So, my pal Andre found out we’re going to China, and he got really upset. Jealous really. He said he wanted to come along, but I told him he just wasn’t cultured enough. He’s out to prove me wrong, he’s out to prove that he deserves to come along. We’ll see about that. He sent me this picture over the weekend at a local art gallery. I’m not sure he’s got what it takes to make the trip, but I give him an A for effort.
Here’s a question for those who love live music and time travel. Yes, that’s right kiddies, time travel! Keep reading and you’ll see just what I mean.
There was a time when I thought that live music was a perversion. You spend all of this time learning to love an album. The way that the guitar solos soar, the way that the vocals and the lyrics come out crisp and clean, it was just so perfect to me. Why, I thought, would a band want to go and ruin it by releasing a live album? Why would they take something a kid like me so loved and release some tired, washed out sounding live version. A version where every note is not necessarily where it should be. A version where the singer sounds, well, as if he’s been singing that song every night for the last year and a half, and not just in my headphones. But then it happened, just like it does. There are exceptions to every rule, mind. I am and continue to be a fan of Rush’s Exit Stage Left, and album whose cover photo incorporates an image from the crowd at one of the tour’s shows in Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium. But there was something about that album that was special to me for reasons beyond the fact that it was a live album, something that perhaps I will delve into at another time. This particular thing i’m thinking of is different. It all began when I heard, or rather saw, a fantastic album cover for Robin Trower Live. Here’s this guy totally rocking out on his guitar in front of a gigantic crowd on a perfect summer evening. Sound unheard (think sight unseen but with listening) I had to have that album. And thus my journey began. This guy had so much passion for his music that he was willing to put it on the line for hundreds of thousands of people and they just lapped it up! You could hear it, and thank goodness for the editor of the album that he had the presence of mind enough to leave the crowd reactions in. It was electric listening to the way that the artist and the spectators were intertwined on that night, and it brought the music and the musicians up to a level that they just couldn’t obtain alone in the studio. Getting lost in the music as I am wont to do whenever possible, I could imagine what it felt like to be a face in that crowd, experiencing the rush as the musician takes to the lighted stage and pours their heart out to the fans gathered at their feet. And so from that point on I began to steer toward rather than away from my favorite artists’ live cuts. I amassed a collection of live albums, and the test as to whether one made the grade or failed was in whether it evoked a feeling of longing in me. Not just was this up to par with what I heard when the record came out last year, but if I had been given the chance would I have purchased a ticket and played my part in that evening’s recording? But then I thought, why stop there? Why not go beyond would you have purchased a ticket? And so it came to me, and I now pose it to you. If you could go back in time, based on your affinity for a particular live album, and actually attend the show on the night it was recorded, even if that meant creating a rift in the very fabric of the space-time continuum, who would you see and when would you see them?
Now before you answer I must be a bit more clear. This question is posed in the context of a particular theory of time travel. That theory states that if you went back in time and somehow changed the slightest thing, you would alter the course of history for that particular time such that the people in that time’s lives would be permanently altered, and their future would now be different, even if just ever so slightly, from the future from which you came. Time would split at that precise moment, and you would have two futures running along parallel lines. One future where let’s just say you went back in time and attended The Grateful Dead Live at Kleinhans Music Hall and everything that would follow that event, and the future that you came from where you didn’t. So in going back in time to the live concert of your dreams, you would be able to return to your version of the future just as you knew it, but to all of the other unknowing spectators their lives would be somehow changed in ways that could be drastic or fantastic.
Okay, digression over. Why time travel? Why not? Why not raise the stakes a little, give you food for thought. Maybe get you to think a little more about your answer. For me, the answer is Gary Numan, Live at Wembley Stadium 1981. It was supposed to be his farewell tour, a promise that meant just as much as a Ric Flair retirement match meant he was actually going to stop wrestling. But all such nonsense aside, it truly is an electrifying experience for me to listen to this album. It was the convergence of an artist at the peak of his popularity, a fantastic stage show with towers of flashing light, and a crowd so pumped up to see him that they make me feel jealous that they got to be there on that night and I am left to wonder what it must have felt like. Would it be worth it to me to go back in time and see that show in person? Yes. And if that was my one and only opportunity to go back in time and come back again, I still might just say fuck it let’s go!
It’s funny how we romanticize memories. I’ve been listening to mp3s of the music from Nintendo games I used to play as a kid. Not general Nintendo music, but specific games that I loved to play and was at least decent at. And it struck me how memories tie themselves together. In this case, the order of the memory to me is that I hear the song and I can immediately recall an image in my mind of what scene is being played out as I listen to the music. I can see the characters moving, I can see the imagery as they move through the stage of the game that the music represents. And then as if it’s some kind of a movie, the camera suddenly pulls back and it’s like we were inside the TV screen, and now we’re seeing an 8 year old me playing this game at a friend’s house. We’re loving the fact that there’s nothing we need to do aside from play this game, and as I reflect on it, it’s a really pleasant memory. But then I think to myself, why does this person, this scene come to mind first? When I really stop to think of it, the kid I was playing the game with was an oddball and a sore loser. We were playing this game and he lost all of his lives, but I got to continue playing the game, he wouldn’t talk to me for an hour. But if I died and he got to continue, it was like he was the greatest and I just had to sit there and watch. Because if I had acted like he did, then he would stop talking to me. Looking back I was glad when that kid moved, because I didn’t have the will to say “Grow up, and if you have a problem, the silent treatment isn’t the answer. It’s just weird.”
But why then is that the memory that springs to mind first is this one? Give me just a moment or two more, and I can immediately tell you that the best memory I have of this game is playing it, and beating it, with my big brother. It was awesome. It was one of those rare occasions where despite our age difference, for a moment we were equals. Doesn’t my brain realize this? Or is it just my default setting to think of the worst memories first and then work my way backward? Who knows…who knew a Nintendo song could evoke such a thing in me?
Every once in a while I get totally blown away with the sense of smell. I don’t mean that in the very literal “That smell’s awful” kind of way, but more in the way of how we remember certain smells but sometimes can’t possibly describe them. I’m sitting here at work and I just had the memory of how my Aunt Mary Lou’s house in Akron smelled when I was a kid. I didn’t smell something similar just now that reminded me of it, nor is it the kind of smell where I can say “well, it’s kinda like if you mixed ___ with ___.” I just remember it. And can think of how it smelled without smelling it. Is it weird to be thinking this? Have you ever pondered it before? I think I need more sleep.