Dispatches from the desert #2

In terms of memory banks (we’re not talking the tech variety here), I’m more than a millionaire. Make all the jokes you want about the aging process and slowing synapses, but when it comes to moments I know will demand recall with a smile, I’m the first to quip: “Put it in the memory bank.”

Case in point: Back in May I was lucky to get tickets to that monumental Coachella concert know as Desert Trip. Okay, luck is a relative concept (considering the price of tickets and the bots who take all the pleasure out of online ticket buying) but a line-up the likes of which is not likely to ever happen again got this rock ‘n’ roll heart very pumped up: Bob Dylan/The Rolling Stones, Neil Young/Paul McCartney, The Who/Roger Waters. Knowing I’d be sharing the experience with my daughter, her boyfriend (now fiancé), and a high school friend I hadn’t seen since we graduated heightened the anticipation.img_0004

In the wink of an eye, September rolls around and the buzz, turned down to a slow simmer during the intervening months, is back big-time: tickets arrive, this is really happening, will I need a fleece jacket for October nights in the desert?

So happens that on the very first night of Rosh Hashanah, just days before I would head out to California, my daughter and her boyfriend decide it’s time to commit to that next big relationship step. No rush re: planning a wedding, but the timing of their engagement makes my visit a gift on more levels than one.That vault in the memory bank I go to every September/October when those Days of Awe roll around now holds new treasures forever linked to a very particular pocket of time.

desert-trip-diningWe say it again and again—how quickly time moves!—and here I am, more than a week since my visit, organizing memories into a time piece, my head filled with desert dust still churning itself into a daily sound and light show: I’m tangled up in blue, or driving in my car/when a man comes on the radio, or asking, Tommy can you hear me? Don’t even get me started on that full moon rising or the eerie dark side of it. . . .


Day #1: Bob Dylan comes onto the stage in darkness, and leaves in darkness, no communication (other than his brilliant music) with the audience. Who cares, really? It’s Dylan, and his singing voice will forever play second fiddle to that musical/literary thing we call Voice. Act #2, The Rolling Stones, rock it from the start, Mick Jagger promising no old age jokes, even as he says, “Welcome to the Palm Springs retirement home for aging English rockers.” Keith Richards makes a point of paying some homage to Dylan. And collectively they pay homage to the Beatles with a cover of “Come Together.” Not the first time I’ve seen The Stones, which makes me qualified to say that Mick still has the strut and the voice.


Day #2: Neil Young, with a fantastic band and voice suited to a moon in the desert, opens with “After the Gold Rush, “followed by “Heart of Gold.” neil-youngMaybe I do in fact die and go to heaven when he sings “Harvest Moon” but more to the point, he brings a subtle political tone to the show, with a teepee on stage and songs about Mother Earth and a not-so-subtle allusion to everything I’m here to forget: “Come back tomorrow night,” he says. “Roger is going to build a wall and make Mexico great again.” To admit that his set would be my favorite misses the point that the whole is truly greater than the sum of its parts in this historical musical event. To see/hear Sir Paul cast a nostalgic net with unsurpassed charm is a rueful reminder that you’re only as old as you feel—which makes today feel like an exuberant yesterday when Neil Young joins him for very hot rendition of “Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?”


Day #3: Back in my college days, The Who did a run of Tommy for several days at the Fillmore East, one of the few concerts in my lifetime of concert going that I could not snag a ticket to. All of which makes it all the exciting to hear snippets from that extraordinary album, and more. The decibel level is noticeably higher when they get rolling, and, even if it’s a reach for Roger Daltrey to hit some of the notes in the group’s greatest hits, there’s a synergy between him and Pete Townsend that transcends the public acrimony between them. They know why they’re here, they acknowledge the fans who still come out for them after all these years, they pay tribute to the band members no longer with them. And they play their hearts out.


No small irony that the closer here tonight is a key player in another band I rue never having seen. The sensurround/Roger Waters experience begins even before he takes to the stage. There’s a rumbling, unidentifiable sound that has this East Coast girl thinking earthquake?—until the sound and light Pink Floyd experience takes hold and I’m transported to another planet.bob-dylan

Not an easy task, returning to earth, but the exciting news that Bob the troubadour is now Bob the Nobel Laureate goes a very long way toward helping me bring it all back home. Come on, Bob, your fans are all-forgiving, even amused, at your take-me-as-I-am onstage persona, but is it really possible that receiving the most prominent literature prize in the world leaves you speechless?paul-mccartneyroger-daltrey

Dispatches (soon to come) from the desert

Good things come in the most unexpected packages—

Two weeks ago my UPS delivery man hands me a package, no recognizable return address on the shipping label. I’m baffled, not that I don’t love a surprise.   But when that big brown truck barrels up my driveway, more often than not I can pretty much guess what’s in it for me. UPS tracking is a beautiful thing and I’d been alerted, via email, that something special was on its way.

Humor me, please. I’m a sucker for a great rock show, and when tickets went on sale in May for that mega Coachella festival in California known as Desert Trip, I managed to get ahead of the bots and scalpers. Anticipation tells me it’s a long, long time from May to September; yet somehow as the moment of arrival gets close it feels as if time has moved with the speed of a bullet train. Today those tickets would finally be in my hands and I can be forgiven for expecting a simple flat envelope with the passes inside. Clearly I was wrong.


A three-day festival featuring the Rolling Stones/Bob Dylan, Neil Young/Paul McCartney, Roger Waters/The Who is a big deal and I don’t care if they call it Boomer-Chella or Oldchella or just good old rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s clear, from even the delivery of the passes, that a lot of thought (possibly over-the-top) has gone into this.

I open the box, the passes and wristbands jump out. There’s more, though, and I lift the insert. Voilà—my very own ViewMaster, the pièce de resistance in a boxful of memorabilia before the event has even taken place.

Yes, it’s a carefully orchestrated/marketed event. But the spirit behind it counts for a lot. I was in Europe the summer of Woodstock, and even if the Desert Trip stars are in the twilight of their performing career or maybe because of it, you can count on some good old-fashioned dispatches from me.

In the meantime, there’s been the distraction of a presidential election that has gone from sublime to ridiculous to surreal and raised anxiety levels to new heights. Even at the worst moments I have managed to keep the faith that Hillary will prevail. That’s the realist, not the optimist in me, speaking. As we move into the final stretch, my own anxiety drops just a bit as I see a woman in a red suit handle herself with such aplomb before an audience of millions. There really is no contest here, and any sensible person sees it. But this country, alas, is clearly divided between the camps of sense and senselessness.

Awesome may be a word suited to rock concerts, but awe is world into itself, and to be in awe of the woman most likely to succeed as Madam President puts me in a good frame of mind for my upcoming trip—which just happens to come smack in the middle of the ten-day period known as Days of Awe in the Jewish calendar. There’s every reason to get a sense of grounding this time of year. For one thing, there’s that back-to-school mindset, so ingrained and so in tune with seasonal change. The air gets cool, leaves start to fall, a sense of hunkering down can’t help but take hold. Those of us brought up in reasonably traditional households have the added fact of the Jewish New Year. There’s this big, big book, we’re told, and in those ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, God is watching very closely, giving us every chance to reflect, repent, do good deeds before deciding what the next year will bring.

I do my best.

I honor my parents’ spirit by attending services, notably Tashlich (when we cast off sins) and Yizkor (when we honor the memory of loved ones no longer with us).

I take time to reflect on my life, a very blessed one indeed.

I channel my mother by cooking brisket, and more, for the friends and family who will come for dinner. Chopping onions is not the only thing that brings tears to my eyes.

And this year, I go to the desert, if not with ancestors, at least with kindred spirits—my daughter, her boyfriend, and to bring it full circle, a dear high school friend who happens to live in Palm Desert. We lost touch over the years, and since reconnecting via Facebook, we’ve made up for some lost time via texts, emails, phone conversations. And just the other day I get a surprise package from her via USPS, the goodies she’s been gathering, just a glimpse into all the things to do/places to see in that valley where I picture a sublime sunset setting the stage for pure satisfaction.





“We got older, but we’re still young…”

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Summer is a time of outdoor music festivals, something I used to cherish much more when I lived on the East Coast. It just went with the season. Now in California, I’ve never gotten my shit together to make a picnic of a Hollywood Bowl concert, but as I wait in line for an overpriced burger, that doesn’t stop me from thinking: I should have packed my own food and wine.

My summer concert season started off with Billy Joel and it’s ending with Justin Timberlake. In the middle I’ll have seen Robyn and Paul McCartney. . . basically all people who started out WAY before my time or just during my time.

Summer for me (after I finished my last year at sleepaway camp obviously!!) used to be Jones Beach, Warped Tour, consuming every new band that I could, from Something Corporate to Senses Fail. I even found a little niche writing about concerts and interviewing bands for an online music ‘zine, which even got me close to the stage, taking photos. I felt like William Miller in Almost Famous.

That all changed when I started to feel “too old for that shit.” The exact moment happened when my friend and I were on our way to Warped Tour 2005 in Northampton, MA, and were stuck in traffic for four hours, missing 90 percent of the day. My lowest point of that “road trip” was when I had to pee so badly that I had my pants down with a Nalgene ready to receive a nice stream of urine, when my friend finally reached the exit and I rushed into the nearest restroom. ltj7The highest point that day was ending it at an Outback Steakhouse with a bloomin’ onion.

I used to never let these sort of obstacles stand in my way. If there was a will, there was a way and there was always both, even if it required my parents having to accompany me. Mom, I’m still mad at you for making me leaving Blink-182 early during my favorite song, junior year of high school!!

In recent years, Sugar Ray of “Fly” fame has gathered other 90s rock bands at the Greek each summer to perfom all our favorite hits of theirs from the 90s. I went two years ago and it was a blast. I was supposed to go last year, but my obstacle then was a broken ankle, and I would have loved to go this year, but I’m seeing Justin Timberlake instead (poor me). It was good nostalgia—Gin Blossoms, Smash Mouth, Everclear—all performing songs that I will always love, and no one trying to push new shit on us. They knew exactly why they were there and what we wanted to see/hear. That’s the right kind of old school show. That’s what Billy Joel would do!

nyw04sc_4I think what I learned is that nostalgia only gets you so far. How many times do I really need to see Blink-182? As much as I loved them growing up, seeing them last fall was just not the same. Their juvenile act is the same, but their music has evolved with their age (as it should) and it just doesn’t work anymore. My taste has evolved with my age, too, and Blink-182 and I have sadly gone separate ways. Some bands have stood the test of time and have grown up with me like Green Day and Andrew McMahon. Others are still stuck in the late 90s and early 2000s – decades which I have grown past emotionally and physically (don’t even get me started on the comeback of the Birkenstock).

Maybe it’s because the cost of a concert is now an arm and a leg, but I’ve become more discerning about who I will spend money on. If I’ve never seen you and you’re a classic (hey, Sir Paul, can’t wait for this weekend!), then I’ll do it. If I have seen you or know others have seen you asfnov23_1nd know you put on an amazing show, then heck yeah. There’s something to be said for letting go. I’m sorry, Blink-182, but that’s what I’ve had to do with you.

Also, my time is more precious now and I am pickier about how I spend it. I’d rather listen to an old CD in my car and remember driving around in high school to “Boys of Summer” than see The Ataris again (if they’re still a band). If you’re an aging rock star, though, and I haven’t seen you yet, come at me! If you’re a new band . . . your songs better have enough variety to keep me interested.

Happiness is . . .

Take a minute, say the phrase, ask yourself what comes to mind.

A warm blanket? A warm puppy?

A warm gun.

That first hint of springtime green which really is gold.

A deep ruby Grenache that catches the light and warms the spirit.

A walk around the lake, alone, or through a museum, with a friend.

A very dry martini, straight up, with a twist.

A new dishwasher with a half-load cycle (let’s hear it for energy-efficiency!)

dolphins national aquariumWatching dolphins blowing bubble rings underwater in a PBS/Nova series, Inside Animal Minds.  Evolution takes on a new light when you see the real connection between socialization and survival of a species.  Communication runs deeper than thought.

Dancing with abandon.

Plunging into a book that begins with these words, “It was the happiest moment of my life,” and ends with these: “’Let everyone know, I lived a very happy life.’” Between those bookend phrases are 530 pages riddled with irony, and sadness, obsessive love and the longing it gives rise to.

Is happiness contingent on love?

Try to find someone
Keep on walking strong
With your heart open wide
You’ll be satisfied . . .
  —The Subdudes

Is a simpler life really the answer?

Down in the jungle living in a tent
You don’t use money you don’t pay rent
You don’t even know the time but you don’t mind . .
             —Paul McCartney

In the spectrum of things that embody happiness, music is as close to the top of the list as it gets.  It’s a body thing, out of thought. Even sad music, for the pure pleasure of listening and every nuanced emotion it encompasses, hails with happiness.

I’m only home away from home
I’m only all there when I’m gone
I only miss you when I’m with you
I’m only happy when I’m singing a sad sad song
                   —Rhett Miller

Making playlists is an unabashed joy. There’s an art to the segue, song to song. When I’m at the gym, on the Elliptical machine, a playlist that includes Johnny Ray Allen (You’ll Be) Satisfied and Paul McCartney, Mrs. Vandebilt,  Craig Finn, Honolulu Blues and Rhett Miller, Out of Love, is very very good for the heart.  Picturing David Bowie and Mick Jagger in their classic Dancing in the Street video is good for the soul.  Not that the Laura Nyro/LaBelle cover, or the original Martha Reeves and the Vandellas doesn’t have pride of place in my ‘Dance’ playlist, along with Lady Gaga (duh) and the Scissor Sisters. And Billy Idol. I’m big on dancing with myself.

Satisfaction? I can’t say I don’t get no. Depends on the day.  One good paragraph, a line that sings, caveat (‘Kill your darlings’) aside.

A row of turtles resting on a log in the lake always stops me.

Looking up at cumulus clouds floating against a backdrop of at least five shades of blue.

The eerie trill of toads, a mating call as intoxicating as it gets.

A blue jay’s whistle.

A reflexology foot massage.

I could go on and on, and we all have lists of our own making. . . but isn’t there something a little less tangible at the heart of true happiness?  Isn’t looking from the outside/in worlds apart from going from the inside/out? Pema Chodron says we’ll never find happiness as long as we keep looking for it all the wrong places, a habit that’s hard to break.  Matthieu Ricard, who has been dubbed the happiest man on earth (a label he disclaims),  makes a distinction between things that give us pleasure and an inner sense of flourishing, fulfillment.

In the truest of all possible worlds, happiness is that thing that knows we’re part of a greater whole, interconnected. It comes from a place deep inside, where mind stops chattering, serenity takes hold, compassion is a given.  In the day-to-day world as we (mostly) live it, it’s something outside of us—riddled with longing, hope, waiting for something that might make us feel better. Today.

Tomorrow I fly to California, a long way to go for a mini-roadtrip with my daughter in her spiffy new car. It will be the first time in a few years that we’ll be spending Mother’s Day together. On the grand scale of things that make me happy, doesn’t get much better than that.

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