Sunday, May 01, 2011

One of the Greatest Weeks of My Life

The week starting with Easter Sunday and concluding with May Day has been one of the most eventful and most amazing weeks of my life. Easter Sunday was good, with the church service since it had been awhile since I went to church. Though I don't remember Monday (other than seeing The Conspirator after work) and Tuesday, things picked up on Wednesday. I actually fell asleep Tuesday night with the radio on, so that meant whatever was on the radio infiltrated my dreams. During my dream state, I was in Hawaii with a friend from high school (my friend Riaz of all people) and we were showing people our birth certificates! When I woke up, I heard the news on the radio that President Obama had released the long-form birth certificate and gave a press conference about the distraction that this non-issue has caused with the media feeding frenzy. Turns out, there was nothing on the birth certificate that contradicted what President Obama had claimed all along. That didn't stop Donald Trump from claiming victory, though. He couldn't admit that he got chumped in the worst way possible. If we lived in a world that valued honesty and credibility, Trump's name would now be Mudd.

Wednesday began the Label Conference that is an annual event put on by the company that I work for. Its held at the Sheraton Hotel at Portland Airport, the same place where I attended the Willamette Writer's Conference my first week in Portland in 2006, and where I went to interview for a flight attendant position with an airlines also in my first week in Portland. I haven't been back there since 2006, so it was a strange deja vu experience to be there for a conference connected to my job.

I only went during the morning opening session to hear the company's president give the "State of the Union" regarding the company's financial picture. Then it was back to work at the office. Wednesday evening, I returned to the hotel for a retirement party for one employee (my cubicle is right outside of his office), a dinner, and then a concert with current singing sensation Dana Fuchs (the picture of me with Dana was taken by one of the label's managers after the concert).

At the dinner, one young co-worker saw me laughing and pointed it out. She says that I'm too serious and wanted to see my "fun side." In fact, at the concert, she planned to get me drunk by buying me drinks. I did drink three glasses of red wine and started feeling a buzz, but I knew that I had reached my limits. She wanted to see me drunk and I asked her why. She said that I was too serious all the time and she wanted to see what I was like loosened up. I laughed. Been there, done that. She is in her 20s and is a cute young lady (don't jump to conclusions, though. She's not "my type"). At That Awful Place That Shall Not Be Named, another young lady in her 20s thought I was a boring teetotaler because I mentioned early on that I didn't really drink. I told her that once I discovered meditation and spirituality, I no longer needed alcohol to feel euphoric bliss. I could get there without any substance. But, these young ladies in their 20s haven't reached the point that I reached. Not that I was ever a heavy drinker. I just know that its not for me.

This young co-worker was a complete lush. I could tell that she was drunk. She went around hugging everyone. I understand people wanting to see what comes out when a person gets drunk, but that's just immature. There are other ways of discerning a person's true nature. I think I'm pretty good with an intuitive sense about people. This young lady told me that I was too reserved. I told her that I would be a blubbering lush if I ever got wasted. But those days are long behind me. I can enjoy the concert without help.

Dana Fuchs is getting a major promotional push by the company and one of its proprietary labels, Ruf Records out of Germany. I love this company because they have put out some amazing blues music, particularly the Pilgrimage album, where three young blues artists traveled the Mississippi Delta in search of some blues history and music. The tribute album to their journey has some incredible songs on it. One of my favourite songs has a portion in which the young Finnish lady is trying to rap. She sounds funny in her attempt, but its an endearing kind of funny. I just love listening to her. Ruf Records has also created a look for the CDs that makes them look like actual records (black with ridges!). Awesome nostalgia.

Anyhow, Dana Fuchs is best known for playing Sadie (if I'm not mistaken) in the film Across the Universe. Her music style is bluesy rock, with a voice that can evoke Janis Joplin or Melissa Etheridge. The name of her debut CD is the provocative Love to Beg, with a seductive and pouty image on the cover. The concert was at the Alberta Rose Theater, which I never been to before. A lot of people from the company I work for as well as the various labels affiliated with the company were at the concert. I was stunned that there were less than 100 people in the venue. Maybe as few as 50 people. I expected more people because of the advertising push locally and her being in a popular film. However, it was on a weeknight and she is unknown. The small audience made the setting feel more intimate in a way. She gave a great show and her voice is amazing. I've listened to her album for a few weeks now at work and her songs that I love the most include: "Summersong", "Love to Beg", "Golden Eyes", and "Superman."

After the concert, she was introduced to quite a few people. When I was introduced to her, I mentioned that my job was to make sure that she was paid royalties on her songs. She gave me a kiss (on the cheek). I told her that if she wanted more money, she needed to write songs that were longer than 5 minutes. She said that people tell her to keep it under 4 minutes. I told her that the rate is lower under 5 minutes so of course they were going to tell her that! She said that was good to know. Uh-oh...did I start something? I was just partly joking. It is true that rates are different at the five minute mark, but write a song however long its meant to be. Most are in the 3 to 4 minute range. There's more to earning more money than just the length of a song. One should also own 100% of their songs, share no song-writing credit, and have the song be on CDs that sell thousands and thousands of copies, as well as having other artists sing your songs. When I do a quarterly report, some songs earn only a nickle. The way to make big bucks is to have many songs out there and owning all the rights to it.

On Thursday evening, I had to go to the dinner at the hotel because my supervisor wanted me to meet a few people from another record label that I deal with in my job. They were from Germany and deal mostly with jazz and classical music. The CDs they put out are not my style of music, but I do think they have the best packaging of any label. Mostly, though, I talked with a guy from Belgium who is married to a lady from Burkina Faso. As soon as he told me that, I said: "That country has the best name for a capital city: Ouagadougou!" He was stunned that I knew that and even pronounced it correctly. Our conversation covered the world. I talked about my love of all things French and he mentioned that of all his travels (he has been to 63 countries), Thailand is his favourite. He plans to retire there in three years. I mentioned that my mother is from there but we hadn't gone there since 1975. It was great having a conversation about our various travel experiences. At one point in the conversation, he said, "I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I wish more Americans were as knowledgeable about the world as you are. Most Americans I meet are not able to talk about anything other than America."

That has to be among the best compliments I've ever gotten. However, its not a surprise. I've always found it much easier to talk to foreigners than to fellow Americans. I've been a fish out of water all my life and spoiled by living six years of my life in Europe. I miss the in depth conversations that Europeans offer, even despite the language barrier (though this man claims to be able to speak six languages fluently and four more languages less fluently). Americans do have the reputation for being shallow and uninterested in things that don't concern them. That I was able to have a conversation about a number of topics with this Belgian guy is a reflection of my internationalist worldview. As I listened more and more to Portland's best known band, Pink Martini, I realize that I'm just like the band members. Their website explains their philosophy, which reflects the diverse travel experiences and musical interests of each band member (its a full orchestra). Its nice to fit in with fellow travelers on our small marble in space.

Friday morning, of course, was the Wedding Event of the Year / Decade. I was already up when the festivities began, so I watched it then went to sleep before going to work. Then on Saturday came the highlight of the week: the Johnny Clegg concert at Aladdin Theater!

I noticed on the back of someone's T-shirt that Johnny Clegg had performed in Atlanta on April 29, 2004. I was at that concert (his previous tour of North America). I was stunned that I was catching his concert six years later, plus a day. Atlanta wasn't scheduled on this tour, so I made the right decision moving to Portland. He performed three shows in the Seattle area: Bellingham, Everett, and Tacoma.

There was a long line outside the Aladdin Theater, with many South Africans wearing cool looking Springboks jerseys or South African flag shirts. There were families with young children attending this concert. The venue was packed. No worries about an empty house for this concert. I noticed an attractive blonde lady who smiled as she talked to everyone. I wanted to talk with her, but I could see that she was meeting friends at this concert and that makes it difficult to intrude. At the end of the concert, when Johnny Clegg came out to sign autographs for fans, he said to the blonde lady, "You're the one that was smiling the whole time!" Wow, he noticed her from the stage? The woman has some mega-watt charisma going on, that's for sure. I was attracted to her energy. I would love to bump into her somewhere in Portland and find out how she came to know Johnny Clegg's music. Its always a curiosity with me about how people discovered his music, since he never gets played on radio and his fan base is very cultured. There's a bond among Johnny Clegg fans, because we feel like we are in on some great secret that most people aren't aware about. And besides that, no other musician has affected me as much as Johnny Clegg's music has.

When I sat down in a seat, a couple in their 50s sat next to me. The husband was a yakker. Non-stop. While his wife waited in the concession line, he struck up a conversation with me before the show began. He was a fan of Johnny Clegg since the early 80s. He asked me who I would compare Johnny Clegg to. I told him that in the late 1980s, MTV had called him "The Bruce Springsteen of South Africa", which I don't think did him justice. I said that Clegg has no equivalent. He is unique. I can understand the comparison to Springsteen, but its not an accurate comparison. I thought about it a little and decided that Peter Gabriel is the musician who comes closest to Clegg. The man seemed to agree.

After his wife returned (she had sat in the seat next to me), she tried having a conversation with me but her husband would keep on interrupting her. I was annoyed and I could tell that she was annoyed, too. The guy did remark that he was stunned that there were so few African Americans in the audience. Then he said that it could be Portland, which has a small population of African Americans to begin with. I told him that it was the same in Atlanta, which is a majority African American city. The audience at the three Johnny Clegg concerts I attended in Atlanta were mostly Caucasian. This was also true at an Angelique Kidjo concert as well as a Keb Mo concert. He seemed surprised by this, but I'm not. I did not know many African Americans who listened to African music. In the Navy, I got made fun of for listening to African music, including by African American sailors who thought it was hilarious that I would like African music.

When the couple asked what I did for a living, for the first time in years, I was able to tell someone without feeling embarrassed or ashamed. I was proud to mention that I worked for a music distribution company and that my job involved getting payments made on royalties for songwriters. I love talking to people about music and love hearing great music live. It truly is awesome not to feel a ping of guilt or emotional pain whenever I talk about my job. What a blessing!

The show began at 8 p.m. No opening act, which I was glad. I just wanted the show to begin. I'm not fond of opening acts. Some people thought it was an opening act until Mandisa came out. Then Johnny appeared last and the opening song was "Love in the Time of Gaza" from his new CD. He sang two songs before he spoke. It was a great way to just get into the concert. The excitement in the air kept building. Clegg mentioned that he had 18 albums to select songs from for his concert, which averaged 1.5 songs per album. I preferred to hear his new songs, with some of his standbys. Any mix of songs is great, though. The other songs from his new CD that he performed were: "All I Got is You", "Give Me the Wonder" and "Hidden Away Down." He explained the background on his songs "Bullets for Bafazane" (one of his most fun songs to sing along to) and he spent a lot of time explaining "Hidden Away Down." He shared a personal story about the time Senator Ted Kennedy came to South Africa and spoke at the University of Witwatersrand. The Senator made an impression on South Africans because he spoke about how being against apartheid was only a small part of a larger, global struggle for human rights. Clegg said that this helped South Africans fighting to change the system to feel connected to a larger movement, which was profound. South Africa at the time was under a political, economic, cultural, and academic boycott, so they were truly isolated from the world. In fact, Ted Kennedy violated the boycott by traveling to South Africa to speak at the university.

Johnny watched Kennedy's funeral in 2009. When an elderly woman quoted Hemingway about the world breaking everyone but some grow stronger in their broken parts, Johnny knew there was a song in that line. A song that he calls his "pure rock" song from his new album, "Hidden Away Down" (my second favourite song on the album). He said the song was about how we push our undesireable traits way, way down within us and occasionally, it'll pop out like a jack-in-the-box (he got laughs when he acted this out!). Such a great song! Love it.

He sang one song that I had not heard in a long time: "Giyani." This song takes me back to 1990-1991, when I first started listening to his music. Wow, what a deja vu moment! It brought me back to the first Johnny Clegg concert I saw in October 1990. Other songs he included in his set list were "December African Rain", "Journey's End", "Africa (What Made You So Strong?)", "I Call Your Name", "Touch the Sun", "Great Heart", and of course, his signature song "Scatterlings of Africa." When he sang "Cruel, Crazy, Beautiful World" and waved his hand during the "bye!" lyrics, I had the sinking feeling that this was the final song. The concert was nearing an end. He had already done the most popular segment of his concert: the traditional Zulu warrior dance with the high kicking and the rolling on your back (though he did not do that part this time). After this song, he exited the stage, but the audience clapped and whistled for an encore. After a few moments, the band returned to the stage and performed "Asimbonanga" (the beautiful ballad dedicated to Nelson Mandela) and closed the set with the popular "Dela (I Know Why the Dog Howls at the Moon)." With that ended another awesome Johnny Clegg show. If I had a car, I would've went to Eugene the next day to catch his concert on Sunday night. Who knows when he'll return to the U.S. to perform again.

The above photo, I took at home. The bolo tie is of a wolf howling at the moon. I had bought it in 2000 in Amish country. Since I haven't worn it much in the past decade and Johnny Clegg did wear bolo ties at one point (circa 1993), I decided to give this to him if I got the chance to meet him for the fourth time. Good news is that at the show, I was informed that he would meet his fans afterwards for those who waited. I was relieved that most people were content to just leave the venue rather than wait around. Though a lot of people remained, the line moved quickly. Before the show, I bought a ballcap with a cool logo from the Human album and the name "Johnny Clegg" embroidered on the front and a picture of Johnny Clegg for him to sign. I wanted to buy a T-shirt as well, but I didn't have enough money on me and I figured that the hat was enough. I have two Johnny Clegg T-shirts already, but not a hat. This one, I will definitely wear...though my hat collection continues to grow. I collect hats the way some women collect shoes! And hell no do I want to give any away!

When it was my turn to talk to Johnny, I gave him the bolo tie, but he looked more surprised than anything. I mentioned that I was the guy who gave him the two license plates from Virginia and Utah. He remembered! His face lit up and he said, "The SAVUKA ones!" I also mentioned that I loved his new album but wished that we didn't have to wait so long between albums. Probably shouldn't have said that. I forgot to ask why he didn't sing the theme song to the World Cup last year. I think its a travesty that the organizers picked Shakira instead of Johnny Clegg. He signed the picture I had bought of him and that was that. I didn't get a photo taken of him or with him because my digital camera is junk. I need to buy a better one. I can't seem to get the flash to work.

The photo above shows the poster to the concert that became a hot commodity. I was too late in inquiring about getting one, as they were all gone. I love this and want one. This is the best I could get. A photo of the poster. Johnny Clegg fans are fanatical! Ha. Oh well, it was a great show and definitely the highlight of the year so far. A great way to end an awesome week. Usually in the aftermath of a concert, the artist experiences a bump in my listening time. I will be listening to quite a few Johnny Clegg CDs at work this coming week, instead of the music put out by the company I work for.

I learned on Sunday that my former favourite band Huey Lewis and the News will be performing at the amphitheater in the Oregon Zoo this summer. I may have to check them out. Two favourite bands in one year? Wow. As I thought about the bands that captured my fancy, it goes something like this:

From 1980 to 1983, Blondie was my favourite band. From 1983-1984 was Men at Work. From 1985 to 1990 was Huey Lewis and the News. From 1990 to 2000 was Johnny Clegg and Savuka / Juluka. From 2000 to 2010 was U2. Now, my current favourite band is Maroon 5. But there is no question, my favourite singer of all time is Johnny Clegg. No other artist's music has had such an enormous and positive influence on me as his has. Its better than any drug or alcohol. As I tell people...who needs drugs or alcohol to feel euphoric bliss when I have Johnny Clegg's music?


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Julie said...

i like the "born in the USA" picture!