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2014 Grateful 14

JTWhose idea was it to go see James Taylor anyway? When the question was thrown out on the table, we had a hard time answering it. Between us we could only come up with half a dozen of his songs and the tickets were horrendously expensive, even for Dublin. But we were celebrating one of De Wimmen’s birthdays and no matter whose idea it was, James Taylor got to come along, too.

My walk through the IFSC to the Point (or the O2 or 3 Arena or whatever it’s known as now) was an eye-opener. It’s a village in the heart of Dublin’s docklands, another world. Not for the first time this week did I feel like a tourist in a city I grew up in. Most peculiar.  Pre-concert vino and eats at Lagoona primed the stage for what would be an emotional evening.

Born in 1948, Taylor was just 20 when he signed for Apple Records – the first non-British musician to do so. He had all but given up on making it in the music business when his fortunes turned. He was recording his first album in the studios at the same time the Beatles were recording The White Album. Paul McCartney made a guest appearance on his recording of Carolina in my mind. He admitted, amongst other things, to stealing shamelessly from the Beatles. His easy banter and pleasant disposition shrank the packed arena to the size of a living room where each of us felt as if we were the only ones there. I’ve not seen than happen in a while.

Reading of his life, it’s a miracle that he’s so together. Early battles with depression and heroin took their toll.  Breaking both hands and both feet in a motorcycle crash didn’t help either. And while he still fights with his demons – which he describes as ‘an inseparable part of [his] personality’ –  the man we saw on stage on Tuesday night was lovely, simply lovely. Ordinary, down to earth, human. There was no changing outfits – he wore his sweat stains like a man, and that’s what he was: a man and his guitar in conversation with a crowd.

I’m the world’s worst when it comes to recognising songs and who sings them, yet it’s a constant source of wonder to me as to how a particular song can transport me back in time and unleash a tide of emotions that I’d thought were long since buried. Everything about James Taylor that night touched a button. It was electric. [And this is even more amazing considering that there were many times in the last few months that I’ve had to check my diary for his name and really had no idea whom I was going to see.]

At one stage I was bawling shamelessly. His hit Fire and rain about his time in mental institutions and the suicide of a friend was a  favourite of my best mate Lori who died a couple of years ago – and that line ‘I always thought I’d see you again’ pushed me over the edge. I always thought so, too, and I didn’t. The biggest mistake we make is thinking we have time.  In my mind’s eye, as he sang, I went through the years of our friendship and what I lost when she died. An emotional roller-coaster.

James Taylor looked so like an old boyfriend of mine that I pulled out my phone and texted him (said boyfriend, not JT!) – something I’ve not done for years. Too long. And that sent me down a whole other path related to whys and wherefores, reasons and seasons, and the passing of lifetimes.

And when he sang Shower the people, something else kicked off:  Shower the people you love with love, show them the way you feel. Was there a full moon that night? I wonder. Whatever was in that man’s music pulled me every which way. His How sweet it is has to be one of the simplest love songs out there. Clean and uncomplicated, which is interesting given that his own love life was far from being either. He was married three times, most famously to Carly Simon and most recently in 2001. Third time’s a charm.

Then his classic rendition of Carole King’s You’ve got a friend took me back to my first year in college to revisit the huge life change that happened in 1983 – a year of unrequited love and teenage angst that left an indelible mark on my psyche. And I was off again. [Did you know that Joni Mitchell did the backing vocals on the original recording?]

It was a magical evening spent with great friends in the company of old memories. This week, I’m grateful that I made the trip home just to see James Taylor, even if I didn’t realise it was him that I was going to see not having made the connection between the man and his music. The night itself and the conversations that resulted the following day helped me turn a corner. You know who you are – thank you.

Hey Mr Squirrel

Photo courtesy of Marcus Frakes

The last time I sat in a room listening to a man with a guitar, a mouth organ, and a sense of humour was on a rainy night in Dublin. The man: Kris Kristofferson. The venue: the Point Depot. Fast forwarding about six years to a rainy Saturday night in Budapest, I found myself in another room, listening to a man with a guitar, a mouth organ, and a sense of humour. The man: Bob Pike. The venue: Manga Cowboy.

You’re mad, I hear you say. You’ve lost all sense of scale. The Point holds thousands; Manga holds maybe 40. Kris has billions of fans; Bob, well, maybe not quite as many….yet. Kris has sold millions of albums; Bob has yet to cut one. Kris has a beard. Bob has a shadow. No matter. Both have a story to tell, if you want to listen.

I don’t mind, if you don’t mind. We’ll take our time till closing time. Last call!

Last night at Manga Cowboy, in the first of a series of acoustic gigs at that venue, Bob met his public. Outside, pedestrian umbrellas battled it out with the wind and the rain. Inside, Bob battled through the emotional upheavel of marriage, divorce, and Irish dancing. I’m no expert but I know what I like: a good tune with thoughtful lyrics; a song that both sings to me and talks to me.

I’ve had my fill of Babe Ruths; I want your apple pie

Some were listening; some were passing notes; others were chatting amongst themselves. Some were dancing quietly in their chairs; some were tapping out a beat with chins and hands and heads and feet; others had just come along for Manga’s American fusion food and excellent Hungarian wine.  But when the lyrics hit home, you could see it: the momentary start of surprise at hearing your thoughts in song; the quiet smile acknowledging a shared experience; the quick flash of memories revisited; the out-loud laugh at something that traversed the ridiculous to the sublime.

Hate to see you go

I cried in public when I heard that Johnny Cash had died. I’ve missed this sort of music; these sorts of raw lyrics. I’m tired of being told what to think, and what to expect and how to feel. I’m sick of authors who signpost their books; playwrights who leave nothing to the imagination; scriptwriters who fill in all the blanks. Show me, don’t tell me. Give me a melody that I’ll still be humming a week from now; give me a lyric I can quote; give me a story I can relate to. And show me that you mean it.

He says he hasn’t done this in a while. Voice a little rusty? Maybe. The man himself a little reticent? Perhaps. As his wit was watered, he seemed to relax. The humorous asides, the short explanations, the clever commentary – all added to the music in what was a marathon set. But I wanted more of it: that conversation between the man and his public. I wanted people to shut up and listen; to give the man his due.  I saw him wow the audience on stage on Wednesday night at the Gift of the Gab speech slam with his take on nose hair and being Bob.  Last night, that witty, irreverent, piss-taking comic was replaced by a thoughtful, introspective, slighly zany singer/songwriter. Both equally clever. Both equally entertaining. Bob Pike, boys and girls, is one talented man. I’m glad I dug out my umbrella!