Monday, August 2, 2010

Running On

I just got home from attending a Jackson Browne concert at the Botanical Garden here in Boise.
It was a beautiful evening, and since the garden is practically around the corner, I rode my bike. As the concert progressed, the sunset filled the crystal clear sky with pink and orange and violet light, and the mountains glowed warmly before darkness finally settled around us. A truly magnificent evening.

And also, for me, deeply nostalgic. Jackson Browne played the first concert that I ever saw, a free "no nukes" show on the Mall in Washington, DC back in 1976. Some friends and I played hooky from school and enjoyed that afternoon/evening a great deal. A couple years later, I saw him again at the Post Pavillion, where he recorded two of his biggest hits, "Running on Empty" and "The Loadout/Stay".

Almost thirty five years have passed since those days. Jackson Browne is now over sixty and I am on the crest of fifty. But the music still sounds good. It brought me back to those days of my youth, a much more earnest and less cynical time. Singer-songwriters like Jackson Browne believed that they could change the world, and, to a certain extent, they did. Their songs were personal and confessional and, at the same time, political and ambitious. I admired them deeply, and I still do. I was, of course, shaped profoundly by that era, a time which was, in many ways, defined by its music, which served as a kind of sound track for the civil rights, feminist, and peace and justice movements. It was a heady time to be young and while we were no saints, we were idealistic like the artists who inspired us.

And as I listened all those old favorites--The Pretender, Fountain of Sorrow, For Everyman--so many memories filled my mind, and my heart. I was reminded that music is perhaps the best and strongest bridge back to the selves that we were long ago. In so many ways, my youth feels lost to me, a land of inchoate, mist-shrouded experiences that sometimes feel like they were lived by someone else. But these tunes cut through the fog and brought them all back, so many moments I'd thought were gone forever. The first few chords of "Bright Baby Blues" flooded me with bittersweet feelings; I listened to that song for hours on end while suffering the pangs of adolescent angst after a girlfriend dumped me for another guy. "Running on Empty" brought smiles: I sang that one with a classmate over the loudspeaker in our high school one caffeinated morning. And the rousing "Doctor My Eyes" brought me back to that evening on the Mall, where I experienced, for the first time, in the seat of American political potency, how music can move us to action and speak truth to power.

I've experienced a lot over the intervening thirty-five years, successes and failures and everything in between. But tonight I was reminded: in good times and bad, music still moves me like nothing else, just as much as it did in my youth. And though, like our era, I am a bit more jaded than I was at sixteen, I still believe that well-crafted songs--and we, who are moved by them--have the power to change the world.