Part 1: “I woke up one morning, the air was black as ink”
Good Lord, but this was a hard week to see Shoe Suede Blues. You see, for me, SSB is inextricably tied up with the Frodis Femmes in general and the loss of Anissa specifically. That would be a difficult enough ghost to contend with in conjunction with the waning months of the Year of the Monkees, but this week has had its share of loss too. Not just the tragic fire at Davy’s church in Beavertown, but a loss closer to home.
The joy of co-adminning a group of other folks with Transposition of the Great Arteries (something I NEVER would have found the nerve to do before The Year of our WTF, Fandom Lenses, and Zilch) is that I’ve made friends from all over the world, from group founder Stuart (sort of the Kiwi version of Ken Mills) to folks like Rowan and Tobias and Iain (no, not that Iain, though they’re similarly warped) and Emily and Emilie (we had the same surgeon!) and Eric and Eric (also an incognito Zilcher) and Jane and Sarah and…Kathy.
Kathy and I didn’t talk a whole lot, but when we did we got on well. She was not quite 14 years older than me, and (to our knowledge) one of the first people in the US to get my “fix”. She was one of the people I considered a role model, and was healthy and active right up until about 6 months ago, when things seemed to catch up with her all at once. I’ll spare you the details and terminology, but what at first seemed like a minor passing brush with congestive heart failure (yeah, we say things like that in the Mustard group) gradually turned into something more serious. After several frightening near misses, she passed away Sunday night. And before I and the rest of the group could do much more than register the shock, Davy’s church burnt down, and being a Zilch admin I had to help deal with the fallout from that.
So you’ll understand that when the plane landed in Baltimore, I was more than a little concerned that the triple whammy of angst would put a bit of a damper on the weekend. But I was a Frodis Femme on a minor mission (more on that later), and a Zilch co-host with a job to do. In the span of four years I went from nearly choking on an omelet when Peter walked into the breakfast buffet in Bay City to making Micky Dolenz laugh with my pink party hat about a mile from where I learned Anissa had died. But still, this weekend was going to be hard. Even before Kathleen and the fire, I’d been feeling a bit low. Working too hard, moving too little, eating too much. For a while I used the Year of the Monkees and post-doctoral decompression as an excuse, but a big part of it was simply fear at the ending of the PhD. Would I figure out something Big Enough to do with the doctorate? Would I be a Good Enough Podcaster or writer or librarian or friend? Would I ever Do Enough to make myself believe that I deserve to exist? A sensible person would be able to set this sort of question aside as an imponderable matter. But for whatever reason, I can’t do that very easily. Well, except for when I’m listening to some good tunes. 😉
After meeting up with Melanie on Thursday, we had dinner at the restaurant in the DC suburbs where my husband proposed to me a little over 15 years ago (yikes! Where did the time go?). The next day we picked up Sherri Hansen (Monkee Photographer extraordinaire, who I’d only met once before) and drove north to Edgewood. Club 66 is an old armory turned car repair shop/music club. Exposed beams, old signs, lots of character. It could have been an Oklahoma dive bar and I felt right at home. This was also the first time that I could be said to be “working” a Monkees or solo concert. Melanie, Jeff Hulit (who is even more wonderful in person than he sounds on the show), and I set up our goodies on top of a disused wood stove in an alcove of the hall, and handed out drinks and cookies (proceeds benefiting DJEMF) as well as Zilch Buttons. Peter’s wife Pam checked in to say hello and ask if we needed anything, and I could tell in a matter of seconds of meeting her that Peter had chosen wisely. She seemed kind, very courteous and friendly with his fans, but also appeared to have the kind of strength of personality one needs to be married to a minor celebrity. I also FINALLY got to hug the head “Blues Kitty” from the PTFB team (I’ve become friends with the person I’ll be calling “BK” over the past few months as we cooked up this year’s podcast and concert-related schemes). We chatted briefly, though I knew I would need to save my Frodis Femme Mission for a quieter moment. As the crowd settled in I could tell this was a different audience than one usually sees at a Monkees or even SSB show, split evenly between locals who came up to enjoy a fun Friday night at the club regardless of whoever was playing, and the die-hard Monkee fans like the Zilch team, too many listeners to mention, and above all else, Miho.
A few weeks before the shows, some strange posts in Japanese started appearing on the FB group set up for attendees of the SSB Mini-tour. As best as we could tell via facebook’s terrible translator, she was coming to the US from Japan for the Hartford show. To our utter surprise, she arrived in Edgewood (a somewhat rural area of Maryland) grinning from ear to ear, handing out gifts to everyone (the green tea KitKats were AWESOME!) and generally appearing to have a great time. Delighted wasn’t the word—Miho seemed beside herself with joy. Melanie tried to communicate with Miho with a little success, I dredged up the half-dozen or so Japanese words I vaguely remembered from the one semester of college Japanese, and we muddled through. As the house lights dimmed, I positioned myself in a good spot to capture live video of the evening while staying close enough to work the booth. I couldn’t record both audio and live stream, so this will be a bit more impressionistic than I usually am.
To put it succinctly, the show was raucous. After the Club 66 house band nearly blasted the roof off the building during the opening set, Peter, Joe, AJ and Sturgis strolled on stage, and with little preamble, started into Annie Had a Baby. The show was the typical SSB set, with blues and blues rock standards mixed with Peter’s own compositions and a handful of Monkees tunes. A highlight was when the house band returned to the stage, and the combined group did Johnny B Goode with enough verve to give Micky and the Monkees touring band a run for their money. Normally I have to try to describe these shows, but this time I’ll just share the videos I shot, with the exception of one I’ll get to in a minute. The set was not as Monkees heavy as my selected videos implied, I was livecasting for a particular audience… (Sorry I can’t embed these, Facebook is being persnickety).
Annie Had a Baby
(most of) Slender, Tender, and Tall (and yes, I am 0 for 3)
Johnny B Goode & Sea Cruise (with the House Band)
An “offensive” take on Stepping Stone
(Most of) Pleasant Valley Sunday
About halfway through the set, Peter started talking about the guy who wrote the KitKat jingle, signaling it was time for Saved by the Blues. As I mentioned in Nashville this song always hits me right in the Atrial baffle, but something about it was extra touching in Edgewood. For the first time in the evening I switched off “Zilch Mode” and gave myself over to the music, struck again how well a song written for a 74 year old recovering alcoholic pop star fit the life of a 39 year old nerd girl who has about 4 drinks a year tops. But it wasn’t just the song that struck me—Peter’s intro story of alternately celebrating and complaining about his past was something I resonated with.
Yeah, sure, I can insist that I am not my heart defect as much as I please, but it implies certain realities re: jogging speed, childbearing, and life span. Of course medical advances might get me to a ripe old age, and I could lay off the Triple-cheese bacon Prozac and get my ass back to the gym to minimize the above complaints. But it’s frustrating that the older I get, the less I can take my heart health for granted. Not unlike the knowledge that one should probably shoehorn a Boyce & Hart tune between Muddy Waters and Mose Allison to keep the audience engaged in one’s set list, I suppose.
That said, I’m delighted that I’ve mostly skipped the whole quiet desperation phase that most people deal with in their 20s and 30s—I’ve had the privilege to know that the point of life was to be lived and lived fully (though my definition of a full life changed rather dramatically in 2012: see earlier posts here for a somewhat emo recap). There are also things and people in my life due to my CHD that I celebrate, from the ridiculous joy I feel waddling across the finish line of a 5K in a little under an hour to the crazy friends the internet has dropped into my life. All I wanted as a child was a friend who liked the Monkees and a friend with Transposition of the Great Arteries, and now I have hundreds of both. And this isn’t even getting into becoming Monkees Internet Famous via Zilch and meeting Zak and the substantial amount of karmic debt I’ve been able to pay forward to the next generation. I celebrate all these things every day, and I am lucky to have everything I have in my life.
But then of course, at the height of my joy re: my wonderful life, Kathy drops dead, then Davy’s Church burns down leaving me to douse Fandom Drama when I’m not frantically trying to maintain my post-PhD round of workaholism and I’m back to crying angry tears, eating junk food, singing Long Title in the shower, and generally bitching about the whole miraculous existence thing. 😉
When I was a young kid inhaling A Manufactured Image and getting my first glimpse at how the sausage had been made (and what came after the fame), I worried that my equating being a middle class white girl in ’80s suburbia with a “corrected” CHD and a sick Dad to being an ex-Monkee was a little too melodramatic even for me. But seeing Peter belt out Saved by the Blues in Edgewood, the cycle of celebration and exasperation he described felt far, far too familiar. However, before I could too deeply consider whether the wheel of Karma was continuing to turn in my own life, Shoe Suede Blues was on to the next tune, and a kid came up to me to ask for another coke, and then Peter started into the intro banter for a Monkees tune, which meant it was time for another livestream to Zilch. Chop wood, carry water, work the concert.
After the show, Melanie, Jeff and I spit off in different directions. Melanie needed to work the line, guard the DJEMF money box, and then hit the line herself toward the end to get a CD signed (and thank Peter for taking leave of his senses long enough to agree to Ken interviewing him for the podcast). I, on the other hand, decided after Bay City in 2012 that the man had done enough for the Frodis Femmes to be worth a dozen meet and greets. So I happily took the task of standing on the far side of Peter’s table, handing out the last of the cookies & buttons to folks who had just met Peter and wishing them a good night.
In between people, I was able to, for the first time in my life, get an anthropological view of a Monkee’s autograph session, and holy shit it was fascinating. Seriously, I need to talk to Rosanne Welch and see if there’s some way we could do an ethnographic study of celebrity meet and greets or something. Some fans were eager and overexcited, others timid. Peter was incredibly gracious to everyone in the line (he appeared to be in a great mood all weekend as far as I saw), but he had some especially lovely moments with Miho, who appeared utterly overwhelmed by the experience. They stood in a corner, heads almost touching, while Miho talked to him in Japanese, Peter nodding and talking back, seemingly communicating in spite of the language barrier. The icing on the cake was Melanie, who took the opportunity to thank Peter for appearing on Zilch, and letting him know how much it meant to us. He replied that it meant a lot to him too. Melanie told me afterwards, as I was distributing the last few cookies. Feels were Felt. The cycle was turning from complaint to celebration again. Life is good after a SSB show.
But anyway, back to the evening. My friend and honorary little sister Amy had driven down for the show (She couldn’t make the CT show due to a family commitment), and since we hadn’t hung out together in person since the last Monkees convention, I called dibs on her as a roommate. After a little light banter with AJ (who was just as awesome as I remembered from Bay City), we made our way back to the hotel, stayed up later than we should have with some fun slumber party-style gossip, and then crashed. We both had long drives in the morning, unfortunately to different destinations. 😦
Fast forward a day, one drive from Maryland to Connecticut, and one not-terribly-shocking discovery that New Englanders can’t do “authentic southern barbecue” regardless of what the sign says. (not kidding: I’d heard tales of the odd things that Yankees do with cornmeal, but I was still shocked to discover the “cornbread” they served me was so sweet it could have passed for a reasonably good slice of yellow cake). We spent Saturday relatively quietly, mostly driving and then recovering in advance of the hectic day to come on Sunday. We had to have breakfast (EXCELLENT Polish Eggs Benedict and REAL maple syrup redeemed Connecticut re: the nonsense with the cornbread), change hotels (the pitfall of traveling on a hotel chain employee discount), and prep for dinner and a show in downtown Hartford. Although I would be off-duty after the pre-show meetup, I had a bit of non-Zilch business I hoped to take care of if the opportunity arose that evening.
For the second time we got to the venue a couple of hours early, this time to have dinner in the restaurant attached to the venue. I only got to exchange a brief bit of chit-chat with the PTFB gang AND a surprise Dave Alexander (who requested a half-dozen Zilch buttons for…some folks he knew 😉 ) before our dinner guests began arriving. The restaurant staff seated us in the back room and we had a blast. I got to put faces to names, talk a little more with folks like Theresa Romeo, Janice Jow (who recorded the video of the Hartford show embedded below), and Cyndi Byrkit. (If I didn’t name you, it’s not personal, it’s that I’m horrid with names!) But the best moment of all was when “BK”, our friend from PTFB came into the room with a surprise. After thanking Melanie, I, and Ken (in absentia) for our help in making the weekend possible, she presented us with signed certificates of thanks from the PTFB Team AND Peter, as well as a personalized autographed photo of Peter. And then she called us the 2016 version of Maggie McManus. And then I got kind of weepy.
After the party broke up, we had about a half hour before she show started. I was wandering back to the bar to possibly grab a drink, when I ran into BK again. After we chatted for a moment, I realized that there was no crowd around and she didn’t seem to be in a terrible rush. The moment had presented itself, so I grabbed it.
“I mentioned in passing a while back that I worked so hard for you guys because I owed you. Here’s why. Back in 2012, when Anissa died, Peter posted his sympathy to PTFB, and he did a song for her in Bay City. I’m quite sure you played a part in making that happen, and, well, thank you. It meant a lot to us, and–”
And then my voice started breaking, and BK hugged me. And she replied, “Peter wanted to do it.”
I thought of all the changes in our lives that sprung from an unexpected kindness at a time of loss. Peter Tork is a complex, imperfect guy. He’s been kind of broken and banged up by life in ways I didn’t grasp as a kid (or even in 2012), much like many (most?) of his fans. But you know what? He’s also a good man, muddling through life like the rest of us, occasionally screwing up and also occasionally, wondrously, providing a moment of warmth in the darkness that brought healing to Cin, Mich, Mattie, and me. It’s enough to make a hyper-anxious overcompensating PhD Librarian Podcaster wonder if perhaps it’s time to figure out how to forgive her own imperfections.
And then BK and I Mooged the Nightly (or perhaps Sashayed the Grizelda is the better metaphor here) and changed the subject to some silly topic I can’t even remember till we were giggling again, and parted company so she could finish prepping for the show. I debated going song-by song for the Hartford show since I have a full recording, but this thing is shaping up to be a 4000-plus word monster as it stands. Fortunately, Janice was sitting in the row in front of Melanie and I (you can even hear us here and there) and got some good video. 🙂 (I’ll update the post later with the full audio, but dropbox is being infuriatingly slow)
YUM. Come for Peter’s sultry vocals, stay for Joe’s tasty guitar solo.
The Video ended just before Peter’s tuner went flying off the end of his guitar and sailed right at Melanie. (Yes, she returned it. 😉 )
Dave Alexander came on stage to help with the encore. Make the video full-screen and you will clearly see that HE WAS WEARING HIS ZILCH BUTTON! And as mentioned above, he asked for a handful more for “the band”. Those of you who will be in good seats for the final legs of the Monkees shows, PLEASE report any further Zilch Button Sightings!
And with that, the show ended. Melanie got in line to get a few more things signed for friends and for Sherri (who valiantly fought through a nasty stomach bug to work the show and meet & greet), and I hung out on the periphery of the action, half-watching Peter’s conversations and also chatting with the members of Zilch nation who came up to me to tell their stories, especially Kristy Lynn Torkee, an exuberant young woman who drove all the way up from Florida for the show, dodging hurricane damage all the way. As she gushed about her conversation with Peter, I suddenly flashed back to Dallas in 1997, when a much more timid version of me was about her age, standing at the front of the line at a Two Man Band show, terrified out of my wits as I asked for a hug. For the record, Peter is the second best hugger I’ve had the pleasure to meet. After almost 20 years I was and am happy to hang on the sidelines so one more first-timer like Kristy could get one more hug, while still letting not-so-young Peter get to bed at a decent hour. And then, after a stop at the bar of the hotel next door (I never got that pre-show drink), it was time to head back to the hotel, pack up, and get ready to go home.
Part 4: I’ve got a new step and a brand new pair of shoes
This review has been hard to write. Not because I had a bad time (quite the opposite), and not (totally) because of how much ground I had to cover. It was hard because it was almost certainly my last Shoe Suede Blues show, barring a tour closer to the middle of the country. This also may well be the second to last time I ever see *any* of the Monkees live, barring an as-yet unannounced (and per Andrew Sandoval, currently unplanned) 2017 tour. It’s time to accept that all things end, whether they’re astonishingly long-lived pop bands or, well, everything else.
By all measures this was a successful trip–Melanie and I met more listeners than I can name here, handed out dozens of Zilch buttons (some of which may be spotted on a concert stage near you), and even got a chance to say thank you that I was pretty sure would never happen. And here’s the bit where I’m supposed to tell you about my grand epiphany, and how watching Peter Tork play the hell out of some blues standards made me a better person, more zen about my future, resolved to cut back on the junk food, or whatever. Alas, no.
I certainly ended the weekend in a better and more celebratory mood than I started it. But I’m coming to the reluctant conclusion that any period of celebration in my life will be followed by a moment of bitching about my past and/or worrying about my future. If the Blues are indeed about the truth, then the truth is that you can’t tie your life up into a pretty little bow until it’s done, and I’ve got way too many things left on the bucket list to be finished anytime soon.
However, what you can do is make the world better in whatever situations you find yourself, whether or not those situations were something you chose. You can build a network of friends and partners with a similar outlook. And you, in the untidy, illogical, often-cyclical way that life is, can seize moments to do good, whether it’s helping a nice Japanese lady buy a concert ticket like Melanie did, standing on the other side of the room from the meet and greet line to talk with your podcast listeners as they gush about their evenings and their favorite episodes like I did Friday and Sunday nights, or you can type up a quick Facebook post in memory of a fan who passed away, like Peter did one Sunday morning in 2012. That simple small act of kindness changed my life (and the lives of Fandom Lenses readers and Zilch Listeners) in ways nobody could predict.
All of us are human. All of us pick up scars (visible or not) as we go through life. We’re not perfect, we screw up, and sometimes we hurt others or ourselves. But you have to learn how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, give and receive forgiveness, and try again to be a person who works toward a better world, using whatever tools work best for you and your situation.
And you know what? Maybe that’s what it really means to be a hero to yourself.
Next time: St. Louis.