Saturday, August 7, 2021

Ravenswood Notes: Music is the Key

     Lots of people seem to be feeling beaten down and burnt out lately, by the worsening pandemic and the general grind of news. I've been wondering how to combat that, and here comes Caren Jeskey reporting on that dependable bulwark against the difficulties of life: music.

     Have you wrapped your head around this plague yet? Mind boggling, isn’t it? Sure, we knew devastating diseases have appeared on our planet in the past, and were bound to happen again. But were you expecting one in your lifetime? How are you coping? If someone had told me, pre-March of 2020, that the climate of the world would change so drastically I would not have believed it. To think of the staggering amount of deaths that have occurred, and the stories that keep coming in about young folks getting sick and dying (especially with this new shittier variant) is almost too much.
     Grief comes at its own pace and it’s been hitting me in waves. 
Sometimes the waves are small and I am not even sure why I feel uneasy until I stop and think; other times they are tidal waves that knock me down and toss me about. I wish I could wish this whole thing away. With every ambulance I hear I cringe and wonder if someone is dying a suffocating death.

    “Who said this life’s too much to bear? Just tell me how to fix it. It’s broken. It’s broken.”                                                               —Iggy Pop

     Music is proving to one of my most reliable salvations. I got the Vocalo app and Jill Hopkins in the Morning keeps me company with her witty quips, joyful nature, and curation of fine old and new school soul, new and vintage hip hop, and contemporary hits. She’s keeping me in the know. Vagabon’s In a Bind, for example
, makes difficulty seem bearable as she croons from a sad yet powerful place about surviving heartbreak. Thanks Jill. This NPR station’s DJ’s also bring dancing vibes into my kitchen and living room, and dance I do.
     Some of my most religious experiences have been at concerts. Leonard Cohen at the Chicago Theatre, doing 5 or 6 encores, just a couple years before we lost him. Stevie Wonder at the Arie Crown in the 90s, singing "Superwoman" as a friend and I held hands and cried. Stevie again, singing "Songs in the Key of Life" from start to finish a few years back at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin, in the company of my sister.
     Nile Rodgers—who wrote, composed or produced Madonna’s "Like a Virgin," Sister Sledge’s 'We are Family," Daft Punk’s "Get Lucky," Diana Ross’s "I’m Coming Out," David Bowie’s "Let’s Dance," the B52s "Roam, "Duran Duran’s "Notorious"— doing his thing with Chic and Duran Duran at Ravinia when it was still safe to be shoulder to shoulder with unmasked strangers, singing our hearts out.
     Lollapalooza has also provided lifelong memories. Iggy Pop’s meatless frame throwing his mic stand into the crowd. Amy Winehouse in a black and white checkered minidress, unable to stand at times, and her loving band of large men holding her up when necessary. Brazilian Girls with lead singer Sabina Sciubba in haute couture and an angelic voice; an apparition in snow white with thousands of adoring fans hanging on every word, shake of her hips, and mesmerizing fluttery hand gestures.
     For a couple years in the mid-2000s I was hired at a beer tent at the fest, to pour and serve hundreds of beers to drunken or soon-to-be-drunken patrons. I walked away with $500 cash each day, and was allowed to see any show I’d like. I didn’t even mind the work part of it since the crew was fun and the people watching phenomenal.
     These days, when I hear folks say they are going to concerts at indoor venues, or to shows that are sure to be overly packed and thus spreader fests, my heart sinks. Too much of the world is not taking this seriously enough. They have all of the patience of a shrew.
     For now I will sing and dance at home, on the beach, on patios and in friend’s yards. I am also ecstatically looking forward to seeing Neko Case on September 4th at a venue sponsored by SPACE in Evanston. They are calling the series Out of Space and the shows will be outdoors and as safe as can be. I will let Neko’s thunderous pipes, perfect pitch, and power take me as far away as I can muster. 
     Sing it Neko. 
     “God blessed me, I'm a free man. With no place free to go. I’m paralyzed and collared-tight. No pills for what I fear. This is crazy. I wish I was the moon tonight.”


  1. Finding a balance of staying informed while allowing ourselves to enjoy all the good things out there is a challenge.

  2. I've never thought highly of Lollapaloozer, but in these times, it should not be happening at all. I have the same feelings about Sturgis, which should really be renamed Surgis.

    It isn't the music I dislike so much as the size of the crowds. Aging has a lot to do with that. When I was 21, I attended the largest-ever music festival before Woodstock. Anybody here know where it was?

    Passed out and slept right through some rock-folk-country-jazz-blues-psychedelic outfit from San Francisco. They were called the Dead something-or-other. People told me I missed a lot. Wonder whatever became of them?

    1. Very funny Grizz. Having seen that rag tag bunch, in one configuration or the other, dozens of times over the last many decades, I will tell you they are alive and well (sans Captain Trips of course) and still doing what they love. Soundtrack of my life!

  3. Isle of Wight?

    And I’m with you- don’t love crowds, and last times I went to ACL & SXSW I stayed towards the back, which was fiine.

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  5. As the saying goes, 'used to be is like never was,' but I find myself glad to have grown up in a golden age of popular music. The big names were virtuosic instrumentalists, whose bands accompanied singers able to put across lyrics written by literate songwriters, mostly Jewish but indebted for example to the wit of an Englishman, W. S. Gilbert. This all replaced it seems by badly dressed performers prancing about on a stage banging out simple tunes on amplified instruments and yelling barely intelligent lyrics into microphones for the benefit of screaming crowds of teens.

    You needn't pay attention. Am just feeling grumpy today.


  6. I barely remember anything about that huge rock concert at the Orange County Fairgrounds, in Costa Mesa, CA, on August 3-4, 1968. The First (and Last) "Newport Pop Festival'-- the biggest one anywhere, up to that point in time.

    Hot California sun, not enough shade or food or water, a lot of booze and dope and sunburned flesh, and a whole bunch of well-known bands...most of which I think I slept through. I was really fried. Hence the lack of musical memories. The festival wasn't the disaster it could have been...but the event is believed to have been the first pop music concert with over 100,000 paid attendees.

    Some, but not all, of those who performed: Alice Cooper, Canned Heat, Country Joe and the Fish, Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Sonny & Cher, Steppenwolf, Tiny Tim, Eric Burdon & the Animals, Grateful Dead, Iron Butterfly, Jefferson Airplane, Quicksilver Messenger Service, The Byrds, Lovin' Spoonful, and The Turtles. Quite a partial list.

    After sleeping through the Dead in '68, I never saw them perform live again.


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