Today, I am grateful for mended friendships. I am grateful for memory and the essence of joy.

There’s a first time for everything; that’s what the phantasmal “they” say, anyway. Right?  I don’t think that’s absolutely true. I mean, I don’t think that I’ll ever have a first time of eating a shrimp po-boy while balancing on one foot on the apex of the Eiffel Tower as I watch Neil Patrick Harris, tap dancing on a hot air balloon,  perform “Brand New Day,” from Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog.   

But I could be wrong. I’ve been wrong before.

This isn’t the first time that I’ve been grateful for mended friendships or memory or the essence of joy. But there’s a first time—a conscious first time, I think—in experiencing an awareness of something we haven’t noticed before.  That moment when something ordinary, something part of our regular life, suddenly becomes extraordinary. 

I loved my Saturn. I had the earliest version, a silver 2002 VUE, stick shift and all, that totally rocked my socks. It was not love at first sight, but instead a love that grew steadily over time until the point that I couldn’t imagine my life without her. I named her, as I named my other vehicles, but I cannot remember what I called this car. Instead, my friend named her Babs, after Barbra Steisand.  Despite my taking something akin to a blood oath that I’d never call her Babs, I caught myself referring to her in just that very manner at least  a time or two.  Regardless,  I loved that car.  It nearly broke my heart when I had to let her go.

But this Saturn, my Silver Surfer, carried me toward Tampa.  That journey was a Renaissance Faire of a first solo trip, and I literally screamed with joy as I crossed the line that divided  Florida from Alabama.   


“I Alone,” by Live played as I raised my fist, pumping it through the moon roof in approximate time with the drum beat. And we were three: this song and this interstate, Babs, and me. Okay, so four. This road trip was one of those milestones that only grows more important  in retrospect. My first solo venture beyond 50 miles, that trip demonstrated that I was not resigned to a life of  panic attacks that had plagued me for the past six years. That in itself was remarkable. 
That weekend also marked the end of a relationship, although  I wouldn’t know it until a day or two later. It also signaled the beginning of my returning to me, the beginning of my spring: the seeds of adventure were planted. But just inside the state of Florida, somewhere along the interstate, something reached out and grabbed me by the hair.

I alone love you

   I alone tempt you  

  I alone love you 

  Fear is not the end of this

  Lyrics from a song I’d been singing along with for nearly two decades held a different meaning for the “I” of the song that day.  For the past twenty years, my understanding of the song revolved around that “I” to the exclusion of other people:

  *I* alone love you

   *I* alone tempt you 

 *I* alone love you

 Fear is not the end of this

 I, I, I. Me. Me. Me. Nobody loves you like I do, baby.

But on this day, with no warning except the sun through the roof and the purple flowers in the median, it hit me that perhaps I had it wrong.  Perhaps I had been getting it all wrong since the very beginning.  

Perhaps, just perhaps, the song didn’t represent a love that was singular, superior, and sapient. Maybe it wasn’t about a love that was true while others were false. Perhaps it wasn’t even about a love that was solitary and  to the exclusion of every other human in the world.

Maybe, just maybe, the song was about standing alone, unchained from self-created demons, free of baggage and all those things we bury that tend to be the murderers of relationships.

 Perhaps it was about the essence of joy: sheer, unadulterated joy. 

  Joy at its purest: stripped bare, whittled to its very marrow,  wrapped in love and liberated from imprisonment of demons such as guilt and shame. 

Perhaps it was just delusions of old age.

But then again, maybe not.

There’s an experience with music, a relationship with music that is created by the distance—or lack of it—between the performer or song and the listener. Art, I think, is less about what it sounds like or looks like and more about what sort of relationship it inspires with those who experience it. 

Some art does not inspire joy, but it still creates relationship.  But the art that pierces the soul and pours forth its own essence, creating and culminating in joy, well, that’s something else.

It’s damn near sacred. 

I will always associate “I Alone” with that road trip, that beginning and ending of fears, of relationships, and of a couple of inches between my ego and me. That music, those lyrics, that memory and me—a relationship that has endured nearly 15 years.

I had the opportunity to see that song performed a couple of weeks ago in Biloxi, Mississippi. I didn’t know that I’d ever have the chance to see Live again in concert. The band had split in what appeared to have all the acrimony of a nasty divorce. Maybe it was a divorce. Guys who had played together since they could barely drive could no longer tolerate each other and went their separate ways. 

And yet, nearly a decade after the torrid breakup, they were all on stage together, their magnificence spilling forth into the crowd. I was acutely aware of the “oneness” of the band, something beyond just the idea of unity, as if they were five fingers of a single hand (sorry, Daredevil and Iron Fist, the simile is apt) that constantly beckoned us. They did not play for us, but rather, they led us on a journey that was half  dominance of nostalgia and drum beats and half submission to that voice and that moment, the very experience we were living right then.

There was no hint that they had ever stopped playing together; no appearance that they had played these same songs a hundred or a thousand or a thousand thousand times before. Pure magic, both potential and kinetic energy occupied the same space, and that energy flowed into the crowd. It flowed into the crowd.   


 That magic flowed through us, winding itself around us, binding us together.  Energy, magic–perhaps they’re the same thing– pulled up our anchors and swept us away.   


Twenty-four years ago, Live told us that “it’s easier not to be great,” and yet great they were. They created a relationship that cannot be replicated just by listening to a recording or watching a video on YouTube.  And it would not have been possible had it not been for mended friendships, memory, and the essence of joy.


Weird Random Shit:

The first time I saw them in concert, I liked their music, but wasn’t totally in love with them. My best friend and I braved a hurricane watch to see them in New Orleans. The day of the concert, I had been fired as a waitress from a New Orleans style cafe. When I heard the opening percussion of their song “Waitress,” I knew that they were my band.  The music and I have been happily married ever since. The music, not the friend. Also. the internet apparently really does have everything. I found their set list from their 1994 tour here.

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