I will begin my musician’s blog with an incredible experience that occurred, or that I participated in, or that I created last night. (The phrase you choose to use depends upon where on the spectrum of world-views you reside – whether you view life in terms of deterministic passive happenstance or as active creation to which individual agents possess authorship over.)
It all began when I was walking back from the Foodmaster in Inman Square in Cambridge and looked up to see a nearly full moon ensconced in pink clouds. An eerily appropriate premonition that I only as of this writing realized. For, it was the natural beauty of the dusk sky that drew me out to the Charles River with my guitar (and a couple chilled beverages). I have been playing a lot of music lately – as in the past three years – and had just made a personal decision to commit more time to other endeavors more in line with career development either as a scientist (which is my training) or otherwise. However, the allure of the pink moon was just too much to resist. And so there I was, biking the familiar river banks when fireworks bloomed and flourished over Fenway stadium. I happened to be passing two runners who were saying what good timing it was to be running there and then. It was then that I recalled that Roger Waters would be performing The Wall at Fenway that night and let the runners into the loop, to which they exclaimed, “Oh, cool!”
Hoping to catch some more glimpses of fireworks and distant audio reverberations of the performance, I set up shop in the small grove of trees next to the row of MIT dorms lining Memorial Drive. As soon as I cracked a beer and picked up my guitar, though, I knew I wasn’t doing what I should be doing. I realized, why settle for a distant vantage point with a guitar, when I could bike right up to the walls of Fenway with a sax?! So, at risk of missing too much, I hopped on my bike and booked it back home, dropped my guitar, downed a beer, grabbed my sax (which I had recently rigged up with a bike strap by using the unused acoustic guitar strap…I thought a rather interestingly appropriate cross-pollination of instruments), and ran back out the door, onto my bike, and over the Mass Ave. Bridge to Fenway…
I arrived three or four songs before the intermission (or transition from record/disc 1 to record/disc 2). As is appropriate for a Pink Floyd show, the precise number I biked in on was somewhat hazy. However, I know it was before Roger played “Is There Anybody Out There?” as that song is ingrained in the back of my head from endless repetitions on my acoustic. I floated down Landsdown St. and circled around to the other side of the park where the outside crowd was gathered and the sound could be heard so well it was almost as if you were inside at the show. It was somewhere between being better than listening to a blasting stereo of The Wall and actually being inside as a ticket holder. The biggest aspect, I think, is that you could feel his presence as well as hear it.
So, I found a spot on the fence, parked my bike, set down my case, and cracked a beer. (I am fortunate in being responsible in my irresponsibility, as I have been known to bike around with a backpack full of beer that I sip to accompany and enliven my music making, all the while causing no harm to society and providing quite an entertaining soundtrack and spectacle.) As I had absolutely no time to warm up, the first few notes were hesitant shadows of music, yet already my recently learned ability to match pitch and improvise over any song I hear was starting to snap into place. An obviously stoned Berklee kid next to me turned to say how freakin’ awesome it was to be there, and after playing a few notes along, I said back, “Now I can say I’ve played with Roger Waters!!” He immediately was like, “I know. I was just about to say that!”
But, the kid was a self-professed metal head with a restricted diet of musical genres, and so I directed my attention elsewhere. Soon enough, the first half came to an end, and gave me some time to really warm up a bit with both academically styled scale exercises and free-flowing improvised riffs stemming from ‘Dark Side of The Moon’ and ‘Wish You Were Here.’ After ramping up a bit in confidence as a result of the warm up on the instrument and the cool down from the beer, I started to really wail. That’s when the old dude with the harmonica wandered over.
Out of nowhere, this guy starts rippin’ some sick blues to which I chimed right in – call and response style. We jazzed it up for about five minutes, then capped it off and pounded fists in congratulatory greeting. He said I had some serious blues in me and went on to reminisce how the last Pink Floyd show he went to was way back in 1970, and also touching on how he was a Bruce Springsteen guy raised in New Jersey. He was curious about who I was and said he hadn’t seen me around. I hope to change that.
As the second half of the show drummed itself up into rebirth, I decided to move a bit further down the line and found myself next to a group of Berklee graduates who were much more of my style, attitude, and energy. Not much conversation there though. By that time, I was conversing almost solely through my sax, which was now falling right into place. But I came uncharacteristically ill prepared in terms of beer. My last one (of three total) was being drained and my energy was starting to plateu and collapse into a downward sloped parabola. I needed beer to keep the show going. That’s when I heard can tab click and the hiss of carbonation being released. Salvation in the form of a juggler. That’s right. After riffing a bit and really thinking that beer would release gold from my fingers, I asked casually if the guy had any extra beer. He gave a chuckle at the words, “extra beer” but upon talking a little and explaining how beer fueled my playing, he offered to share a few sips. The magic rekindled. As it turns out, the guy was a juggler on a unicycle for a living and we exchanged business cards. I had my old Vertex card that I converted to a musician’s card and he gave me his Peter Panic green card. That’s when I took off and really locked in and people passing by smiled, stopped to listen momentarily, and one lady actually tapped my shoulder and handed me fifty cents!
But the best was yet to come. After the show finished and the crowds were back on the move exiting the stadium, I happened to bump into a guy who seemed to be about my age (mid to late 20’s) with a guitar. He took note of my sax and asked if I wanted to busk with him at Kenmore station. I was like, “Hell yea!” And boom. Destination T-station.
We both got there about the same time and quickly started playing Pink Floyd covers as hoards of concert goers flooded down into the train tunnels past our corner stage. The acoustics were surprisingly good for an acoustic guitar and an alto sax. And man, I started rippin! And the dollars immediately started flowing into my sax case!! But what was even better was the looks on the people’s faces passing by. I especially loved seeing the older hippies, decked out in tie-dye and long white beards. Their eyes were filled with a sense of soft contemplation and fulfilling enjoyment of life. It was as if they were coming as close to recapturing their youth as is possible in a world where bodies age irrevocably.
One old Floyd-loving hippie stopped and stood directly in front of me about 3 feet away and sang the refrain to ‘Wish You Were Here” as we played. I could tell he wasn’t singing to me or anybody else in the station. His mind was with those nameless many that he most certainly must have outlived and how he wished they were there.
That was before the next wave of mostly young people flowed into the station and all burst out in unison singing along. No joke. We got the whole freakin’ station singing ‘Wish You Were Here.’ It was like that YouTube video with the guy at the airport who broke out into ‘Hey Jude’ when the flights were cancelled for the night and got the whole terminal singing. Except no video was taken at Kenmore (or maybe the security camera…wonder if that’s got audio). It will only live on in the memories of me and those present. And also now these words.
And finally, as if all that wasn’t experience enough, the cop on duty for the station came up after a few songs while we were talking and trying to decide what to play (I just kept saying, “Play anything! I’ll catch on. Just do something you know!”) and was like, “Hey! Don’t stop the music! How are you gonna make any money that way? C’mon. Maybe if I stand next to you, they’ll drop more dollars. (And he stood right next to me in a semi-serious stance for a short spell.) Then he smiled and went back down the stairs to continue his duties.
That was awesome.
All in all, I came out of it with $30.50 once the money was split up (evenly) and the memories of participating in a legend.