Music has been the one constant companion in my life. Regardless of circumstances, family, experiences, where I lived, who I was in a relationship with, and the failures and successes of my life, a soundtrack has always been present. Music has been the thing that has picked me up, healed my soul, celebrated with me, embraced my love and taken care of me like no other my entire life through.
If you ask me about a specific event in my life, I guarantee you there’s a song attached to it. From the summers of childhood when I was never without to a transistor radio (and 9 volt batteries were my best friend) through the teen years when the boom box with detachable speakers was my most prized possession and HOURS were spent with the RECORD, PLAY and PAUSE buttons pressed to capture favorite songs off the radio, I’ve loved music. All types of music. I credit my parents for exposing me to everything from Jan and Dean, Bo Diddly, Juice Newton, and Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters. Older step-siblings shared their love of Yes, Little River Band, everything Disco, and the start of my heavy metal, hair band obsession with Iron Maiden and Ozzy Osbourne.
High school in the 1980’s brought an overload of music and I loved it all. English pop and punk, boy bands, Christian rock, and Top 40 were in my rotation. Nothing was out of bounds then. My high school boyfriend is forever linked with my deep appreciation of Sammy Hagar, Scorpions, ZZ Top, Queen, and my all-in with the hair metal bands like Bon Jovi, Motley Crue, Def Leppard and every one-hit wonder in the genre.
I started going to concerts late in high school and I fell in love even more. A band playing their music live? It was like my radio came to life it was a rush like no other I had ever felt.
In the early 90s my best friend or my boyfriend ( I can’t remember which) introduced me to the band LIVE. At the time, their second album, “Throwing Copper” was starting to get some airplay and my boyfriend Jeff (who worked for a radio station – SHOCKER) was talking about them a lot. From the moment I heard “I Alone”, I loved it. It had the perfect mix of great lyrics and music that I just connected with. Once I saw the video on MTV (yes, back when they played videos), I was enthralled with the lead singer, Ed Kowalczyk. I don’t know what it was about him. But if “fan girl” was a thing back then, I’d have worn that label proudly.
Here’s the video in case you don’t know who or what I’m talking about:
The first time LIVE did a major tour in Chicago, Jeff bought me tickets. We went with my friends, and that night LIVE became MY band. You know how your parents may have had the Beatles? Or The Who? Or some of your kids are obsessed with Taylor Swift? Or Justin Bieber? (My 6-year-old still loves him.) That’s how I was with LIVE. I read every magazine article about them (very little internet back then). I bought every piece of music I could find. I joined the “Friends of Live” fan club so I could get special merchandise and singles that no one else had access to.
EVERY. SINGLE. TIME they rolled through Chicago, I was there. For years. Stadium or small club, I was there. Part of an all-day festival, I was there. Nothing kept me away. Jeff and I broke up, and while LIVE would always be our “thing”, I wasn’t giving it up because the relationship that introduced me to them ended. “Throwing Copper” would always be the album that connected us because it was the songs that reminded him of me.
For years after, there were certain songs I skipped over when I listened to the CD, but I never stopped listening.
Their music has kept me sane when life was insane and made no sense. When my dad died. When I was overwhelmed. When I didn’t know how I would get out of bed in the morning, I would put certain songs on from LIVE and just breathe, letting the music and the lyrics comfort me and remind me that it would be okay. My favorite lyrics, the one that will be permanently marked on my body someday, are from the song “Run To The Water” off the CD, “The Distance To Here”.
“Run to the water, and find me there.
Burnt to the core, but not broken”
There were plenty of those days. But I was always still standing.
The last time I had seen LIVE was in 2006 after the birth of my middle daughter At the time, my oldest and I shared a song from LIVE that we loved called “Heaven”. I had made a point of exposing her to all kinds of music, and she is connected to it the same way I am. I wanted to share my favorite band with her, and she loved it (it might have been her first concert, but I’m not sure). It’s still our song – she will text me when she hears it on the radio.
In 2009, I was heartbroken when I heard LIVE had broken up. There would be no new music from them, but Ed Kowalczyk was embarking on a solo career and was releasing new music. It’s always been Ed’s voice I was entranced with, Ed’s presence that, quite frankly, made me want to jump on stage and throw myself at him, and Ed’s lyrics that I’ve always connected with. I was open to hearing his music without the other members of the band, and I’ve enjoyed his solo career. For me, there is no LIVE without Ed. It’s HIS voice that sings every track on every album. While some members of the “original” band have continued to tour under the same name and play those old songs, without Ed singing up front, it’s no longer the LIVE that I followed for 20 years. It’s just a really cool band that sings cover songs.
Harsh, maybe. But I’d rather hear the original, if you know what I mean. The Rolling Stones wouldn’t replace Mick Jaggar and tour without him, still performing as the Stones and sing HIS songs, would they?
Moving on . . . . .
Several months ago, a newsletter from the Ed Fan Club (some things never change) let me know that Ed would be doing a tour in celebration of Throwing Copper’s 20th Anniversary and one of the stops would be would be Chicago’s City Winery. HOLY CRAP! I almost fell off my chair. I had never heard of City Winery, so I checked out the venue, discovered that it was UPCLOSE and intimate with the artists and I was like HELL YES WHERE DO I SIGN UP NOW!?!!??!!
FRONT ROW SEATS
After informing my now boyfriend of where I would be on this specific evening and if he wanted to come with me great but I WAS GOING TO SEE ED THISCLOSE, he agreed to come with me. I might have been yelling. And freaking out. Just a wee bit.
– – – – – – –
On the night of the show, it was snowing, I couldn’t decide what to wear and I wasn’t feeling that great. I was afraid we were going to be late and I absolutely hate driving in to Chicago. Confession time: I actually thought about not going for several minutes and then must have mentally bitch-slapped myself because I pulled it together and we made it to City Winery and in our seats with three minutes to spare.
The venue is set up with tables and chairs, and you can eat and order drinks while the performance is going on. Instead of facing the stage, I was facing a lovely couple across the table from us, but I could rest my arm on the stage. Because our table was TOUCHING IT. My arm was resting on the stage.
When Ed came out on stage, I was awestruck. Seriously. Those that know me know that I don’t get flustered easily. But I had a permasmile on my face that WOULD NOT STOP. The agenda for the night was to play the entire album from track one to twelve (thirteen technically with the bonus track) as it was written and recorded in the studio. It’s been a while since I heard those songs, but the lyrics are embedded in the fibers of my soul. For 90 minutes straight, he played every song with his voice sounding like it had first sounded when I heard him 20 years ago on stage. No trickery. No microphone magic. Just a guy, his guitar, a backup guitarist (Zak Loy, who also plays steel guitar and a mean mandolin), and his music. The electricity is still there – the years of relentless touring has not weathered him, his charm, or his voice.
Lightning Crashes made me cry – almost the ugly cry but I managed to pull it back together. That long ago boyfriend from the radio station, Jeff, will always be connected to that song. Our song. We lost touch for over a decade, reconnected thanks to social media seven years ago and after a few conversations lost touch again. It wasn’t until I met others in the radio industry in Chicago a few years ago that I learned that he had passed away suddenly, almost two years prior, and I hadn’t known. Jeffrey, you my friend will live in the Land of the Remembered for many reasons, but for one because I think of you every time I hear Ed’s beautiful voice sing that song.
“the angel opens her eyes
pale blue colored iris,
presents the circle
and puts the glory out to hide, hide”
After the “Throwing Copper” set was completed, we were treated to several of Ed’s favorite LIVE songs from other album’s as well as song of his new music. It was all great. I had the WORST TIME sitting in my seat since I’m all about jumping around and dancing at a rock concert and just sitting there (even singing as loud as possible – totally encouraged) just felt strange. The two hours he was on stage seemed to fly by and just like that it was over.
As I tried to collect myself once the lights came up, my table mate Courtney and I discussed the likelihood of grabbing the set list and the errant guitar picks that had fallen off the microphone stand and were now lying on the floor of the stage. Well within my grasp – without even stretching or jumping on stage. Being the good girl now, I asked for permission from an employee, got rejected, and didn’t want to make a big deal out of it so we left. After a quick bathroom break, I realized that there WAS a meet and greet line and we jumped in it (about 6 people back from the start – there were a ton of people in the WRONG LINE). I actually had enough forethought to grab inserts from my CDs and a sharpie and throw them in my purse. Now I had something for him to sign. I was a fluttery mess, and my sweetheart George was just laughing at me.
Suddenly there was a tap on my shoulder, and Courtney was handing me a guitar pick. It seems that the girl at the table behind me didn’t care about rules, jumped on stage, and grabbed the picks as well as the set list. She gave one to Courtney, who in turn passed it on to me, saying that I was a much bigger fan than she was. All I could do was hug here and say thank you, I was so speechless. No business card. No way to send her a thank you note. Nothing.
I still feel like an ass. So Courtney, If you’re out there and reading this, THANK YOU!!!
Once Ed came out front and started meeting people and signing autographs, I kind of lost my mind. I know that my turn came quickly. I vaguely remember telling him that I had been a fan since their very first album, “Mental Jewelry” and that the last time I had seen them was at the Riveria in the mid 2000’s. I said my name. I took a selfie. I got a hug. I did tell him that his music was inspiring to me. I know that I said more – but honestly, I have no idea what. I hope he didn’t think I was drunk. If you looked up the definition of “fan girl” right then and there, you’d have seen my cheesy grin standing next to one of my idols.
I DO know that I didn’t tell him that he had been at the top of my “free pass” list for the better part of two decades. But maybe I should have!
After pulling myself together enough to drive home, we left. I think I babbled for several more hours and the sheer enormity of meeting someone who you’ve admired for that long. I’ve pulled out all of my CD’s and I’m playing the music that is appropriate for my younger girls, exposing them to something that I love and that moves me. Even if they don’t get it or understand it. Music is a part of who I am, it’s helped shape me and define me as a person. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have a conversation with someone who I’ve admired for so long, whose enormous talent has changed me and helped me in more ways than I’m sure he could ever realize. It’s a huge bucket list item that was checked off – and certainly one I never thought would happen. It’s definitely showed me that, with enough time and patience, any opportunity is possible.
Aaron Sorkin, consider yourself on notice.