Sunday, March 27, 2016

Down to the River We Did Ride

Photo by SallyAnn Rogers
                                      Down to the river
                                      my baby and I
                                     Oh down to the river we ride

                                                     - Bruce Springsteen, “The River”

Last month SallyAnn and I took a quick road trip to Cleveland, Ohio to see Bruce Springsteen in concert . . . again!  We attended our first Springsteen concert back on August 15, 1978, when the Boss and his E Street Band came to the old Capital Center outside Washington, DC while touring in support of the Darkness on the Edge of Town album.  Since then we have seem him at several venues in and around Washington, and we have travel to Philadelphia, New Jersey, and even west to Columbus, Ohio, to catch up with Bruce and the band and to share a little of that spirit in the night.  I am guessing that we have probably seen them in concert a couple dozen times over the years.

This current tour, which commenced in January in Pittsburgh, celebrates the 35th anniversary of the release of Springsteen’s 20-song double album The River, in October 1980.  This fifth studio album has long been considered his right of passage record - “where I was trying to find my way inside” at age 30 . . . beyond the boardwalk and the clubs in Asbury Park, New Jersey. “I wanted the record to contain fun, dancing, jokes, good comradeship, love, faith, sex, lonely nights, and of course, tears,” he confessed as he introduced the set in Cleveland.  “And I figured if I could make a record that was big enough to contain all those things, maybe I'd get a little closer to the home I was searching for.”   It was the album that would launch him into the stratosphere of rock stardom where he remains to this day more than a generation later.  So there was no way in hell we were going to pass up this tour after having witnessed Springsteen’s return to the Capital Center on November 23, 1980 during the original tour supporting The River.  We stood ready to buy tickets as soon as they went on sale back in December. 

I think back fondly to those early days when there was no problem scoring tickets to a Springsteen concert, if you were willing to stand in line at the ticket office when they went on sale.  There were even some record stores that a few of us knew about where one could purchase tickets without standing in line.  The ticket price for the original tour was $12.50, tax included.   Then Ticketmaster (fie on it and all of its spawn) too over and tickets seemed as rare as hen’s teeth.  One would go online the moment they went on sale and within seconds the concerts . . . at least those at DC venues . . . were sold out or available only through scalpers at many times their face value.   Now tickets cost $150 plus a rather exorbitant “courtesy fee” IF one is lucky enough to find one for sale.

We were therefore forced to look farther afield to find tickets, if we ever hoped to see Bruce in concert again.  Such was the case this time when we were able to find available tickets at the QuickenLoan Arena - “the Q” - just a hop, skip and a jump from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on Cleveland’s lakefront.  I won’t travel so far for just anyone.  But Springsteen is a different matter all together.  If you have been to one of his concerts, you know what I am talking about.  If you have not, then you need to get yourself to a Springsteen concert before you die.  Then you will understand.

In fact, this was our first return to Cleveland since late February 2010 when we traveled there to see the special Springsteen exhibit at the museum.  It seemed appropriate as the Boss has always had a strong connection with his fans in the former rust belt of northeast Ohio.  He paid tribute in his elegiac 1995 song “Youngstown,” a paean to that nearby hardscrabble town and its “smokestacks reachin’ like the arms of God / Into a beautiful sky of soot and clay.”  Being a native Midwesterner, having grown up in many of its cities - my hometown of Chicago, Detroit, Toledo, Cincinnati - I feel a strong affinity for Cleveland even though I have never lived here.  It looks likes the places where I grew up.  Home.

So how was the concert you ask?  There was magic in the night to be sure.  The band opened with “Meet Me in the City,” one of a couple dozen songs written and recorded for inclusion on The River, but never released until the Springsteen box set that arrived in stores late last year.  I have to admit I was happy to see the E Street Band stripped down to its earlier configuration, without all of the back-up singers and horn section.  They worked with his more recent albums, but The River is simple and raw and there was no need for all the extras.  Nils Lofgrin was not around back in 1980, but he joined the band shortly thereafter and his signature guitar work compliments that of Springsteen and Little Steven van Zandt.   Add to the mix Soozie Tyrell with her acoustic guitar and fiddle and what more do you need?  Sadly, there were some missing faces from the early years . . . the Big Man, Clarence Clemmons, who passed away in 2011, and whose place has been admirably filled by his nephew Jake Clemmons; and Danny Federici, who died in 2008.  Wife Patti Scialfa, who has ducked out of a few dates on this tour, was also MIA in Cleveland and bassist Gary Tallent had a rare opportunity to move front stage.

Bruce and the band played for a solid three and a half hours to a packed house without a break.  Approaching age 67 he has amazing energy and drive, and his sheer joy in what he does shows through from start to finish.  I have never known Bruce to disappoint an audience and that evening in Cleveland proved to be everything we hoped it would be . . . and more.  At most of his concerts you never know what he will play.  They are always a mixture of old favorites and new tunes along with unexpected covers of iconic songs.  He even takes audience requests.  Such is not the case with this tour.  We knew what to expect going in . . . an in-sequence, complete performance of The River ending with the plaintive “Wreck on the Highway.”

Sometimes I sit up in the darkness
And I watch my baby as she sleeps
Then I climb in bed and I hold her tight
I just lay there awake in the middle of the night
Thinking 'bout the wreck on the highway.

Bruce paused at the end, smiled and announced “that was The River.”  And so it was.  It was what we came to hear and no one would go home unsatisfied.  Without taking a break, he switched guitars and added: “I’m gonna carry on for awhile” as he and the band launched into a lengthy encore during which they played a number of the favorite Springsteen classics . . . and it was not difficult to think back to those early concert tours when he played upwards of four hours.  The concert was full of fun, dancing, jokes, comradeship, love, faith, and a good deal more . . . an impressive performance from a man now in his 67th year.  And there is no end in sight.

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Maine Dreaming

Photo by Dave Breton
Spring has sprung here in Washington, DC and the cherry blossoms are popping out all around the Tidal Basin and throughout Potomac Park.  The flowers and the forsythia in our yard are all in bloom.   I would enjoy it far more if spring did not also bring with it the dreaded tree pollen that clogs my respiratory system come March.  It was hard to shake off winter this year.   There were early hints of sprint but these were followed by brief bouts of snow and cold, blustery days.  Hopefully those are all finally behind us.

With the arrival of spring, I begin to think forward to our annual summer hiatus at the lake cottage in Maine.   It won’t be long before we return to the shores of Sabbathday Lake where we shall remain through September and the onset of colder weather forcing us southward one again.  Spring has not arrived there yet.  It was an easy winter in Maine relatively speaking; there has been little snow and the ice on the lake has been too thin for ice-fishing.  Our summer neighbor took the above photograph of our cottage and the lake.  Normally snow would be piled up half way up the outer walls and the lake would be dappled with ice shanties.  Not this year.  Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote that in Maine they do not have a summer, but just a thaw.   That’s not really true at all.  Summers in Maine are beautiful.  Don’t let anyone tell you differently.

"Maine is a joy in the summer,” wrote Paul Theroux.  “But the soul of Maine is more apparent in the winter."   Maybe this is true, maybe not.   Still, winter has not yet let go in the Pine Tree State and today some snow and freezing rain continue to belie its continuing grip on northern New England.   Spring will come soon enough . . . it always does . . . and the detritus of winter will be swept away.  The ice will melt and docks will go back into the water.  The resident loons will return along with us summer people from away.

So I sit here on this pleasant spring day in Washington and dream of summer in Maine . . . “an' the livin' is easy.”    It will be here soon enough and the dream that sustains me through the winter will come true.  

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

We Mourn in Paris and Brussels . . . But What About the Rest of the World?

Terrorism Strikes Again
In January 2015, over a dozen innocent civilians were murdered in a terrorist attack on the offices of the Charlie Hedbo magazine and elsewhere in Paris.  Government leaders and others from France and beyond marched through the streets of the French capital to demonstrate their solidarity.  The western world stood together through commercial and social media in solidarity against terrorism.  Last November terrorists struck again in Paris, murdering over 130 innocents and once again western governments and peoples stood together in solidarity against terrorism.

Yesterday morning dozens were murdered in two separate terrorist attacks in Brussels, not only the capital city of Belgium, but the administrative seat of the European Union.  Since these attacks the western world has come together again in solidarity against terrorism.  French President Hollande, no stranger to the deplorable aftermaths of terrorist attacks, perhaps said it best . . . this was not an attack only against Belgium, but against all of Europe . . . the world.

Not just the western world.  The entire civilized world.  Western Europeans are getting into the unfortunate habit of assembling at the sites of unspeakable carnage, to light candles and to spread flowers, all the while promising they will win in the battle to defeat terrorism.  Iconic structures throughout Europe are illuminated in the national colors of the latest country to fall victim.  And yet the terrorist attacks continue at a time and place chosen by any number of terrorist cells operating with almost impunity across the continent. 

European diplomats continue to meet and pass treaties in the hopes of stemming the tide of terrorism.  National representatives met to sign the Additional Protocol to the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, which was adopted last October in Riga, Latvia.  Its purpose is to supplement the provisions of the original Convention adopted by the Council in 2005, codifying the criminalization of any  participation in an association or group for the purpose of terrorism, the traveling abroad for the purpose of terrorism, participation in a terrorist offence, receiving training for terrorism, organizing or otherwise facilitating foreign travel for the purpose of terrorism, or the funding of foreign travel for the purpose of terrorism.  So far
26 countries have signed the Convention over the past decade.  Still terrorism continues, and since many of the acts are the result of suicide bombings, almost no one has been tried and punished for these heinous acts of terrorism.

But terrorism is not confined to Europe; it knows no boundaries.  There are terrorist acts being committed across the globe yet only a few, mostly those occurring in North America and Europe, seem to generate international solidarity much less interest or coverage in the western media.  Why weren’t the national colors of Mali (20 killed), Tunisia (13 killed), Burkino Faso (30 killed), Cote d’Ivoire [Ivory Coast] (16 killed), Somalia (15 killed), or Indonesia (8 killed), illuminating the Eiffel Tower or Brandenburg Gate in the wake of recent terrorist bombings in these African and Asia countries?  I suspect the answer lies in the fact that these countries are in Africa and Asia.  Do the lives of the victims of these recent terrorist attacks mean any less than those who were murdered in Paris or Brussels?   They were, in most cases, victims of the same terrorist organizations responsible for the attacks in Europe.  These victims should matter just as much.  But they don’t.  Not where we live.

And what about the spate of deadly bombings in Turkey?  Yes, it is a predominantly Muslim country, but it has been a long-standing ally of the United States and much of Europe as a member of NATO and other international organizations.  Turkey has been the victim of seven deadly bombings over the past year.  They are becoming an increasingly common tragedy.  On June 5, 2015, there were bombings in Diyarbakir, a town in southeastern Turkey, during an election rally.  Four were killed and over 100 injured.  ISIS is believed to have been responsible.   A few weeks later, on July 25, another ISIS bombing occurred near a cultural center in Suruç, another southeastern town, killing 33 and injuring over 100.  In October over 100 were killed during a peace rally outside the central railway station in Ankara, the nation’s capital.  This neighborhood is the home to several government ministries, a court and a police station. Over 400 others were injured making it the deadliest terror attack in Turkey’s recent history.  Once again ISIS was the suspected perpetrator.  An ISIS  suicide bomber attacked Istanbul’s Sultanahmet Square in the fashionable Beyoglu district on January 12, killing 13 and injuring more than a dozen.  Most of the victims were foreign, including several Germans.  A car bomb was detonated in Ankara on February 17, killing 29 and injuring 60.  A month later, on March 13 (just ten days ago!), another car bomb was detonated in Ankara’s Kizilay district near a major transit bus hub and not far from the central railway station, killing 37 and injuring hundreds of others.  Another ISIS suicide bombing occurred along Istanbul’s busy Istiklal Avenue on March 19 - just four days before the Brussels attacks yesterday - killing five and injuring approximately 40 more.  The street is often clogged with tourists and the victims were mostly foreign nationals, including two holding US citizenship.  In the light of these attacks Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a rather prescient comment shortly after the March 13 bombing in his capital.  “There is no reason why the bomb that exploded in Ankara could not explode in Brussels, or in any other European city . . .  The snakes you are sleeping with can bite you at any time."  I don’t often agree with much that Erdogan has to say.  But this time he is correct.   And I don’t believe it is over.

 Governments have responded to the attacks in Africa, Asia, and Turkey with quotidian words of condolence and promises of support.  There was limited media coverage, but nothing like what we saw in the aftermath of the massacres in Paris and Brussels.  Where was the popular solidarity?  The lighting of candles and citizen assemblies bearing witness to their solidarity with the other victims of terror?  My Facebook time line is full of calls for solidarity with our European friends.  “Je suis Charlie Hedbo.”  “Je suis Paris.” “Je suis Bruxelles /  Ik ben Brussels.”  It was full of commentaries mixed with calls for prayers for the victims and the survivors.  I don’t recall seeing any of the other “Je suis . . . . ” shown in the cartoon above in which Brussels asks whether there might be a small place for it among that crowd.  I did not see one reference on my time line to any of the Turkish bombings even though some of them were just as deadly as those in Paris and Brussels. 

I am not saying we should not mourn the victims in France and Belgium.  But what about the rest of the world?   Its time to realize that the life of a murdered victim of terror in Africa, Asia, and Turkey is just as valuable as an American or a European victim.  No single act of terror is more loathsome than another.   Terrorists don’t ask names, religions or national identities before they detonate their bombs.   Life does not matter to them.  But it does for the rest of us.  All lives matter!

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Still More Pondering . . . .

Today I am beginning the rest of my life . . . now as a card-carrying senior citizen.  I rise out of bed early each morning, brew a pot of coffee, and stare out the kitchen window considering the weather and what I really need to accomplish before I pull the plug on yet another building block in the evolving edifice that is my past.

I am going through old files, keeping a few and dumping a lot (many of them I have not looked at in this millennium); drafting a couple new blog postings and making up for the unusual silence since the New Year; watching German television news about another terrorist act, this time in Belgium; writing a few letters; reading and taking notes; beginning to work on the taxes; mapping out some research projects I must deal with in the coming days; eyeing a possible trip to Florida this spring to meet up with college chums I have not seen in over 40 years; or, perhaps, a return to the western North Carolina mountains of my childhood to attend a literary conference and renew old personal and professional acquaintances; and, finally, champing at the bit to get back up to the lake cottage in Maine and put some physical and psychic distance from the routines of the rest of the year and the growing insanity surrounding this year’s election cycle.

Just pondering in general.   Life is full of random impulses to do this and that.  I wake up each morning and see what the day will bring.  As a friend in Berlin wrote to me this morning in the wake of the terrorist onslaught in Brussels . . . “we go on living. That is where the strength is.”  I could not agree more.

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Monday, March 21, 2016

Still Raising a Joyful Noise . . . .

65 years ago today this quiet edifice - Holy Cross Hospital on Chicago's South Side -  came alive with the cries of a bouncing baby boy.  And he is still raising a joyful noise . . . and a little hell when he has the energy.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pondering . . . and Begging Your Pardon

I have not posted anything here in almost three months.  This is not for a lack of interest, or an inability to come up with something worthwhile to share.  It is all very simple; 2016 has been a very busy year so far what with working on a novella and a novel, doing some traveling, and dealing with a sudden onslaught of freelance research projects at the National Archives.  Add to this mix a bad bout with the flu and the garden variety of aches and pains that come with advancing years (I turn 65 tomorrow).  Still I manage to get up every morning and face the new day with a stiff upper lip.  I am happy to get as much done as I do.   So I am sorry if I have not been looking toward Portugal recently.  I have wanted to, but there are just so many hours in a day.  I beg your patience and pardon for my extended silence.

But this is all going to change.  I have been pondering . . . and I have a lot of ideas I want to play around with in the coming weeks and months.   Friedrich Hölderlin, one of my favorite German poets, said it best.  “Man is a god when he dreams, and a beggar when he ponders.”  I have been pondering long enough, and now it is time to give flight to the ideas that have been crowding my dreams long enough.

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