Saturday, May 23, 2009

A note to my readers.


For those who are checking in wondering what's up with the week-plus with no post, rest assured. I am merely taking a bit of a break and will return soon.

Wednesday will remain my 17 month sobriety date; I haven't screwed that up ... but believe me, if I did, it wouldn't take a week to let you know.

Thanks for reading, and enjoy the weekend,


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Day four hundred and ninety eight ... Love, always.

Time has always amazed me.

I enjoy how definitive it is, how it can be pinpointed down to the last fraction of a second, and how we all are tethered to one pendulum--always moving, always progressing for ever and ever, regardless of if anyone is around to notice. I also enjoy trying to stretch it's limits on a daily basis, which is, in itself, contingent on the aforemetioned method of assessing the progress of our world.

In fourteen minutes it will be my dearly departed mother's sixty eighth birthday, the third she hasn't been around for. I just went back and reread the post from last May 14. I had, on that day, focused on a happy time--the pedicure that I got with her in 2005--because I had just learned of my aunt's state of health. I was a mess over it all, to say the least, but I was focused and had gotten a few months of sobriety under my belt. That made everything so much easier, and continues to do so.

There were so many questions to be answered. There were stories to dig up, rumors to put to rest, people in old photos to identify, and promises to accept. We spent four months doing all of these things, and when I look back on it now it seemed like it took a good year or more to move through the different stages of my aunt's illness to get to the point where it ends, and the rest of the story begins.

That's probably because it happened so fast it didn't give me time to attach a chronological framework to the process. It just happened and then it was over and I was left with a house full of clocks and no reason at all to be anywhere on time.

And now it is eleven minutes past midnight and I just had a good cry over a picture of my mom. 

Happy Birthday, Mom! Stolat!

And the seconds just keep piling up and in a little less than 24 hours from now it will be May 15, and her birthday will technically be over.

But before that, I have a little celebrating to do. 

Lobsters and steamers. These two things were my mother's favorite thing in the world. Perhaps it's because they both come with melted butter, perhaps it's because it is so unbelievably representative of New England, just like she was.

Editor's note: And just like that I find myself awake at 8 a.m. on the couch I fell asleep on about fifteen minutes past midnight, as if my dear mother was saying, "Alex, go to sleep ... we can celebrate in the morning ... you've been going all day ... ".  

Sometimes it's all too much.

I went home yesterday to mow the lawn; the grass was getting to the point where I had no choice. I pulled the rider-mower out of the garage and filled it up with gas. I put in the clutch and turned the key.

It started.

But when I tried to drive it it just sat there like an old lazy dog that want's to do anything except play.

I poked around until I couldn't figure out what to do and so I went down to the power equipment repair place right down the street. My aunt had all of her outdoor stuff serviced by them, so I know they would know the machine and may even be able to fix it quickly.

Sara, the boss, came by and took a look at it. It was agreed upon that it was the drive belt that needed replacing, and that it would take a good week to get the part in and get it fixed. I told her I needed to get the lawn mowed and asked if there was there any way I could rent a mower for the day.

She said no. I picked a bad week to need a quick fix.

That's when she called Rob C. He was a good guy, so she said, who had bought all his equipment from them and was starting his own company. She said that he even took care of a couple of cemeteries in the area as well. She was going to see if he could help out.

Lo and behold, when she called, he answered his phone. Not too many people in business answer their phones when you call nowadays. Nothing's live anymore, as it were. Everybody has to leave a message. And then, even at that, you get to hear it back and erase it if you don't like it. You get as many takes as you need to leave that "perfect" message. And while you're doing that, the person you are calling has all the time in the world to decide if they want to call you back. Hardly anybody does it live anymore.

Sara gave him my info and she took off. She didn't have to have come down. She didn't have to do anything until Tuesday when they do all the repair pickups, but she left with the rider-mower that would start but wouldn't go anywhere.

Rob called me and I told him where the place was. He showed up ten minutes later and already knew a bit about the property as his friend was part of the crew that did the tree work two weeks ago. We walked around and I showed him what I needed done.

I waited for the estimate that was going to make me gulp.

Instead, it made me smile.

He said he'd come by today, the 14th, and take care of the whole thing by himself--mowed, weed-whacked, and raked.

I wrote him a check and we shook on it. He seemed trustworthy and I know his dealer, as it were.

Then he told me, "I'm off to Turk's to get some steamers."

And I smiled again.

"Me too," I said. "When do they close?"

"Twenty minutes."

"Then I better get moving. Nice to meet you and thank you so much, Rob."

"My pleasure. Call me anytime you need work done."

"Will do."

Lobsters and steamers. These two things were my mother's favorite thing in the world. Perhaps it's because they both come with melted butter, perhaps it's because it is so unbelievably representative of New England, just like she was.

I was planning, even before I got to the house to find a broken mower, to go to Turk's to get some steamers to bring back to Florence. Jodi has never had a clamboil, and I thought there was no better day to introduce her to one of the finer, simpler, messier things in life.

So, when Rob said he was going there--for steamers, even--I felt it was a sign. In fact I could almost hear my mom saying, "Go home Alex. You did the best you could do and the day is almost over. You can consider hiring Rob for the day as a present for me. You go back to Florence and take care of things there. Because that is where you live. It is your home. It is where your heart is. And you know I am there as well."

So now it is 10:04 a.m.. 

At my mom's house Rob should be whizzing and burring; mowing and raking. And I'm sure the next time I go there it will look amazing. 

In my refrigerator there is life. There is a bucket of steamers spitting and hissing. There is even a couple of lobsters clawing and banging (I thought it would be a nice touch). 

Outside my house there are workmen planting trees, moving boulders in place, and laying stones to walk on. Because this is where I will be spending my life now that I finally figured out how to do it right. This is where my heart is.

And tonight I will have a guest over, adding even more life to my environment. We will cook together and, I'm sure, share a few laughs. The smells of fresh seafood will waft through the kitchen, the living room, and out to the neighborhood in my little landlocked county. I will put out the special little tools that one needs to eat lobster. I will put out extra bowls for the shells. I will put out two hearty portions of melted butter, as well as the requisite broth for dipping. I will put out the potatoes, onions, hot dogs, sausages, and linguica links (a spicy Portuguese sausage). And I will put out a big roll of paper towels.  Any meal that comes with a roll of paper towels you just know is going to be good.

I will do all of this with great love and aplomb, introducing someone new to this very New England tradition. It will be a celebration of all that I know. It will be in honor of my great teacher, my provider, my inspiration, and yes, even, my chef. 

As I do it it will fill my heart with pride and joy. It will fill my house with smiles and smells. It will fill my belly with a food that reminds me of hundreds of shared meals. And all of these combined will remind me that I am alive, and as long as I breathe this air I hold her memory close.

Home is where the heart is, and in my home and in my heart a great woman lives on forever.

Happy Birthday, Mom. Sto-lat!

Love, Always,


Rest in Peace Judith Ann Johnson, 5/14/41-1/11/07

Thanks for reading,


Friday, May 8, 2009

Day four hundred and ninety three ... One more book upon the shelf.

Tomorrow, May 9th, is my birthday; I'll be thirty nine.

It's been a long year since I turned thirty eight. Some amazing and positively life changing events have taken place and I dare say that I have never been happier to be alive.

That said, the start of it was a rocky introduction to say the least.

Last year it was with great trepidation that I drove to my aunt's house the day before my birthday in order to bring her to the emergency room. She had been complaining of abdominal pain for a couple of weeks and we had initially thought that it was just a complication from the surgery she had had back over the winter.

Well, she thought that was the reason; I had my suspicions that it was something else.

I say that now, after the fact, but it is the truth. I had been through the devastation of my mom's cancer a year and a half prior, as well as my uncle in 1998, and grandmother, in 1980 before that. I come from what specialists call a "cancer family" and I suppose part of me was still thinking in those terms when she was describing the pain to me over the phone.

I told her I was coming home and I was taking her to the hospital. She reluctantly agreed. 

And so it went that I got her in the car--my car--and drove her to Brigham and Women's hospital in Boston, parked in the tower parking garage, and walked with her to the admitting area. There we sat for four hours until they finally made room to fit her in. We sat in the intimately impersonal room and talked about all kinds of silly things to get our mind off the reason we were there. We talked together, close, while all around me there were people--some alone; others with huge families in tow--in varying states of distress. 

We talked about my car, and how I needed to get a tune up; we talked about our plans for my birthday and how we were going to go out to eat at a great Indian place; we talked about the asparagus I had gotten for her the week prior and how good it was; and we talked about the possibility that she was sicker than she thought. 

The doctors couldn't initially find anything wrong with her. All the tests came back negative. But they didn't want to let her go yet, so we stayed. And the surroundings seemed so familiar and fresh to me--spotlessly clean with hardly a primary color in sight, save for the control panes of the myriad machines in every room. The walls, though, were different. The walls, the sheets, the ceilings, the floors, the hallways, the tables, the chairs, the bathrooms, the elevators--all of these things were muted neutral colors: blues, grays, whites and browns.

When it became apparent that we would be there for a while, as they ran more tests, they wheeled in a hospital bed for me to lay on next to her; they were all nicer than nice. And my aunt--as was her way--made sure to mention to almost anyone who would come to help her--if their position was anywhere above that of the janitor--that I--her nephew--had just come back from Los Angeles where I had played on The Tonight Show, of all things! And Ellen, too! She said to anyone who would listen how good I was being, taking her to the hospital on the night before my birthday. 

She had gotten used to singing my praises a bit later than my mother, but not without good reason.

And there we drifted in and out of sleep for a few hours side by side in the semi-permanent partitioned area in the emergency room wing of the hospital in Boston. 

When the nurse came in again to check her vitals my aunt noticed that it was just about midnight. She asked for two cups of water and ice. When the clock struck twelve we toasted, and she sang me Happy Birthday, all by herself, in a voice that I will never--for better or for worse--forget. It began joyous, strong and sure, but quickly lost control like a single prop plane running out of altitude and gas, narrowly missing the ground. I hugged her tightly and thanked her and told her how much I loved her. She told me the same. We didn't cry a lot, but we did cry.

The next time I looked at the clock it was with bleary, irritated eyes; the big, round, black and white clock read 3 a.m.. The doctor came in and addressed my aunt. The whole place had simmered down, but it was still nowhere near quiet--kind of like a sleeping humming bird. 

She woke up slowly and composed herself with a grimace. My aunt--like my mother before her--did not like company to show up unannounced, regardless of whose house we were at.

When the doctor sat down on the bed beside her I believe we both knew what was coming next. Doctors don't sit on the bed if they've got good news. No, that they report from a distance, perhaps so the whole family can smile at each other and hugs can come flying forth. But bad news is meant for tight quarters, as it isn't really welcome in the first place. It is meant for complex, slow movement, with shoulders back and jaws agape. 

Bad news may travel fast, but only once it has been laboriously and methodically delivered. 

And so it went that I hugged the other parent in my life and absorbed the bad news, slowly, incomprehensibly, but undeniably rife with devastating implications. And I call her "the other parent in my life" because she absolutely was. My mom was most assuredly my mom, but my aunt was more than just her sister. In conversation, when I referred to my mom and aunt, I would always call them "my folks". Because thats who they were. 

Due to my tendency towards looking at life with an analogous mindset I see the beginnings and the ends of major periods in my existence as so many books in a personal library. I don't always know when a book is going to officially end if I'm currently reading it, but I have a good idea when it's starting to tidy things up. I can sense when the lighter stack of bound, printed pages is preparing to reunite, en masse, with its much denser familiar reserve. And eventually the pages that your right hand keeps sequestered--the pages that are new but relate, inherently, to those that came before it--eventually these pages slip away under your thumb and you are left with a few blank ones before you finally come to the thick back cover, glossy and stiff. And that is the point when it can't be denied that your book is done, that there are no more stories in it to tell, and you must put it up on the shelf with the ones that you've already read.

I have a lot of these books in my library now. Some are trilogies; some are giant tomes; some have pictures to go with them; some are full of rudimentary sketches and are barely comprehensible. But they have all been read, and they all have a beginning and an end, for that is what makes any book a book. 

I wasn't aware that I was at the end of one book last May 8th. I had a feeling, but I won't say I was sure of it. I just knew that there was more of a chance of the worst case scenario happening than something else. And if that happened--if it was a mere case of diverticulitis, or an upset stomach--then I would have been pleased to find that there were a few pages that had been stuck together waiting for me to continue--possibly enough to take up years of my time. But that's not what happened.

And from 3 a.m. on May, 9 2008, until 1:00 a.m. September, 7 2008 another book was opened, read, and closed. It wasn't an easy book to get through, but at least I knew where I stood. And it made me sit up and pay attention and understand that I held in my hands a very short book, but one that was as important as any collection of consecutive pages to come before it.

And in the end it did get put up on the shelf with the rest of them, in chronological order but certainly not in order of importance.

And here I am, somewhere in the midst of another adventure. The book I am currently involved with, I am pleased to be able to say, documents one of the happiest times of my life. I never thought I could live my life like this. I never thought I could rid myself of all the stress and worry I used to carry so close. I never thought I could open my heart up for someone else like a faucet, letting the tap run for so long that the DPW puts my address on alert--"they must be doing work on the old Johnson house ... this meter's off the charts."

And this year I have a magical birthday in store for me. I will be spending it with a woman who I love with all my heart and soul--someone who my dear mother and aunt never got to meet, but perhaps that's only because they were so busy on the other side of this mortal stage calling the lights and pulling the curtains. The wings don't usually provide the best view, but it's always where the superstars gravitate to watch the show. I have to thank them, wherever they are, for what it's worth. It would be rude of me not to. 

So tonight I will allow myself to be awake and aware at the stroke of midnight. I will allow myself to embrace the natural but orchestrated documentation of the passage of time into my thirty ninth year of life. I will remember the women--my folks--who sang to me, as they had for every single one of my birthdays prior, and reflect on all that has happened in the past three hundred and sixty five days. Then I will embrace and kiss my true love. I will protect with all my attention, awareness, and affection someone who didn't have to enter onto my stage when she did, as I admire whoever it is that is writing this play, and thank heaven above that I haven't the faintest idea how it will end ... 

And as far as this book goes ... thanks so much for reading,


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Day four hundred and ninety ... Doing the little things right.

We live in short sentences, six words or fewer.

Do or die.

How sweet it is.

Eyes on the prize.

One day at a time.

Live for today.

May the force be with you.

Live fast, die young.

Don't worry about it.

It's a decidedly American concept. We like our mottoes, our slogans, our chants. It's like we can't keep quiet and mindful for longer than it takes to think of the next thing and then we're off like a firework on the fourth of July. When they go off every year I sometimes feel as if they are a code of some sort--a speech or a monologue, ending with a rousing ovation by an already converted audience.

But we like to keep it brief.

And so, as a product of this culture and one of it's proponents (despite my frequent criticisms), I have one of my own.

"Do the little things right."

Yes. I know. It goes against the idea that we mustn't dwell on the minutia of the world--that the big picture is what is of most consequence.

But if the wall hanger that the big picture is relying on for support is installed with haste and indifference, then the big picture, as it were, is only one strong slam of the front door away from ending up on the floor with a shattered pane of museum quality glass.

Do the little things right.

I have some nice guitars; I've had some of them for more than twenty years. They're pretty durable, but each and every one of them are at all times under immense tension from six thin cables running lengthwise from tip to tail. They all have protective cases, but I like to have them handy so I can pick them up and play them when I'm home (out of sight, out of mind is a six word phrase that comes into play all too frequently in this situation). A guitar stand costs $25, give or take. I had a couple stands that each had a small but significant problem with them. It's possible that I could have used them for a long time without an accident. But I went out the other day and bought two new stands. I didn't want to spend $50 on something that I technically already owned. But the way I see it, if one of my guitars should fall and the neck should snap because I was using something that, by definition, did not, and could not perform its purpose (to "stand" my guitar up when I'm not holding it), then I just ruined something more valuable to me than one could fathom.

Do the little things right.

The coasters I own, if left unused, could ruin an otherwise flawless tabletop finish.

A price tag, if not cut with scissors but, instead, ripped out forcefully as I am so accustomed to doing, could--and most often does--rip a shirt collar.

A sink with a few dirty dishes could so easily be left at the end of the night for the morning. The idea is so delicious that I swear I get a high just walking away from them. But more often than not I will do them before I go to bed. I don't live in a restaurant. I don't have a night crew. I made a small, contained mess that is still malleable and open to a quick scrubbing ("clean as you go" is a four word phrase a wise man in an apron once told me). When I get up in the morning the last thing I want to do is dishes. No, I want to use them ... clumsily. And it makes the start of my day so much nicer when I'm not picking up from the night before. 

Do the little things right.

I'm not trying to write a self-help book here, unless you take the literal meaning of that and apply it to how I'm trying to impart the ideas and practices that I have used in my recent past to help myself improve. And I don't mean this to, in any way, be misconstrued as nagging or chastising to the reader. I just can't not talk about it, because it is so unbelievably simple and consistent that I feel I would be remiss to not focus on this seemingly small but ultimately monumental facet of my newly commandeered life. It works on every level. It only takes a little bit of effort to make a huge difference. And the best part about is that it gets easier the more I do it.

That piece of paper on the floor is still going to be here the next ten times I walk by it ... 

And the thing I like most about doing the little things right is that if you take care of the seemingly insignificant details of the average existence, then the big things don't seem so big anymore. They have fewer conspirators to compare themselves to. They have fewer places to hide, and, as a result, have more sides exposed leaving unseen weaknesses in plain view. And when that happens, they lose their swagger and pomposity. They lose their bravado. They become last year's model. They begin to cooperate. 

They become a littler thing.

Time is like a small child. If left unattended it may wander off or, worse yet, be taken away right from under you.

That said, it's time, once again, to do the little things right ...

Thanks for reading,


Friday, May 1, 2009

Day four hundred and eighty six ... Sitting at the feet of the giants.

Stravinsky, Brian Eno, Genesis, Return to Forever, and The Mahavishnu Orchestra. 

These are the five artists' records--vinyl records--that Jodi, my girlfriend, brought over to my house on our first "real" date on February 10 of this year.

Those who know who these artists are will surely understand how unusual this grouping is from a typical female music listener's perspective. All except for the Stravinsky fall into a category called "Progressive Rock". This category of music is typically enthusiastically enjoyed by a predominantly male demographic. Not that there aren't plenty of women who like the stuff, it's just a bit unusual.

Those people who know me will undoubtedly understand that this was a biggie--a landmark discovery in my life. A shocker like this doesn't go by without notice--not from a progressive rock geek who grew up wearing out his Mahavishnu John McLaughlin records sporting a Brian Eno t-shirt, while breaking up weed on a Return to Forever gatefold.

Let's just say that things went well mostly from the get go. And when, on February 20, I spied an opportunity to buy two front row center seats to see John McLaughlin and Chick Corea (Mahavishnu Orchestra guitarist and keyboardist for Return to Forever, respectively) and their Five Peace Band live at the Berklee Performance Center in Boston, I just couldn't say no. 

I held on to the tickets and kept my mouth shut for three weeks before I sprang the news on my then new lady friend. When I ceremoniously gave the ticket to her (uncovering post-it note after post-it note revealing the date, seat, and artist, respectively) she nearly fainted.

I knew then that we had a good thing going.

Yesterday--five weeks after giving her the news--we drove to Boston to see this momentous show.

Funny thing though, the tickets, when they arrived in the mail, were not what you might expect to be bringing to a concert. They were not small rectangular pieces of stiff cardboard with perforations on either end. No. Instead, what I pulled out of the Priority Mail envelope was merely two sheets of computer paper with an "e-ticket" printed on them. Basically a bar code with some promotional ads surrounding it. It's enough to make a guy worry, especially when he pays a bit above face value for a ticket whose seat demarcation seems worthy of the most lucky man and woman in the world.

And so, we took our good karma, our I.D.'s, and our two pieces of paper with us in my Subaru as we hit the road like a couple of true badasses.

Between Mapquest, Google Maps, the Berklee website, and our iPhone GPS's, we managed to find the place no problem. We found a cheap lot to park in ($12 max for the night) and headed out into the world.

We ate at a pretty good Indian restaurant right down the street. Then we had some delightful cupcakes at a place Jodi can't believe she didn't see before me. The important thing is one of us saw it.

Yes, I know, they look good. The bottom one had chocolate sauce in the middle. 

I give the joint high marks for the quality of the food. However, the lack of public bathroom will force The Phantom to give the place three out of a potential five stars.

Back to Berklee for a gratuitous couples shot in front of a map of the campus. Then it was off to try our luck at the ticket window with our printed out 8x11's with the name of the show on it and a seat assignment that just smacked of a rip-off.

A fifteen minute wait at the door and we were up to the ticket taker. A couple of people in front of us had the same kind of tickets; most did not. Most people actually had hard, small, official looking tickets. But we advanced, and Jodi gave hers to the guy with the scanner.

It worked!

Next was me and that one worked too! We were in. But now it was time to see if the seats were really "front row center."

They were.

They were the most front row centerest tickets you could possibly expect. Twenty seats on one side of me; nineteen seats on the other side of Jodi. It was unbelievable. And when a guy came up hesitantly, with a ticket in his hand, and asked us what our tickets said, I almost swallowed my gum. But he had the wrong row and I just sat back and took it all in. I smiled. Jodi smiled. And then, of course, we publicly and dramatically high-fived each other.

And then the lights dimmed and the show began.

The applause crept in and swooped the room up as one by one the band made their way to the stage. Kenny Garrett on sax; Christian McBride on bass; Brian Blade on drums; Chick Corea on keys; and the one and only Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, one of the best--if not the best musicians to ever play a stringed instrument on guitar. He approached the front of the middle of the stage--ten feet directly in front of me--and held his instrument up humbly as if to offer it to the audience who were ready to accept, graciously, and unabashedly.

It was time to go.

The photographers crept in from either side to take pictures as they knelt down in front of the front row. I didn't take a lot of pictures, but that was only because the performers were so close and could see anything I was doing that I didn't want to offend them, nor did I want to annoy the people around me.

The music was amazing. Long, intricate, emotional, spider webs of songs that gave each musician space to come out to play. Kenny Garrett, on sax, laid back for the beginnings of most tunes--almost to the point where you forgot he was there--and then he'd step up front and just dive in, weaving string after string of beautiful and dramatic runs and bursts. 

Christian McBride, on bass, just wowed everyone with his amazing low key playing. He was sometimes frenetic but never out of control. He could let a low D rumble and make the whole room shake for a few seconds. He was in control whether on five-string fretless, or stand up double bass.

And Brian Blade, on drums, was unspeakably good. John spoke on an auxiliary microphone a few times during the evening. As he introduced the band one time he said, "And can you believe Brian Blade on drums? I mean, look how skinny he is ... and look at that tiny kit ... "
(my apologies for the fuzzy picture, Brian).

It was pretty funny to hear John speak like that--candidly, and a little more gregariously than I would have expected. Nonetheless, Brian was a whirlwind on the little six or seven piece kit he had on stage left. Moving continuously up and down and side to side, he seemed to be sparring with his drums. It was masterful to watch and simply maddening to try to keep up with.

Chick was stellar as well. Organic sounds flew from his keys. He played some actual acoustic piano, but mostly he played a couple of Yamaha Motif keyboards. I couldn't see him so well with them in the way, but he'd occasionally stand up and get in on the action grooving and smiling a bit

And John was just breathtaking in his mastery of his instrument. 

For twenty-five years I have been in awe of his playing. There are plenty of guitarists that I have managed to replicate, somewhat, in both sound, as well as playing style--Gilmour, Clapton, Page--but McLaughlin has always been the one guy that I could never touch. He is and always has been so unbelievably in tune with the way he conveys his musical passion through his hands via six strings (and occasionally 12, but not tonight). To watch him so close gave me a bit of a better understanding of how he does what he does, but that really doesn't help me in the actual execution department. I have so much to learn to even begin to approach his style, which seems to come from a place where key, time signature, pitch, volume, and tempo are merely tumblers in a safe's lock which only he can open up. They move up and down and around in a seemingly limitless number of combinations, but he can open it up like nothing with a turn of his hand. His band has been taught the combination and have been given permission to enter the world created by his ideas. And, not to downplay Chick, who wrote many of the compositions, but I have a feeling that if asked even Chick would defer to the great Mahavishnu on many levels.

The show was two long sets, with the first one being a little over 90 minutes long. The two headmasters chummed around on stage talking about how they had known each other for 40 years, and how Miles Davis had got them to play together on "In a Silent Way" in 1969. There was way more banter than I expected. Even to the point where Chick talked about how this was the second to last night of the tour that had gone on for months and traveled to so many countries that he couldn't even remember if they had played Hong Kong. He said, "... but tonight is really the last night of the tour ... tomorrow we play in Burlington and we're just going to screw around ... ", which got a nice laugh from the lucky ones in the hall.

He even mentioned how they booked the show in Boston because he has relatives in the area and gave them a little shout out. Earlier--as Jodi and I were waiting in line--a woman with bright red lipstick, big, perfect hair, and hoop earrings was joking amidst a group of similarly well dressed older people (and a few kids) about how "... you'll see ... when Chicky calls my name ... you'll see ...". And so it went.

"Chicky"??  ... how adorable is that? Once again, right place, unbelievably right time.

Being in the front row for this show was a surreal experience for sure. The capacity--which was full--is 1,220. That said, I barely looked behind me more than once. It was so engulfing to be so close with an equal distance to the end of the front row on either side and a mere ten feet to where the giants of this great music stomped their respective feet. 

To be there and to be where I was was one thing, but to be there with Jodi, the most amazing woman I have had the pleasure to have met, felt like there was nothing else that could possibly come close to being as perfect an experience. 

The encore was uplifting, and it felt as if the whole place could have erupted into a dance floor. But this was a jazz show and, of course, we all behaved ourselves. It was uplifting, as I said, but it was also a reverential experience--not one to be taken flippantly--and though a couple of people that had been sitting to our left departed before the encore opening up the seats for a couple of younger dreadlocked kids that might have otherwise been a bit loud, we all just sat there transfixed until the lights came up, the instruments came off, and the giants retreated to the hills of the backstage.

And so, we rose with the other 1,218 people in the hall and I hugged Jodi and expressed my joy for being able to be with someone like herself at an engagement such as this that meant so much to the both of us.

We walked outside and around the corner as if it was understood. We took the corner around the back of the building and there was the big Prevost tour bus. There was about fifteen prog-geeky kids waiting on one side of the entrance way with album covers and Sharpie markers in their hands. The other side was practically unoccupied ...

... so we occupied it.

We waited there for about twenty minutes. I looked at my phone and remarked, "Happy May", to Jodi (May being an important month to me as it holds my birthday, my dear late mother's birthday, as well as Mother's Day in its bookends). The security guard was pretty strict with the kids in t-shirts and cargo pants; he left us alone. It's funny what you can get away in a little formal wear.

It was 12:01.

This was the scene directly across from us:

Kenny Garrett was the first to exit. He came out with both hands full--classic. Nobody was going to make him put his stuff down; he looked like a busy dude.

Brian Blade came next. He ended up talking to a couple of people who he knew that, I think, were from New Orleans (Brian is from Shreveport). We shook his hand and thanked him for a great show. Jodi got his autograph and I, for some strange reason, didn't.

Christian McBride came out after that and signed both of our playbills. A really nervous dude (who you can see in the far left against the wall) had a bunch of albums with papers and posters in the jackets that he couldn't get straight and ended up having Christian sign an album he didn't play on, I think.

There was the appropriate amount of suspense as we waited for the stars to appear from the tiny backstage door. I squeezed Jodi's hand each time it opened. It opened a few times with roadies and press people exiting.

Then it opened for real ...

John McLaughlin came out a few feet and was swarmed by the people in the above picture. One guy had five or six things that he had John sign. A couple of kids--real cute, like, fourteen year old guitar players--asked for his autograph. Then he finished with the immediate crowd and came our way.

I swallowed hard and cracked my knuckles.

"I'm a huge fan from a long time back, John," I said. He shook my hand and asked me my name; I told him. 

Then I said, "... and this is my girlfriend, Jodi. She loves your music as much as I do." 

"Well, hello Jodi," he said, "nice to meet you."

And Jodi shook his hand and said gently but proudly, "... I'm the only woman who listens to your music ..."

John McLaughlin smiled and stared at her. There was a bit of an awkward pause as he thought of how to react to that strange statement. Then he said, "You mean most women don't listen to real jazz, eh?" And he kind of chuckled.

Holy shit! I couldn't believe it. He knows he's the man! He knows!

And what's more, he gave us a freaking anecdote.

Mahavishnu John McLaughlin--possibly the world's greatest guitarist--said, "You know, you'd be surprised ... there's an old couple in England, that I'm friends with, who sit around in their house coats and slippers and just love it, you know. They just get far out and put on my tunes. There's a few women out there that enjoy it. Not many though."

And I just smiled at Jodi who was beaming and somehow managing to keep herself together.

"Could I get a picture with you John?," I said.

"Well ... I don't see why not ... everybody else does!"

And I put my arm around him--between his head and the guitar that he had in a gig bag strapped to his back--and pulled him in close. Jodi aimed my camera at the two of us ...

... as I hugged a giant.

And through it all--amidst the melee--I could see from the backstage door the unmistakable curly gray hair of the other guy in big letters on the bill, Chick Corea, who had managed to use his bandmate's fame and flurry of excitement to sneak by and get onto the bus without much fuss. I bet he's done it before.

As John was following suit, and getting aboard the giant hissing tour bus, one of the teenage kids approached him and I heard him ask:

"John ... um ... do you remember giving Jimmy Page lessons ... ?"

John just looked at him and smiled, as he stepped aboard, and said after a thoughtful pause, "Unbelievable, isn't it?"

And who could argue with that?

There was a man who was standing with us who was nearer our age. He was a big fan as well. Jodi asked him to take our picture together.

And as he handed the camera back to us he mentioned how it even had the tour bus pulling away in the distance. It's a nice pic, don't you think?

As I post this blog, on Friday, May 1 at 8:45 pm., the band is in the beginning stages of the last show of their world tour. Thousands of fans from around the globe have marveled at the passion, skill, virtuosity, and imagination that these five men have created. It goes beyond styles or studies, temperament and patience, and cuts right to the heart of why we do what we do. 

I believe that we, as humans, are on a never ending quest to express how we view the world and what we feel emotionally inside us to the rest of everyone we meet. Some of us can and do and, in the process, make the world a better place; some of us can not or will not and, in the process, either do harm, or sometimes, even worse, do nothing.

Tonight 1,218 people behind me watched in awe and participated in heightened emotion and powerful reverence. The woman who sat to my left made me feel like I have made every right decision, and, feeling that strongly hope I can continue to live life as such. The five giants directly in front of me gave me everything I needed to truly believe that music is the most common tool that can be implemented, and that there are some whose methods go beyond mere mortal skill and verge on tapping the energy and inspiration from outside the earth's opaque and insular sheath.

There are five records that sit together in my collection. They have laid tight next to one another for eight days shy of three months. They, together, symbolize my new bond with another. It, to me, signifies that there is a grand box of surprising connections within everyone's grasp--one that may have lettering which seems unfamiliar or confusingly unique. These records are the five that Jodi brought over on that precious night when my eyes started to work again. And, as if I were asked to pick two cards out of the deck, we, last night, laid witness to two of those artists that we so both love and revere, making them even more special in our lives as we do the same for each other.

Thanks for reading.


PS: My grandfather, Alex, had many stories. One of his favorites involved going to see Don Rickles in concert many years ago. He went to the backstage door after the show and knocked. When the bouncer opened up and asked what he wanted, my grandfather said, "Could you tell Don that Alex Johnson from Fall River is here?" The story went that the bouncer went and told Don, who immediately came out and hugged my grandfather and palled around with him for a few minutes before giving him an autograph. They did not know each other, and had never met before.

It's funny what a little confidence will get you.

Thanks Gramps. I miss you.