Sweet Life Blues

Nervous, anxious, keyed up, antsy . . .  I was running at full power once the last-minute decision was made to finally go to the 40th reunion of the opening of Vegetable Buddies. I went by myself and I was filled with angst, much like I was all those years ago taking the train or driving to South Bend for weekend visits. I wonder if Niles still has an AMTRAK station. But I digress, this time it was going to be a whirlwind 24 hours.

I got to the Doubletree around 4:00 and I needed to burn off some of that manic energy boiling up inside me. I went for a walk/run down the St. Joseph river, had a light dinner at a local restaurant and got back to my room in time to take a shower and get ready. I love travelling by myself, but this time I was rudely reminded why I don’t like to stay in hotels. This lone traveler was put in a very nice room on the 5th floor with a beautiful view of the river. I sat down to admire the view and the first thing I heard was the running, screaming and laughing of at least 5 children under the age of 10. Still full of angst, I lost my attempt at a Zen moment at the window and got into the shower. I was immediately assaulted by pounding on my door. Even my cries of “go away”, “cut it out”, “get lost” didn’t disturb the rug rats assault. Just as I put a towel around me to go scare them with my ½ naked appearance, the pounding stopped (however, the squealing and screaming did not.) I finished my shower, got ready to go and I bravely headed out the door (fully dressed) to find that the children were so obnoxious because their parents had sent them out of their rooms and closed the doors behind them. But, I digress again, still feeling those nerves I suppose.

The original Vegetable Budddies was about great music and it was the institution that defined a group of my friends. The people that I met, the music that I heard and the experiences I had there have influenced my life since. At Buddies beer flowed, pool balls clanked, romance bloomed and burned, lifetime friendships were made and back rooms held stories that we don’t want our families to ever know about. Buddies was also the hangout for a local community in need of a decent music club, an alternative to the horrifying era of disco and an oasis in the shell of a city that was South Bend at the time.

Both these groups of people made it this past weekend to the 40th reunion. I arrived at Buddies just as the club started filling up. A bit uncomfortable at first but jitters quickly melted when I spotted someone I knew and it just got better from there. The “VIP” section was filled with past owners, past employees, past frequent flyers (this group included me), and many of their families. The talk was full of reminiscing and exclamations about how we have all aged (or not so much). The last time I had seen many of these folks was 20 years ago. With some it had been even longer.

As I ran into more and more people I knew, the exclamations of “OH MY GOD” and heart felt compliments were tossed around like love bombs to long lost family members. And yes, there was a long-lost family member. Nearly 90-year-old Margaret was there. She was my brothers second mother, she was, and is my inspiration to always be kind, always share love and often wear braids.

We talked about what we are doing now but very quickly got to the task of trying to remember how Buddies was laid out “back in the day.” The wall was here, the bar was there, the pool tables over there, food came out of a hole in the wall over there (what was the cook’s name again?), remember those bathrooms? . . .  We googly eyed the mural, the corn man, the concert posters and teary eyed the memorial wall. On the memorial wall was a poster with photographs of the “Buddies” that didn’t make the journey with us long enough. My brother is on that wall. There is another poster with an ongoing list of those that have left this plane. What we did not discuss was the fact that we were all getting closer to making that list.

I had great fun wandering outside the VIP section as well. I met a lot of people around our age, most of them were South Bend lifers. They didn’t know the former owners and couldn’t remember all the bartenders, but all of them were there to relive the magic, to hear yet another amazing concert and to reconnect with old friends. The conversation on that side of the club was predominately centered on favorite concerts. Among those mentioned, John Mayall, Dr. John, Muddy Waters and Luther Allison came up frequently. They also had stories not to be told in the presence of family members. I talked to someone that hung out at Buddies every weekend, “yes for the music, but mostly just because it was such a cool place.” However, I did have to disengage a couple of guys that started talking about nursing home options in the area for their parents. I pointed out how inappropriate that line of talk was on a night like this and steered them back to great music.

And the music was great, just like shows in the original Buddies, the musicians this night felt the love and energy of the crowd; they rose-up with the love and energy of the crowd. There was dancing, clapping, shouts of yeah and whoops of joy and understanding. I’m sure they played longer than they had intended and the crowd was grateful.  By the end of the night we all basked in the glory of that love and energy. I didn’t sit down once until the show was over.

I walked back to the Doubletree around 1:30 a.m., my path lit by the glow of the almost full moon, contemplating how I was going to exact my revenge on those thoughtless parents that let their children loose on my angst filled afternoon. Opting to share the love of the night I let the monsters sleep and felt like I had so many years ago – like a dragon slayer, ready to take on the world but waiting for the right moment.

As I said before, the original Vegetable Budddies was about great music and it was the institution that defined a group of my friends. Those people that I saw, remembered and felt this past Saturday night are my family. We share a common love of music and each other. We lived together in an era that was full of stagnation and bad music but found a few years of joy, love, craziness and of course music. Those feelings of freedom, love, creativity and experimentation have influenced my life ever since.

Vegetable Buddies defined an era for us, gave us life-long friends and taught me to get to know people, all people, and really listen to their songs.

Thanks Andy.

Simple Genius

I took a violin lesson last week. I gave fair warning to my friends in University Circle to head for the hills. I’m pretty sure I cleared every cat from the area in a 2-mile radius. I did however have a fabulously good time.

I introduced myself to Gerald a bit early as neither of us seemed to have anything to do 45 minutes before my lesson. Gerald looked cool – had a laid back air about him. Didn’t fit the stereotypical “violin teacher” persona. He didn’t say much – which made me think he was quietly sizing me up.

Later, as my lesson commenced, I unpacked the instrument, which I have had since junior high school. Gerald tuned it for me then asked me to play it. That’s it – just start. I was mortified; I hadn’t played the thing in at least 15 years. He was supposed to teach me. But he kindly picked out an easy piece and we were off. My ear could still pick out every bad note (which were most of them at first), my bow arm felt like a tension rod scratching the hairs across the strings and my left hand fingers suddenly atrophied and felt like unbending talons searching for notes.

But eventually, muscle memory returned and it started to sound like I was playing the right notes. It felt good.

I think it was around mid-point of the lesson when Gerald simply said “just make music – pull the bow across the strings and put feeling into it.” He demonstrated that even the playing of open strings, with the right attitude, could sound like glorious heartfelt music. He expanded to tell me that playing the violin shouldn’t be about just playing the notes, it’s about making music.

That simple turn of phrase, “just make music”, has stuck with me since. I seem to find examples proving the difference between just playing the notes and making music in everyday events. The first was last Sunday at Hannah’s dance recital. In comparing the dancers (which I know all mother’s do) it was perfectly clear which dancers were just going through the motions and which were experiencing the art form. The most flexible, nubile young girl executed each movement with precision, however I couldn’t feel her dance. The best dancer among the group was the one willing to let go, take risks and feel each movement. She was beautiful and she soared.

I saw how the kind of music we make during our days could affect our lives. I could see the Sousa march in the man in grocery aisle, I could feel the Jaws theme in the kind of creepy guy at Panera, I noticed when people were going through the motions of their day without a tune.

“Just make music” is the perfect metaphor for a life well lived. I often just float through my days with nary a thought to the events of the day or my actions therein. But now I think I’ll try to make music with my life. I hope to make each moment sing and set the tone of my life to a happy tune.

Gerald’s words were simple genius. I’m off to practice making music and I can’t wait for this week’s lesson.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA