Tag Archives: jazz

It’s Not a Record…It’s an Experience!

Yesterday I got an order in the mail of an old record.

The mailman, in the 106 degree heat, hand-delivered the box labelled “vinyl record, fragile” to the door.

“Who’s the record collector,” the mailman asked my visiting mother?  “My son,” she told him, “he has a lot.”
“Me, too,” said the mailman, who said he used to work for a distributor in the days when vinyl was king.  Now he delivers them to the proud few who listen to the needle and groove in the mail.

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I still listen to and have vinyl in my household.  But I don’t do it because of the reasons so many people do.  It’s not because vinyl is so much more vivid and dynamic than an iPod.  (That’s true, though, by the way)  It’s not because vinyl has a richer tone and many of the old albums were mixed for vinyl, not iPod or CD.  (That’s true, too, by the way, and also why so many sound odd on CD or iPod)  It’s not even because it’s the cool, hipster vibe that gets people to cringe at you when you arrive with your massive bushy beard reminiscent of a member of the 5th infantry division of the US Cavalry displayed in a Ken Burns Civil War episode.  No, I don’t do it for shock value or crazy indignant ego.  

Vinyl is an experience.

I put it that way because it, too, is true.

Full Moon Fever by Tom PettyYears ago, before my oldest daughter was born, a mere twenty-odd years ago, there was a record by Tom Petty called “Full Moon Fever” that was released.  If you bought the album on CD there was a weird sort of no-man’s-land in-between tracks where Petty, in a joking, snarky comment, says “ATTENTION CD LISTENERS!  We’ve reached the point in Full Moon Fever where listeners who were enjoying on a record or cassette would have to get up, go across the room and then flip over to listen to side to of said record or cassette.  Out of respect for them we give them a few moments to do so.”  The CD then sits, weird background noise ringing for a bit, and then “now side 2 of Full Moon Fever.”

This gives you part of what music on records was and is for me.  It’s not a record, it’s part of your life, it’s an experience.  Vinyl isn’t just vinyl…it’s part of your life, and experience you lived.  I remember saving up money and going to the store to flip through the new releases, looking for that one record, that one musical experience, that I’d been dying to hear.

As a little boy my Dad worked in a chain store much like Target or what have you.  He’d get first crack as the LP’s came out, I guess, because he came home with new music a lot.  When I was little I remember going to a store in a larger town and buying an entire stereo system that we then took home and hooked up.  After that, my father bought new records as they came out.

Fly Like an Eagle by Steve MillerI remember the day he brought home Fly Like an Eagle by the Steve Miller Band.  We put it on the turntable and listened to it.  I spent weeks walking around singing “tick, tock, tick doo doo doo doo!”  I stared at the photo of Miller, face invisible, covered by hair, playing a left-handed Fender Stratocaster.  I was enamored.

Hotel-California by the EaglesWhen Hotel California came out we took it out and put it on the turntable.  The opening salvo of the twelve-string guitar filled the room.  It had a gate-fold album cover with an atypical Los Angeles scene, a hotel on the cover, and the neon sign you only pictured as a little kid must be what LA looks like.

A new record was an experience from the beginning.  You went to the alphabetical bins filled with records.  You flipped through the albums there, looking for bands you knew.  You made it to the one you wanted, bought it, got home, and couldn’t wait to tear the cellophane off and see the artwork and the label.

Paradise Theater by StyxWhen I was a teenager STYX had a record called Paradise Theater that had an amazing artistic representation of what the same said theater looked like in the heyday and what it looked like, decrepit, dying, just before it was torn down.  Inside you got the lyrics and screamed along with Tommy Shaw as he said he had “too much time on my hands.”  But the capper: the laser-inscribed cherubs that bordered the edges of the actual vinyl…rainbow shadows enhanced by the light, the only things decorating one side of the vinyl.  For effect, they removed the record label from that side Laser Etchingso it was all-black but for the laser etching.  The other side had the listings of the songs for both sides of the LP.

Stereotomy by the Alan Parsons ProjcetMy favorite, though . . . was by the Alan Parsons Project.  The album is universally ignored, not critically well-received, and I loved it.  It’s very ’80s, it’s very keyboard-centric, and it’s an odd high-concept album.  But the album artwork . . . it’s AH-MAY-ZING!  If you were lucky enough, as I was, to get a copy of one of the first pressings it was an album that was encased in a PVC cover that was then wrapped in cellophane.  Take off the plastic and the PVC was blue on the front . . . red on the back.  All the front said, in seemingly green letters, was “The Alan Parsons Project” on the top and “Stereotomy” on the bottom.  The back had an odd, crystalline design and nothing else.  Open the flap and take out the album cover, though, and the front is gibberish with a larger design in red and The cover without the 3d lensblue.  The back showed the actual track listings.  The album used the old 3D glasses effect to erase portions so you could only see them with the PVC cover on.  It was radical, had to be expensive, and just…so…cool!

This is the experience.  The act of taking the vinyl out, flipping it over and over again in your hands, and putting the center hole onto the spindle of the turntable.  You smelled the vinyl and the cardboard on the records.  You read the liner notes as the record started to play.  After all that, even, you played the record and you were cognizant of the music flowing through your room.  When it stopped, you got up, moved across the room, and moved flipped the record.  You cleaned it to remove the dust and grime, pulled over the needle. . . and you listened to the other side.

I have most of my record collection at home.  I have more new vinyl I’ve purchased.  I’m no throwback, I have an iPhone.  I listen to music in the car, on the iPod, I use it when I exercise in the mornings.  But music is meant to be experienced.  To that end…my kids tend to pick vinyl over CDs or the iPod when we choose music for the evening.  They look at the album covers.  The latest one by Rush has each side of each record is a clock…showing the album side from 1 to 4 by showing the time on a clock…for the album Clockwork Angels.  Others have clear or colored vinyl.  I have jazz…a Dave Brubeck small microgroove LP from Record Store Day that is all red see-through vinyl.  The music is amazing and the vinyl looks like a clear old 78rpm record.  It’s meant to tell a story before you ever put the needle on the groove and hear the first notes: this is a history lesson to what music was, can be, and should be.  It’s from the ’78 era but re-thought by Brubeck for the then 20th century.

Revelator by the Tedeschi Trucks BandWe are missing the experience today.  Kids, sure, listen to music and go to concerts.  Still, in an era where auto-tune is the norm and perfection is the preference, isn’t it amazing that four kids in a California household will listen – voluntarily – to a vinyl record.  There are pops, hisses, the occasional skip and none of it is auto-tuned.  I have new acts, like the Black Keys and OK Go along with my old Brubeck, Miles Davis, Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Allman Brothers.  Tedeschi Trucks mixed a version for vinyl and then added free digital download of the “mixed for iTunes” version.  It’s brilliant.

As Jimi Hendrix so aptly asked . . . “but first, are you ex…perienced?”  I have to ask you, before you call me a fuddy-duddy, or old, or grumpy or just too set in my ways…have you ever been experienced?  Well…I have.

 

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In Your Own Sweet Way…

Dave Brubeck on the Cover of Time
Dave Brubeck on the Cover of Time

I normally talk about my own, 5-person family and limit this space to that.  And it’s not that tonight’s is too different from that.

Except I want to devote my few hundred words to a man who I don’t know but touched my life very deeply.

When you read this, likely, it would have been visionary Jazz musician Dave Brubeck’s 92nd birthday.  If you’re older or from the West coast, you know who that is.  If you’re younger and not then you likely won’t.

In today’s world of hip-hop re-hashed sampled music mixed with auto-tuned pop songs with no real talent or inspiration behind them, the thought and composition of this man stands out, to this day, in my mind.

Brubeck was never one to stick with the mainstream.  If the atypical piece of music in the 1950’s and 1960’s was a 4/4 time piece of music, Brubeck wanted to see what classical themes and off-time signatures could do for the medium.  It aggravated so-called “jazz purists” at the time.  It sparked the imagination of his own mentor, Duke Ellington, who said it sounded like jazz to him . . .and it swings!

Jumping off that statement, while I realize that a 5/4 time signature can confound the toe-tappers when his crossover hit “Take Five” starts to play, I dare you not to smile and swing with it.

I grew up with Brubeck.  It’s not that he was – at the time – a popular artist when I was a child.  Growing up in the ’70s/’80s you listened to rock and roll.  Led Zeppelin and The Eagles and Steve Miller with some Carlos Santana thrown in for good measure.  But my father had the same eclectic musical tastes I did so I also got to hear BB King mixed in with Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis and . . . of course . . . Dave Brubeck.  There was quite a bit of him in the record collection.  Why?  In the ’50s Brubeck had done a college tour, hundreds of campuses, including Creighton University – where my father went to college.  He saw the original quartet – with the sax player Paul Desmond.

The music always wraps around me like a comfortable, warm blanket.  Desmond’s sax playing is so smooth and flowing it’s like a velvet glove lined in silk.  His playing isn’t deliberate, it’s improvised for sure, but it’s just fluid.  I’ve never heard another sax player sound precisely like him and that’s too bad because he was just so brilliant.  However, with all the recorded material through the original quartet, it’s great there is so much.

Brubeck wasn’t just a pioneer in the music world, either.  He played jazz on the front lines because his commanding officers told him it was good for morale and even when bombs were falling he wasn’t allowed to stop playing.  When he struck out with the classic quartet: Dave himself, Paul Desmond, Tom Morello and Eugene Wright, he lost tons of profitable gigs.  Why?  Because Wright was an African-American bass player and the Southern campuses (and probably some Northern ones, too) wouldn’t let them play or at best – wouldn’t let Wright come in the front door.  Brubeck hated that and took a stand, choosing smaller venues and avoiding the profitable places that wouldn’t treat every member of his quartet with respect.  He wrote jazz, classical, hymns, and standards.  His music was covered by Miles Davis and Robben Ford alike.  (Ford has said before he always wanted to play like Paul Desmond sounded)

I was fortunate enough to see Dave Brubeck twice in my life.  The first ranks up as one of the most amazing concerts I’ve seen in my life and it almost didn’t happen.  I had bought two tickets to Brubeck’s show in 1989.  He was performing with the Omaha Symphony Orchestra, doing portions from the Mass he’d written and all of his standards.  I had a date for the show, someone I’d been dying to go out with . . . and she cancelled.  (It might be wise to tell you I don’t even remember her name now, that’s how well things went!)  I wasn’t happy, I was down, and I almost didn’t go.  Even back then, dates by yourself are just simply . . . rough.  Add to that it was the symphony, so I had to dress up.  That’s doubly difficult.

But I went, and I got there insanely early.  I was down in front, the show nowhere near starting, and this man came out, moving slowly, hair disheveled, wearing a cardigan and blue jeans.  I only ever saw his back and he was making adjustments to the piano, so I assumed he was with the theater.  As I walked to leave the man sat behind the keys and started playing “Strange Meadowlark” from the album Time Out, and I realized then I had seen the man himself.  As I turned around to go ask him to sign an LP he was gone.  That night, though, he came out, crisp tuxedo, and the evening was brilliant!  He did symphonic arrangements of some standards, an Ellington song, and then he told the symphony to leave and he played roaring renditions of Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk that took up a good half hour of the show.  It was after that the conductor came back and extolled that only Dave Brubeck could – four short weeks before – have a quadruple bypass and come back playing like this.

I saw him again, just a few years ago, here in Sacramento.  He played in a pavilion at the Radisson Hotel and he was far older, far more frail looking, but I had a date.  My wife, who loved Brubeck as well, came with me and we saw him from something like 5th or 6th row.  Even at that age he still could swing!  He told the story of the first record store he’d frequented, including buying St. Louis Blues . . . and then simply sat down and said “well, we’ll just play it for you” and did . . . in stellar fashion.

It was a beautiful night, possibly the extension of what that first show should have been.

But my point to all this . . . is that this amazing musician did amazing things, and not all of them limited to music.  He was on the cover of Time magazine.  He held the record for most performances at the Newport Jazz Festival.  He was on the forefront of the civil rights movement, even writing a musical for  Louis Armstrong that never got performed – perhaps due to the subject material.

Dave Brubeck was an amazing man and an even more brilliant musician.  The world is less off-beat for him leaving us.  And perhaps that’s why I like his music so much – it’s just enough off-beat, just confounding enough to do 5/4 and 7/4 time that you scratch your head but love it all . . .

I am fortunate in that my kids, with no hesitation, will recognize a Brubeck song when they hear it.  They know the odd signatures and cool, smooth tone and brilliant musicianship.  Sure, they listen to Flo Rida here and there and rock out to the Black Keys a lot.  I have my own rock and blues background.  But good music, folks, is good music, and I’m proud to expose them to it.

Like the song said, he lived a philosophy, and I learned – if a little – from him to live your life In Your Own Sweet Way.

To L.A. on my birthday – pt. 2

So Saturday I drove California’s traffic artery – Interstate 5 – down to Los Angeles.  I won’t chronicle the drive again, you’ve seen that.  However, it’s worth repeating a couple things.

I had a picture with me . . . a picture of Andrea I found that I’d forgotten was even taken.  Obviously, I had hidden it so Andrea wouldn’t destroy it in her zeal to remove photos she thought looked bad.

the amazing picture

So I took it not because I was feeling nostalgic, but to remind myself that I wasn’t running from her . . . that I was doing something I hadn’t normally done.  I was doing this so I’d be able to share it . . . even if it was with her, captured in a moment of wind-blown happiness twenty years ago.  It was the kind of thing that she would have convinced me was fun and necessary twenty-one years ago.

So I arrived in Los Angeles and realized I hadn’t paid much attention to where I was staying . . . and then saw the hotel and was amazed.

The Sunset Tower Hotel

If you look up on the left side of that hotel, in the corner curved-room where the art deco look is at its height . . . six floors up is me.  I loved the room.  I loved the history more . . . Clark Gable; Mae West; Marilyn Monroe; Diana Ross forcing Tim Curry to be her elevator man; OK . . . so Howard Hughes kept a bunch of mistresses there, and maybe that’s why my room was really small, but I didn’t care.  I could see downtown LA

LA from my room

If you look, the second building from the left in the big group of skyscrapers . . . the Capitol Records building.
I could also look down from my room to the rooftop pool:

The pool . . .

Now, I went down there, is very cool.  But I have to be honest, there was more silicone there than skin.  Not just in the women.  I loved the hotel, the history . . . where Iggy Pop tried to jump from his room to that pool.  How Werner Klemperer, the man playing Colonel Klink in Hogan’s Heroes saved the building.  You see, the Sunset was designated a historical site – an apartment building with tons of Hollywood’s history soaked into its walls.  However, there were no laws in the 1980’s that prevented demolition of historic sites.  Klemperer refused to leave, continuing to live in his apartment and causing a legal quagmire that slowed the project until the laws were passed that protected the hotel.  Now . . . it’s amazing and I get to be part of that history.

In its heyday

But my trip wasn’t just to see a really cool hotel . . . with its art deco hallways and stairwells:

The wraparound hallways
The stariwells

There was a reason for the trip.  I was on the way to the Catalina Bar and Grill . . . one of the best jazz clubs on Sunset.  Now, you don’t have to enjoy jazz to enjoy my story here.  When I decided to leave town I didn’t want to do the exact same thing.  When I found out that jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell was playing I had to go…just had to.  Burrell has played with Coltrane, Ellington, Billie Holiday . . . he’s amazing – so much so that Jimi Hendrix said he’d kill to sound like Burrell if he could do it.

I decided to walk . . . the trip wasn’t too bad.  A half-hour walk, couple miles . . . and it wasn’t really hot.  So I took the opportunity to walk down Sunset.  I spotted a huge crowd ahead of me and they’d blocked off the sidewalk.  I was initially aggravated because I didn’t want to zig-zag on the way.  Instead, I walked up and stumbled into a red carpet event for AIDS prevention.  With my little point and shoot I walked up to the press corps and joined them.  Nobody looked, noticed, or said a thing.  I popped off shots:

Kathy Griffin on the Carpet

Then my daughter texted me a few questions . . . the text message alert on my phone is set to the Woody Woodpecker laugh.  Suddenly photographers started stopping and looking at me . . . and I quickly realized it was time to keep making my way to the club.  I have other photos – you’ll have to wait for weekend to see those.

I got to the Catalina and was told I’d have to go through the garage.  I went in and it was like walking into All the President’s Men. Small portions in darkness with a spotlight over the entrance, hidden in an alcove in the corner of the garage.

The Club Entrance

But when I got in . . . I was given a table literally in front of the stage.

From my table

The club gave Kenny a stool to sit on when he plays but he barely sat on it.  At eighty-one he was spry, light on his feet, moving constantly, and playing better than most people I’ve heard that are 1/4 his age.  I desperately wanted to give you a video of him playing but the club was vigilant about not letting that happen.

Still, I was able to get photos:

The legendary Kenny Burrell

He played two sets.  In the middle he gave credit to the Friends of Jazz at UCLA, convinced a friend to sing from the audience, killing his amp and playing acoustic with a microphone.  He told amazing stories from the stage.

He also signed a CD for my brother.

The CD

He shook my hand, thanked me for coming, and told me how happy he was to have my brother and I enjoy his music.  He told me how much he enjoyed recording his last two CDs and how he loves this club for how they treat him.  He spent more time with each person than you’d find from most musicians today.

I was happy and impressed the club was full . . . a good audience for such a talented player.  With his history – playing with biggest names in jazz’s height from the ’50s on – he could be arrogant or bitter or stand-offish.  Instead, he was kind, generous, and simply the man you’d want him to be if you were a fan.  Burrell smiled constantly and was happy to be there.  He was even happier on the stage, playing amazing things seemingly no slower than he was at his height.

It was an honor to see him . . . I have no better word for it.  He was amazing.  His band was just as talented and seemed to have just as much fun.  To hear such an amazing group, whose talent just pours off the stage, I was taken with how they made it look easy.  There was no ego, no push to be the center of attention.  They played music.  In a world so surrounded by awful music with no musicians and auto-tune pushing for perfection these five men made perfect music with no technological push.  They are just that talented.

I went back to the hotel happier than I was last year at this time.  An amazing thing, an amazing night, and I still had the trip home ahead of me . . . but that’s for tomorrow.

Freight Trane by Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane

Booze, Bras and Brubeck . . .

This is the exact moment at that formal

I’ve eluded to this before but one of the losses that weighs heavily on me nightly is the loss of companionship.  It’s funny I feel that way because I never thought I’d be one that missed that interpersonal connection.

When I went to college I missed being around my family and never realized how close we actually were until I wasn’t around them every day.  There was no internet at this time and the idea that you could call them from anywhere but your house was just absurd – the stuff of Captain Kirk not cellular calling.  My solution was to go to the “Bell” store at the mall and buy a refurbished telephone.  It was a little black number that I thought was glossy and cool and fit my pseudo-musician persona.

By the time I’d met Andrea, I was feeling independent even if I wasn’t.  Leaving high school from a small town where everyone knew everything about you; knew your business; had ideas who you should like, love, date, have infatuation for, etc.; and had expectations for what you should be was something that weighed heavily on someone like me.  I was someone who refused to conform even if that meant isolating myself.  When I left for college, the idea that I could walk down campus, grow a beard or even learn to play the guitar were amazing.  I felt very confident that being scruffy, lanky, screwball single boy from a small town was working for me.

I had no idea what I was missing.

At that time, Andrea was a social animal.  She had a fake ID.  She drank with her sorority sisters and frat brothers.  She wore brand new clothes from Express and made herself up just to go out and drink at the bar.  Her hair alone took her over an hour to get ready.  A far cry from me, who didn’t shave, had long hair, and scared away a group of Jehova’s Witnesses when I answered the door in my Hendrix t-shirt with my Strat hanging off my shoulder.

The night I realized what I was missing is actually burned into my consciousness, and I almost blew her off.  March 29th, 1991.  I remember, because I had volunteered to work late with a colleague because both of us wanted to sit in the Newsroom and watch the George Foreman/Evander Holyfield fight without paying for the pay-per-view.  By the time the fight had hit hard and heavy it was becoming clear it wasn’t the fight of the century that the hype had led us to believe.  About midway through the newsroom phone rang.  That was unusual, understand, because we were a 6pm only newscast and the newsroom was usually vacant so calling that late would only happen if someone from the town was clueless or someone knew we were there.

Andrea had gone out drinking with her friends and had actually asked my colleague to come along.  Not me, a colleague.  I didn’t mind, though I was a hair jealous but loathe to admit it.  When I answered it was her, already having had a few, asking if the fight was over.

“…all but over, I suppose.  Not as amazing as we thought,” was my reply.

“Why don’t you come with us?” was her answer.  I knew I wasn’t the first choice, so I said so: “you mean _____.  I can see if he wants to come have a drink.”

“No . . . why don’t you both come?  I’m talking to you, not him.”

My colleague (who I’m not naming because I don’t want to put names that are not family in this blog) was watching me as I had the conversation.  I asked him if he wanted to go.

“Why not?  We didn’t pay for the fight, and it’s kinda lame anyway.”

My biggest worry was getting into the bar.  Like I said, it was March of 1991.  “But I’m not 21 yet.  I can’t get in.”

“Neither am I,” she said.  “I have an ID.  You don’t?  Forget about it, they’re not carding at the door anyway.”

They weren’t.  So I went, to a college hangout near her campus, and hung out with a bunch of people I didn’t know and who probably didn’t care to know me.  I was petrified, wondering what possessed me to accept this invitation.  Then Andrea saw me as I walked into the bar.  She had on a sort of tweed jacket, with flecks of red so it was a brighter, obviously female-inspired look with dark brown corduroy patches on the sleeves.  She had on these brown silk pants that flowed behind her when she walked, her hair newly cut in a bob that fell just below her neck and framed her face.  She had a beer in one of those milky-clear Solo plastic cups and rushed up cheering at the top of her lungs, arms wide in an apparent effort to give a hug.  I moved instinctively, though begrudgingly, so that she’d have easier access to our mutual friend only to find her veering away from him and making a bee-line for me.

“I’m so glad you came!  See!  I told you they’d let you in.  Nothing to worry about.”

She hugged me, sort of falling into my arms as I put mine around her back, laying her head on my shoulder a little, lingering longer than normal, but not long enough for me.  It was so sweet and disarming.  She put her arm around me, leading me to the table where they had innumerable empty pitchers and several full glasses of beer.  I took one and looked up to see her looking at me.  There was a mischievous twinkle in her eyes, her teeth full and visible through the red lipstick she wore then.

I remember staying until close, 1am, and saying how I had to go.  I’d asked if she needed a ride home, but she was close and wasn’t worried.

“I’m so glad you came, it really made me happy,” she said.

“I’m really glad I came too.  But you didn’t want me here.  You wanted _____.”

“I asked him, yes, but when you guys got here, I hugged you.

She gave me a small kiss on the cheek, that infectious giggle of hers playing out as she looked me in the eye, and turned around to walk out the door in front of me, dancing a little as she walked out.  I was in a daze.  I don’t even remember how I got home, I really don’t.  I must have re-lived every conversation, every thought, every interaction from the night a hundred times.  I was just bewildered.

It wasn’t the only time she’d thrust me into her world, a time that should have been so very uncomfortable.  We had started dating already when she wanted me to attend her sorority formal.  It was a crazy event, something that supposedly had a secret location in order to prevent drinking by the Greek attendees.  So of course most people knew where it was at.  We, on the other had, had decided to rent a motel room with her three roommates so that we could go to the lobby, get on the shuttle bus and come back to the room when it was all over, drinking whatever we wanted on the way there and back.  Andrea came out with her dress unzipped asking for help.  Underneath, she wore this white, lacy piece of lingerie that had me simply trembling.  As I grabbed for the zipper she looked over her shoulder saying “don’t get any ideas, Dave, I wore this so I wouldn’t be tempted.  It’s harder than hell to get out of, so you’re cuddling tonight and that’s all!”  I’d say I was angry, but it was almost sexier and I knew it.  It drove me crazy.

They sang some sort of song EVERY person on the bus knew.  Their brother frat was a known party organization and they were as fully obnoxious as ever.  I was amazed this world existed.  I had gone all through school staring at people like this and was totally absorbed by how crazy it all was.  I didn’t drink much, it wasn’t my thing and I hated losing control to that degree.  Andrea knew I was nervous and stayed by me all night.  She’d helped me get ready, bought me a tie, and just disarmed me to the point I could be comfortable.  I was listening to some music and she overheard it through the headphones.

“Who’s that?”

“It’s Brubeck.  “Theme from Mr. Broadway” it’s my favorite tune of his.”

“He’s from Northern California, you know, where I grew up.  I love his stuff.”

I was floored.  It seemed so opposite of who she was.  This girl liked Morrissey and Toad the Wet Sprocket.  She went to James Taylor concerts.  Brubeck?

When we arrived I knew why I’d avoided Greek life.  The dinner hadn’t started, we’d only gotten to the salad when the obnoxious frat guy who was next to me cajoled his date to drink more beer.  She was young . . . insanely young . . . and it was clear she was looking a little green already.

“It’ll be alright.  We’ll loosen you up for tonight right?”  I didn’t have to read between the lines to know what he was loosening her up for.  He was as subtle as a land mine.  His plan backfired, though.  Within ten minutes, just after putting dressing on the salad, the poor girl, a freshman and first-timer who was amazed to have a date to the formal, passed out face-first in her salad.  Full-on, Italian oils and spices in her hair and all.  The guy shouted in anger that he wasn’t getting laid tonight, leaving me to lift the poor girl out of the leafy greens.  When Andrea asked what I was doing, I told her what happened.  As she was angrily looking for the kid’s house mates to make a complaint, one of Andrea’s roommates came running up saying “Oh my God, _________ is dancing so hard on the dance floor her dress is falling off and her boobs are hanging out!!!!”

A year prior I’d have run screaming from the place, looking for a way out.  Instead, I checked to make sure the girl next to me wasn’t sick and Andrea took my hand for the dance floor.  I’ve said before that I make music to avoid dancing.  For Andrea, it wasn’t an option.  At some point in that night, they played “Wonderful Tonight”, and we held each other close while feeling the music.  My inability to socialize, to actually work my way through a situation like this, was gone.  She made it all go away and told people only that I was wonderful and she loved spending time with me.  My goal wasn’t to get out of the party as fast as I could but to make it last as long as possible, to get out of my suit and into my pajamas and lay next to her in the bed.

That night I was so enamored with her I kissed her, for the cameras, in the motel room, friends and PDA be damned.  I was almost giddy with laughter when her sexy lingerie plan backfired.

“You know how hard it is to pee in this thing!”  I had no idea at the time, but it was a “body suit”, something that covered her top to bottom, sort of like a teddy or the like.  Problem was she had to unclasp it every time she needed to use the bathroom, and drinking inordinate amounts of beer in the evening made for lots of frustrations trying to reach down and undo the lace in the dark.

From that moment . . . the point where she’d laid in my arms and talked, all night, annoying her roommates with her giggling and talking, I was hooked.  She always wondered, and I’m not sure I ever told her, but that night, the night we slept together but didn’t “sleep together” was one of the most amazing nights I’ve ever had.  She was angry and frustrated that she had to deal with this crazy piece of lingerie.  She was frustrated that we’d both had enough to drink we were beyond sleepy and feeling so many emotions it drove us nuts.

It was that moment that I realized I wanted to wake up with her next to me like that every night.  You can say all you want, question my motives, tell me I’m wrong, but it wasn’t the day I bought the ring or asked her to marry me.  It was that night, in a motel room with six other people, holding her in my arms, that I decided I needed her to stay with me forever.

I miss that.  I’m remembering nights as far back as college and the feel, the comfort, the muscle memory of her laying there next to me is still there.  It’s the cause of my stress, the pull on my heart and the ache in my soul that I feel every night as I finally just feel my eyes droop and the jump in my blood pressure when I wake and think it was just a crazy dream only to see it’s the reality, I had lived the dream for 20 years up to this point.

I miss her, the social animal and public consciousness that pulled me out of my shell.  I know I’ve said this, but she made me a better man.  I’m slogging through life right now, not just because I miss her, but because, damn her, I miss the companionship.  She pulled me out of my isolated bliss and has ruined me for the rest of my life.  Now I see a beautiful woman on the street and still feel guilty for looking and can’t figure out why I have the guilt.

It’s that tug, the pull on my body that she still has.  The muscle memory won’t give way, like so many clasps on white lacy lingerie.