Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Keep on Rockin'

Tonight my old hometown friend Wade and I plan to attend a Gregg Allman concert in Macon. Allman and his brother Duane, who died at age 24 in 1971 in a motorcycle accident in Macon, were the Allman Brothers of the Allman Brothers Band, one of the greatest and most enduring rock/blues acts of all time. Gregg has survived a lot, including much-documented drug issues and a liver transplant, to continue to perform both with the band and as a solo artist. Once, he made an album with his then-wife Cher. Really.

Gregg Allman is 66 now.

This will be the first time I have seen Gregory (as his friends call him and which I will call him after I see him tonight) in concert. It has been my privilege to see several of my musical heroes in their, shall we say, “mature” years.

Over the last few years my Good Wife and/or I have attended concerts by Paul Revere & the Raiders, Neil Diamond, Art Garfunkel, Michael Nesmith, James Taylor & Carole King, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger (whose Silver Bullet Band includes drummer Don Brewer, formerly of my favorite band of my teenage years, Grand Funk Railroad) and Crosby, Stills, & Nash. One glorious night we saw, on one stage, such ‘60s icons as the Buckinghams, Gary Puckett (without the Union Gap), Micky Dolenz, and the Turtles.

My favorite story of such attendance is of the time we (finally) got to see Gordon Lightfoot, whose many hits include “If You Could Read My Mind,” “Sundown,” and “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.” A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, we were living in Louisville, Kentucky where I was enrolled in seminary. It was the early 1980s and we had not yet been blessed with either children or money. A downtown theater called The Palace had just been renovated and re-opened; we heard on the radio that Gordon Lightfoot was going to perform there on our wedding anniversary. So we saved our pennies and nickels and sold some aluminum cans and at the moment the tickets went on sale I was standing at the box office saying, “I’d like the best seats I can get.” The fellow said, “Well, the first six rows are reserved for sponsors and radio stations, but I can put you in the middle of Row 7.”

We were so excited. And we were so disappointed when, just a few days before the show was scheduled to take place, it was, without explanation, cancelled.

But we got excited again when we learned that Gordon was going to appear in concert at the Macon City Auditorium in May of 2009. Again, I was at the box office (meaning in front of my computer) the moment that tickets went on sale—and I scored seats in the middle of the front row! So finally, some three decades after our first effort, we got to see Gordon Lightfoot in concert. Needless to say, he had aged a bit, but it was still a good show and a most rewarding experience.

When Mick Jagger was a young man he said, “I’d rather be dead than singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m 45.” Mick’s 70 now. He still sings “Satisfaction.”

Why do they still do it? Why do they keep on performing? Maybe some of them need the money. Maybe some of them can’t live without the crowds. I think, though, that for most if not all of them, the music is such a part of their life that they cannot imagine living without expressing and sharing it. We their fans are the beneficiaries of their ongoing drive to sing and play.

I am grateful that so many of the artists I admire choose to stay active and to share their lives and music with us. Perhaps I can—perhaps we all could—learn from them about the value in embracing, developing, and sharing what we love for as long as we live …

Saturday, January 11, 2014

I’ve Been Thinking #2

[Note: this is the second of an occasional series called I’ve Been Thinking; these posts will share some thoughts about what I’ve been—well, thinking about …]

I’ve been thinking about individual and public morality. Or maybe I’ve been thinking about national sovereignty and states’ rights. Or maybe I’ve been thinking about working from the bottom up as opposed to from the top down or vice-versa.

Or maybe I’ve been thinking about all of those things since they seem to me to be related.

While I am neither a historian nor a constitutional scholar nor a middle school civics teacher, it seems to me that we live with a pretty squirrelly (no offense to squirrels intended) situation here in the good old U.S.A.

I can use myself as an example of what I’m talking about: I am simultaneously an American and a Georgian. Got it? The national government has its laws and policies; the state government has its own.

Lately, there have been some high profile tensions between national laws/policies and those of the states. For example, the Affordable Care Act is the law of the land but many states, including my own, have declined to participate fully in the implementation of the law by setting up a state health insurance exchange and/or by expanding Medicaid coverage (which they are permitted by the federal law to decline). For another example, while the use of marijuana is still a federal offense, its sale and use for medical purposes is now legal in twenty states and the District of Columbia and for recreational purposes in Colorado and Washington.

It strikes me as odd that something that is illegal on the national level can be legal on a state level. We also hear all the time the contention that certain matters should be left up to each state. While I understand that such is the approach of federalism, that there is value in having more local control over policies, and that there always has been concern about the power of the national government, such an approach still feels odd to me.

After all, somewhere along the way (many historians seem to trace the change to the War Between the States, although it’s not that simple), we moved from saying “The United States are” to saying “The United States is.”

I recently watched a documentary on the Pivot channel that had been produced by ABC News in 1963 about that year’s desegregation of the University of Alabama. Entitled Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment, it mainly consisted of footage (in beloved black & white) of President Kennedy and his teams in Washington and in Alabama navigating the process of enforcing the federal court order allowing two black students to enroll at the university. There was also footage of Gov. Wallace standing in the schoolhouse door and reading a statement in which he interpreted the federal action as an intrusion of the national government at the expense of his state’s rights. While the central government prevailed in that matter, we still hear the matter of states’ rights raised quite often (although the term is not used much because it has become a synonym for an insistence on racial segregation).

Here’s an interesting question to ponder: had Gov. Wallace prevailed, how long would it have been until Alabama’s (or other Southern states’) public universities would have been integrated? Does anyone—can anyone—seriously believe that such progress would have been achieved without the intervention of the federal government? Does anyone—can anyone—believe that we would have made the advances we have made in civil rights had the federal government not acted to implement policies? Would we have come anywhere near as far as we have come in fostering racial equality had the states been left to their own devices?

Change, many people say, should begin in the individual heart and then at the grassroots level and should then move up the ladder until it becomes public policy. Perhaps that is best. But it seems to me that we can’t always wait that long …

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Aunt Mary

We buried my Aunt Mary last Tuesday.

Aunt Mary was my late father’s eldest sibling; she was born on November 25, 1912 and so was just a few weeks past her 101st birthday when she died on December 28, 2013. She made her appearance just seven months after the Titanic sank on its maiden voyage. The ship was supposed to be unsinkable but was not; we had about decided that Aunt Mary was.

Gratefully, when we last saw her at Thanksgiving, she was still herself; her eyes were bright and her mind was sharp. She could still walk with a little assistance. A few days later her body decided that enough was enough and she just died. It wasn’t a bad way to go.

Aunt Mary witnessed a lot of changes during her long life; as our son put it, she lived through “The Great Depression, two World Wars, and Little Richard.” She also experienced a lot of loss—she lived through the deaths not only of her parents, eight younger siblings, and her husband, but also both of her children, one of whom died following an accident when he was a youngster and the other who died of cancer at age 60 following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease.

Yet still she had joy. The last time we saw her, we saw her laugh and smile. In fact, every time we saw her, we saw her laugh and smile. Her smile was a knowing smile; it had a tinge of sadness to it. It wasn’t the kind of fake smile that pretends that everything is all right; it was rather a genuine smile that revealed a conviction that life is tough but you go on living it as best you can anyway. Perhaps such knowing, realistic joy is a gift from God. If so, she accepted it with as much grace as anyone I have ever known.

That’s not surprising because Aunt Mary had the ability to accept good gifts with great grace. There was something about her that called forth love; as our daughter put it, “How could you not love Aunt Mary?” And she gladly received love without giving the impression that she deserved it or that she expected anything more than the love itself. My experience with people tells me that the ability to receive love with such grace and humility must not be easy. Again, perhaps it is a gift from God.

Paul McCartney was thinking of a dream he had dreamed in which his mother Mary appeared to him when he wrote the words “When I find myself in times of trouble, mother Mary comes to me, speaking words of wisdom, ‘Let it be.’” When I remember Aunt Mary, I will think of her sad and knowing smile and of her acceptance of the joy and pain of life and love and I will hear her speaking to me those same words of wisdom: “Let it be” …