What You Give is What You Get

I don’t like the term “bucket list” the same way I don’t like all terms overused into meaningless oblivion. However, if I were to have one and speak in such clichés then I checked one off this weekend.

I’m a life-long music lover and one of my longest-running obsessions is with the music of Paul Weller. Thanks to having an older brother who discovered The Jam early, I started listening in my early teens. I followed Weller through The Style Council and his long running solo career. Yes, Paul and I have stuck it out through our respective peaks and valleys. I admire his dedication to his artistry; he stays fresh and relevant even in the face of intense industry criticism.2014-09-12 20.26.18

So many musicians of a certain age hang around and replay the glory day tunes for the money.  I get it too — I mean, Oh Dear God, when I heard Sid Vicious’ version of My Way in a recent car commercial, I knew I’d gotten old. My generation has come of age: we have buying power and nostalgia sells.

Weller played a few of the oldies (2 Jams and a Style Council to be exact) but his show gave me the impression that his goal was just to play whatever the heck he felt like playing.

And that I like.

Of course, as with any music, his songs serve as post-it notes on memories for me. Thanks to his long and prolific musical career, there’s a big stack of stickies. I remember scribbling lyrics to one of the Jam songs he played on my folders in high school.

If I had to try to describe his music in a sentence, I’d say it combines quintessential hard-hitting rock-n-roll iconoclasm with surprising notes of optimism.

As the 2014-09-12 23.37.29Quakers would say (and my friend Mary taught me), that speaks to my condition.

Despite being hugely popular in the rest of the world, he’s never hit the big time here so he doesn’t come to the US often. When he does, it’s festivals and big cities. In 2009, I had tickets to see him in NYC, but the show was cancelled because Paul’s manager and beloved father John died.

This year, for reasons beyond my powers of comprehension, Weller has undertaken a small US tour and chose a small club in my small town to play this past Friday.

Thankfully my husband still pays attention to such important announcements, while I spend my time studying the kids’ grades on Edline. Thanks to him we had tickets. I’m happy to report that he was even better than I thought he’d be.

Anyone who’s interested in learning how it’s done… go see him.  I never seen a better show. And I’ve seen a lot of them. He played songs that spanned both his career and his genres. If you like his music, you’ll know what I’m talking about.  If you don’t, you’re missing out.  Go get to work. You have a lot of catching up to do. Report back.2014-09-12 23.15.44

And on that small town/small venue thing — Cincinnati and Bogart’s.  The club has been an attraction for decades for small and mid-sized acts on their way up or down.  I’ve seen both, having spent a good chunk of my misspent youth there. It holds about 1500 people and offers general admission, which is unusual after a certain preventable rock concert tragedy in 1979.

This makes for an intimate show that simply cannot be replicated in a stadium venue. You can muscle your way as close to the stage as you dare. However, as my knees will testify, I am no longer 22 years old standing around all night long watching the Replacements. I joked with someone I knew there about the need to take ibuprofen before the show in order to endure it. Hearing protection would also have been wise.

2014-09-12 22.53.33-1Around Weller’s second encore, I had the thought that I might not make it back to the car without assistance. I did, and I shouted for at least a day until the ringing in my ears subsided.

Bogart’s is in a neighborhood that’s pretty boarded up. It used to be a music hotspot but most of the places are closed and awaiting reinvention. But the place itself has changed very little since the 80s — it’s still dark and gritty; sticky floored and smelly, although much less smelly now that you can’t smoke inside buildings in Ohio.

So much tangible proof of my personal history has been bulldozed, replaced by clean, shiny, new stuff. What’s wrong with a little grime? I often ask myself and anyone who will listen. What are we afraid is going to happen if we get a little mucky? (also see: Jam song Mr. Clean.  Bad Word Warning)

What do we think we are protecting ourselves from?

What are we hiding from?

That place, that music, and me.  It all came together in a big beautiful mess on Friday, reminding me that so much of what we cling to is fluffy window-dressing.

Weller wasn’t “good for an old guy.”  Weller was good.  Damned good. No silly retro or vintage qualifier needed. Sticky floors, sweaty people, jumping around, singing and dancing.

And I was there, dammit. Right there.

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