kind of like warts. Lilah says that is the “breathing part” of the nose.

Lilah’s drawings continue to get more detailed all the time. Now she is drawing circles inside her people’s ears, calling them “the wax that keeps the sand, dust and dirt from coming in your ears.” Yeah, she’s drawing earwax. Hopefully not mine. She also draws eyelashes on the eyes, and hanging out of the mouths are long stringy lines that look like noodles, that she says are teeth.

I told Lilah that when she was inside me she hiccuped a lot. Lilah said, “How did I get inside? Did I jump in?”

Lilah called the bow-tie pasta, “humpy feet” pasta. While we were eating, she started talking about predators. (she’d been watching animal shows on TV.) She was talking about hyenas killing spring hares. She said “mean guys are predators” and “dogs are predators who people take care of.”

(On another night) Lilah was telling us how fisher cats eat porcupines, or at least try to. Lilah was also busy planning her upcoming birthday party. She told me we had to have a pinata at her party. And balloons. She wanted me to assure her there would be balloons. But she was especially concerned about sprinkles; we’ve discussed this before. Lilah was somehow convinced there wouldn’t be any sprinkles on her birthday cake. I told her that of course we can have sprinkles. We can go to the grocery store and buy sprinkles. Lilah took that to mean that we would go to the store during her party to buy the sprinkles, and she grew very concerned that we would be leaving the people at her party while we went to get sprinkles!

Lilah and I caught some very acrobatic figure skating on TV. I asked Lilah how she would like it if I spun her around and threw her up in the air and caught her. She said, “I think that would be dangerous!”

Friday, May 15, 2009

Costume Hunting

I like this ad for bicycles. I'm fascinated by the woman (man?) riding the bike and the expression on the clown's face. I especially like the black hat, and the shadows cast by the bike.

Drove all over town trying to find Lilah a suitable dress for her purple fairy costume. First stop was Dottie Mae's on Wornall. They have a basement full of period and character costumes. On your way downstairs, pause to check out the Wall of Hoky Record Albums. They have album covers from cheesy recordings of the 60's and 70's that are not to be believed.

Left Dottie Mae's in a developing thunderstorm and headed to U.S. Toy. A cavernous shed with miles of aisles that seems to have every educational, recreational, and party-related kid item known to man. They have a small costume department in the back. To get to it you pass through the magic shop, which is a little world unto itself. The clerk at the magic counter was watching a magic trick DVD with the security guard.

U.S. Toy has a great wig selection, but their costumes are so-so. They only have the packaged costumes, and packaged fairy outfits are always very risque. We did find a cloak suitable for the part of the play where Lilah turns into an old hag. We drove home in a torrential downpour.

The next morning we went downtown to Retro Inferno, which is across from the Sprint Center. I had read online that they had tons of vintage clothing and costumes. When we got there, we were told that they had stopped selling clothing a long time ago. The guy referred us to Reruns, down in the West Bottoms. I wanted to stay and look at the furniture, which was avante-garde and retro-inspired. But we were on a mission.

So we drove over the 12th street bridge to an old, warehousey area. Reruns was located in what looked like a turn of the century building. I wasn't sure where the entrance was, until I saw a piece of notebook paper taped to the window that said, "Reruns is Open. Upstairs" We climbed a long flight of dusty stairs to reach the shop. Passed a small pile of hat boxes on the landing. Stepping through the open doorway, we entered a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Racks and racks of vintage clothes, old movie posters, and a nice, smiling proprietor who was playing Bebop records. One room gave way to the next --I could hardly keep track of which rooms we'd already been through.

I want to go back there sometime just to browse for myself. But on this trip I had to stay focused. We finally found a small purplish nightgowny garment that mostly fit Lilah and could be adapted for a fairy outfit. We already have wings, from the time she played an angel in a Christmas play.

Annabelle's school play was last week. She was a prisoner in a pirate play, so all she had to do was rip up an old shirt and jeans and muddy herself. That is by far the easiest costume we've ever had to make.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Mom's Cable TV

Scene from "Lovers and Lollipops"

One thing the girls and I always look forward to when we go out to grandma's is her cable TV. The trouble is, the movie channels wait until the wee hours to show the hippie movies. I always notice some off-beat movie coming on right before I should be heading for bed. Of course I have to stay up to watch it, and I end up going to bed at some ridiculous hour. And even at my age, I'm still nervous about mom suddenly emerging from her room and scolding me for being up.

When I was out there last December, I watched "Alice's Restaurant," with Arlo Guthrie, which came on around 2:00 in the morning. This time, I watched "The Trip" with Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper. Peter's character drops acid and has an extended psychedelic experience that goes on and on and on. It grows tedious at times. Director Roger Corman uses lots of the same camera shots over and over, but splices them together and speeds them up, in an attempt to make the film wild and trippy.

The film was fun to watch though, as a campy trip back to the 60's. Fonda enters a groovy club where a girl with body paint dances feverishly. The interiors in the movie were far out, as were a lot of the scenes flashing by while Fonda was tripping.

I wasn't sure what statement the film was trying to make about acid. The film opens with a disclaimer saying: LSD IS EVIL. DON'T TRY THIS AT HOME. But some speculate that the film was really made as sort of a manual for LSD users. There are a lot of places where Fonda's trip turns bad, but some say the filmmaker was making sure he couldn't be accused of making a pro-drug film.

What was even weirder was the movie I watched the next morning, a 1955 film called "Lovers and Lollipops". It seemed like an art film, because though it was black and white, the lighting was incredible and it had a rich aesthetic quality. And it had very little plot. A beautiful widowed woman with a 7 year-old daughter named Peggy starts dating an engineer. The camera quietly follows their unfolding relationships---the growing romance between the couple, Peggy's resistance to mommy's new boyfriend, the boyfriend's effort to bond with Peggy, the ensuing conflict between the couple when Peggy comes between them..and the resolution. This all takes place in New York City at landmarks like the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building and Central Park. The cinematography was superb, and the film was nuanced in its portrayal of the emotions that occur in three-way relationships. The antics of Peggy were so natural and true to life, I recognized my own kids time and time again. She may be the closest thing to a real little girl l've seen on-screen. It was unlike any film from the 50's I've seen. I highly recommend it.

But the weirdest thing we saw last weekend was a show on the History Channel, "How William Shatner Changed the World." The title was tongue in cheek, but the premise of the show was how Star Trek had inspired many of our advances in science and technology. William Shatner was the narrator, naturally, which kept things in the quirky, comical vein. The factual segments were interwoven with clips from Star Trek and sight gags involving Shatner. The most surreal moment was when they showed Shatner sitting in a port-a-potty. I don't even want to try to explain why.

When Lilah became hooked on Star Trek earlier this year, we didn’t know a new movie was on the way. Now that the movie is out, Star Trek stuff is everywhere. When we rolled into Hays, the sign at the Burger King said, "Star Trek Cups Are Here." The front page of the Hutch News displayed the top edge of Spock's face.

Although Lilah only likes the original TV series and has no interest in the new movie, or the Next Generation, or Deep Space Nine, it’s a good time to be an old-school Trekkie. Because the movie is inspiring new batches of merchandise related to the old TV show. On one of our stops on the way to Ness, we found a Pez Collection with the entire crew from the original series: Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Uhura, Sulu, Chekov. The Pez company had tried to make the faces realistic. Lilah likes the fact that the Pez version of Dr. McCoy has bags under his eyes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

My Wate And Fate

There is one grocery store in my hometown, called Ralph's Sure Fine. But for years it was Ralph's BestYet. There used to be a shop called B & G Variety, but everyone called it the dime store. There is a thrift shop called the Thrift Shop, a second-hand store called the Second Hand Store, and a flower shop called the Ness City Flower Shop. Guess nobody there wants to get too cute with names.

The drug store has moved, but it still smells the same as it did when I went there to buy Archie comics as a kid. Inside the entrance there is a fortune-telling machine that gives your "wate and fate" for a penny. I gave it a try last weekend. I dropped my penny through the top middle slot and I got this message:

"More church and fewer nightclubs would do you some good."

Say what? I have spent several lifetimes in church, thank you. Languished through hours of sermons during the prime years of my nubile youth. My church-goin' dues are paid IN FULL. I decided to try the machine again. There were five different coin slots, so I put my penny in a different slot the second time around. Ka-chung! (Mechanical noises). I looked down and read my message. Accckk! It was the same as before.

Well some how or other, I did wind up in a church before the weekend was out. But I only went there to eat. Mom talked me into going to some interfaith ladies potluck thing. I agreed to go because it was a gathering of women from competing churches, and because they were meeting in the Methodist church, which seemed safe and neutral to me, kind of like Switzerland.

Most of the women at the potluck were elderly. They were neatly dressed, and came bearing churchy salads containing Cool Whip and marshmallows, Jello and marshmallows, Cool Whip and Jello and marshmallows. The colors of their salads were bright and unworldy: Vulcan Lime, Interplanetary Pink, Alien Orange.

The women ate serenely and chatted quietly about how good the salads were. Then came the surprise of the evening. They turned their chairs towards the wall to watch a slide show about troubled youths growing up in desperate circumstances, who are removed from crack houses and abusive environments and turned over to the state. Turns out the Methodists run the Thrift Shop downtown, and part of the proceeds support the programs at Youthville, a child welfare agency which helps children all over the state of Kansas. The docile setting of that church basement with those white-haired ladies seemed a world away from the social ills being described to us.

On Mother's Day we went to the potato bar in the cafeteria of Sacred Heart Elementary, an appendage of Sacred Heart Catholic Church. We ate more fluffy salads in bright colors, containing Cool Whip, Jello and marshmallows. We also ate veggie salads containing varying ratios of bacon bits, mayonnaise and peas.

There is some ingredient in these salads that makes me eat more than I should. Maybe it's the spaced out colors. Maybe it's the shapelessness, that makes me lose all sense of proportion. I need sober food with defined edges, lest I become a blimp. It's a good thing I don't live out there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Cozy Rider

Yesterday we made the epic drive from Kansas City to western Kansas, and we made our usual stop in Salina, the halfway point. And we made the mandatory trip downtown to the Cozy Inn for their Cozy burgers. We've been going there since last year, when Annabelle's third grade teacher tipped us off about the place. The Cozy Inn is located at 10th and Iron, and has been in business since 1922. Their burgers are delectable little morsels that melt-in-your mouth like doughnuts --a perfect melding of bun, patty and onion.

The onions are the real story here. All Cozy burgers are fried with them, and you can smell their ether as you drive up in your car. And for a time, you carry the mark of the Cozy Inn with you. We got a sack of 8 burgers to go, and then stopped at a convenience store on the way out of town. Annabelle was approaching the counter, when the sales clerk said, "She's been eatin' a Cozy, hasn't she?" She could smell the onions on her.

You can't get cheese on your Cozy burger, so don't even try. Infidels who ask for cheese are referred to the "No Cheese" policy statement on the wall. It's burgers WITH onions, pure and simple, plus ketchup, mustard and pickle if you want it. One time we got there during a slow spell, and the owner kindly left the onions off for Annabelle, but he explained that such customization wasn't possible during a rush. The owner told us that he had replaced the grill with a newer one a few years back, but the customers raised a fuss, saying the burgers didn't taste right, and so he had to get the old, original grill back.
The guy working the grill yesterday asked if we'd be willing to cast a vote for the Cozy Inn, as one of the "8 wonders of Kansas cuisine." He gave us a paper ballot, showing 24 finalists from across the state of Kansas. Most of them were little mom and pop-type cafes that have been around since dirt. But a few of them were newer, shinier establishments. See the full list below.

We cast our vote, and then headed back down the road, eating our burgers and reeking of onions. You can eat inside the Cozy Inn, and we have done that a few times. There is a tiny counter that seats six or seven people. But we had already tarried too long at a previous truck stop, and so we got our sack of burgers and moved on.

I have a theme song I play on every road trip: "Mama knows the Highway" by Hal Ketchum. One of the lines goes: "She can gauge a cafe just by looking at the sign. Little old places always share the grand design."

Other stuff we listened to on our trip: Neil Young: "Are you ready for the country - because it's time to go." Three songs by Englebert Humperdink. (Yes! I am strangely drawn to Englebert's singing - have been since I was six years old - and I am embracing it. ) "Everybody wants to rule the world," "Carefree highway," Beatles for Sale, Keane, Bjork, Seal, Art Garfunkel, and "Rockin Robin" by Michael Jackson, which Annabelle wanted to hear over and over again.

Below is the list of the 24 finalists for the Eight wonders of Kansas cuisine. See any favorites? Then hie yourself over to and cast your vote. Vote early and often. I'm wondering who didn't make the cut. Al's Chickenette in Hays, for one.

Anchor Inn - Hutchinson
Bobo's Drive-In - Topeka
Brookville Hotel - Abilene
C.W. Porubsky's Deli and Tavern - Topeka
Carolyn's Essenhaus - Arlington
Charlie's Mexican Restaurant - Leoti
Chicken Mary's and Chicken Annie's - Crawford County
Crazy R's Bar and Grill - Goodland
Free State Brewing Company - Lawrence
Grand Central Hotel - Cottonwood Falls
Fritz's Union Station, Kansas City (not exactly Kansas)
Guy & Mae's Bare Butt Barbeque - Williamsburg
Hays House - Council Grove
Hibachi Hut - Manhatten
Homer's Drive-In - Leavenworth
Josie's Ristorante - Scammon
NuWay Cafe - Wichita
Olive Tree Bistro - Wichita
Paolucci's Restaurant - Atchison
Pho Hoa - Garden City
Prairie Nut Hut - Altoona
Trapper's Bar & Grill, Simpson
Wheatfields Bakery Cafe - Lawrence.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

House Beautiful

I was in a beautiful house last night. Every once in a while it happens. This was a Victorian house on Massachusetts street in Lawrence. The owners host a concert series called Folk on Mass right there in their home. Last night Roger and Rob Scheps and Bob Bowman played there. (They were smokin'). I got to tour part of the house before the concert. The rooms were comfy, the furnishings were charming and unique and attractive. Such a house would be heaven. It would also be my undoing. Because if I lived in a house like that I would never leave it. I wouldn't go to work or anything. I'd just float from room to room, saying, "My house is awesome."

I won a potted plant at the school carnival. I don't remember what kind of plant it is, but it's huge. It's kind of ironic, because at work my boss gave me a little bamboo shoot in a tiny glass vase, and I killed it. My co-workers managed to nurse theirs into beautiful big green bamboo plants. But I kept forgetting about mine --I had it tucked away against the wall of my cubicle, and I'd forget to water it. I'd forget it was even there. The poor thing hung on as long as it could, until it shriveled up. Now it rattles around inside the tiny vase like a piece of cricket leg. So here I go and win this large plant. It's like the universe is giving me another chance. Must keep plant alive. Must keep plant alive...

I just have to say right here and now that I am truly in awe of anyone who is willing to pick up a slug. (I heard of someone who is!). We had two of them come in the house last night. This is just unthinkable to me. I didn't grow up with slugs, and we didn't even have them in creepy crawly Florida, the land of lizards and big-ass roaches. But they abound in the suburbs of Overland Park. I remember how they used to get in our old house and leave trails of slime on the carpet!

Closing thoughts: Here is the most unfortunate headline of the day--it was the title of a column written by Jane Fonda: "Adolescent pregnancy must become a priority for all Americans." I'll say no more.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


I am reveling today in my sudden FREEDOM of being DONE with my web design class. I had to turn in my finished website last night by 11:45 pm. I turned it in at 11:07. It was INVALID. It had 16 errors and a few warnings. I was supposed to correct any validation errors and get it to pass the HTML and CSS validator before turning it in, but I had had it. I was too bleary-eyed to try to sort out my errors and fix them. I just turned it in AS IS. So I'll be losing some points for that.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing. I used a lot of CSS on my website that I just learned on the fly. But that meant a lot of jacked up code that was not compliant with XHTML standards. So be it. I willfully ignored my instructor's mantra: "Just because it looks okay on the page doesn't mean it's right."

I won't be signing up for the Intermediate Web Design class. Not in the near future, anyway. If I'm going to be hunched over my computer, I'd rather be blogging.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Heart of Gold


I think I saw the best concert of my life last night, and I'm still all a-tingle. Neil, man. Neil Young. He played for over two hours at the Sprint Center last night and was still going strong when we finally had to leave. He's like 63 or so, but he played like a 20 year old grunger in a garage. He was the MASTER of ROCKING OUT. What was weird and wonderful was the way Neil Young moved when he played. He stomped around and crouched and swayed and shook his loose shock of gray, thin hair like some old shaman calling out to the spirits for a good hunt.
And his voice was pure Neil, sounding straight out of the 70's. Not all beat up and reduced to a croak like Bob Dylan's voice.

Neil Young took over the stage like a storm rolling in. The review from a concert he gave in December could just as easily have been talking about last night:

"You think you know Neil Young by now, and then he plays a show that leaves you slack-jawed by his conviction to shake things up. Young has released several live recordings over the years, but none of them could have foretold the onslaught of raw energy and guitar heroics he unleashed at the DCU Center Saturday night. "

"Young was relentless in the heavy distortion and feedback he coaxed from his battered guitars as he dived headlong into the opening "Love and Only Love."

"Giant video screens occasionally zoomed in on Young's face scrunched into a scowl as he worked out expansive, and rather experimental, guitar solos."

"Young was so vital, so intense, that he completely eclipsed his opening acts.
Everest, as promising as it was, seemed swallowed whole by the arena setting that Young would later galvanize."

About midway through the set, Neil switched to acoustic guitar and played vintage favorites like, "Heart of Gold, Needle and the Damage Done, and Old man. I felt so lucky to hear him play these live, I was jealous of myself. The crowd went even more nuts than before, and they'd already been yelling in approval the whole time. Two twenty-something males sitting in front of us burst into motion as soon as they recognized "Cinnamon Girl," and began nodding their heads in time to the music. They sang along to "Down by the river."
There was something curious: On the song "Old man," there were a couple of times during the song when some guy played a brief banjo part, as is heard on the hit version. Well, when he would start playing that banjo part, the crowd went even more wild. Roger wondered if he was some well-known musician, and I wondered if it was just the pleasure of hearing that familiar banjo part all of a sudden, that made everybody scream with delight. Or was it just the inherent magic of the banjo?

One highlight for me was when Neil put down his guitar, walked over to the mini-piano, took a swig of beer, and then dug into the keys for a rollicking version of "Are you ready for the country?"

Neil also played a harmonium and harmonica (at the same time) for the song,"Mother Earth" (Natural Anthem.) But he spent most of his time ripping his electric guitar to shreds. I was glad we had the binocs so I could Neil up close. His face is haggard with age and he wears a permanent frown while he sings and plays. But listening to the lyrics of many of Neil's recent songs, you realize that that hardness is only skin-deep.

One of my favorites is "Light a candle:"

Instead of cursing the darkness
Light a candle for where we're going
There's something ahead, worth fighting for.

When the light of time is on us
You will see our moment come
And the living soul inside will carry on.

It's a chance to give new meaning to every move we make
In the cavern, in the cave, where we come from.
When the light of dawn is on us
We will see what we can be
And the ancient ones can sleep an easy sleep

In the hallways of the ages, on the road to history
What we do now will always be with us.
It's a chance to give new meaning to every move we make
In the caverns, in the caves, where we come from.

We watched the crew set up before Neil and his band came on stage. The crew wheeled in huge stage lights mounted on really high poles. They brought in a monstrous box fan, and a ginormous speaker. "I sense impending intensity," I told Roger at the time. There were unusual stage effects: a lighted wooden cigar store Indian, and an old-style telephone (as red as the Batphone, Roger noted) and with its own special light to shine upon it, to make it more visible. During the concert, an artist stood with his back to the audience, painting on a large piece of canvas.

The photo above is from another concert this year. When photos from last night's concert become available, maybe I'll post one of those. Just stick a t-shirt and a flannel shirt on him, and you get the idea.

The review excerpt is by James Reed, from the Boston Globe.