Rulers Plenty of time. I’d planned it so that I’d get to DPAC, park in the adjacent lot, and read Raymond Stock’s translation of Before the Throne by the late Naguib Mahfouz, an Egyptian Nobel Prize winner.
“What’s in that bag?” asked the woman who had scanned my ticket to the Crosby, Stills, and Nash concert.
“Chocolate,” I answered, wanting to add, “from Matthews Chocolates in Hillsborough” when the woman turned to the man beside her.
“We’re not supposed to allow food.” I knew they sold snacks inside, nothing I wanted.
“But I only have three pineapple rings dipped in dark chocolate from Belgium.” I almost said that. Instead, I assumed a pitiful look, mumbled something about the heat and melting. I wasn’t going to eat them; they were my munchies for the concert.
“Aw, let him go in,” said the man next to the puzzled ticket taker.
“Thanks,” I said, and smiled. I thought of the clerk at Matthews, a young woman who sighed when I told her where I was headed. She had wanted to take her Dad, but waited too long for tickets. “His name is Barry, too,” she told me as she taped my bag. She’d hand made the dipped pineapple. Matthew had told me that when I’d been at the shop a few days before.
“Upstairs, two flights,” said the friendly usher.
I followed orders, handed my tickets to be seated. “Sorry, but your seats are two more flights up.” From where I was standing, I pictured myself sitting among clouds.
“Wish I’d brought my binoculars,” I said to the woman sitting next to me. She had the look of a former hippie in a rayon peasant dress that looked comfortable for any season.
“I’m Martha,” she said, as she pointed to her family, two of them in seats three rows down and two more just behind us. “Only tickets they had left.”
I returned to Mahfouz, to his book about Osiris judging various rulers of the Egyptian empire. According to Stock, the translator, Mahfouz “…insisted that this work…was not fiction.” (page 145) When the author told Stock that it was history, Stock demurred, reflected that “…it is history of a peculiar kind.”” (ibid) Familiar with Stock on the Net, I’m accustomed to his diplomacy, his wry and informed wit.
“What you reading?” Martha asked.
Nothing an American would write, I thought to myself. “Written by an Egyptian,” I began to explain as the lights dimmed. I closed my book, sat upright.
The music began. “Where are you going now, my love?” reached me; I forgot I was in the balcony. Instead, I felt immediately as if I were surrounded by angels of music, sheltered fifty and sixty year old folks high on layers of memory. There wasn’t the slightest hint of marijuana; “Carry On” worked just as well.
Maybe better. On the stage, each mike rested on an 8’ X 12’ Persian rug. “Nice touch,” I said to Martha.
“Long Time Gone” was next; I wished I were sitting on one of their rugs. Their music felt like home to me.
I bit into my chocolate pineapple. Martha didn’t want any.
“Just a song before I go” caught me, lifted me back to a Saturday night in Atlanta when I was at Emory U. In the small living room of our apartment, my roommate, Gene Bush, a blues magician, and his girlfriend were singing as he played his twelve string guitar. I went upstairs to get my other roomie, Robbie. He, too, loved Gene’s music.
At the top of the stairs sat Robbie’s girlfriend, a pixie. I didn’t know she was there. She blocked my way. “He’s gone to get beer,” she told me. Then she leaned forward and kissed me tenderly. Absolutely puzzled, I stumbled back down the stairs.
“If I’d been here before, I’d know just what to do,” sang Crosby, Stills, and Nash. I was amused. Just like that night in my apartment, I still wasn’t sure I knew what to do with all the life that surrounded me.
But, that night at DPAC, I rocked back and forth as I waded into time, snug in an ark of music that sailed on ripples of muscle and emotion. It was and is that much a part of me.
Crosby and Nash are white-haired; Stills is balding. They stopped playing; I held my breath. Since they were old as me, I wondered whether the show was only an hour long. Relief came when Crosby announced a fifteen-minute intermission. I wasn’t ready for them to leave.
“They are one person, two alone…” began the second half. So haunting, the song’s lyrics seemed to beg for an answer to an existential drama. I had no trouble identifying. In fact, I’d begun to feel involved, tied into an emotional connectedness that very few concerts provide. When Crosby mentioned his son and his grandchild, I almost cried. My musical sidekick, my younger daughter, should have been next to me.
I had called her minutes after I received an e-mailed notice about the concert. “Want to go?” I asked, hoping she’d say yes. Before she had time to answer, I realized she’d be gone, gone to Israel to follow her dreams.
Alone I attended the concert. As far as dreams were concerned, the music seemed a perfect backdrop to mine as they began Dylan’s “Girl From the North Country.” When I heard, “Please see for me if she’s wearin’ a coat so warm,” I swallowed hard, very hard. My daughters were nowhere near where I could reach them. Indeed,
others must watch them now, I thought, knowing I was lost in the lyrics.
Far from me, in the wings, a young girl stood and danced to every song. She seemed mesmerized as I might have been years ago. Now I just wanted to be held. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” didn’t help. I gripped my cell phone, wanting to call my partner. But, dutifully, I’d turned it off. I heard, “…you make it hard…” and I trembled.
This was no ordinary concert; it was my DNA put to music, my truth strained through a heart’s net. “How can you catch the sparrow?” they sang.
God knows I’ve tried.
The concert ended; all of us rose applauding. Some waved hats, others fists. In the packed stadium, it seemed that all of us were arm in arm.
They returned and sang “Wooden Ships.” When I heard the words, “You don’t need us,” I shook away the vision that flashed through me, images of so many people I’d said goodbye to, or people I’d left behind.
Lights flashed on. Crosby, Stills, and Nash had left the stage. An army of roadies pulled at cords. Martha and her family headed for the exit.
I sat down, looked at notes I’d scribbled in Mahfouz’s book. My marks contrasted sharply with his carefully crafted text. Would Raymond Stock be upset if he saw what I’d done? I doubted that. Raymond knows me well enough to know that I’m a much different writer than Mahfouz, that what matters to me, as with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, is a royalty of the heart.
B. Koplen 7/9/12
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