Wednesday, August 9, 2017

James Edward Mann: December 5, 1943- July 19, 2027

My dad died three weeks ago.  Three weeks since I have heard his voice, held his hand, kissed his cheek.   How is that possible?  While I need to write about grief and I will, I NEED to in order to help me process it all, this post is not about that. This post is about my dad.

I am and forever will be a Daddy's Girl. In kindergarten I told friends I wanted to marry my dad.  He was my hero, my protector, my emergency contact, my cheerleader, my check in person, the person I went to for advice in business and in life.

At one point while he was in the hospital that last time, it was just me and him.  I was sitting by his side, talking about our favorite memories, (his a time just the two of us were in NH in the snow searching for the perfect Christmas tree to cut down, mine when I called after a boyfriend had broken up with me in high school, crying and my dad asked me if I wanted him to kill the kid. "Yes daddy" I said.) We were both crying and he told me I got him through my older brother's death.  I told him "You got me through everything".  And he did.   I called him when good and bad things happened.   He was the first person I called to share good news or to share my successes. When I learned my marriage was over and I didn't think I could handle it, I called him sobbing.  I couldn't even get out words; he hung up and 10 minutes later was at my door to hold me as I sobbed.

I remember one time I was home from college, alone and found a copy of a work review from his boss.  Being nosy I read over it and remember distinctly it was the first time I realized that my dad was also a smart guy with a keen business sense who was immensely liked by his co workers and his clients. I hear people talk about learning their parents are not infallible; I remember learning my dad was exactly what I thought and even more.

My parents took us all to Jackson, Wyoming in 2006.  It was a magically perfect trip and the Tetons went from being a place I never cared to see to one of my most cherished places in the universe.  While we were there we all took turns writing in a journal about our experiences.  For Christmas that year I took them and put them all in one book and gave as presents to everyone. Last Friday I was really missing him and decided to go through lives on my coffee table but I hardly ever look at it.  I sent my brother my Dad's Favorite Memories page and just said "We are so lucky he was our Dad."

Lucky.  That is what I feel. In all the materials the hospice gave us there was always a section about coming to terms with less than perfect relationships when someone dies.  There were tips like "don't make the dying person feel guilty for disappointing you" or "consider apologizing for your part in any misunderstandings that might have come in the way of your relationship."  That wasn't us.  There is no doubt in my mind that my dad loved me and that he knew I loved him.  He told me he was proud of me too many times to remember. He raised me to believe I could do anything.  "Hey Dad, I think I want to run of marathon." "I wonder if I can do a Ironman"  "Of course you can Kitten".  I was never fast or good, but my Dad was always at the finish line, proud of me no matter how slow I was, and hugging me no matter how sweaty I was!

I never for a second ever doubted that no matter what, if I called him and told him I needed him, he would drop whatever he was doing and come to my side. I remember when I learned someone's father would not be at his wedding because he couldn't get time off work.  I couldn't believe it.  My dad would have quit his job.  No question in my mind, he would have been there. During a particularly hard time in my life my parents surprised me for my birthday, driving to Charlotte only 2 months after he had open heart surgery.  It took them 3 days to drive because he kept having to stop, but he made it because he knew I needed him there, even though I never asked.   He put our family first and was fiercely devoted to us and friends we considered family. I can remember him spending time with countless of my friends, talking to them as a surrogate father, another sounding board.  If we loved you, he loved you.  One of the nicer things since he has died is how many of my friends reached out, deeply affected by his death, taking it as hard as if he was their own father.

It has been fantastic hearing other people say all these great things about my dad; corroborating what I have felt all my life. And I don't think they are just doing the "don't say anything bad about the dead."   I was so touched when the hospice nurses commented about how nice my dad was, thanking them for their help.  He was the kind of guy that was always looking out for other people.  His needs came a distant last to those of us he loved.  On a cruise headed to formal dinner we passed a man who was holding a tie in his hand, looking lost.  My dad offered his help and tied the tie for the man who had never worn one. He was just that nice, sweet, kind person, genuinely.

And he was so funny.  So, so funny.  We had so many inside jokes in our family...we are always laughing.  Even at the end, when his oxygen mask made farting noises he made it a joke. He may have felt terrible, but he was making us laugh, saying something funny, playing with the gloves or the tiny trash can they gave him in ICU, telling completely inappropriate jokes, but making the best of the situation.  He had this sharp wit about him and was always quick with a one liner here and there. I wrote in the Jackson book that I always felt like we are part of a private club when it was just us...always laughing, the rest of the world ceasing to exist but for us.

There are too many memories, too many things to say and I feel this post is an inadequate effort, falling short in trying to put my love and admiration into words or describe all the million of ways he was the perfect dad to our family, the perfect man in my eyes. I am so thankful he was my dad, my friend. He is my judge for how a man should act and be and those are some very high standards.  He made me feel like I was the most beautiful, special person in the world and I know in his eyes I was.  The hole in my heart is immense and will never be filled.  We were lucky all the scheme of things, it was a "good death". There were no agonizing weeks of pain.  I know he loved me and I know he knew I loved him.  I was able to spend his last few days by his side, holding his hand, talking, laughing, reminiscing. We were all there with him. The last thing he ever ate was his favorite ice cream. The last text he sent me said he loved me and only wants me to be happy.   I am beyond grateful he did not suffer.  But all of  that doesn't make him being gone easier.  I am and forever will be a Daddy's Girl and will forever miss my Daddy.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

My Dad

I've thought a lot about what love is since I got divorced.  Not silly new relationship crush love, but deep, true, eternal total acceptance love. I've wondered if I had that when I was married, what that feels like. And the fact that I was wondering about it made me think that maybe I have never felt that kind of of those if you have to ask then the answer is no. 

My dad's dying.  As I type this, I am sitting in room 10 of the Treasure Coast Hospice House, listening to his labored breathing, watching his shell of a body merely exist.  It could be hours, it could be days til he dies.  We don't know. 

It all seems so sudden to us all, though I think that is more because we chose to ignore the signs. He was diagnosed with Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis a year and half ago.  They told us the life expectancy was 2-5 years.  But, we thought, doctors can be wrong. He coughed, all the time, eventually having to be on oxygen.  He was tired all the time; walking from the kitchen to the bedroom was enough to make him sleep for hours.  We should have seen it getting worse, realized what that meant, but we didn't.  He saw doctors who suggested it was this or that, tweaked this medicine, changed that one.   He got worse, we weren't ready to see it.  So last Sunday, when he could't get his breath my mom took him to the ER.  They didn't even tell my brother or me because they thought they'd be home that night.  Monday they let us know he was still there.  I talked to him Tuesday, by Wednesday he was in a full face mask and Thursday I flew down in a race to get here before he died.

I've spent the last 6 days with my dying father and now I know for a fact that love exists.  It's palpable here really, the love in my family.  Things I never thought I'd have the stomach for I have done in an instant for my dad.  We've held hands, talked, laughed, reminisced.  I am lucky we had the last  few days to do that. We all thought we'd have more time.  We always think there is more time.

The last thing he texted me came two nights ago.  "I love you so very much and want only happiness in your life. Love Dad."  I am numb right now, watching him, feeling his hands grow colder.  I know the heartbreak is coming, though right now I am wishing for a peaceful end to his life. 

Logically I know I will survive, that I will continue to exist, that overall I will be OK. But I know I will never be the same without my dad alive. But for the rest of my life I know that yes, I have had love for another person, my father, my friend, my hero, my cheerleader, the man who made me feel like I was the most beautiful, special person in the world. I am forever grateful for that.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Iceland - Trip Review!

After arriving in Reykjavik and renting Dusty our car for the week, we drove to the Snæfellsnes Peninsula (which we butchered and called snuffaluffagus peninsula the entire trip)  and checked into Hotel Frammes in Grundarfjörður, a sleepy little seaside town.  The weather was rainy, windy and foggy but after a quick nap we drove to nearby Stykkishólmur where parts of The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was filmed (one of the main reasons I wanted to visit Iceland). Unfortunately due to the rain, it didn't look the same at all!  We did see a cute church and stopped for lunch at the only place open and I had some amazing asparagus soup.  Little did I know how much soup I would have on this trip! The town was basically closed due to off season, so exhausted, wind blown and wet, we headed back to back to Grundarfjörður.  We drove through the Berserkjahraun lava field, moss covered lumps that make it easy to see where the legend of trolls come from. This is also where the term berserk comes from. Legend has it that a farmer hired two berserkers, insanely violent Viking fighters, to work his farm. But to the farmer's dismay, one fell in love with his daughter. He gave the berserker the impossible task of clearing a path through the lava field in return for his daughter's hand. Well the berserker did it, but the farmer ended up killing him anyway.  But hey, we were happy to have the passage way as we headed back.  It started snowing but we hiked up to a waterfall nearby but then went back for a nap. I got up later, went out in the snow and got dinner, but sleeping and eating were really the only things we did on that first day.

My favorite pic of the old church.
The next morning we were happy to see the clouds had lifted and we got on the road exploring the peninsula. We drove past little towns like Ólafsvík and Rif and braved the 40mph winds to take pictures at Ingjaldshóll, said to be the first concrete church in the world.
We had such a great time exploring the area. While The Editors played, we stopped at places that sounded interesting in the guidebook or randomly took roads marked with landmarks. Our motto became "let's try this road, worst case we can always turn around." We stopped at Skarðsvík, a beach cove where a Viking grave was found. We climbed Saxhóll crater, Shelia all the way to the top, but without a railing I could only get to the half way mark for fear of never making it back down! Stopping at Laugabrekka taught us about Guðríður Þorbjarnardóttir, a woman with a major case of wanderlust, and one of Iceland's celebrated explorers, who gave birth to a son in Canada, the first European born in North America. We ate lunch at Primus Kaffi in Hellnar (mushroom soup for me) and fell in love with Arnarstapi, with its troll looking monument to Bárðr, the region's guardian spirit and monument to Jules Verne, who used Snæfell as the starting point for his "Journey to the Centre of the Earth."  Despite the crazy strong wind, we hiked up a mountain to find the Sönghellir Song Cave, that echoed while we sang The Goonies Song. We never found Stapafell, the supposed home to little people, but still had an amazing time. After stopping at the black church at Búðir, we headed to The Country Anna hotel in Moldnúpi, our second hotel of the trip, stopping only in Borgarnes for gas at the N1 station.
 We spent the night at the Country Anna Hotel and had the most delicious "vegetarian steak" for dinner. The next morning we began our day at two of the most well known waterfalls in the country, Seljalandsfoss and Skógafoss. Seljalandsfoss was first up and we were reminded immediately that this was a very touristy thing to do. The parking lot was packed with tour buses and people were everywhere. It was a stark difference from the Snæfellsnes Peninsula, where we would go miles without seeing another human. We parked, I pulled on my waterproof pants and we set off to hike behind the waterfall.  Despite being touristy, it was pretty cool. We were also excited to see a bit of blue sky for the first time.   We left there, stopped briefly at Eyjafjallajökull hoping to see the volcano that erupted in 2010, but the weather was back to cloudy and rainy so we could only see the farm below. We moved on to Skógafoss waterfall, which is 80 feet wide with a 200 foot drop. This was less crowded and we were able to walk right up to the edge. It is impressive being so close to such power. According to legend, the first Viking settler in the area, Þrasi Þórólfsson, buried a treasure in a cave behind this waterfall. Locals found the chest years later, but were only able to grasp the ring on the side of the chest before it disappeared again.  Next time I might look a little harder to see if I can find it!   Waterfalls get a lot of attention in any "what to do in Iceland" list and I can see why.

One of my "must see" places was the plane wreck on the beach at Sólheimasandur. After turning off Route 1 at an unmarked grate, we passed a few parked cars and a camper van and drove for over 2 miles on the black sand, seemingly to nowhere. The fog had settled in again, and we couldn't see the plane until we were right at it.  It was so eerie seeing the white wreck juxtaposed on the black sand, floating in a dense cloud.  It was like we were looking at a black and white picture and I kept looking at my clothing to make sure there wasn't something wrong with my eyes.  The plane is an US Navy Douglas Super DC-3 that was forced to crash land on the beach in 1973 when it ran out of fuel, except it didn't run out of fuel - they just didn't know there was a second fuel tank they could switch to.  OOPS. Everyone survived the crash but that doesn't make it any less haunting. People were taking pictures inside the cabin and that just felt wrong, very wrong.  It started to rain pretty heavily so we jumped back in Dusty and started the trek back to main road. Two people were walking so we checked another item off the Iceland To Do list - pick up hitchhikers!  Of course they were from Philadelphia, but were very nice and thankful for a dry ride back to the camper van we passed on the way in. We saw them every day the rest of the trip and always waved.

From there we drove to Dyrhólaey, stopping to take pictures of a very calm pond off route 218, right
past Loftsalahellir Cave. There are two parts to Dyrhólaey, an upper and lower. The higher part is at the top of a very narrow and winding dirt road (that I drove up AND down, yay me!)  but has gorgeous views of southern Iceland. The lower part at Kirkjufjara beach is simply magical, and I am pretty sure we could have stayed there all day, playing in pebbles,  jumping off rocks and watching waves crash. It was gorgeous beyond words; serene and peaceful in many ways and yet the power and violence in the waves made me feel small.  We eventually left, checked into the very cool Volcano Hotel, then went into Vik for dinner at the only place open- Halldorskaffi. I got "settler's pizza"  with Blue cheese, Camembert, castle cheese, mozzarella and red currant jam on the side. Yes jam. It was good!

Friday was a long driving day, heading from Vik to Vatnajökull National Park and the Glacier Lagoon. We continued our motto of "let's see where this goes, worst case we can turn around!", driving around Hjorleifshofoi, a giant rock sitting in the middle of a black sand beach. We really thought we could make it all around it but nope!  Further along the road we stopped at a monument for Pykkvabæjarklauster an Augustine abbey. It was made famous in the 14th century when Brother Eysteinn Ásgrímsson wrote the legendary poem Lilja (The Lily). Things did not end well for Brother Eysteinn though and he was later punished for writing about the scandalous relations between monks and nuns. We also stopped at Kirkjubæjarklaustur to see Systrafoss (Sister Falls) and Dverghamrar (Dwarf Rocks) where legend has it that a young girl heard dwarves singing.

We then hit Skeiðarár Sandur, a wide plain of black volcanic sand. The scenery on this part of the drive was like no other. It was desolate in a way I had never seen before; expansive and  open.  We stopped at the Skeiðará Bridge monument.  In 1996, the volcano Vatnajökull, erupted, melting portions of glacier and creating massive floods. While the bridge was built to withstand a hefty amount of flood waters, there was no preparing for the house-sized icebergs that the floods washed down the plain. A number of these glacial shards crashed into the bridge, wiping it out and creating a gap in the main ring road around Iceland.

The temperature dropped as we neared the Svínafellsjökull Glacier and as soon as I saw it I giddily turned down a road to see how close I could get. My first glimpse of a glacier was amazing, the black ridges of lava ash were way prettier than I thought they'd be. There was a plaque for two missing hikers there and the saying engraved has really stuck with me:  "you are no longer there, where you were, but you are everywhere where we are."

Another Must Do was the glacier lagoon at Jökulsárlón and it was one of the most amazing parts of the trip.  Actually amazing isn't big enough of a word, this place is incredible and pictures do not do it justice. As the the glacier Breiðamerkurjökull melts it breaks apart creating icebergs that float through this lagoon out to sea.  We were able to take a duck boat out into the lagoon getting close to the icebergs. We even were able to hold and taste a piece of one (it was very hard and very cold). The sun came out as we were on the water which made the blues all that more intense.

We spent the night at the Gerdi Guesthouse, an old renovated farm that still smelled like farm. We ate lunch at the Hali Hotel/Þórbergssetur Museum (tomato basil soup) which had a bookshelf painted on the side of the building. Because there was nothing else around or open we had dinner at the hotel, lobster for Shelia, fried celery for me.  Saturday morning we woke up to SUN!  The sunrise was amazing and after taking pictures at the guesthouse, we stopped at the lagoon again, this time walking down to the beach to see where they entered the ocean. The sun behind the icebergs on the black sand beach was incredible.

We spent most of Saturday driving from Höfn to Reykjavik but taking advantage of the sun, we re-visited a few places on the way back.  We stopped at the lava mount Laufskálavarða, which gets its name from a large farm known as Laufskálar which was destroyed in the year 894 in the first recorded eruption of the volcano Katla. According to legend, anyone crossing Mrdalssandur for the first time should pile stones up to make a cairn, which is supposed to bring them good fortune on the journey, so of course we did this. We had lunch at Reynisfara, the beach near Dyrhólaey and since tide was out, I was able to wander further down past the basalt columns called Gardar and see more of the Reynisdrangar stacks, the two big rocks in the water. According to folklore, two trolls attempted to drag a ship to land but were turned to stone as daylight broke, turning them into the stacks.  After lunch (turnip! soup for me) we got in Dusty, turned on The Stereophonics and drove to Reykjavik.

After being in the middle of nowhere with very few people, Reykjavik seemed very crowded and busy. We found parking at our hotel in City Centre very easily, checked in and took showers, noticing the sulfur smell very strongly for the first time. The hot water in Iceland is heated by geothermal power plants, which makes it very hot and very plentiful, but wow does it smell.  I knew this going in, but was surprised at how bad it was.  We walked around Reykjavik shopping for the traditional Icelandic wool sweater, the Lopapeysa. They were very pretty, but very itchy!  Searching for 'traditional Icelandic food" we went to Cafe Loki where Shelia tried the fermented shark while I had a Brennivins shot, also called Black Death. Graffiti decorates many buildings and walking around the city was cold but pretty.  We spent most of the night at The English Pub, had dinner at Cafe Paris (cauliflower soup for me)  and finished the night at the Micro Bar in our hotel with every hipster stereotype possible.  Sunday we did some more shopping, packed and drove in the snow/sleet rain to the airport. It was pouring rain when we left Iceland, a pretty fitting ending for the trip.

When I told people I wanted to go to Iceland, most people asked "Why? Are you crazy?"  But this island of just over 300,000 people is magical in many ways.  Over 55% of Icelanders believe in elves, trolls and magical spirits and this belief actually changes the direction of roads and construction projects that might anger the elves. It's hard not to get caught up in the idea and I definitely found myself praying to them  when I felt nervous hiking behind the waterfall, you know, just in case.

Sure it was cold and wet, but like they say, there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. And the weather changed so often; in one hour we went from sun to grey to rain to sleet to snow to sun.  In one hour.  The people were lovely, spoke flawless English and driving was easy even with all the signs in Icelandic.  The landscape was like nothing I have seen before; Jackson, Wyoming on Mars if that is possible.  It is at the same time remote and majestic and awesome.  The pictures are good, but not anywhere close to capturing what it actually looked like.  We didn't get to see the Northern Lights which was disappointing, but I have to believe when I do see them, they will be even more special.   I would absolutely go to Iceland again, but might try the summer time as I think it would look like a completely different place!  I underestimated how "off" off season is there, but glad to have tried so many different kinds of soup!  Who knew asparagus soup would be so good?

We didn't plan a lot on this trip and that worked out just fine, with most of the really memorable experiences coming from spur of the moment "turn here"; another reminder that sometimes the best parts of life just happen when you don't know where you are going.  You just need to turn down the road and see what's there for you.

To see all my pictures, click here.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Concert Review: Pearl Jam in Oslo June 29, 2014

After Stockholm's show, I was more excited than ever to see Pearl Jam again, this time at the Telenor Arena in Fornebu, Norway, right outside of Oslo.  In stark contrast to Stockholm that was handing out water to everyone and was very consumer friendly, we were not able to bring any liquid at all, even just in the GA waiting line.  It was also not as nearly organized as the queue in Stockholm and I felt if we moved, we would have lost our place in line.  It was chilly and gray but they opened GA on time and we all rushed in to secure our place on the floor.  The arena was another massively huge venue but the GA was more tightly packed in.  It was also much hotter with no steady air flow.  As we sat on the floor waiting, we looked around and were glad to see so many women around us, hoping we would not be among so many tall people.  We were wrong.  As everyone stood, even the women were taller than we were!

The show was scheduled to start at 7pm, 30 minutes earlier than Stockholm, but that didn't matter.  They band finally came on stage at 8:11.  (Again, WHY have a stated start time if you know it is going to be so wrong?)  They started with Pendulum, which is such a great "first song", slow and steady, almost haunting in the beginning, but grows to such a strong melody and like most Pearl Jam songs has great lyrics like "Understand what we don't know, This might pass, this might last, this may grow".  They stayed slow moving onto Hard to Imagine and then Last Kiss.  Let me talk about setlists for a second.  Pearl Jam has an amazing library of songs and each concert's set list is different. Because of this, there are many songs that people will never see performed live.  Before each show I set aside a Top 3 songs I REALLY, REALLY want to see performed.  My top 3 are: Chloe Dancer/Crown of Thorns, Off He Goes and Let The Records Play. Never, ever, ever, EVER on my list was Last Kiss.  I have always just hated that song and thought myself rather lucky I had made it 3 shows without hearing it.  As soon as they started it, I groaned, while the rest of the arena cheered. There was a girl in front of me that screamed, jumped up and down and had a "Oh my god it's the Beatles in the 60s" reaction.  Blech.   From here they picked up the tempo playing Mind Your Manners and Animal. As was the case in Stockholm, a group of people used the speed to push their way towards the front but we knew to expect it this time, so just stepped aside and let them go by.  It was still way more ragey than the American shows, but not nearly like Stockholm where Mike was literally punching people off me.

The band moved through a variety of songs, playing many I had never seen performed before.  I loved Stockholm because I knew so many of the songs, but Oslo was a concert for the true, devoted fan.  There were a number of songs that have been played less than 8 times in all of the concerts they did. One time Eddie said "we are going to try a complete experiment" and then played for the first time ever, Strangest Tribe. Mike knew the song and was ecstatic and while you could tell not everyone knew it, there was the "Holy crap this is the first time this has EVER been played live" appreciation.   As a casual fan, this show was more subdued and I certainly didn't find myself singing along like I have in past shows, but that was OK. I enjoyed hearing so many songs for the first time and was glad I finally heard Garden and Yellow Ledbetter in person too.   It stayed really hot and three people around us fainted, including a large guy.  They did pass cups of water back, but the germophobe in me didn't dare take a drink after 5 or 6 other people had.  I wasn't THAT dehydrated.

Right before playing Love Boat Captain  Eddie mentioned that the night before in Stockholm, he was "honored and humbled and so grateful" to have two sets of families of two men who died at the Roskilde Festival, in 2000. Nine people died as people rushed the stage, basically getting trampled and then suffocating.  The song Love Boat Captain references this in the line "It's an art to live with pain...mix the light into grey.  Lost 9 friends we yet to know, all those years of pain."    It's things like this that I think most people don't know about the band, but it is one of the reasons why I can say I am a Pearl Jam fan.  And it's funny because two years ago I really had no opinion on Pearl Jam.  I knew Yellow Ledbetter because my next door neighbor in college played it continuously for what seems like an entire year.  I hated Last Kiss and changed channels every time it came on the radio.  I knew who they were but that was about it.  Now I have been to four concerts, each one different in its own way and I am hooked on them.  The energy the band has, how the fans react to the band and other fans, the mutual admiration and respect of the band to the fans,  the lyrics that make me cry and the musical talent that I mostly miss all combine to make them such memorable shows.  Each show has been a solid three hours of pure entertainment and I would absolutely go see them live again, and hopefully hear one of my top three songs this time!  

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Concert Review: David Gray

Years ago I fell in love with this Volkswagon commercial, partly because I had just bought a silver cabrio but mostly because I loved the song Pink Moon by Nick Drake.  I was listening to it one day at work when a coworker (British born Jon Wilson) heard it and said "If you like Nick Drake, you should check out David Gray."  I did and immediately fell in love.  White Ladder had just been released and I soaked it up and binged on everything else he had available.  He became one of my favorite artists, somehow balancing melancholy with a sense of hope.  I was ecstatic when I heard he was coming to Charlotte, though I did wonder if anyone would show up.  Even though he has been around forever, he is not a traditional commercial success and when I said I was excited he was coming, I got a resounding "Who?" from everyone I told.

So I was pleasantly surprised at how many people were at the Uptown Arena for his show.  He just released a new album, Mutineers, so I wasn't that surprised that the first few songs were unfamiliar.  I liked them, especially the opening song Back in the World, but was much happier once he started playing the songs I loved like Sail Away , Kangaroo and The Other Side.  I have seen a lot of live shows but this was one of the only shows where I thought he sounded crisper and clearer than his recordings.  I am especially glad I was able to see the live version of my absolute favorite song of his, This Year's Love.  I am not sure if it is where I am in life, or what I have gone through personally over the past few years, but listening to him sing the beautiful words brought tears to my eyes.  I felt the song in a way I had never experienced just listening on my ipod.  Seeing it live made the song real, something more than just a pretty melody and great words. Somehow I was on stage with him, sitting next to him on his piano stool, singing along..."When you hold me like you do, it feels so right I start to forget how my heart gets torn, when that hurt gets thrown, feeling like you can't go on....cos it takes something more this time than sweet sweet lies....every dream inside my soul.....This year's love had better last.  So whose to worry if our hearts get torn, when that hurt gets thrown, don't you know this life goes on."

I mentioned melancholy hope already, but I think that is how I feel about his music and seeing him perform it live brought out the hope even stronger, while making the melancholy seem deeper, sadder, but recoverable. During My Oh My, I thought, OH MY GOD THAT IS ME as I sang along "What on earth is going on in my head, You know I used to be so sure, You know I used to be so definite, Thought I knew what love was for. I look around these days and I'm not so sure. It takes a lotta love these days to keep your heart from freezing."  But the next song, Please Forgive Me also felt just as accurate saying "there's so much I want to say Want to tell you just how good it feels when you look at me that way."

Not only was his voice clear and beautiful and haunting, his personality was cute and endearing.  The concert was on a Friday in August in Charlotte and it was warm and humid.  He came out wearing a sport coat and a few songs in commented that it was hot.  A few songs later he said something to the effect of "everyone said not to wear a coat.  You'll be too hot they said.  But I couldn't come out under dressed."  He had such a relaxed, fun presence on stage and it made the concert all the better.

I was a fan before the show, but now I am a passionate fan, feeling so much more connected to him as an artist and to the songs and expressions of my feelings. I am impressed and in love with his talent, his voice, his musicality and the way he writes feelings so well.  I know that sounds like a exaggeration, but it really was that good.

Buy his stuff.
See his show.
Support this wonderful artist.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Concert Reviews - PJ Europe 2014 - Stockholm

Friends Arena Photo credit missing.
I was in the middle of all that!
When I started planning my big summer vacation, seeing Pearl Jam in Stockholm was thrown in as an option, but I had little hope it would work out.  I was ecstatic that as destinations were narrowed down, Stockholm remained in the mix.  And when I figured out an easy way for us to also see them play in Oslo, that just made it that much better.  So we planned, booked tickets and finally were on our way.  The show was Saturday, June 28 and after doing a bit of shopping we headed out to Friends Arena in Solna, a bit north of the city.  This arena is massive - I heard 88,000 as max occupancy for concerts.  Half of the arena was closed off (24,000 showed up for the concert) but it was still like nothing I have ever seen. Just amazing. It is basically in the middle of nowhere, with no easy access to public transportation and the locals think it is a waste of money and a bit of a joke, but I was impressed with the size and overall sound and feel.

Waiting for the show to begin.
We had gold circle tickets which allowed us to be in the general admission part in front of the stage.  We got to the arena at 3:30 and found the line.  We put our names on a list and were given numbers, 66 and 67. We were then told we could walk around or stay, up to us.  But when the time came, we would just find out place in line.  How civilized!  I just love that they did this - it makes so much sense!  And the person "in charge" was just another concert-goer.  So great.  I sat down and Mike went to buy merch but not 15 minutes later we were told we were "going down" so I ran to get Mike, we ran back and got in line at our designated spots.  We went down under the arena and proceeded to wait again.  Doors were set to open at 5:30 but it took a bit longer - was closer to 5:45 by the time we went in.  We found a place in front of the stage and then everyone sat down!  I was so thankful since my feet were very sore and it was still a good 2 hours til the show was scheduled to start.  I did wander over to the merch stand to get posters and was surprised to see the free water booths set up all around the arena.  

The show was scheduled to start at 7:30 but apparently Pearl Jam never starts on time (this bothers me - why not have a later time as your start time but actually start then!?)  At 8:07 they walked on stage and started the show with Release, one of their songs that brings tears to my eyes when I hear it live. From that they stayed mellow playing a few slower songs like Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In A Small Town and Black.  Then they stepped it up with Go and the crowd started jumping and moving and I had to jump or be trampled.  There is no doubt that Pearl Jam has some
rage in the music and the lyrics, but at the shows I was at in the states, there seemed to be a general feeling in the crowd of "yep, the music is ragey but we are all old now, so stand there, be respectful of the music and of the other fans."  This was absolutely not the case in Europe.  Mike thinks that it might have been an issue of being in general public vs the Ten Club section but by the time the second "angry" song Animal played, we had been pushed ahead several rows and the energy was negative and very mosh pit-esque.  In the beginning I admit it was fun and it did get us closer to the stage, but it got to be very scary, very quickly.  Mike ended up standing behind me, with both arms outstretched around me into tight fists, basically punching off people so they wouldn't hit me.  The bouncers did call out some of the people but the main offenders were able to talk their way out of leaving and stayed.  We gave them wide berth and they moved along and we were able to enjoy the rest of the show.

Overall the band seemed in a good mood, at one point signing a person's show at the request of the "Sign My Shoe" sign, even taking one person's camera on stage (fast forward to the 1:50 mark ). They do a masterful job of controlling the speed, tempo and flow of the crowd, moving slow to fast to slow to a ramp back up.  As a casual fan, I really enjoyed this show.  While I wasn't lucky to hear any of my "wishlist", the overall playlist was great, playing enough of the popular old hits with the newer stuff that I really like.  I was able to hear Just Breathe, one of my favorites: "I'm a lucky man to count on two hands the ones I love"  I got to hear My Father's Son and U, both concert rarities, only being played 8 and 22 times in the history of the band. (Compare this to the 683 times that Alive and Better Man have been played and you can see why people were excited to hear them, U more so since My Father's Son is off the 2013 album.)  As someone with no musical talent, I was amazed by Mike McCready's flawless solo with guitar totally behind his back.

They played for a solid three hours closing with The Who's Baba O Riley and Indifference. Despite some technical difficulties with the ball lights that swing during some of the songs, the entire concert was entertaining and I was so glad I was able to be there. I did buy a poster as well, my second Pearl Jam merch purchase.
Some notable European concert vs American concert differences:

  • There were free water tables throughout the arena.  If you were thirsty, you just walked over and got a cup of water.  For free.  In the US you would have had to go to the concession area and pay $15 for a bottle.  It was so nice to be able to get some water since it was so hot in the pit area.  
  • If you didn't want to leave the pit, the security in the front row had water bottles and were squirting into peoples' mouths.  There seemed to be an overall "Hey we know it is hot, everyone OK?" attitude in the security and staff.   
  • Port a jons were set up on the lower level of the arena so going to the bathroom was pretty convenient, albeit a port a john.  
  • People in Sweden are tall. We noticed this all over Stockholm but it was apparent in the crowd where we were both very short, when usually are on the average size.
  • The aforementioned gold circle queue system and the fact that everyone got situated and then sat down were both lovely things. 
Next up: Oslo!  

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Over the Hill

I have always LOVED my birthday, more than the average person, with tear away countdown sheets and at least a week of celebrating.  My dear friend Sarah used to say "just wait til you turn 40...then you won't love it"  but I felt like I would always love my birthday no matter what number I was turning.

So yesterday was the day...the big 4-0.  Over the hill.  Old.  And yet I feel pretty great, in fact, this is one of the best birthdays I can remember having.  I feel loved, spoiled, supported, and am a bit overwhelmed at the generosity of my friends in showering kindness on me.  I threw myself a party, with my closest friends and family, where the color scheme matched the theme, from invitation to cupcake plates and napkins.   I had dinners and lunches during a gorgeous weekend.  I bought myself new shoes and they were on sale!  I was spoiled and for the first time, was able to spoil someone who shares my birthday.  I went to sleep last night feeling utterly content and happy.  Not a bad way to start a year.

So yeah, I am 40.  Old.  Over the hill.  And I'm totally OK.  This is not at all where I thought I would be, but I know for sure it is exactly where I am supposed to be.