Congratulations Bob! I first published this on his birthday:
Bob Dylan turned 75 yesterday. Spotify and I are honoring him this morning, playing one masterpiece (When I Paint My…) after another. Just now, up came Mr. Tambourine Man*. I felt myself driving through Pittsburgh’s Liberty Tubes with the music as loud as it could get in a Corvair, singing and dreaming; hoping for a fraction of the vision and gift he offered us.
I’m five years and three days younger. He belongs to me. He spoke to me then and he still does. Then it was hope and there’s lots of that to this day. Today, though, it’s tempered with the knowledge and experience gained in the 51 years lived since the song appeared on Bringin’ It All Back Home. All the dreams and disappointment, the innocence and the learning, the love and the pain. It’s all here:
Then take me disappearin’ through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow
More than the brilliant political songs that became anthems for all of us, this one remains in my heart. Happy birthday Bob.
*Played 15 million times on Spotify alone…
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from June 11, 2007.
This morning the New York Times told me that the San Francisco Summer of Love was 40 (forty!!!) years ago. No, I wasn’t there. I was still in college, and that summer I was working a the Housing Authority of Pittsburgh, Pa, taking pictures in various buildings and helping with community organizing.
It was the days of VISTA and there were volunteers all over town, working with residents to learn how to budget, how to prepare nutritious food, child development and work skills. It was moving, exciting work – a job I’d gotten for myself after the director initially told me that “no nice girl from Smith belongs in the projects.” He was from the original public housing establishment and a great teacher, once I convinced him I wasn’t some Muffie prepazoid.
But the Summer of Love… my boyfriend was out there – his family lived in Berkeley – and it all looked so romantic. I was far too committed to what I was doing – and too much of a coward to ever tell my parents I was going. I also knew that hanging around stoned was not the way to help people who couldn’t help themselves – and that was what I most wanted to do. Even so, it was tough thinking that all the action was “out there” and I was on the shores of the Monongahela River in Head Starts and food banks.
Between my house and “downtown” there was a bridge that went through the famous Homestead neighborhood where the Pinkertons beat up the steel strikers so brutally. Crossing between a smoking mill with a red aura generated by molten steel and the Mesta Machinery plant, it rattled and clanked with age and instability. Ever since we were little we had called it the “rickety bridge.” I loved it.
One day that summer, somehow emblematic to me of the whole three months, I was driving along and, just as I began to cross the bridge, Scott McKenzie’s “If You’re Goin’ to San Francisco” came on the radio. At first I smiled, then – suddenly – without warning, I began to cry. I ended up sobbing, almost unable to drive. I still don’t know why. The song was moving, of course, and very seductive, but now as I recall that day I think I was also crying for the side of me I couldn’t allow to rule. I loved the ideals of the counterculture, adored the music and light shows and communes and home-made bread — but either my fear of the risk or my commitment to politics or both kept me home.
It was probably better. I later left college to work in the anti-war campaign of Senator Eugene McCarthy – a risk more suited to my nature and dreams. Even so – remembering that day, which I do, with particular intensity – I’m still sad – for what I may have missed, for what the movement disintegrated into, for those shiny dreams that even then seemed a bit naive. You know that old Gerard Manley Hopkins poem that ends: It is the blight man was born for, It is Margaret you mourn for. True then – and sometimes, just as true now.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from April 17, 2007.
Saturday night we went to my friend Rona’s 60th birthday party in LA. The photo is me, Rona and our Today Show colleague Coby. It was really fun – how often does Famous Amos bake you cookies and Brian Wilson sing to you on a Bel Air tennis court turned party heaven? How often do you see photos of yourself, your friend and your husband at Today Show shoots and crazy parties? And how often, in the unexpected chill of an April Los Angeles evening, do you see a pile of blankets for guests that includes the one you made their now 14-year-old son when he was born?
I’ve written about Rona before but Saturday night was a real reminder of the nature of a gifted friend. She asked everyone to stand up. Those who knew her 5 years or less, sit down. Then ten years. Then fifteen. We were feeling pretty cocky since we were in the 20 years or less category – until we saw how many people – from New York, DC, Hawaii, San Francisco, LA and God knows where else – were standing at 30 – and even 40 years! And Rick and I knew many of them; we’d been to birthday parties or holiday events or just dinner with them over the years. I once heard someone quote Wendy Wasserstein as saying that you could judge someone’s character by how well they kept their friends. In that as in so many other ways she was a star.
On the tables were CDs for all of us – with a photo of her at Woodstock on the cover (one that I’d used in our 20 year anniversary piece (it was really great) to close it out. Sunday I was driving around LA while my husband was at his conference so I stuck the CD into the player. The next thing I knew I was driving down the 10 Freeway in tears — not sweet little showers but huge wracking sobs. Not really sadness, it was more a recognition of all the treasured time that has passed – of how much I loved so much of it and how real it still feels to me. I’ve never read Remembrance of Things Past but I’m told that the entire epic emerges from memories evoked from the smell of a Madeline (a kind of French cookie – they sell them at Starbucks I think.)
Well each song – Van Morrison or Bob Dylan or Paul Simon or Marvin Gaye took me someplace. The thing is – sad as I was, I was also absurdly grateful to have the memories and moments so powerfully evoked by the music. Not until I hit 60 did I realize you really DO get older – that some things are in the past for good. When the music is there, though, nothing’s really gone. Memories and senses arise in all their glory and float me back where I came from. Not for long – and not entirely – but enough to remind me of the privileges of my life and the wonders of life itself. Corny but oh so true – music brings the gift of memory and joy. Yet another thing to thank birthday girl Rona for adding to my life. Happy birthday one more time, my sister.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. This post – from March 3, 2008, appears today in honor of May Day.
I once had the opportunity to interview BB King. In preparation, I brought his latest album home and played it for my sons. The older, then around 5, asked me “Why is this man named King mommy. Pete Seeger is the king of music, right?*” Well, how do you answer that? Our boys grew up on the Weavers, the Almanac Singers, Pete and Arlo at Carnegie Hall… all rich with wonderful songs (with pretty wonderful values) for children. I asked my husband, no folkie, why he didn’t complain about the “noise” – and in fact joined us every Thanksgiving at Carnegie Hall to hear Pete and later Pete and Arlo. He said (I’m paraphrasing here) “It’s offering them something whole to believe in. Even if they don’t always believe it – they’ll understand the feeling of believing – and always seek it.” As far as I can tell, that worked.
Rerack a few years though — to the Vietnam war, when songs like this informed some of my earliest political ideas.
In fact, Pete has been a hero of mine for more than 40 years (How is that possible?) As I sit watching the AMERICAN MASTERS documentary on his life, I can’t stop thinking about all the hope, idealism and dreams tied up in his music – at least in my life — and, for a time, the lives of my sons. Seeger always has believed that music has infinite power; his own music made us believe that we could bring about the world we dreamed of. I’m embarrassed by how much I long for those feelings; it’s probably one reason Barack Obama and his young supporters interest me so much – they remind me of…. ME. Pretty feeble, isn’t it? To still be whining about long-lost days and dreams. Most of all, to feel such rage and sadness at what we weren’t able to do for our children; we leave them a world, in many ways, so much tougher than the one we inherited.
Pete, though, would hate such talk. I once met him, around the time that there were civil rights battles raging in the old Chicago Back of the Yards neighborhoods that Saul Alinsky helped to organize. I asked him if it didn’t bother him that the residents there revealed attitudes so contrary to what had been fought for — for them — just a generation ago. His response “No. When people are empowered they have the right to want what they want. If we believe in empowerment we have to accept that too.” NOT a usual man, Mr. Seeger.
The music was more than a transmission of values though — from “A Hole in My Bucket” to Union Maid. It was our family soundtrack. One of my kids was watching WOODSTOCK while he was in college, and was astonished to hear Joan Baez singing Joe Hill – and to recognize it from when he was little (this is a bad YOUTUBE version; the proportions are off, but just listen..
In our house, that old labor song had been a lullaby. I’d learned it from Pete’s concerts. Recently, so many years from those lullabies, another family favorite presented us with a great, rolicking tribute to this remarkable man. I wanted to end with a more of this (way too) sentimental tribute to Pete, but the joy of watching another generation up out of their seats in song is probably a better way to end. Right?
*He went on to become an enormous BB King (and Albert, for that matter) fan, for the record.
NOTE: As I approach my 70th birthday, I’ll reprise a milestone post here each day until the end of May. Today – from October 16, 2006
I’ve never been to CBGB OMFUG. Why do I care about a punk music club whose entrance was always spattered with graffiti and most of whose musical appearances were by people I knew almost nothing about — except Bruce Springsteen [he wrote this with Patti Smith] , Patti Smith [two favorites: People Have the Power, Peaceable Kingdom], Joan Jett [I Love Rock and Roll] and a few others? (I don’t t know the lore all that well – but it always seemed to me that women really got a crack at center stage at CBGB.) I think it was just nice to see it there – waving its fist in the air. It has closed – maybe to reopen, maybe not – and I’m just kind of sad to see it losing its lease to what some have called “the suburbification of Manhattan.”
Patti Smith, whom I had the honor to meet at last year’s Media Reform conference in St. Louis, was a real CBGB heroine and I felt, meeting her, a deep connection. We’re the same age. She’s a heartbreakingly honest person who lost her husband way too soon (and wrote People Have the Power partly at his instigation) — a mom and a singular human soul. The music she made was remarkably articulate (she is a poet after all) and inspiring. I’ve linked above to two of my favorites — one of which, People Have the Power, was an anthem of the Vote for Change election tour in 2004.
So what do the final days of a gritty music club where I never went have to do with my life as an observant Jew? Believe it or not – plenty. Both of them were fascinating universes I always observed from the outside and wondered about. Both stood for making one’s own way to truth. That search has taken me, for some reason I’m still grappling with, to the Orthodox Jewish community where I’ve found a home and spirit that brings a new kind of meaning to my life.
At my last big birthday I complained to a friend about my age and her response was “but you’re completely reborn in this new life – you’re not old AT ALL!” In some ways she’s right. I certainly feel that there’s a universe I’m traveling through that’s new, moving, inspiring and mysterious. Sometimes though it’s also a pain. For the past several weeks, from Rosh Hashanah (the New Year) to the end of Simchas Torah (Ending the annual, week-by-week reading of the Torah: the five books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and beginning again) the holidays consumed days of time: in synagogue, inviting guests to meals and going to meals at friends, building and dismantling a sukkah and observing the prohibition on driving and work. Since this year many of these days fell on weekends it meant NO catching up on work on Sundays and no farmer’s market. (two weird examples, I admit.) Since it’s the end of tomato season that last was sad though not critical to the future of the human race or my household.
Even so, all these small requirements, which I try to follow since I’ve made this commitment, can consume time and tax serenity and spirituality. I’ve come to love the prohibition on the Sabbath and enjoy the quiet days reading, taking walks, visiting, napping and sharing ideas. But the surrender to and acceptance of all these rules is a peculiar experience and I grapple with it daily. Even so, the quest, like that of the young rebels who put CBGB on the map, is a great adventure – and the learning is exhilarating.
Go listen to People Have the Power whether this post makes sense or not. It will make you happy on a Monday – although that’s easier here today since it’s the third amazingly gorgeous fall day in a row – with leaves turning and leaf smells beginning to fill the air. Which, I just realized, takes us right back to faith and gratitude for the world’s beauty when it shows up.
This is one of just many musical tributes to the loss of a great artist and since it’s Bruce, it’s especially meaningful to me.
When a celebrity dies, the public memories of respected peers add a kind of emotional gravitas that helps all of us who love the mourner or the mourned – or both.
Personal loss. though, has a weight and impact hotter, sharper and deeper.
Sunday, we went to a “shiva,”a home memorial services held for a friend. We’d met him and his wonderful wife on a cruise, sailed all through the Mediterranean and had a great time; we were so happy they lived nearby, especially since we shared so much: they’d been married as long as we have, also had grown kids and grandkids and, it turned out, lived just across San Francisco Bay from us.
Larry was a blast to be around, intense, funny, smart and curious; he and his wife Gerri were a great pair and it was so very hard to see her grieving so intensely.
As I near my 8th decade with very little sense of age, I’m so aware of each loss of a peer and remember my dad telling me with astonishment every time one of his friends left us; it seemed to impossible to him. Like so many other things, I understand this so much more now.
Of course it’s easier to grieve the loss of a public person, no matter how admired: the sharp reality of a more personal one, deep feeling for his family and realigning of each memory of them, especially in the years that we become so much more aware of our own mortality, cuts and lingers so much more.
Classy as ever, Bruce and the band posted their Chicago River Tour concert for 2 days of free download. It’s so far beyond amazing that I’m back in mourning that we’ll be out of the country when he comes to SFO. I’d almost recovered but this is a major – if probably brief – relapse.
There’s nobody more capable of evoking super highs, and then tears – as he takes us on a journey with him. This time though, my journey is different: Springsteen was born in 1949; I’m a first-year Baby Boomer, born in 1946. We’re no longer kids, certainly, but still grateful for the music and where it can take us. For me, Bruce is the number-one tour guide. Always will be.
Now this next thing is hard. I listened to this concert a whole new way — my iPhone is paired with me new (hang on) hearing aids! I was so mortified when I learned I needed them and a nervous wreck when I went to be fitted but they’re great. I met a woman in the (where else?) ladies room at a big event yesterday and we were laughing at our worries and how surprised we were at what a difference they make.
Nothing – not the embarrassment or the nervousness or the appalling cost of these little things – none of that – comes close to the feeling of being able to walk around without headphones, sit at my desk without headphones — do almost anything without headphones – and still hear Thunder Road and Meet Me in the City and 31 other LIVE performances.
So hearing aids mean aging and I have to face that. But they also hosted a real party today.
I couldn’t sleep and at 2AM, this, Bruce Springsteen on Storytellers, was my reward. The first time I heard this song, I cried. Grown up, near 30 with a baby and far from those front porches, I was transported. The power of the song hasn’t faded.
Anyway, here’s what he said about it:
So this was my big invitation, to my audience, to myself, to anybody that was interested. My invitation to a long and earthly — very earthly — journey, hopefully in the company of someone you love, people you love and in search of a home you can feel a part of. Good luck.
I meant to write about Star Wars, but then The Boss walked in. Tomorrow maybe.
The freaks’ll stay together, They’re a tight old crew
You look at them, And they look at you…. Devil Baby, by Mark Knopfler
This is a song about a freak show. And why not?
Today I turned on the TV and found not one, but two “active shooter” situations going on in California. UPDATE: One hour after I wrote this, a news conference in San Bernardino, scene of the first of these shooting events, reported 14 people dead and 14 wounded, by “as many as three gunmen.”
Before that was Colorado and the viciousness and cruelty of targeting Planned Parenthood — and women. Before that was Paris. And the Russian plane. And always — Isis/Isil/DAESH/BokoHaram. And of course, Donald Trump. SO.
This is a song about a freak show. And that’s why.