Long Live Rock: Dougie MacLean

The Ark, Ann Arbor, circa 1996

Another concert with Tim, who was in grad school at Michigan by this point. Dougie was fantastic — The Ark is an intimate venue, and as I remember it, we were sitting just a row or two from the stage. I watched transfixed as Dougie tuned his guitar differently for each song, taking only seconds to go from a standard EADGBE to a rich open tuning like DADABD.

What really stands out in my mind twelve years later is how I came to the music of Dougie MacLean in the first place, through a series of acquaintances in college whose names I have trouble even recalling. At the end of the line was Wendy, whose name I do recall, though I don’t know what her last name is these days. On a mix tape I must still have, tucked away in some shoebox — though with no means to play it — she had included “Ready for the Storm” and another MacLean song, and I’m having trouble just now remembering which one. Maybe “Singing Land” or “Caledonia.” But definitely “Ready for the Storm.” I’ll never forget how blown away I was when I heard the song for the first time. It was even more powerful when I heard Dougie perform it live a few years later, but some of that power must have come from the bailfuls of nostalgia that swamped me at the time.

Going back a few years, Wendy had dubbed the two songs from a mix tape of her roommate’s, a zoology major named Heidi. I want to say Heidi Michaels was her name, but I can’t say for sure. Google doesn’t help in this regard. She was supposed to have gone off to grad school to study wolves, but I don’t know that she did.

Heidi’s mix tape was made by a friend of hers, a sometime suitor named Colin. I want to say Colin’s last name was Michaels too, but that can’t be right. This is where the trail really goes cold. I don’t think Colin and I ever said much to each other. The odd thing is that one spring break, 1992 it must have been, a van full of these people I’m naming drove to Hilton Head, where Colin’s family had an empty condo waiting for us on a golf resort. Who all went on this trip I’m having trouble remembering: Wendy, Heidi, Colin, me, and some other people too. There was one of Heidi’s friends, named OT, which was short I guess for Othelia. She moved to Brazil after graduation. I seem to remember this. To work in a pizza parlor with her older sister, who was married to a Brazilian man? I think I’ve got that right.

The beach at Hilton Head was usually too cold for swimming, and none of us golfed. Heidi and Colin mostly went birding.

Funny, as I wrote that last sentence I’m listening to a Dougie MacLean CD I bought years later, and the song playing right now is “High Flying Seagull.”

Anyway, so all these people are gone from my life, and even in 1996 at the concert with Tim, they were gone then too.

Tim and I are still in touch. And Dougie’s still around too. I see he’s going back to The Ark in Ann Arbor this September. If I were a few hundred miles closer I’d try to see him again. It’s the closest he comes to North Carolina. Mostly he’s in Scotland. Everyone is in some place, aren’t they?

Long Live Rock, the Nineties, Part II

The early nineties are hazy, for no particular reason, other than that they were so long ago. Still, I’m determined to continue write about every concert I ever attended. The eighties were easy because attending concerts was a new thing for me, and I saw “big” acts like The Who and The Kinks, all near my hometown of Akron, Ohio. The nineties were more diffuse and I saw a mix of big and small acts, all over the Midwest and East Coast. You can track my migration east simply by looking at the venues I found myself in. But I’m still not done with my undergraduate years. One last show:

  1. Toad the Wet Sprocket (1991 or 92, Shriver Center, Miami University)Toad was the rage, and this was even before “All I Want” was all over the radio. Oxford, Ohio was home to the now defunct alternative radio station 97X (as heard unforgettably in The Rain Main), and this station had been playing tracks from Bread and Circuses and Pale for several years already.

The concert was fabulous. I remember the crowd left their seats as soon as the show began, and rushed the stage. We were crushed, just about, only a few feet from Glen Phillips and company. I was surprised to see that it wasn’t Glen who sang “Nothing Is Alone,” my favorite song from Pale, but guitarist Todd Nichols.

I was there with Wendy. I can’t remember if I introduced her to Toad or if it happened the other way around. Or maybe it was neither, since Toad was in the air, literally, all the time, on the radio and frat house porches and green grass quads. Wendy and I, we traded music a lot. Fifteen years later, I still owe Wendy a few good mix tapes. But these days, who knows where she is and what she listens to?

Long Live Rock, the Nineties, Part I

  1. Royal Crescent Mob (1990, Hall Auditorium, Miami University)

    I don’t remember this concert, or this band. Royal Crescent Mob was the midwest’s answer to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Unfortunately, nobody had ever asked that particular question. I went because I was working with one of the organizations sponsoring the concert. I can’t even remember which organization. I swear I was there and totally conscious and totally sober, but I also swear I can’t remember anything at all, other than I was there.

  2. James Taylor (1990, Millett Hall, Miami University)

    Or maybe this was 1991. It was sometime my sophomore year at college, fall or spring I don’t know. I went with my roommates Matt McClure and Kevin Kearns. We had a fourth roommate, another Matt, but I don’t remember if he went to the concert. Years later, long after I had last seen him, this other Matt would go on to win $30 million in the Ohio lottery. I read about it in the newspaper. I’ve lost track off all the other guys too. Kevin is in Chicago somewhere. Matt McClure is an even bigger mystery. He went to Luxembourg and then seemed to drop off the face of the planet. Sometimes people do that. When the concert ended, James Taylor told the cheering audience, “Thanks, you make it easy.”

Long Live Rock, More Eighties

I’d forgotten at least one concert in the eighties:

  1. Ray Charles (1989, Millett Hall at Miami University)
  2. This was a Parents’ Weekend Concert, my first semester at college. My parents came and Ray Charles was late. That’s about all I remember: the concert started something like an hour late. Ray Charles must have sang “Georgia on My Mind,” but I couldn’t tell you for sure.

A lost World Trade Center poem

I recently found a poem I had written years and years ago, in July 1992, which I had absolutely, totally forgotten about. I wrote it in an undergraduate creative writing course with the astounding poet James Reiss. I’m not sure why, but Reiss generally liked my stuff. For an undergrad, I guess it was okay material. A few weeks after the class was over I was walking down the muggy streets of Oxford, Ohio, and Reiss drove by, shouting out to me, “There goes the Tungsten Wunderkind!”

Tungsten, now that I’m remembering, was one of my favorite words that summer, and Reiss knew it. The “wunderkind” was Reiss’s idea. For a while after that I fancied myself the Tungsten Wunderkind. Long after most young men give up the idea of becoming rock stars I harbored fantasies that Tungsten Wunderkind would be a great name for my first band. The one that would go on to fill stadiums around the globe, stop world hunger, meet the Pope.

How embarrasing.

But this poem here, the one I discovered in an brittle plastic binder in the back of a closet, Reiss didn’t like. I remember that too, now. Never mind the erratic meter and graceless lines, it was the closing stanza that irked Reiss. Too much like the end of Planet of the Apes, with Charlton Heston staring aghast at the ruins of the Statue of Liberty. Reiss pointed out the unintentional allusion, and I thought it was a compliment at the time.

I think I see now what Reiss was getting at.

Yet after September 11, 2001, the poem seems different. Definitely not better, definitely not redeemed, just different. I don’t feel prescient so much as in sync with Hollywood’s darkest fantasies. It’s still a bush league poem, but it’s a bush league world we’re living in.

     in my dreams…

i raze the World Trade Center
down to its cornerstones.

first i heap the ticker tape
(IBM up five and a quarter,
DuPont down two and a half)
into a haystack.

then i douse the pile with
gasoline and light a whole
book of matches from TGI
Fridays and toss it in.

finally i

awake and leave behind
twin shivering spines
hunched over the harbor.