Anne and I kicked off the long holiday weekend Friday night with one of those “triple-threat” concerts that have become so common in recent years, at least for the old, er, that is, ahem, the classic acts that I enjoy. The line-up was Heart, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, and Elle King, a newer performer whose sassy, sexy, won’t-take-any-bullshit-from-a-man attitude fit right in with the other two acts.
We’ve seen Heart paired with Joan Jett before, only a few years ago — the other “threat” that time was Cheap Trick — but my impression is that last night’s performance for both acts was much, much better. In the case of Heart, that possibly could be due to Ann and Nancy Wilson’s reconciliation following a nasty family dispute. Or perhaps they were better acclimated to the altitude this time around (a lot of performers struggle in Salt Lake’s thinner — and let’s be honest, dirtier — air). Or maybe we just had better seats that gave us a more even sound mix. Whatever the reason, this 2019 show promises to be one that will stand out in my mind, and there was one moment in particular that I think will stay with me.
The Wilson sisters had just led a lovely sing-along version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” and from there Nancy launched into an acoustic take on “These Dreams,” from the self-titled 1985 album that was my introduction to this band. It was just her and her guitar, the drummer gently shaking a maraca, and Ann — ostensibly the band’s lead singer — occasionally chiming in for the chorus or a counterpoint. This song has always had a wistful quality, of course, but this performance tapped into… something… the end of a summer that feels like it never really got started, my impending landmark birthday, the generally dismal state of the world today and the always uncertain future… something. A balmy breeze was floating across the audience, finally bringing some relief after a sweltering day. I could smell sweat and the crisp, slightly floral scent of beer and a much fainter whiff of acrid marijuana smoke. And right around the line “White skin in linen/Perfume on my wrist” — an image that has always been strongly evocative for me — I felt my eyes growing wet. Yes, kids, I was actually getting weepy during a live performance of a 33-year-old power ballad. And I’ll be damned if I can tell you why. Obviously it was hitting some button within me… perhaps something long buried since the time when I was a brooding would-be Romantic who fancied myself some sort of tragic James Dean figure. Or perhaps the emotion was coming from a place that’s only accessible to a man on the edge of 50 who still feels the restlessness of his younger self but is far less able to do anything about it. Maybe it was simply a heartfelt rendition of a pretty song that’s always been a favorite of mine.
Whatever was going on, it seemed as if I felt a click throughout my body just at that moment, and my vision darkened ever so briefly the way it does when I’m looking through a viewfinder as the shutter cycles. I think that moment has maybe become a snapshot in my memory that I’ll someday be able to pull out of a mental shoebox and peer at through layers of grain and sepia, and I’ll recall everything that was happening just then: the tears, the breeze, the beer-and-pot smell, Nancy’s high but somewhat gravely voice singing that line about perfume on her wrist. The moment was quite simply magical. The kind of magic I used to feel in my room late at night, crackling up from the grooves of some old record I’d just discovered… the magic of stumbling across an unexplored world and knowing that I was going to make it my own. A kind of magic I rarely experience any more.
Not a bad way to wind up a summer that never really got started on the cusp of my 50th birthday.
Here’s the video for “These Dreams.” It’s a lot of 1980s excess and nonsense, I’m afraid. Big hair and big pretensions. But I love the song anyhow. If you’ve been waiting for the trivia, this was the third single from the aforementioned album Heart, and the first number-one hit for the band, which had released its first album 10 years before. The song was written by Martin Page (who you may remember for his own hit single “In the House of Stone and Light“) and Elton John’s frequent collaborator Bernie Taupin. “These Dreams” peaked on March 22, 1986, and was later re-released in 1988. I was a junior in high school the first time around, and a college freshman the second…