“You can dream
But you can never go back the way you came.”
You Love The Thunder
“He doesn’t age,” Caroline exclaimed, as he walked onto the stage at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We weren’t seeing him up close but it seemed true enough. She had seen Jackson Browne in concert more than once in the past, starting in the 70s. He had the same hairstyle and physique, but now he wore eyeglasses, something we never saw in those early album covers. I guess, these days, he needs them as much as I do to see what he is doing.
For most of us-usually when we are teenagers-there is a musician that makes a lasting impact in our lives. Caroline’s was Jackson Browne. She has told me of how she used to “sit in my room with the door closed, listening to his music for hours, while I contemplated how my 17-year-old self would navigate the world and figure out who I was.” I guess Jackson Browne helped her out with that.
So there we were, tapping into some of Caroline’s memories; my anniversary gift to her.
“Now I need someone to help me
Someone to help me please…
There’s just one thing
I’ll ask you to do
Take my hand and lead me
To the hole in your garden wall
And pull me through.”
Bright Baby Blues
Any artist is going to connect with some people more than others. I was in Three Story Coffee before we left and told them that we were going to see Jackson Browne in concert. Someone said they thought that sounded like fun, but it soon became evident that they had Jackson Browne mixed up with James Brown. So, not everyone is a fan.
I consider myself one-a Jackson Browne fan-although I don’t have a history with him in the way I do with other singers of my youth or the way that Caroline does with him. What I liked on this night was his unassuming approach to performing. He had a small band and a few lights, but it was basically just him, a piano, and a series of guitars that were handed to him between numbers. It seemed that each song called for just the right instrument in the same way that, for some women, each occasion demands just the right shoes.
He had a lot of guitars, but he wasn’t one of those performers who surround themselves with so much paraphernalia that it’s hard focus on the music because of all the distractions; where it can be like talking to a juggler, hard to pay attention to the conversation with all those balls flying around. Maybe it’s a matter of self confidence and being comfortable in your own skin. Some artists have the courage to let it all rest on their raw talent and the substance of their material.
I remember watching the country singer Hoyt Axton appear on The Tonight Show. I never saw him perform on the stage. He just came out and sat down on the couch, made some small talk with Johnny, and then sang a song, accompanied only by the acoustic guitar that had been sitting on his lap. Compare that to a performance by Carrie Underwood I recently watched on TV—all glitter and sequins, flashing lights and sound effects, like watching a game of laser tag instead of a musical performance.
“Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light
You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight
You’ve had to struggle, you’ve had to fight
To keep understanding and compassion in sight
You could be laughing at me, you’ve got the right
But you go on smiling so clear and so bright”
Fountain of Sorrow
In delicious anticipation, we strolled down Broadway and joined the crowd of people gathered in front of the theater, everyone excited to go inside, like children waiting to come downstairs on Christmas morning.
Caroline said, “It’s all about the lyrics,” and she’s right when it comes to Jackson Browne. I have a friend who has been to his concerts. He says the “ladies” like Jackson Browne because he’s a looker. That’s true, I suppose. As for me, he inspires mostly hair envy, and I think he’s written some good melodies. But I agree that it’s his words that are the thing—like poetry put to music. For those who know his music, it is the lyrics that keep you interested and coming back.
Caroline has listened to his music so much that she knows most of his songs by heart, and she has her favorites. During intermission, she was waiting in the line for the restroom and told the woman next to her, “If this takes too long and I don’t make it back to hear ‘Late For the Sky’ I’m going to kill myself!”
“...How long have I been sleeping
How long have I been drifting alone through the night
How long have I been running for that morning flight
Through the whispered promises and the changing light
Of the bed where we both lie
Late for the sky.”
Late For The Sky
Caroline isn’t a groupie, but she was a bit envious when the woman told her that the night before, through a friend, she was provided a chance to meet Jackson back stage. Caroline listened to her story and then said, “I wonder if he knows what an impression he has made on people? As a teenager, did you listen to him while you were lying in bed at night and just cry?” The woman—probably at a loss for words—could only reply, “Uh…no, not really.”
I didn’t do that as a teenager either, but I can say this—whenever we are cleaning up after a party at our house, I put on “The Load Out” and we are done before we know it. I also think that Jackson Browne is one of those singers who can sing a song and even if its’s the first time I’ve heard it, it feels like I’m returning to somewhere I’ve been before.
“If I had a buckskin stallion
I’d tame him down and ride away.
If I had a golden galleon
I’d sail into the light of day
If I had your love forever
I’d sail into the light of day”
I watched this version of Jackson Browne, different than the version that Caroline latched onto so many years ago, and thought that, yes, he’s self-confident and comfortable with who he is and what he has to say. If we do it right, that’s one of those things that come with growing older. He’s moved on, same as she has, but he has gathered more to himself than self-confidence. For some, it becomes a matter of self-acceptance for the way it is and the way we are.
There also must be an ability to harbor a strain of humility, to not think that you have to cover up your mistakes or shortcomings with, for a musician, excessive instrumentation, props, or staging; or for a regular person, trying to be something that you are not. To be willing to just put it out there with the attitude of, “This is me, either you like it or you don’t; makes me no mind.”
It’s working out for him, it seems. The venue was sold out both nights, and the audience was enraptured for three and a half hours. At this relatively late stage of his career, that says a lot. We were happy for him.
Towards the end of the concert, Jackson acknowledged the many song requests that were being called out from the people in the audience and said, “I’ll get to the part where I’m gonna do what you want me to do.” But he never did. It seemed he wanted to offer the people in the audience not what they wanted but, rather, what he wanted to give them.
He never sang “Late for the Sky.”
“Just do the steps that you’ve been shown
By everyone you’ve ever known
Until the dance becomes your very own
No matter how close to yours another’s steps have grown
In the end there is one dance you’ll do alone.”
For A Dancer