The Warmest Cold
Yet again, having completed scanning all the photos from a show and writing the descriptive material largely reiterating what literally took place, I've been daunted by the task of creating an appropriate piece to more abstractly/metaphorically capture the "truth" of this particular evening...what specifically set it apart from the other 20 or so Michael McDermott shows I've previously attended...and at the same time what commonality it shared with all of those to make me so look forward to once more finding my way "home" by arriving at a destination so far away.
And, to be perfectly honest, I'm still not absolutely certain I've arrived at a solution to that dilemma...that there even is a solution to the dilemma of putting into words that which defies the intellect alone, that which encompasses so much that is unspoken, so much that is perhaps even more than felt...but rather understood on an intuitive, experiential level of simply "knowing" that it is.
Anyway, having taken a break from this pursuit to leaf through the latest issue of Rolling Stone, I ran across a film review that describes the director's handling of a key scene with the words, "by letting joy seep in, he takes measure in what these characters have lost." And, at last, I think I've found something to at least offer a clue into the something that is mentioned above.
Before elaborating further, however, I must add that lest you've read the review I'm referencing, and noted as well that the piece being critiqued is characterized overall as a modern day "Greek tragedy", you might think I should have continued searching for a clue leading in a more positive direction. But, I'm not applying this quote to the film about which it was written...that is to say, a race already run. I'm applying it instead to a dynamic moment in time...a moment in which losses were indeed honestly accounted for, failures admitted and reflected upon, and doubts -- at times, quite anxiously -- expressed. But that alone is not what kept the crowd, huddled in sweaters and jackets too thin to fully battle the unexpected climatic caprices of a September evening, from scurrying off in search of a hot toddy.
Rather, it was the realization that out of the darkness of this early autumn night, and the darkness of the aforementioned losses being sung about, was, before our eyes, being born the spark of hope...the possibility of -- well, possibility -- triumphing against odds great and small...and in the ever uniquely present gift that is the passion of an artist, the vision needed to convert these hopes to faith. Thus, faced with such a strong and unmistakably positive message...and by opening ourselves to the paradox that is art -- that is life...and by, too, letting just a bit of loss seep in, it was ultimately understood by everyone present just how fully we took measure in the joy that had been found.
That said, I'm sure you'll understand at last my simple summation of this event...which were, in fact, the only words I could hear over and over in my head throughout the time I thought myself at such a "loss" as to a larger theme about which to write:
Surely few times in my life have I ever felt so cold...and yet so very warm.
And that's the truth.
In anticipation of yet another amazing McD show, fans had traveled from not only across town and across the country, but even "around the world"...which news seemed to come as a little bit of a surprise to Michael...
"Wait, did I see...?"
"Ay carumba ---" there are even people here from Spain!" (sorry, I don't have any photos of them, however!&*^*!)
Of course, lest that surprise were accompanied by any fear, it was only on Michael's part, as surely everyone present knew very well what a treat we were truly in for. That said, I could have told him before he even played the first notes of the doubt-tinged "Would That It Were" that indeed all "is as he would" (that it were, that is)...ah heck, you know what I mean!
Fortunately, it seems a similar level of assurance found in the audience's evident appreciation of this beautiful new song quickly had Michael feeling a bit more at ease...of course, that's a little hard to explain, perhaps, considering the very next tune conjured an image of the "Sword of Damocles" hanging over his head!
But then, one might surmise it was a feeling of defenselessness resultant from that knowledge that inspired "Arm Yourself" to follow...or maybe he was simply anxious for the opportunity to show off the new guitar with which he'd recently been gifted (and which both looked and sounded great, particularly on the extended bit of jamming he threw in just prior to the last verse!)...
Whatever the case, Michael felt the need to interrupt that elsewhere-mentioned "In my time of dying" intro with which he often precedes this song to announce, "Now that the Cubs are in the playoffs I could actually die!" Geez, up until that moment I was kind of hoping, for his sake, they'd win the whole series (I'm actually a Mets fan, but -- hey, stop laughing!)...anyway, maybe I should be careful what I wish for in this case, if you know what I mean...
Arm yourself with
Arm yourself with
Arm yourself with
'Cause I've already
After this came the wistful, "Baby, I", prefaced by the story of a friend of a friend, with whom Michael had a agreed to meet up at a crowded bar where he was playing a gig the day before. Assuming his friend had informed the guy of the circumstances, Michael expressed being a bit taken aback at the question, "How will I recognize you?"...and said he'd answered, "Uh, I'll be the Michael McDermott guy singing up front." You know, in some social situations you've got to know when to cut your losses and move on...like in the instance at hand, maybe even before you meet!&*&*!
"Trust in me,
Trust in you,
I know we
Speaking of losses, the next song is probably one buried in the depths of many folks' CD collections that include works from the 80's. Thankfully, it's been rediscovered in the most beautiful and moving way to become a regular part of Michael's repertoire in recent months...the Cyndi Lauper classic, "Time After Time...
Time after time...
If you fall I will
Time after time....
Time after time."
Noting, "that got me in a very sentimental mood," Michael chose this time to take a moment to "thank Kat and Wayne for creating this beautiful environment" (and a beautiful environment, indeed it was!). Adding, "I know it's a little cold", he decided to "warm things up with 'Hellfire'!" (for which he was joined by the always welcome TJ and Lance....
Moving on to a somewhat less energetic selection, Michael announced, "this one's for Kat" before beginning the distress-filled "Can't Sleep Tonight"...
"I can't sleep tonight,
I wonder if it's because
I'm thinking 'bout the
I know I once was...
I wonder where it is
I wonder what it is
I can't sleep tonight,
And I know it's
...before returning to the piano for the second time this evening...seating himself at which he ruefully commented, "it's gonna be interesting playing piano with frozen hands"...as well as that the next song just happened to be "about 10 minutes long. But don't worry," he continued -- tongue planted firmly in cheek -- "it feels much longer...it only feels fourteen minutes long!" Of course, he should have realized how completely that threat of the seldom-played "When The Irish Were Kings of New York" instead sounded like a promise to the enthusiastic crowd!
"Through the din
He had a laugh
When the Irish
The next song was one preceded by more serious ponderings, as it's a bit of art that came out of some serious life circumstances. Appropriately, however, Michael noted that he'd learned a great deal from these circumstances, and concluded that not only had he "got a good song out of it", but also "a good lesson"...a lesson passed on to his listeners in the form of "One Way To Go"...
"A voice from
But are you
Joined once more by Lance and TJ, Michael seemed relieved, nonetheless, to trade the "happy place" he facetiously noted the previous song had taken him for a return to the more accustomed locale of "A Wall I Must Climb"...
"I was amazed by
Down through the
Faith is a wall
...at the conclusion of which he shared the revelation, "Gee, that was kind of like rap before rap was cool...I was ahead of my time!" Actually, like all great art, personally I'd describe Michael's work as "timeless"...something it would seem he very justifiably realizes on some level to have written a piece of it called "Legendary"...on which song, I might add TJ contributed some truly legendary and unusual bass work -- great job, T!!!
"We were just a day away from failure,
After this (apparently at last fully recovered from the shock of their presence!) Michael thanked all those who "so many roads [they had] traveled just to be here", which prompted a sudden request from one of them...to which Michael responded in mock resigned annoyance, "Yeah, whaddaya want?" And, as the answer was "Come Around, Mary" I doubt I have to reveal the identity of the "requester"!
"So won't you come
With that sweet, sad
Won't you come
At least every
Something I neglected to mention regarding that last song is that on it Michael was once again very ably accompanied by Lance. But then, maybe I shouldn't have pointed that out after all...
"Ah, geez, Lance, I've just about had it with you...
I'm telling you, these rock stars get the crowd behind 'em and there's no end to the egocentrism that's spawned (I'm kidding...and that's to both of you, rest assured!)
Anyway, joined once more by (the always humble, thank God!) TJ, next came the always rockin' "20 Miles South of Nowhere" (of course, if you've read my post on the "Pauper's Sky" bulletin board page of www.michael-mcdermott.com, you already know that in light of the events that characterized the return trip to NJ from IL following this auspicious occasion, I'm a little too familiar with a certain place conjured by this title to be quite as fond of it as I once was...(but that doesn't apply to the song, that's still for sure!)
And began to
Next, still accompanied by TJ and Lance, came another of my favorite covers, Mike Jordan's "Whiskey and Water"...for which Michael threw in a bit of very natural acting by rubbing his face in imitation of a true "drunk" at last call as he sang/whined, "All right, all right, I'm goin'." And, of course, there was also that altered line about TJ's keys...not that jokes about losing one's keys are particularly funny to me at the moment (another reference to the aforementioned trip back to NJ!) Ah well, a great song, nonetheless!!!
"Is there any-
Would you like
Returning to the piano once again, Michael favored the crowd with "Around The World", which (as most of you reading this probably know) usually serves as the last song at acoustic shows...thankfully, on this occasion, it was announced prior to its beginning that more would follow (and indeed that was excellent news)...
"I know that
And, since one of my all-time favorites, "Wounded" proved the very first song to follow, you can bet the prior pronouncement had proved especially excellent news to me!
"I will implore
To wash away
So I may rise
And, what's more, next came a song I'd never before heard Michael perform, his tribute to the recently passed Warren Zevon (another cover, in characteristic Michael fashion, altered slightly to make it -- very beautifully -- his own), "Mutineer"...
At its conclusion, and after offering sincere thanks for the excellent sound provided by Paul Braun (from the "Chicago Street Theatre" in Valparaiso, IN, where Michael has performed on numerous occasions), it was at last announced that the next song would provide the final "Spark" of musical light for the evening...
"Spark the heart in
Spark the dark 'til
Spark the colors in
Spark the ember
While the start of the night might have been characterized by a bit of surprise on Michael's part, however, I'm sure it came as no shock to him at all that his presence was demanded back onstage to provide an encore. And, thankfully, despite the chill of the outside air, he warmly obliged. Accompanied once more by Lance, he was quickly back at the piano with the beautiful sound of "Bells" ringing out across the night...
"Hey hey la, hey la hey,
...followed by an intense and artful version of the hope and determination-filled "Getting Off The Dime" to truly close out the evening on the strongest possible note...and establish a whole new meaning for the term "saving the best for last"...
"Blessed those who hunger, blessed those who
On which note, I can only close with the very best words I can think of...
Thank you, Michael (and Lance and TJ)
for everything, as always.
(And, once more,
I warn you, Illinois...
I WILL Be Back!!!)