It happens with more frequency these days: we go somewhere and we’re the oldest people in the room. Recently Rick and I were guests at a holiday dinner party with some co-workers. I filled my plate and chose a cozy chair in the corner of the living room to sit back and enjoy the evening. Soon someone began the conversation with a question addressed directly to me: “So, of all the concerts you’ve seen over the years, which one was the best?”
Youth combined with a degree in journalism can be intimidating. Reporters are trained to ask tough questions and wait patiently to hear the whole story unfold.
I knew one answer wasn’t really what this reporter was after. He wanted to hear tales from my past. I didn’t want to disappoint the group, but on the other hand, was this really the time and place to tell all?
“I attended my first rock concert at 14 when I saw The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl in August, 1964,” I began. “I couldn’t hear a thing because of all the screaming, but I saw them in their matching suits looking just like they did on the Ed Sullivan Show.
“During high school I went to see Elton John, the Righteous Brothers, the Supremes at the Coconut Grove and some jazz greats down on the pier in Redondo. Sonny and Cher and the Kingsmen played at Junipero Serra, an all-boys Catholic high school where my friends and I went to Friday night sock hops.
“I was into folk music when I arrived in San Francisco in 1968. That first week of college I went to see Donovan, who sat cross-legged on a Persian rug and sang me to sleep. Soon after that I went to see Judy Collins singing “Both Sides Now” at an intimate venue in Berkeley.
“The next summer, just before Woodstock, I went to the Greek Theater in L.A. to see my favorite singer of all time, Joni Mitchell, warm up for Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, whom I thought sounded awful. A few years later I saw Joni sing “Big Yellow Taxi” in Honolulu. On New Year’s Day, 1977, inside Diamond Head Crater, I listened to Jesse Colin Young (whom my son Collin is named after).
“One of the most memorable concerts I ever attended was The Rolling Stones’ “Exile on Main Street” tour the summer of ’72 in San Diego. Stevie Wonder was the warm-up act. Mick Jagger looked straight into my eyes as rose petals fell from the ceiling during the final encore of “Satisfaction.”
“There were many concerts—at the Troubador, the Fillmore and Winterland, in Golden Gate Park and in an open field outside London—and even in the small auditorium at my Jesuit university where Tina Turner (along with Ike) rocked the rafters while we sat in the front row in awe. A friend of a friend disappeared with the sax player for three days after that show.
“If I had to pick one favorite, I guess it would have to be the night of my 22nd birthday when Leon Russell (whom my son Matt Leon is named after), his long hair flowing under a ragged top hat, sat at a shiny black piano and belted a bluesy rendition of “A Song for You.”
“I love you in a place where there’s no space or time. I love you for my life, you are a friend of mine. And when my life is over, remember when we were together, we were alone and I was singing this song to you.”
I still get goose bumps from that one.
Reach Michele Thomas, The Daily Triplicate’s publisher, at 464-2141, or stop by 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays.