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Dancing in the Dark

September 20, 2012

Two significant and wholly unexpected incidents occurred this week. One involved a rock concert and the other a You Tube video sent to me by a former student. As it happens once in a great while, this confluence of events led to an epiphany.

During the spring, my wife Bernadette announced her desire to go to the Bruce Springsteen concert at the Meadowlands. Since her birthday is in May, I figured this was a perfect opportunity to kill those two proverbial birds with one stone. However, since I am rather a dinosaur in such matters, I did not know exactly how to go about purchasing tickets to such an event. Since my experience is firmly lodged in the days of the Fillmore East ticket window or free concerts in Central Park where one simply showed up, I bungled the operation and could not obtain them. My eventual present proved quite lame in comparison to What Could Have Been.

However, I received a reprieve when the announcement came that extra shows would be added in the fall. Armed with information from a friend-in-the-know, I got tickets for the Wednesday night opening show. Bernadette’s desire would be fulfilled, I would be redeemed (better late than never), and we would see Bruce again for the first time since the 70’s when both he and we were still young.

The concert date arrived, and the afternoon began with a harbinger of sorts. We had a late lunch at a funky little spot in South Orange called The Blue Plate Special, kind of like eating in a hip thrift shop. Our waitress, a Russian girl who moved to Alaska at age four and ended up in New Jersey for college, told us that she had recently graduated from Seton Hall University just up the block. We told her that we had too, only four decades earlier.

“Did you meet there?” she asked, eyebrows raised in astonished anticipation.

“Yes, we did. And we’ve been together ever since.”

“Oh my God, that’s so cute!” she exclaimed in honest admiration. “That gives me such hope,” she added.

Bernadette and I spent the rest of the meal immersed in nostalgic recollection of that first chapter of our lives together.

us, 1970

We took the train to the Meadowlands from the South Orange station. It was my first trip to the stadium and my first arena event. I had seen many concerts of varying types over the years, but never one this size. I fretted about how Bruce, almost the same age as I, would perform, and apprehension over how the venue might affect the experience tempered my excitement. Not so my wife. She squirmed in her seat like a teenager at her first Beatles (or, I suppose, Justin Beiber) show. I watched as the people filed in. The huge crowd consisted of mostly older folks. This shouldn’t have surprised me, but it was unsettling to realize that I am one of them. In my mind I’m still the twenty-something guy going to see Bruce at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic back when he was still “the future of rock and roll.”

My fears proved to be unfounded. The show turned out to be nothing short of fantastic. Bruce did not concern himself with trying to recapture lost youth or relive past glories (as, unfortunately, some aging stars do). He didn’t have to. He did what he always has done, putting his heart and soul into his performance and reveling in the excitement of the moment. Playing old songs and new, he rocked and crooned and told stories and danced for almost four continuous hours. It was sublime. My initial discomfort of being amongst all the balding heads and paunchy bellies of my generation dissolved in the dark, loud, rock and roll night.

The next morning I received a recommendation for a You Tube video of Death Cab for Cutie’s song “Stay Young, Go Dancing.” This came from a former student, one who is an astute connoisseur of music as well as one of the most brilliant young writers I had ever encountered in my forty years of teaching. The theme of the video tenderly reflects a line from the lyrics, “And I’m swallowed in sound as it echoes through me, I’m renewed, oh how I feel alive and through autumn’s advancing, we’ll stay young, go dancing…” It instantly made a connection to what had transpired the night before.

The Death Cab video blew me away. Watching the wistful “Stay Young, Go Dancing” crystallized all of my conflicted emotions about my present stage in life. I have been writing about many of the past experiences of my life in this blog over the last year. I have said I was doing it to occupy my time or to record these stories before I start forgetting them. But I realize now that it is my way of trying to come to grips with this disconcerting period of transition in which I now find myself. As I watched the video, I thought too of my former student and her present place in this circle of life, of how inconceivable it is to think that one will ever really become old. And that is as it should be.

But just as each stage of life has its pitfalls, each also has its great joys, and this video reminded me of one of the greatest of these, traveling through the years arm in arm with someone you love. Bruce ended his show Wednesday night with “Dancing in the Dark” (he knocked it out of the park), and all the oldsters stood swaying and singing along with every bit of passion they could muster. The next morning I began the day with the gift of “Stay Young, Go Dancing” which soothingly intoned, “As the music plays, feel our bodies sway, when we move as one, we stay young,” so eloquently affirming the passion and beauty that can magically take place at every point during this journey.

So thank you Bruce for helping us to acknowledge rather than bemoan the passage of time and celebrate the present moment for what it is. Thank you Death Cab for evoking this reflective wonder which transcends age, and thank you Cara for being the perfect herald of this revelation. Most of all, thank you Bernadette, for you still keep me alive and swaying as we move as one, dancing together in the dark of the advancing autumn.

us, now

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