Messages

A few months ago, I received two messages which finally prompted me to take action about my dream job.

The first came in the form of a dream, about Jackie, and the Foo Fighters. I never saw my brother, but I heard his voice, just as if he was standing right next to me. Here’s the dream, to the best of my recollection:

I am driving somewhere unfamiliar.  It is early evening, just after dusk. I know that I’m in California, because we’re talking about my flight in.  It’s balmy and warm, a beautiful night.  Jackie is in the passenger seat and he’s providing directions as we go. We’re in a neighborhood that feels familiar, although I know I’ve never been there.

When we arrive at our destination, he tells me we’re now at the “compound.”  It’s a cluster of smaller, Craftsman-style homes, built around a few larger buildings.  “That’s the rehearsal space and the recording studio,” he says. “You’ll be staying in the loft apartment that’s over the dining hall, at least until you guys can get moved and settled. I’ve been staying there for a while now. The guys are playing a local show tonight, and they’re not back yet, so you’ll have some time to get the lay of the land.”

After a little while, a tour bus pulls in and the band (my band!) pours out of it and start hauling amps and guitars and drums out from the storage wells. Out of the surrounding houses come wives and kids and friends, all gathering around to ask how the show went.  Other than Jackie, who’s suddenly vanished, I know no one, but everyone seems to know me.  I’m welcomed warmly. Everyone is friendly.

“We’re really glad you’re here.” I don’t know who has said it, but I nod and answer that I’ll be ready to get started in the morning. At what, I don’t know exactly, but I know I’m there for a reason. The fact that I’m bunking over the kitchen tells me that I am, perhaps, going to be the official band cook.  Everything around me is in motion, the way things are sometimes in dreams. Foos, wives, kids, dogs – everything is moving, noisy, happy. It’s a big party. I notice a clock and see that it’s nearly midnight.

The disembodied voice says “You must be tired, with the time difference and all. If you’re ready to crash, it’s okay. Did you find the apartment?” I turn to the voice, which is Dave, or Nate (they’re both standing there) and say that Jack showed me everything and I’m settled in. And then they exchange a look. Confusion, followed by what I think must be sympathy. And they walk me outside, where it’s quiet.

Dave looks me square in the eye and says “You know Jack’s dead.” And I nod, and I tell them that it must be exhaustion setting in. “While I was driving here, he was giving me directions, and he showed me around. Otherwise I wouldn’t have known where to go.  I could hear his voice. It was like he was here with me. But I know he’s not really here.”

And then Nate says “But he knew you were supposed to be, that’s why he helped you find your way.”

That’s when I woke up.

I never talked to Jack about my desire to work with the Foo Fighters.  Back when I had that chance, it was still tucked away in my “Crazy Ideas” file.  In hindsight, of course, I wish I had told him.  Jackie loved music.  And he was open to unconventional ideas. I think he would have been supportive.  Hell, he might have even known someone who knew someone who could have been helpful to me on my journey.

I’ll never know now.  And I’ll always wonder what he would have thought.

There’s one other point of significance that I should mention about my brother; he was fascinated by dreams, and he believed that they often held special meaning to the dreamer.  Was my Jackie dream just my mind doing some REM wish-fulfillment, or was this his way of telling me to get my ass in gear? Do the dead visit the living to deliver messages? Maybe they do, if the message needs to be heard.

The second message? That one came a few weeks later, on Valentine’s Day. I was wide awake for this one.

Dave Grohl was a guest on The Colbert Report, talking about “Sound City,” the film he directed about the legendary recording studio in LA. Colbert asked him how, as a musician, he had come to make a documentary film. “Well, the way I look at it is, I never took lessons to learn how to play the drums, and I never took lessons to learn how to play a guitar; I just sort of figured it out. And I think that if you’re passionate about something, and you’re driven, and focused, that you can pretty much do anything that you want to do in life.”

DG_ColbertReport_ScreenShot

Message received.

And so, not knowing exactly how to apply for a job that doesn’t yet exist and has no application process, I’ve chosen to write about it. I’m taking my idea public and putting it out there for the world to see, and possibly mock or dismiss or ridicule. Hey, that’s the chance a dreamer has to take, right? If this particular “seed of destiny” is going to grow, it’s my job to be a diligent gardener and nurture it.

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Jackie

I’ve been feeling a little blue lately.  It’s Father’s Day weekend, and I’m not sure, but it may be this observance that has had me feeling melancholy.

At our house, Father’s Day has been a celebration for my husband and his dad, or just my father-in-law in the years before our kids were born.  My own father died decades ago, so he’s not been an honoree – not in any cookout/baseball game/ugly tie sense, at least – for over 30 years.

So I don’t think it’s the loss of my own father that I’m feeling so keenly this weekend. It’s my big brother, Jack. Jackie, as we always called him.  That’s who I’m missing.

Maybe it’s because we’re approaching the first anniversary of his death, or because his oldest child, a daughter and the oldest of all our family’s grandchildren, got married a few weeks ago.  Her brother walked her down the aisle, just as Jackie walked me down the aisle when I got married.  And just as I know he was spiritually “there” watching over this celebration, I also know that his corporeal absence was deeply felt.  I’ve been feeling it for several weeks.

Jackie was pretty young, only 60, when he died. He developed pulmonary fibrosis several years ago. He followed an aggressive treatment protocol, but the disease just wore him down in the end. When he died, he was in California, visiting his oldest friend in the world. They met on the first day of first grade, and were best friends for 54 years.  His friend was a fellow musician, and over time had amassed an impressive collection of guitars, which he and Jackie had spent a lot of time playing during that last trip.

I’m sure Jackie wasn’t so much ready to go, as resigned to it. I know he was tired of fighting for breath, or for a decent night’s sleep. The friends and family he saw during his last days all said he was in good spirits and seemed happy.  I suspect he knew that at last, his fight was nearing an end. My rational mind knew that Jackie wouldn’t be with us for much longer. Still, his death caught me completely off guard.

In the week that followed, I spent most every waking moment at my mother’s house, surrounded by family and friends.  This is usually how it goes when someone dies. You’re with the people you need to be with, talking and laughing and crying. Mostly, you’re just trying to wrap your mind around the fact that someone is gone.

In the midst of all of it, I found myself slipping outside frequently just to be alone.  Even after a tragedy, sometimes all that family togetherness can weigh on you. I needed to not talk, to not think, to not feel.  I would sit in my car and listen to Foo Fighters songs –  “Monkey Wrench” for the comic relief, or “The Pretender”, which helped to redirect some of my anger. Or “Home”, when I just needed to cry.

In the immediate aftermath of a tragedy, we huddle together and help each other through the shock and bewilderment of loss, and this makes us feel better.  A lot of people that I love and respect helped me through that first week.  But if we’re going to be honest about it, that’s not really the worst part of dealing with death.

Grief is tricky. It sneaks up on you when your guard is down, like the monster in the closet that only comes out in the dark of night, when you’re a little kid alone in your room.  It’s not the business of death itself that’s so hard to take; it’s what comes after, when you have to get back to the business of living.

Because you really have to figure out how to do that on your own.

I can see how, after the loss of a loved one, people turn to drugs and alcohol as an escape. Life is supposed to go back to “normal”, but there’s a new normal, in which you have to absorb the fact that someone is gone and won’t be back, no matter how long you wait.  Whatever normal used to be, this is NOT it, because now there’s a big fucking hole in it.

True to form, I filled that hole with music.

During the weeks and months that followed, when the grief and loss would blindside me, I would turn to the Foo Fighters. I knew their music so well by then that it was ingrained in me.  And a huge part of what my normal had been, and needed to be again. I needed the comfort of the familiar – Chris and Pat’s guitars for the melody and the spark, and Nate’s bass and Taylor’s drums to provide the rhythm. And of course, Dave’s voice, which can go from a defiant screaming anthem to an achingly beautiful ballad and never once sound false. It’s not a perfect voice, but it’s always honest.

When a loved one dies, I think it’s a natural reaction to start thinking about your own mortality. I certainly did. I was not unhappy with my life, but I knew I wasn’t doing what I wanted to be doing with it. It was time to do something else. I didn’t make any immediate changes, but I knew they were necessary. And scary. Fear rendered me immobile for a time. But one night, that changed.

To be continued…

My Rock And Roll Soul

As a kid, I went everywhere with my mom. We traveled all over town in our Mercury station wagon, listening to a variety of 8-tracks, including Rachmaninoff, “My Fair Lady”, and a shit-ton of Dionne Warwick.  By the age of 9, I knew the words to every song from every 1960s musical, and could sing along with Mom and Dionne on every tune that Burt Bacharach and Hal David ever wrote.

I had a little turntable that we got at the Green Stamp store, but it wasn’t nearly as good as listening in my brothers’ rooms. They had speakers!

They would not indulge my musical tastes from that time (I was big on the Archies!) but would sometimes allow me entrance into their inner sanctums to listen to whatever they were listening to. This provided a much-needed balance to my near-constant exposure to Broadway musicals and easy-listening radio.

I’m a child of the 70s – the youngest of four.  My three brothers were 9, 7, and 6 years older, which in kid years meant a chasm between me and them. But I liked their music.  My rock and roll soul began to form while listening to Jimi Hendrix, the Beatles, CCR, or the Stones, courtesy of Brother #1.  Down the hall came the strains of The Temptations, The Spinners or Al Green, when Brother #2 was home. If it was Jethro Tull, Frank Zappa, or Argent blasting through the walls, Brother #3 was running the turntable.

Once I got to high school, all three brothers were grown and gone, but someone had been kind enough to leave behind a record player.   Good thing, too, as my mom was getting hot and heavy with Barry Manilow and Carly Simon. It was dicey there for a year or so, but I finally got a driver’s license and my own little piece-of-shit car with an 8-track player. By the age of 16, I had achieved musical freedom!

Mostly, I listened to whatever my peers were listening to – the Eagles, Boston, Queen, Zeppelin, Chicago, Fleetwood Mac.  Because of my exposure to my brothers’ music, however, I bravely ventured off the Top 40 path now and again. I loved Shawn Phillips, although no one in my circle of friends had ever heard of him. He played at a club in Dallas and I had to drag a guy I was dating to see him. It was my first time to see a musical act in an intimate club setting. I had to use a fake ID to get in, which was both terrifying and exhilarating.

But so worth it! To me, the music was amazing. My date was still not impressed, and was pretty pissed when, at the evening’s end, I wouldn’t provide sexual favors in return for making him sit through a show he didn’t want to see. I’d bought the tickets, but he’d been plying me with alcohol all evening, all for naught. Shawn Phillips won my heart that night.

Finally, my record player and I headed off to college, where I listened to Rush, Yes, and Supertramp. But soon, I stopped paying attention to music and got busy falling in love with the wrong person. He was athletic and blond and pretty. Maybe a little dumb. He was very pious. I was not.

We pretended to be each other’s everything for over a year.  In the end, though, his piety, or my lack thereof, did us in. He would have married me, he said, if only I had seen the light and accepted Jesus as my personal savior.  He’d told me from the get-go that he couldn’t marry a girl who would end up in hell. It was not acceptable for a good Christian boy to marry a heathen, particularly a Jewish heathen!  Fornicating with one was okay, as long as you prayed afterwards, but marriage?  It just wasn’t done. I was too young to fully appreciate this hypocrisy back then, but the lesson stuck with me.

But soon, I met the right person. He was nothing like my first true love. He was a cowboy. He was not even remotely pious. He drank and smoked and shot pool and he made me think about having sex and NOT praying afterwards.  He was really smart, and ruggedly handsome, and a little dangerous.  I’d never been involved with a bad boy before.  I thought he was perfect.  Well, almost. He listened to country music. I wasn’t a big fan, but I could tolerate it. And surely he could be trained.

When I married him a few years later, I refused to walk down the aisle to the traditional Wedding March. It did nothing for me.  I wanted epic music, something momentous to suit the occasion.  I chose composer Jeremiah Clarke’s “Prince of Denmark March,” because it gave me goose bumps. That’s the mark of an epic piece of music – if it makes your hair stand on end, then it’s reached inside of you and touched your soul.

I get this feeling when I hear the finale of Saint-Saëns’ Symphony #3 in C Minor, Opus 78.  When Shawn Phillips hits those high notes on “What’s Happenin’ Jim?,” I feel it. When I listen to the opening note of Pink Floyd’s “Echoes”, that funny sonar ping, I feel it.  And every time I hear the first simple guitar notes at the start of the Foos’ “Come Alive,” I feel it. That little rush of anticipation comes over me, because I know I’m about to hear something amazing and grand. Something…epic!

Everybody Needs A Jewish Mother

When last I left you, I had determined that going to work for the Foo Fighters, my favorite band in the world, was my fondest wish.  The hitch for me was figuring out what I could do for them.

What skills, traits, or talents did I have that would be marketable to a rock band?  I pondered and pondered this question.  On the surface, I couldn’t think what practical use the band might have for a middle-aged woman who managed grants for a living. Don’t get me wrong; I’m really good at what I do, but you just don’t think ‘grant manager’ and ‘rock band’ in the same sentence.  I had to dig deeper.

A mental inventory of my abilities yielded nothing at first.  Zip.  I despaired ever finding my Foo niche.  Then one day, purely by accident, the answer arrived.

Back in 2011, on the front end of their American tour for “Wasting Light”, The Foo Fighters had a tour rider – a document outlining their wants and needs at those concert venues lucky enough to host them.  My friend Lynne, knowing my fascination with all things Foo, sent it to me.

We’ve all heard horror stories about diva pop stars and lunatic rock bands with peculiar tastes and weird habits.  Rockers who throw temper tantrums if even the most asinine demands in their concert riders aren’t met.  I could see it now – “NO green M & Ms in the dressing room – EVER!” “All bottled water must be blessed by the Dalai Lama prior to being served!” “A dog walker and pet psychologist must be available for the talent’s Chinese Crested on a 24-hour basis!”

You know, spoiled rock star bullshit.

I approached cautiously.  I felt sure I was going to read a list of outrageous mandates from a bunch of spoiled-brat, guitar-smashing, hotel-trashing rockers and my high opinion of my precious band would be crushed forever.  I dreaded reading that rider, but if these guys were total dicks, I figured it was better to find out sooner rather than later.

The first thing I discovered was that the rider was funny.  And it doubled as a coloring book.  Tour manager Gus Brandt took the time to inject his (and the band’s) sense of humor into each page.  The entire document was obviously written with tongue firmly in cheek.  A few pages in, I kicked back and enjoyed the read.

There were no outrageous demands, really it all sounded pretty reasonable to me.  Hot breakfasts?  Makes sense – it is the most important meal of the day, you know.  Hot lunch options.  Dishes and cutlery NOT made of plastic. Vegetarian selections were important.  Their shocking M & M demand?  That the candy packages be unopened prior to their arrival.

Perhaps I’m just naïve, but if you’re a premiere rock band, do you really have to ASK that the venue not give you snacks that other people have had their hands in first?  What kind of hosts were these people?

The list went on – clean socks, fresh t-shirts and a variety of reading material in the hospitality suite.  Decent booze, a broad selection of beer.  I read it all.  And I felt sad. My band – my fucking heroes! – were having to ask for things that should have been common sense offerings from any venue.  The questions kept coming up in my mind: “Why are you leaving all of this stuff to chance?  Why don’t you have someone taking care of this on your end?”

The Foo Fighters needed a meal planner.  A kitchen oversight officer.  A den mother! Someone who could take care of them out on the road and make sure they were well-fed, well-read, well-hydrated, and well-rested.  Someone who had nothing but their personal well-being in mind.  If the food they were getting wasn’t up to par, they needed someone around to step into the kitchen and make it so.  Did I mention that I cook?  Actually, that’s a bit of an understatement – I don’t just cook.  I throw down.  I’m not bragging.  It’s just how it is.

I knew what a Hoshizaki was.  I had a subscription to The Atlantic.  I knew where to find t-shirts in bulk.  And if the M & M’s had been sullied, no worries.  In less than an hour, I could whip up a pan of brownies that would make you weep with joy.  Just point me toward the kitchen.

I finished reading that rider, and I knew I’d found my place.  I knew what I could do for my band.  I was the perfect person for the job.  I’d been training for it since birth. And I was ready.

I was going to be the Foo Fighters’ Jewish Mother.