Ten years ago I went to see two of my idols in concert, Billy Joel and Elton John. It was an amazing concert; live music for four hours straight. I grew up with these guys. Sang my heart out with them in my bedroom as a child and teenager and then forced my own children to endure my renditions in the car during their own childhood and teenage years. The joke in my family being that to join in you don’t have to sing well, just loud. I’m always the first to join in and I’m usually the loudest even when I don’t know all the words. My reason for going to see this duo was simply because I had never heard them in person. You can’t pass up on an opportunity when it crosses your doorstep.
But since that concert in St. Paul a decade ago, I have not waited for my idols from years gone by to cross my path. Instead, I find myself actively seeking them out. I managed tickets to Eric Clapton in the cheap seats/nosebleed section. I spent all my birthday money on seeing Cher in Las Vegas. I traveled to Chicago to hear James Taylor and Carole King and would have traveled around the US for their entire tour if I was independently wealthy. This past November I really scored with tickets to Paul Simon at the Riverside Theater in Milwaukee. Even though I called in one minute prior to the tickets going on sale all that was left was the next to last row in the balcony section. Didn’t matter, I was there. And then last night, I sat truly at the edge of the stage at the Dakota Jazz Club in Minneapolis and heard Doc Severinsen.
As I was driving down to the cities last night, I found myself wondering why. Why this obsession over the past several years with “older” musicians? Yes some of them were childhood idols. They got me through difficult times. But not all of them were idols, some of them had just sprinkled my younger days. I am almost embarrassed to admit it but I was not a musical junkie in my youth. My sister had crates full of albums. The music played nonstop for what seemed like days on end. I on the other hand had just a few – Sony and Cher, Bobby Sherman, Barry Manilow, Supertramp, Bread and I think Jim Croce – oops I can’t forget Cat Stevens. I know, it’s a very sad list indeed. So I guess the question again is why? Why the time and effort? Easy, because it’s worth it. Because in addition to hearing great music I learn something new every time.
So here is the list of what I’ve learned.
1. From Cher: Cher might not be able to dance in 6 inch heels in her 60s but she can still strut. And she does it so well. Why then do so many of us stop? Stop strutting, stop being a little outrageous. Maturity should not have to equal boring.
2. From James Taylor and Carole King: Songs that brought us to tears three decades ago cause the same reaction now. Why? Because although the years have gone past and our bodies have matured, our souls are still the same. As a patient said to me one day in the ER, “My body is 70 years old but inside I’m 20 or 30. How come no one can see that?” Perhaps we need to spend more time looking at a person’s soul and less time looking at their body.
3. From Paul Simon: My teacher, Randy Sabien, was right all those years ago when he tried to drum into my head that rhythm is where the magic lies. Paul Simon is the master, a genius when it comes to rhythm. He could have a melody that consisted of one note and the song would still rock. At 70 there isn’t anyone better, not the rappers, not the hip hop artists. If he continued to evolve and improve into his 70s, why do so many of us feel we have peaked in our 40s or 50s? There is so much more to do.
4. From Doc Severinsen: I grew up hearing Doc Severinsen on Johnny Carson. What a great duo that was. The concert last night was wonderful, Doc and a 15 piece band (5 saxophones, 3 trombones, 4 trumpets, 1 double bass, 1 drummer, and 1 pianist.) As my friend said, “What happened to that music? Why did it ever go away?” I had no answer for it. I would have thought that a brass band that large in a small club would have ruined my hearing for weeks but no the volume was perfect and the jazz sweet. I should also mention that Doc had a vocalist with him, Vanessa Smith, from Kansas and the amazing Ernie Watts on tenor saxophone. Here however are the interesting parts. 1) The concert started a little late. 2) After they finished the number “King Porter”, Doc Severinsen wasn’t happy with it so they played it all again. As he said, “You got to get back on that horse right away boys.” 3) There was no encore after the last number. The audience was hoping for it and working the final applause to insure it. The band stayed on stage expecting it to happen. But, Doc Severinsen wasn’t coming back out. Truth is age does have its privilege and at 84 you get to call the shots, all of them.
I suppose the truth is I go to these concerts to remind myself that despite the fact that the magical age of 50 is coming down the pike, my age should not dictate who I am, what I am capable of doing, or the height of my newest pair of shoes. I am way too young to limit myself at this point.
Oh, if you are wondering. I still have Glen Campbell at the Big Top Chautauqua in June, Neil Diamond in St. Paul this July and if Tom Jones ever comes this way, I am so there. I’m definitely not averse to a road trip.