Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Big-City Jazz Meets Small-Town Girls

The late Eighties were a remarkable time in Russia, in a lot of respects. Communism was on its way to becoming a thing of the past. The Berlin wall was about to go down. Censorship was all but abolished, and formerly banned books, movies, authors, and rock bands were coming out to enjoy their instant fame. People were finally allowed to talk to foreigners, even (gasp) from capitalist countries, and no repercussions followed. The foreigners themselves were busily exploring the new market. Mostly, they were missionaries of every existing world religion, complete with booklets printed in very bad Russian on very good paper, and artists of all shapes and sizes. Mr. Goldie and I went to a Scorpions concert. Rumor had it that Billy Joel was in Moscow on a tour. As far as art was considered, all things were possible in Russia in the late Eighties.

It was a great time to be twenty-one, single, and a college student in a major city. I wouldn’t trade this time for any other.

In ’88, I lived on campus with two roommates. We had friends in two or three other rooms, which came up to about ten of us. We celebrated holidays together, went to the movies, and to an occasional concert. One evening, we were sitting in our room watching TV, when a girl from our group came in.

“Hey guys, guess what! We’re all going to a Paul McCartney concert. I went Downtown today, and somebody was selling the tickets, so I got tickets for all ten of us.”

Now don’t get me wrong. Today, I wouldn’t go to a Paul McCartney concert if you paid me. (Although, that depends on how much you’re offering – I have two kids to put through college!) But back in ’88, we all loved him dearly. Besides, I was an old Beatles fan. I don’t know about over here, but back in my home town, the murder of John Lennon set off a Beatles craze that lasted a few years. You couldn’t walk into a dance club (or whatever their equivalent was in those days) without hearing a Beatles song. Sure, John was my favorite Beatle, but, what with him being dead and all, I could happily settle for Paul. Long story short, we were excited as heck. All ten of us. The tickets were for sometime mid-June.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. And, when we were about to give up, June finally came. With it, came the exams. Again, I don’t know how it’s done here, but in Russian institutions of higher learning, exams are oral. And they are extremely tough. And, if you do well on them, you get a grant. Except in Russia in my day, college education was free, so getting a grant meant you got paid.

Need I tell you that we crammed night and day and studied like there was no tomorrow, because, hey, we wanted that money. We needed that money. Our parents were getting a bit tired of supporting us, this being our fourth year in college (out of five).

The night after a particularly difficult exam, was the night of our Paul McCartney concert.

We hadn’t slept all night, but who cares about this stuff when you are twenty-one. All ten of us got dressed for the concert, and got on the train that would take us there.

While on the train, our Ticket Provider girl suddenly started to experience major doubts.

“Hey guys? I’m not sure if it’s Paul McCartney. I think it said something else on the sign when I bought those tickets. Or not. I don’t remember. It was a while ago, you know.”

We arrived at a medium-sized concert hall and took our seats. The audience was only one-third full. Pretty weird for a Paul McCartney concert. The majority of the audience were young guys from the various military schools in our city.

Minutes later, the announcer came on stage, and introduced to us the Pat Metheny Group, one of the world’s leading jazz bands.

We were pretty cool about it. Pat Metheny, Paul McCartney, what’s the difference. It’s still American music, right? And it wasn’t as if we had heard a whole lot of that in our lives previously. So, we kept a (collective) open mind as Pat Metheny and his group strolled onto the stage.

They started playing. Man, what sophisticated music that was! There is no way I can describe the stuff, except quote from their site:

“Founded by Metheny in 1977, the PMG has relentlessly traveled the world, playing and selling out concerts, festivals and clubs in more than 40 countries, becoming one of the most active and popular touring acts of any kind anywhere. Each new record and tour are awaited with eager anticipation and speculation; this is a band with an imagination and no-holds-barred creativity that has constantly surprised and delighted fans with the unexpected, yet always delivers on an endless promise of imagination and pure melody that was invoked from the first notes of their first record.”

Or, to summarize briefly, “if you expect something like Kenny G or some such, you may be surprised with the unexpected.”

I cannot speak for the pure melody. Apparently it was not part of that particular concert. The no-holds-barred creativity, however, hit us like a ton of bricks. We had never heard anything like this before. We were familiar with pop music (which I hated), dance music (which I didn’t think much of, but hey, you have to dance to something), and alternative rock (which I loved). But at least, in the most alternative of the alternative rock, there is at least some sort of a tune you can follow. Here, there was none. Just sound and fury ©.

For a while, we struggled to understand what we were hearing. Then, to listen - screw the understanding. Then, to sit straight with our eyes open and pretend to be listening. Then, finally, Pat Metheny won, and all ten of us dozed off, not unlike the Biblical ten virgins (which, incidentally, almost all of us were, much to our shame and embarrassment).

Sometime mid-concert, a few of us woke up, and decided it was time to make like a tree and sneak out of the concert hall. (If you think that’s a lame metaphor, tell me if you have ever seen a tree in a concert hall. See? They all snuck out!)

But, as it turned out, we could not, in fact, leave. Our row was blocked on both sides with sleeping military-school dudes.

Apparently, very few people in the audience were, in fact, awake at that point.

We gently nudged the military dude on our left, trying to wake him up. No results. We nudged him a little less gently – he was still sleeping like a baby. We kicked him and prodded him, all the while trying not to disturb the performance – no go. Luckily, the row behind us was empty. Very quietly and discreetly, all ten of us climbed over the backs of our seats into the next row, and walked out.

And this, my friends, is a great, real-life illustration of the fact that…

As the saying goes, you cannot take a girl out of the country, but you cannot take the country out of the girl. No matter how long we lived in the big city, deep inside, we still remained unrefined, small-town girls that were physiologically unable to understand real music.

(How do you transmit sarcasm over the Internet? Aw, never mind).

But the story doesn’t end here.

A few weeks later, as I was getting off a subway train, I noticed a guy, about 25 years old, following me. Being single and actively looking and all that, I slowed down and let the guy catch up.

“Excuse me,” inquired the guy, “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but have you, by any chance, been to the Pat Metheny concert a few weeks ago?”

“Yes,” I confessed. “Why?”

“I was there too. I’m a big fan. What do you think? Weren’t they awesome?”

I took a sideways glance at the guy – he wasn’t bad looking. Aw, why the heck not, it’s worth a try.

“Yeah,” I gushed, “incredible! Especially in the second act!”

“I thought you’d like them,” remarked the guy. “I was watching you at the concert. You were clearly admiring their work.”

“Absolutely! What you just said. Admiring, totally admiring. They’re worth it, aren’t they?”

I spent that day in the company of the guy. It was fun.

And this, my friends, is a great, real-life illustration of the fact that…

Guys, no matter how smart they may be, are at the same time extremely gullible when it comes to women, and have a tendency to think with the wrong head. Sorry, guys, but it’s true.

And so my story ends.

No actual members of the Pat Metheny group were harmed in the making of this post.

The Goldie has spoken at 1:54 PM

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