The other day, a friend of mine posted a YouTube link to the 1964 song, “A World Without Love,” by the duo Peter and Gordon, celebrating their luscious harmonies. The song, written by Paul McCartney, was attributed to him and John Lennon. As an avid Beatles fan, I knew that Peter Asher was the brother of Jane Asher, Paul’s girlfriend for almost five years. They both had the same flaming red hair – Jane had a bit role in “A Hard Day’s Night.”
Years later, on April 13th, 2003, Michael and I attended a Crosby, Stills and Nash concert in the spaceship-like Assembly Hall at the University of Illinois. Michael had left his music store ownership in 2001, after 27 years of what we laughingly referred to his status as a record magnate, to pursue a teaching career. His former partner, still hanging in with the shrinking independent music store, must’ve scored the tickets, along with backstage passes for this show. We never made a real living off Michael’s job, but had fantastic perks of concert tickets as well as sports events with box seats and personal introductions, at least to the musicians. I remember having a lengthy personal conversation about child care with Ben Harper whose partner was Laura Dern at the time. I have photos of Michael with Billy Joel and other performers who came to the store to play a few songs and celebrate the release of a new album at midnight. Those were heady times. I always wanted to get t-shirts made which said, “We might not have any money but we’ve seen all the best bands.”
Getting back to Peter Asher. Unbeknownst to me, we would meet him backstage at the Crosby, Stills and Nash show. We’d enjoyed a really fabulous concert. Talk about dreamy harmonies. Stephen Stills was 59, while Nash and Crosby were past sixty, seven-nine years older than Michael and me. Their voices showed no signs of age. I actually found the playlist from that concert online, happy to remember all those beloved tunes that were part of my youth.
After the show ended, we, along with other pass holders, were led through the bowels of that big building to a room where the band and its attendant entourage were gathered around food and drinks. People were just chatting and milling around. I was 52 years old, well beyond the starstruck kid I might have been decades earlier. I casually sauntered up to the guys and commented that it was possible that they were the only people in the room who were older than Michael and me. I got a couple of wry smiles. Then suddenly there was Peter Asher. He had less red hair than he’d had back in the ‘60’s, but my Beatle worship had led me to memorize everyone in their sphere. I don’t know why he was there, if he was connected in any way to currently producing or managing the band, their label or tour. But I had the nerve to approach him and tell him everything I knew about him and to inquire about the health of his sister, Jane. He looked a bit taken aback but was friendly and polite after deducing I was an unlikely stalker. I’ve never forgotten that night. I expect my kids would use that emoji that shows a person with a hand over her/his face when I describe my behavior. Once I bumped into Chuck Berry in an airport and had no qualms about engaging him in a lengthy conversation. I was only with Michael then, who had a fair idea of what to expect from me. I’m glad I’m a tad brazen. Makes for an interesting life.
Music is on my mind and in my ears a lot lately. I’ve always loved music. I grew up in a household in which singing and dancing were regular occurrences in daily life. I was lucky to share a record player with my family in my teens, and to have a dad who worked at the credit department in Polk Brothers, a store in Chicago which sold LP’s in addition to appliances and virtually everything else. I remember how badly I wanted to have the album Rubber Soul and repeatedly begged my dad to bring me a copy. I was so disappointed when he didn’t, only to find he was teasing and had hidden it on the landing of our third floor apartment. In high school, I managed to see The Temptations and The Supremes along with the biggest coup, The Beatles. In college, I only had a clock radio, but I listened to music constantly. I was able to attend great concerts at student prices and on dates. Friends from my high school actually started the music store Michael wound up owning with partners – I worked there before he did. For the two of us, music forever played a significant role in our lives. I still remember the first album we listened to together – Chicago Transit Authority. “Make Me Smile” takes me back to an incredible emotional place. We kept up the concert attendances through the gifts of the store. Before he died, Michael tallied a list of groups and the venues where he’d seen them. He also made himself a cremation mix which was as hysterical as it was awful – every song referenced burning. Now I’m making my own list of songs to be played when I’m gone, although mine are not that perversely funny. I’m still tallying the concerts I’ve seen since I’ve been without him. The list organization. A disease.
Concerts since Michael died:
The Milk Carton Boys, Wilco, Paul McCartney, Pete Yorn, Taj Mahal, The Indigo Girls, John Prine, Keb Mo, A Night with Janis Joplin, The Claudettes, Lucinda Williams
Although I occasionally get emotionally ambushed by a song on my playlist that is so deeply associated with Michael, for the most part, being plugged into headphones all day is generally a buoyant experience which helps me sort my way through the challenges of this endlessly difficult time. On a road trip to a family wedding last weekend, I plugged in Michael’s aged 30G iPod which fires right up and randomly plays over 2500 songs. A good driving companion.
At this wedding, I noticed that an unexpected byproduct of my grooving around for hours a day while I garden or work around the house, is that my legs never got tired after hours of dancing and hours of being folded into a car driving up and back to Cincinnati for only two days. The science on music backs this up.
“Music is a crucial element of everyday life and plays a central role in all human cultures: it is omnipresent and is listened to and played by persons of all ages, races, and ethnic backgrounds. But music is not simply entertainment: scientific research has shown that it can influence physiological processes that enhance physical and mental wellbeing. Consequently, it can have critical adaptive functions. Studies on patients diagnosed with mental disorders have shown a visible improvement in their mental health after interventions using music as primary tool. Other studies have demonstrated the benefits of music, including improved heart rate, motor skills, brain stimulation, and immune system enhancement.” Article – Science Direct.
I need this music to help me keep stable. There is so much awful stuff happening in this world that my mind wanders from event to event, leaving me with remarkably helpless feelings. I found myself thinking how miraculous it was that I got myself to Yellowstone last fall. A rigorous trip, made more so by my constant anxiety about contracting Covid in states where neither vaccines or masks were popular, I took my chances, wanting to visit this marvel of nature before I’m less able to travel. Was I prescient? Who knows? All I do know is that climate change is real, happening now, and that Yellowstone has fallen victim to its path of destruction. I wonder if it will ever wholly recover. Sequoia, another park I’ve been lucky enough to visit, with trees that have withstood thousands of years of weather, is now considered unstable. At present, I’m living in sweltering heat, with temperatures routinely feeling in excess of 100 degrees. My beloved garden and all the creatures who live here are bending beneath the relentless temperatures. The leaves shrivel and the birds pant. Not fun to watch as I water desperately, wondering how huge my water bill will be next month.
Then there are the astonishing January 6th hearings. I cannot fathom how anyone who’s seen even a few moments of this damning evidence, primarily provided by members of Trump’s inner circle, can believe that there is a shred of truth in the “rigged, stolen election” theory. And yet, right now there are at least a hundred candidates whose runs for office are based on lies and the underlying effort to turn the United States government from a democracy to an autocracy. I fear the 2022 midterms in addition to the 2024 election which could be altered based on the instructions of a cult figure. The division in this country is deeper than the deepest chasm I can envision. I spend time trying to figure out where I can go when the whole thing melts down. That is, if I’m still around.
Have we forgotten Ukraine? I haven’t. The Russian bully is still trying to reconstitute the Soviet Union. We can’t look away.
What about the mass shootings and the intense gun culture, still operating freely though a major percentage of the American public wants to limit these killer weapons? And despite the fact that a majority of American voters support a woman’s right to choose whether she wants to bear a child, we await the Supreme Court’s striking down of Roe v. Wade.
I still have very sick friends in awful situations. I can’t quite remember the number of people I know who’ve died in the past two years. So yes, my mind does wander. If I don’t listen to enough music in a day, I don’t feel as solid as I do when I get enough rhythmic hours in my head. I need the soothing. Even when the songs are raucous. I miss the safe zone I had with Michael but life has necessitated that I find that in myself. Still, I would be remiss in not stating that one of my favorite songs that I turn to when I’m fuming with rage is one by an artist called Gayle. It’s called “abcdefu.” Look it up at your own risk. For an old lady it’s a pretty gnarly but satisfying choice.