Sunday, October 12, 2008

Getting Light From Darkness

Ron Brown writes:

For some reason that I don't fully understand, I still have about a hundred or so aging music newspapers in slowly eroding cardboard boxes that I've now been hauling around with me for the past 30 years. I don't know and can't explain how they've survived. They've surely been somewhat mistreated. Other than a cardboard box, I can't say that I've protected them much, so they've seen extremes. Despite my lax attention to preservation, they managed to withstand lengthy stays in an open garage during brutally cold South Dakota winters, suffocating heat in a Mississippi storage shed during summer, assorted damp basements and dingy closets in tiny apartments. Everywhere I've been, they've been. Because I inexplicably refuse to throw them out.

I have a few Melody Makers, some now obscure publications like one called Gig, but the bulk of the collection of course are old Rolling Stones. That was essential reading, when I could afford to buy one at the newsstand. At some point in time, I don't recall when, I did think of putting those in protective plastic sleeves. I don't know why. It's not as if they're particularly valuable. If you want, you can get any single one of 'em on eBay these days for about 5 bucks on average. Based upon who's on the cover, I might be able to sell five or six in about six months time. But even if I sold a hundred of them, that works out to a profit of about 16 cents per paper, per year. So, obviously, money's not a reason that keeps me hanging on.

And it's not as if I really read them on any regular basis. I've found that I never take them out of the cardboard box except when I move. Recently we moved from an apartment to a house in Ridgeland, just north of Jackson, Mississippi. They've been sitting in the garage for three months.

I spent this past weekend moving boxes around, deciding once again what to keep and what to discard. The plastic encased Rolling Stones, they went into the house. But last night I discovered another old box in the garage and at the bottom of that raggedy box were some old Chicago music publications, including a free monthly newspaper called the Illinois Entertainer. Not much on content, it was mostly filled with ads for live music shows at Haymaker's and Mother's, The Wise Fool's Pub and Huey's.

But when I opened one of the papers from September 1978, there staring back at me was this beautiful full page ad:

What makes this page extremely relevant to me is that it's an advance ad for one of the greatest rock and roll shows of my life: "APPEARING AT UPTOWN THEATRE SEPT. 6" I'd seen Bruce twice before, once in Chicago at the Auditorium in '77 during the chicken scratch tour, and again in Wisconsin earlier in this tour. But this was a show that still lives with me. I was 19 years old working in the packaging department at Bodine Electric, the same factory where my mom worked in the winding department. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew damn well that I didn't want to do that, if I had any choice in the matter. I had never felt more alive than those first few Springsteen shows. I guess I didn't know it then, but what I saw in those shows was a glimpse of my future. I didn't want to become a musician. I can't keep steady time on a three-chord country song. It's not that I dreamt of becoming a song writer or performer. Seeing Springsteen sing Adam Raised a Cain made me realize that I wanted take risks. That I needed to take risks.

It literally changed my life.

How many times over the past 30 years had I opened this paper and seen this very same ad before? I don't know, maybe six, seven or eight times. Maybe not even once. But I know that last night it finally hit me right between the eyes.

What's it worth to me now? You can probably guess. And there isn't a single dollar sign involved.

It won't be another ten, twenty or thirty years before I see this ad again. I'm framing the sucker. And you know what I'll see? "APPEARING AT UPTOWN THEATRE SEPT. 6: THE BIG BANG."

It only took me 30 years to realize it. That, and a couple of old cardboard boxes that I probably should have thrown away years ago, but for some reason, just couldn't.



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