"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times."
So Charles Dickens penned in his French Revolution epic, A Tale of Two Cities. But it's a tale that unfolded recently in one New England city that has brought Dickens' words for me once more vividly to life.
As you've gathered if you've perused the other pages reviewing Michael McDermott shows I've attended, more often than not these are "best of times" experiences on a level that defies description in mere words. Given the less than perfect world in which we less than perfect humans live, however, it only stands to reason that once in a while the negative forces of life are bound to conspire against us and try to, for a moment, conquer all that's best within us. And I'd be lying if I didn't admit this particular Friday night in Hartford proved just such an occasion.
Without going into excessive boring detail, let it suffice to say that a cave devoid of sufficient modern technology to permit use of a toaster is probably understood to be a less than ideal spot for an artist forced to rely on the kindness of strangers (and their "modern" equipment) to help him share the beautiful gift that is his music. But it's in precisely such a cave Michael McDermott found himself upon entering The Half Door.
Of course, in the spirit of such days that try your patience, it seems fitting in retrospect that the negative forces aligning to sabotage a musician's night might well extend their grasp to include his fans as well. And, apparently, that's precisely what was happening when a 4-hour drive from NJ to Hartford stretched (via traffic jams) into one that took over 5 hours, only to lead to a disturbingly cheerful hotel clerk's pronouncement that his establishment was out of hot water…just temporarily, of course -- only until tomorrow after the time we'd planned to leave...
Be that as it may, it is the nature of the human spirit that we are creatures of free will. And while none of us can control every event that occurs within our lives, we do (thankfully) have the power to decide how we will react to both the best and worst of times. And it seems to me it's reacting to the worst that allows the strongest human spirit to display its best. And truly few nights (in the course of "normal" events -- genuine tragedies excluded, of course) have provided a greater opportunity to let the human spirit shine.
And shine Michael McDermott's spirit did.
I found it ironic, even at the time, that just after arriving at the club I found myself seated beside a small candle-powered lantern mounted in a support post that formed the center of the table (though I must confess I wasn't terribly surprised when the candle burned out only moments later) -- an instant reminder of the Michael McDermott song entitled "Lantern" and its then particularly appropriate lyrical advice, "Just play the hand you're dealt."
And, quite frankly, I wasn't having any trouble with that advice for my own sake. For while I can't imagine bemoaning any hand that deals me an evening with the music of Michael McDermott, yet I must confess I felt a rising indignation that an artist of Michael's talent and grace should be so unfairly dealt a hand with which it seemed truly impossible to win.
But here we are brought back to the quote that opens this piece. For taken in and of itself, with regard to the gift of an artist, what does the "best of times" or "worst of times" really mean? If all we are to take away from the "best" night of Michael's music (technically speaking -- perfect sound conditions, a pin-drop-quiet crowd, etc.) is an evening of entertainment on a par with a sporting event, sit-com or some similar diversion, how truly good is such a "best"?
But if we are to learn something about humanity, to see the "best" that comes from love and truth as revealed by an artist's work and the brilliance of his artistic spirit, then the trappings in which the "best" that is great art are framed become just that -- trappings. And, as such they're proved equally meaningless as a frame around DaVinci's Mona Lisa or Vincent Van Gogh's Self Portrait. Though indeed the framing in Hartford was by far the poorest I'd yet seen (or, rather, heard), still the beauty of the work -- the completed pieces that showcase Michael's excellence as a writer… the work in progress that is the artist himself -- arguably shone forth richer hues and deeper shades than those "better" conditions under which they're normally experienced ever allow many in his audiences to discover. And although, knowing the adversity he faced, "if I had a lantern I'd [have lit] the way for him", yet I couldn't help realizing the light that is his inextinguishable spirit somehow still outshined anything I or anyone else could have possibly provided.
It was the worst of times. It was the best of times.
It was a night with Michael
Hartford, CT 10/26/01
Hartford's own, Fitz (who also just happens to be Michael McDermott's friend and manager), opened the night by performing several songs solo...
before being joined by Michael for the final two tunes of his set...
After a rather extended break, during which Scott (pictured on the right of the photo below -- be sure to note him; he was a real champ) tried to work out the multiple technical difficulties that plagued the evening, Michael at last appeared onstage and launched into "Cal-Sag-Road Song", which had been requested by several fans...
(and one might
and "Forgotten" -- a song recounting the bondage of a breakup's aftermath...
"I'm lucky in love,
But his stay at the piano was brief, as he called Brian Fitzpatrick (another true champ of the night) on stage to join him for a dual guitar version of "20 Miles South of Nowhere" ...
...and one of "A Wall I Must Climb", on which Brian very capably shared lead vocal duties as well.
This was followed by a break during which Brian and Scott again tried to iron out sound problems before Brian returned to take the stage alone for a pair of his own songs, including "Broken Heart Reprise" from the 1997 album, "Other Side"...
Michael then came back to
perform solo again on a passionate rendition of the Bob Dylan classic,
"Just Like A Woman"...
we meet again,
followed by the rarely performed "Puzzle", which is featured on the soundtrack of the upcoming film, "Knockaround Guys"...
And, of course, no Michael McDermott show would be complete without the powerfully insistent tale of addiction and illicit romance, "Junkie Girl"...
"She's been with women, yeah
...nor the anthem of anger, confusion and rebirth..."Wounded", with which Michael seems to forever surprise and captivate by taking this "old" song to soaring new heights...
We swore faith to
Through the doorways
Well, it gets mighty cold
She stood with grace and
...the same city which serves as the centerpiece of the nostalgic, yet regret-filled, "When The Irish Were Kings of New York"...
"Petty crooks and
Maybe we never
Remaining at the piano himself, Michael then called Brian back to join him on guitar (and to perform lead vocal duties) for a truly unexpected treat in the form of "Kung Fu Videos"...
Alas, following this came that always dreaded moment in which Michael announced this would be his last song before commencing (alone) with "Bells"...
If I gave
you my song,
it all night
And, apparently determined to make Michael sing all night long, upon leaving the stage he was immediately called back for an encore. After considering the many shouted suggestions, he at last settled on the Mike Jordan penned, "Whiskey and Water"...
And hey, while you're lockin
And, indeed, on that note Michael left the stage once and for all...although, of course, I couldn't leave the premises without my traditional photo reminder that I'd been there myself. And, in light of all the technical difficulties and adversity the Half Door had presented for Michael...would you just check out that smile!!!
thanks to Michael for everything,