Live it Like a Song

Anyone who knew me in high school could tell you I had an over-the-top obsession with the band Switchfoot. I loved them. I had a picture of them in my locker. I needed both hands to count how many of their concerts I’d been to. I watched their video podcast. This is all a little embarrassing in hindsight, but they impacted my life in a practical way more than any other band ever did, or will. Everyone has that band, right? The one that inspires you, carries you through awful days and shapes a very important slice of your worldview.

Even after my obsession cooled, I still listened to Switchfoot a lot. They released a couple new albums while I was in college, and their lead singer/songwriter/philosopher/general genius Jon Foreman worked on a side project I loved called Fiction Family.

Last night, I saw Switchfoot play Terminal 5 in NYC. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Honestly, I was a little nervous the show would be a letdown. Maybe they weren’t as energetic as they had been. Maybe their new album (Fading West, released in January) was lame. Maybe it would seem like they were trying too hard. Maybe my high school obsession would be spoiled.

It turned out to be amazing. They rocked even harder last night than I remember them rocking at any of the concerts I went to in high school. Jon Foreman connects with an audience in such a special way. Seeing him onstage last night, running through the audience, climbing to the balcony, screaming, singing, I remembered what made him so incredible to me in high school.

One of the reasons I came to love Switchfoot was for the way they maintained a strong Christian faith without being preachy. Bands that just shouted “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” seemed cheesy and out of touch. Simply singing about Jesus didn’t mean you were living like him. I grew up going to Christian schools and maintain my faith today, though I’m not as public about it as I probably should be (I know for sure this is the most I’ve ever written about it here). By the time I got to high school, I’d heard a lot of talk. I was starting to feel an urge to live out my faith and do some good in the world. Switchfoot was the first group of Christian artists I encountered who didn’t care as much about talking the talk. They knew walking the walk sent a much deeper message.

Last night, as I listened to their music with fresh ears, the songs that first drew me to the band sunk in with new meaning. I left the concert wanting to love people more deeply, give so much more of myself to others, and live with an eternal perspective. The last song they played before the encore was Where I Belong. It’s about the final breath we take in this life, and even though it’s one of my favorites from their album Vice Verses, it had never taken such weight in my mind until last night. The lyric that got me envisions someone meeting God face to face for the first time: “…I want to tell you that I tried to live it like a song.”

Am I living my life like a song? Am I even trying to? Sometimes I don’t know. I use the excuses of busyness or tiredness or confusion, when it’s really just apathy. Today is all I have for sure. How much more productive to use that time loving others than wallowing in my own questions about what I’m supposed to do with my life! Showing compassion. Living life like a song.

I am grateful to have been reminded of that last night.

And on a lighter concert note…it also reminded me how much catching up I have to do with their music. They only played a few songs that were out during my obsession phase. Most of the others were from Fading West, which I promptly downloaded and dig so far. Love Alone Is Worth the Fight is my current favorite.

Last thing. In the midst of rediscovering my love for Switchfoot, I also rediscovered Jon Foreman’s brilliance. He’s the heart of the band (at least from my perspective) and has the kind of grasp on how to live out faith and connect with people from all walks of life that I hope to have someday. You know those questions like, “If you could have dinner with three people, living or dead?” Jon Foreman’s always at my table. His music has meant so much to me, and I am so glad he’s still making it. Here’s one of his solo songs for the road.

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“You went to New York for the first time? So did I.”

I thought I was over talking about the Beatles for awhile, after spending Sunday fully submerged in Ed Sullivan Show anniversary madness, but today I read an oral history of another Beatles event celebrating its 50th anniversary: Their concert at the Washington Coliseum on February 11, 1964. The Washington Post published the story, which culled anecdotes from concertgoers, photographers, hotel managers and a former Beatle to create a delightful read, full of stories and insights I’d never known.

There are so many stories bubbling under the surface of commonplace events, just waiting to boil over. Well, I guess the Beatles playing D.C. wasn’t necessarily “commonplace.” But it’s not one of the major moments that spring to mind when thinking about the Beatles in America – you spend those thoughts on the Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium.

Every story in this oral history is fascinating, but these were my favorites:

John B. Lynn, son of the Washington Coliseum’s owner: “It was such an unusual event and it was a windfall. He [his dad, the owner] took the profit and used it to buy my mother a new Lincoln Continental convertible for her birthday. We came home from school and he said, ‘The Beatles concert bought that for your mother.'”

I can just picture a dad pointing to the awesome new car in the driveway, shrugging and thanking the Beatles for a new car.

Linda Binns Liles, who was nine years old that day and rode the train from New York to Washington in the same car as the Beatles:  “I introduced myself to Ringo Starr and promptly sat down and started talking with him. ‘You went to New York for the first time? So did I.’ We had a normal conversation. I was sure he was interested in my fourth-grade teacher as much as I was interested in what he was doing. Paul McCartney, who had me calling him Uncle Paul, asked me if I was coming to their D.C. concert, and I was like, ‘No, I’ve got to go to school tomorrow.’ I was perfectly serious.”

I love how this captures the newness and thrill of America for the Beatles. “You went to New York for the first time? So did I.” Ringo could not have said anything more perfect. Liles’ story brings the spectacular train scene from A Hard Day’s Night to mind.

I also loved a quote from Paul, still dripping with that Hard Day’s Night cynicism when remarking on the tone of press conferences the band did in the United States: “The press conferences were quite funny. It was always: ‘Hey, Beatles, is that hair real, or is it a wig?’ Well, that’s a very good question, isn’t it? How dumb are you? But we didn’t mind it at all. We expected it. It was a completely different world. It’s not like now where you’ll find all these kids writing for the Internet. It was elderly, balding gentlemen who smoked a lot — grown-ups looking disapprovingly at the children having too much fun. We knew it wasn’t hard to beat that kind of cynicism. It was like a chess game. And the great thing was, being four of us, one of us could always come up with a smart-ass answer.”

America enthralled the Beatles, but they still knew what they were going to get. They were in on the joke, and they played along, giving us so many wonderful stories to remember in the process.

I Saw Paul McCartney in Real Life Today.

File the above sentence under “words I never thought I’d write today.”

Around noon, I was doing my usual Twitter troll and noticed this tweet from Paul McCartney’s account:

WHAT?

After investigating, I decided this was legit: Not just Paul recording at some studio near Times Square. Not just a video of Paul airing in Times Square. Actual, living, breathing Paul McCartney was going to play real, live music. I looked at the clock and gauged my workload. This was doable. My co-workers, who know more than they’d like to about my Beatles fandom, encouraged me to go. As did my boss. So, my cubemate Emily and I hopped on the 1 train to Times Square (two stops from our office) and were watching Sir Beatle and Music Revolutionary Paul McCartney half an hour later.

*Disclaimer: This was not my first time seeing Paul McCartney live, but I had known about the first concert in advance. My dad took me to see him at the Rose Garden in Portland in November 2005. He opened with Magical Mystery Tour. My dad bought me an exorbitantly expensive commemorative t-shirt that I will keep forever. We left early so I could get to sleep at a reasonable hour before the state cross-country meet the next day. The concert was still awesome.

It’s a weird feeling, seeing celebrities in person – and in this case, a celebrity I spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over. Like, that’s him. The nature of the concert – impromptu, brief, in the middle of a busy public space – had me thinking about the Beatles’ rooftop concert in 1969. The rooftop concert is one of my primary obsessions within my Beatles obsession (Sub-obsession? That sounds kind of pathetic.), for everything from the songs they played to the way George wore green pants and the way it turned London on its head, even if only for a few minutes. A couple songs in to today’s show, it hit me: The same person who performed in the rooftop concert is performing in front of my eyes, this very minute. He wrote “Yesterday.” He gave an interview for the definitive documentary about his band while piloting a boat. He witnessed everything from the clubs in Hamburg to the Cavern Club to the Abbey Road studios. And for this awesome, unexpected moment, he wasn’t in Hamburg or London or any number of other places: He was here!

Paul and his band played out of the back of a flatbed truck stretched across 46th St. in Times Square. When we got off the subway at 42nd, we couldn’t see a huge crowd forming or hear any noise, but as we walked toward the open public spaces nearby, we saw what was obviously the concert crowd. We were in place around 12:50, and pleasantly surprised at how close we got to be.

Here are a few snippets of the show, taken on my iPhone and clumsily uploaded to YouTube:

“Well this is something else, isn’t it? Let’s stay here all day!”

“We’re only allowed 15 minutes up here! Mr. Andy Warhol predicted I would get 15 minutes of fame. This is it.”

“Welcome to Times Square…thank you to the NYPD for looking after us…”

The set consisted of a handful of songs from his forthcoming album “New,” which will be released Tuesday. I knew the title track, but wasn’t familiar with any of the other songs. While part of me wishes he broke into a rousing “Hey Jude” chorus, I kind of love that he played exclusively new stuff. One thing I love about Paul is how he hasn’t retired to some remote island and closed off his talent. He would be totally entitled to do so, of course, but he still wants to be out there – creating new music that fans will grow to love, and indulging them in the hits he knows they already adore. Today, it felt like he was saying, “I’m Paul McCartney. I changed music forever so I can basically do whatever I want. And I have a new album that I want to promote the heck out of.”

As everyone filed out, a guy nearby us perfectly summed up how we all felt: “I’ve never been so happy to be at a concert and not know any of the words.”

Summer in the City: MLB All-Star Game and Culture for Free

Just two months ago, my humidity-hating, sweater-loving self was dreading another sticky summer in New York City. Thanks to a number of recent events, however, I’m changing my tune.

Saturday night, I went with a group of friends to the Mariah Carey/New York Philharmonic concert on the Great Lawn in Central Park. I hadn’t worked myself up with excitement over this show; while I don’t dislike Mariah Carey, I don’t know much of her music beyond “All I Want for Christmas is You,” which she is unlikely to sing in July. But, it was free, the weather cooperated, and I tagged along with some Mariah-loving friends.

It turned out to be more of a New York Philharmonic concert (Mariah only sang three or four songs), but it was wonderful. Some of the Phil’s set included classic New York songs such as “New York, New York” and the song from On the Town (which I guess is also titled “New York, New York”? Never pondered that before.), and some of the score from the recently released 42.

My favorite part, though, was former Yankees manager Joe Torre reading “Casey at the Bat,” the famous baseball poem, with the New York Philharmonic providing musical accompaniment. I had no idea this would be part of the program, and when the number was announced, I winced and thought it might be a little cheesy. On the contrary. Torre delivered the poem perfectly, and the Phil’s background music – mimicking players’ movements and crowd excitement with its sound – added an element of emotion to the story I’d never felt before with just a straight reading. (My iPhone video of the last part of the performance is too big to deal with here, and I’ve had trouble uploading it to YouTube. I’m a little surprised MLB hasn’t put the entire thing online, but this clip will have to suffice for a link. Just trust me; it was great, and indelible New York memory for me.)

Hope and me at FanFest

Hope and me at FanFest

Thanks to a friend who works for a PR firm handling lots of ASG-related events, I scored two tickets to the All-Star FanFest at the Javits Center. I forced my sister, only marginally interested in baseball, to come with me (though we did clear up the difference between a no-hitter and perfect game for her, so it was a success) and we enjoyed the experience. I would have found FanFest to be the absolute coolest thing in the world if I was a wide-eyed 12-year-old, for whom baseball was a relatively new obsession, traveling to the game with my dad who’d be willing to fork over $$ for a cool new t-shirt and autographed baseball. I may be a little too old to be blown away by the spectacle, but it really was a cool set-up, and they had some especially great displays on the history of the Mets and the Negro Leagues.

Plus, since I wasn’t going to the Home Run Derby or the game itself, I loved getting to be immersed in some part of the All-Star experience while it was in New York. I live right off the 7 line, the train that’s carried thousands of fans to and from Citi Field the past few days, so it was cool to see all this – baseball-crazed kids toting loot bags through FanFest, tourists sporting their team jersey, thousands of passengers trickling onto the 7 train for the ride out to Flushing – happening in my backyard.

Aside from ASG events, I’ve also been able to enjoy a couple of NYC music events in Central Park lately. Yesterday, the New York Philharmonic played its annual show in the park, so I made another trip up to the Great Lawn to hear the performance. Then, tonight, the Metropolitan Opera performed various selections at the park’s SummerStage, and it was lovely. Just enough of the day’s heat had subsided that it wasn’t totally miserable outside, and I loved how the show featured only three singers, each performing a number of songs, like the Met was giving a few of its young stars a chance to really show their chops. My favorite part was their final number before the encore: a three-song West Side Story medley.

Both events were absolutely free, too (as was the Mariah concert)! Amazing free music, enjoyed in the company of friends on a warm summer evening, under the shadow of skyscrapers. This summer in New York is turning out to be about as perfect as it gets.