We celebrated New Year’s Eve with an amazing 11-course treat of a dinner at a restaurant called Gaetano’s in Batavia, Illinois. The Italian fare was strikingly flavorful and fine. Then we hopped over to the house of a friend where our regular Friday Night dinner crew was gathered for New Year’s festivities. Between the glasses of wine at dinner and the rolling offerings of booze at the party, it was time to quit drinking before midnight lest I tip into that zone of No Return. But then the champagne came out and we didn’t leave until 1:30 am.
Only we’re triathletes, and true to our multisport sleep habits, we awoke at 7:00 am, late for us, but insane by standards of actual sleep needed. Then we rallied. After a skillet of eggs and some coffee for Sue, we felt like human beings again. By noon we were ready to head over to the outdoor party my best friend annually conducts in his backyard, but the temps were below zero, so the bulk of the party was moved inside.
After some wonderfully made fried turkey, mushrooms and onions, I sat down on the futon couch feeling completely tired. The lack of sleep and addition of food made me groggy. Yet we were scheduled to drive downtown yesterday afternoon to see the BoDeans in concert.
It took some concentration and a medium Coke from 7-11, but the driving went fine. 37 miles into the city on salty highways at 80mph. Just another winter day in Chicago.
Driving while tired takes concentration and a will to not get sleepy at the wheel. For me, some of the discipline comes from years of focus in endurance sports. You learn while competing tired to tune out the extraneous, focus on the task at hand and do what’s necessary to get through.
I wasn’t proud of drinking the Coke. <So many calories. So much sugar. > >So much more fat to consider as the sugar spreads out like sheets of drifting snow across the body.
Sometimes you do what you gotta do though. I don’t like the taste of coffee. Any of it. Not Sumatra. Not French Roast. It all tastes like gasoline to me. When drowsiness arrives, a shot of caffeine is a fair response. So Coke is it for me.
I was also sick of alcohol after all the New Year’s imbibements. So we settled in to watch the concert in seats just off the stage. It was incredible.
I’d forgotten how long the BoDeans have been around. Their first hit played on the radio the summer of 1983, I believe. That was the year I moved into the City of Chicago to live with one of my best friends. The winter proved cold and raw. We hit temps of twenty-three below at one point. I still trained by running up through Lincoln Park to Montrose Harbor and back. One evening the waves blasted over the seawall and soaked me head to toe. It was fourteen below zero outside. Fearing frostbite, I tore home through the black night wondering if I’d lose flesh or digits.
Neither of those things happened. I sat in our chilly apartment glad to be out of the real cold. The landlord skimped on the heat. He was a cheap bastard who once also confided that he never allowed himself to ejaculate while having sex with a woman. “It gives them power over you,” he said. So you can see why he skimped on the heat too. He was a fucking cold-hearted bastard.
The world isn’t meant to be like that. Which meant the lyrics of the BoDeans music meant all that much more in the cold early 80s.
Well we don’t need no wine / And we don’t need no other stuff
‘Cause we’ll be doing fine / From being close and tastin’ love
So when the night set ends / We’ll close the curtains way up tight
And then will just pretend / That it isn’t day, but Still the Night
If I could Hold you tonight / I might never let go
For Sue, the music was a bit bittersweet. Her ex-husband was a big fan of the BoDeans. We all have music that associates itself with some prior love. Those songs come on the radio and we’re swept off to some other place in time, perhaps with an early love or a lost one. The song plays and we struggle to recover our senses, move back into the space we exist in the present, perhaps look over at the one we (now) truly love and think, “It’s alright. We all have a past.”
But Sue knew the band so well from having seen them multiple times. We were supposed to see them two summers ago and the concert got rained on, so we went home before the show started two hours late. Still, she wanted to know when and why the group split company with a singer named Sammy whose laconic voice was the hallmark of so much BoDeans music.
She looked them up on her phone on the trip back out from the city. “They broke up in 2011,” she reported. Turns out the lead songwriter for the BoDeans did most of the instrumentals on the records, planned the tours and the like. It was yet another case of That Thing You Do! Creative differences.
What do we expect?
But what the hell does the world expect from rock bands anyway? These people are married by circumstance. They find each other in some garage and play their way into world prominence only to find out they aren’t exactly meant for each other. Some bury it in drugs, others in road-weary anxiety. Finally the band falls apart like a Venetian blind left out in the rain to rot.
Thus is meant a ton to think about Kurt Neumann, the band’s heart and soul, working his way through a set of BoDeans songs last night. His style was workmanlike, but not without heart. He reminded me of an old runner who still knows what it’s like to run fast, but keeps the pace under control as a matter of respect for himself.
Neumann’s voice was tired from a New Year’s Eve concert the night before. He admitted as much, and at the end of the concert, feigned falling down onstage while the drummer kept time like a heartbeat. For a moment the crowd truly wondered whether the sixty-plus rocker had fallen over in a real incident. Then his fun-loving bassist wandered over to apply a line of deep notes as rock and roll medicine. Neumann climbed to his feet to finish with a rollicking guitar solo of his own.
Finding our way
We all find our way in this world somehow. We either learn to adapt to changing circumstance and make sanity from chaos, or drift into some space that feels like the last sector of a video game.
Reality is a much better place in any case. Even the pain of life does not need to suck it out of us; the compassion, the love, the hope. And when we consider the things that matter the most, it’s not a bad thing to consider the simplicity of those BoDeans lyrics: “If I could hold you tonight, I might never let go…”
Those words can take you a long way in life.