Monday, December 3, 2001

All the Cyclamens in Minnesota

"You're gonna die, gonna die for sure/And you can learn to live with love or without it/But there ain't no cure..."
-John Hiatt

The last time my placenta previa, or one true one in a million once reliable friend and I saw John Hiatt together was the night in Minneapolis when the Holidazzle accident occurred blocks from the State Theater in which Mr. Hiatt was playing. This time around a few days after receiving my tickets in the mail to see him at O'Shaughnessy Auditorium on the campus of St. Kates there was a silent crash of another kind. There probably won't be any lawsuits involved but suffice it to say the damage was real and permanent enough.

Now I've been around the block more than a few times (I even learned that there's a library near by) and if there's but one thing I've learned it is that during a time of great anguish and trouble perhaps the best thing you can do is something kind for somebody else. And for me, that's what the best Hiatt songs are all about.

At the risk of getting all philosophical here let me just say that if there is a better symbol with what is wrong with this country than the current cover of Rolling Stone magazine I don't know what it is. The cover features young Britney's bosom fully thrust in our face bursting from a bra that looks to be a size or two too small. Thursday night the voice of America performed at Target Center to a packed arena while Hiatt played a much smaller venue in the other Twin City. I don't know what to make of a place where the majority of folks would rather see the aerobics demonstration in Minneapolis over the goofy giddy witty performance of one of our most insightful songwriters.

I'll never understand why Hiatt has never achieved the popularity his music warrants. His words are always rewarding, his melodies accessible. His voice isn't polished but it gets the job done. He sometimes can be a bit too clever for his own good or maybe it's just that he's not a size 34C. There was something rather peculiar about the audience at the show. Most looked like what I imagine the prototype Cities '97 person looks like complete with very long legs. And there I was scrunched up sitting feeling rather naked without my Survivor/Reebok buff on my head (and without my attractive Einstein hairdo).

I ended up going to the show with the right person after all the fish taco headache, the girl next door (down a few blocks or two). It was nice catching up after not having much of a chance to talk recently. And I knew the evening was perfect when after guitarist Sonny Landreth did a wailing Hendrix like Star Spangled intro to "Memphis in the Meantime" with John doing a bullfrog dance around the stage she said to me, "That was beautiful." She was right of course.

The setlist consisted mostly of material from Hiatt's new CD The Tiki Bar is Open and 1988's Slow Turning, the two CDs that feature his current touring band, the Goners. The songs sparkled particularly on the driving "Tennessee Plates" and the head bobbing "Everybody Went Low."

"I was there that day/Don't know what to say/'cept New York had her heart broken"

I'm not sure there's another writer whose songs have better captured and touched the arc of my own life's journey. That's quite the magical trick to pull off. Hiatt opened the show with a jangly "Drive South" which played during my cross country trip with the star of my novel who I called on September 16, 2001, 13 years later. "We were always looking for true north/with our heads in the clouds/just a little off course/I left the motor running/Now, if you're feeling down and out/Come on baby drive south." And almost as if to demonstrate how far the journey has taken me for his first encore Hiatt played a touching version of "Have a Little Faith in Me" which is a song I'll always associate with my oldest and dearest friend who happened to be sitting next to me this evening. When I took a major step along the way as a going away gift she gave me a photograph of me in a hat with the inscription on the back that says, "Take a look and you will see." That picture maintains a prominent spot in my regular eye sight, a constant reminder of perspective when things aren't going exactly right. And the words were used in that Hiatt song though she didn't know it at the time.

Hiatt's humor was his redemption as it often has been. "I believe this is the first time we've ever played at an all girls school," he said with a bit of drool deliberately dripping from his lips. He screamed, he whispered, he sang and he danced, he came and he conquered. And what a fine night he gave to us all.

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