As many years go for all of us, this past year was one of highs and lows. For the purpose of being in sync with this year’s Myth of Red Salon theme of ILLUMINATION: 2013 consisted of lights, dimmer lights, and yes, some moments of real darkness. Lights are constant reminders to us that there is always a light shining somewhere, even when it is not immediately visible. Words also have a funny way of lending more gravitas and decoration to one very simple word. For instance, ILLUMINATION magnifies, glorifies, and decorates the word light, making light seem that much more special than it inherently is on its own, perhaps also reinforcing it as an extraordinary gift with so many meanings and purposes that it cannot ever be taken for granted. In theme with a recent event and group of dear and talented friends of which I am privileged to be a part called the Myth of Red Salon, I wrote a “poem” about illumination and expanded it to include a tribute to my favorite musician of all time, as well as some illuminating wishes for a Christmas and New Year that shines more brightly than each of us could ever imagine.
Light is a navigational beacon, a guidepost, a comforting friend in moments of darkness.
Light produces energy, warmth, and beauty, whether it is from the sun radiating its golden glory through the trees, reflecting its rays onto the water, poking its head out through the clouds, electrifying a face with a smile and a belly with laughter.
Light is a source of growth and rebirth, lending its critical power to a seed in the ground, a bulb waiting to bloom, a bare tree crying out to be green again.
Light is celestial, otherworldly, heavenly, divine, eternal; A symbol of hope, peace, freedom, communion, humanity, solidarity, passing the torch from one generation to the next, sharing a most precious natural resource in ways that celebrate being, living, life.
Light is decoration, making everything beautiful, as the holiday decorations are doing throughout the city, as the skyline always frames the New York City sky, particularly now with that extra light of the Freedom tower; on September 11, with the two light beams reminding us of what once stood and all that we lost on that terrible day and have yet to regain, the décor in this room, the gorgeous costumes on our performers and our audience dressed in their finest winter whites, the candles lit in church every day and in honor of every tragic passing, the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy.
Light is also a benchmark of time. As we approach the shortest, darkest day of the year known as the Winter Solstice, we are reminded that another year has passed, reflecting on our time, our accomplishments, our missed opportunities, our families, our relationships, our work, our values, our goals, our existence. Luckily, by December 23, the days become longer, the light we are missing returns, albeit slowly toward a season of rebirth and renewal to plan for a lighter and brighter year ahead.
Light always illuminates.
One constant of light in my life has been music, starting with the 8-track tape in one of my family’s first cars: a very generic blue Oldsmobile. I sang to that Oldsmobile tape that came with the car, to the tunes of Dionne Warwick, Burt Bacharach and Rain Drops Falling on My Head, and Good Ole’ Leroy Brown. Shortly thereafter, the Carpenters became the 8 track of choice that I asked my dad to pop in the good’ol Olds, along with his classical favorites and Frank Sinatra. To this day, I still think Karen Carpenter has the voice of an angel, unlike any female voice I have ever heard. Shortly thereafter and simultaneously with the Carpenters, another early favorite still remains a sentimental one, albeit perhaps an embarrassing one. When I was little, I used to sit at my parent’s piano pretending I was Shirley or Laurie to Keith Partridge’s “I think I Love You” and all of their other lesser-known tunes from every one of their albums that I still own, including A Partridge Family Christmas! When my cousins’ little girls began to listen to music with us, our love affair with the Partridge Family continued into our adulthood. When they asked why I was not on the CD cover photo, we told them I was sick that day!! Now that the girls are teenage young ladies, we finally broke the news that cousin Bethie was never a member of the Partridge Family. Boy did we have a good laugh. Needless to say, I thought it was eerily coincidental that my soon-to-be-musical-hero – a then unknown Bruce Springsteen – was almost overlooked because Columbia Records was focused on…you guessed it, the Partridge Family!
Also around this time, or even earlier, I began to take piano lessons. I started playing when I was in first grade and played through high school. I am told, and I do remember, being quite good. Going to lessons was easy – right across the hall on East 82nd Street to APT 5A, an apartment filled with music and all its accouterments, bringing light if it is possible, to sound, which emanated from an apartment at all hours of the day, wafting through the walls, with famous musicians playing. Beautiful music, coupled with the glorious scents of Mrs. Lewis’ cooking, established apartment 5A as a sensory smorgasbord and a childhood constant, lasting well into my adult life.
It also isn’t every day that greatness lives next door. Little did I know or appreciate until I went to Mr. Lewis’ funeral, after almost 35 years of being our neighbor and playing piano in their musical virtuoso apartment, that he was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, a member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Extraordinary talent, refined and soft-spoken humility is – to quote my personal hero – a “brilliant disguise” for the real thing: greatness, sheer and utter, authentic brilliance.
Of course Saturday Night Fever, Olivia Newton-John and the Grease soundtrack played big roles in my musical development, along with WABC Radio, WNEW FM, and WPLJ 95.5 where I won tickets to the Police at Shea Stadium. I remember my first stereo, playing the radio more than I played any LP, and listening to WABC (which I believe was AM radio…is that possible????) and songs like Blinded by the Light sung by Manfred Mann and Fire by the Pointer Sisters were familiar favorite tunes. Little did I know at the time that these pop 40 hits were literally “Brilliance in Disguise”, as GUESS WHO wrote them both!??? I did not discover until I was less naïve and a bit more astute in my knowledge of music history, that yet again, it was/is Mr. Bruce Springsteen.
Also along the way, there was another musical constant and omnipresence, one that was also greatness and brilliance right next door and underneath my nose, just like Mr. & Mrs. Lewis, just like my father who is a dedicated and renowned physician, just like my maternal grandfather who was a prominent lawyer and political negotiator, just like my paternal grandfather who was also a dedicated physician and the first Italian-American to graduate from the University of Colorado Medical School, just like Scott Hamilton and Dorothy Hamill who are the accomplished figure skaters and wonderful people who I still admire and emulate. These people were the role models I wrote about for the college application that gained me entry into my beloved Georgetown University. The other role model was still playing a very subtle role, only to really unfold when I needed it to the most.
I had this “omnipresent constant’s” early albums, along with the Who, the Stones, the Kinks, the Police, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Steve Winwood, Steely Dan, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, and other 80’s favorites like Roxy Music, and yes – Madonna. As a teenager from the 80’s, MTV was my musical “beacon”. I LOVED MTV and I think I really did watch it 24 hours a day. When Born in the USA was released, I was a very serious figure skater, pursuing my dream in my favorite place on earth where my family has a home and a long personal history, where the Winter Olympics have been held twice, and where the world watched the greatest moment in sports history: Lake Placid, NY. My mode of transportation that summer was my bicycle and my favorite accessory was my Sony Walkman. Honestly, I think I would be perfectly happy now, with my iPod and adding a paddleboard (and my dad’s Mustang with E Street Radio). I think the only music I listened to the summer of 1984 (and maybe even 1985 before I went to college) was the Born in the USA album. Not only was it my favorite because I loved the music, the lyrics and their meaning, and because it resonated with me at the right age, but also because it connected my brother and I with our dad, who finally found some common musical ground with a contemporary artist that my brother and I both loved. Through songs like Glory Days, Bobby Jean, My Hometown, Dancing in the Dark, and Born in the USA, my brother and I rocked out with our dad, which is a feat unto itself! As my dad had done with the 1980 Miracle on Ice hockey game (and because he is the most generous and least extravagant person I know), he bought one ticket for my brother at Giants Stadium and listened to the whole concert outside in the parking lot by himself. Fortunately in February, 1980, he did decide to get one more ticket for himself. Though he sat separately from my 10 year old brother, he witnessed the US team beat the Russians and history, while my Mom & I watched Eric Heiden receive one of his 5 Gold Medals on Mirror Lake as the crowd slowly erupted into a firestorm of chants of USA USA USA. Fortunately almost 35 years later, the Boss is still touring and my father still has a chance to get that front-row seat to a(nother) concert, to another moment in history.
The ever-present Springsteen soundtrack has persisted, just as it has for so many others throughout the world. While my appreciation and love for his music has only increased with time and attendance at many concerts, it has been the last two years when he has been the best friend (and I know he doesn’t know) I have had. I remember saying at a concert years ago, sitting high up in the rafters at Giants Stadium, “I have never seen someone who loves life and his job as much as he does.” In 2009, I went to see U2 at Giants Stadium, a close second in my book behind Mr. Springsteen. The concert was fantastic; Bono and U2’s unique sound and the show was memorable. Only a few weeks later, I saw the last few concerts before the Stadium was torn down. Who else would be the Mariano Rivera (AKA the #CLOSER) to tear that baby down but the Jersey Boy himself. It was the first time I heard Wrecking Ball and over the last few years, it has assumed various other interpretations, including what is either a mockery or the best compliment ever to Bruce from Miley Cyrus.
The U2 show had colorful, psychedelic lights and an elaborate 360-degree stage, apropos for the 360-degree tour. While U2’s music is amazing, and the overall show was an exciting sensory feast, I felt differently several weeks later in hindsight. In October, 2009, I saw Bruce and the #EStreetBand light up the arena with zero of that fanfare and the most magnetic, energetic, passionate, lit-from-within live performer of our time at the former Giants Stadium. That show (like all of his shows) energized and emitted light throughout the crowd in a way that no one else is capable of doing to a crowd of 60,000+ people, or even a crowd of 100 people. Whether you are sitting up in the rafters or behind the stage (and I have done both) or standing in the pit in front of the stage (which I have also done several times now and will never go back to a seat if I don’t have to!), Mr. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band exceeds expectations every single time and leaves the crowd LIT FROM WITHIN.
In 2012, the light that shined the brightest for me was the opportunity to experience one of the great lights of this world – #music #live music – from my very favorite musician. This musician not only happens to be one of the greatest musicians today and ever, but he also happens to be my personal hero for many reasons beyond his music. September 22, 2012 at MetLife Stadium was a rain-delayed concert that had everyone inside waiting for a sunny “night”. It also happened to be the Boss’s 63rd birthday. I held a sign asking for a miracle (which I still hope might happen because yes, I do believe in miracles). I even showed him that sign on the beach a few weeks later on an Indian summer day with a mutual friend. On that epic concert night, he jokingly asked for 60,000 candles to light his birthday cake. While that wasn’t possible in reality, it was possible and indeed happened in spirit. For me, with the exception of moments in my own figure skating career and watching my figure skating heroes – especially Dorothy Hamill and Scott Hamilton – I have never ever experienced the feeling of being one with that many people and with someone lit from within with so much brilliance and talent, including a solo Japanese man who spoke no English. I felt lit from within and in communion with every single person in that stadium, including the #EStreetBand, the #Springsteen and #Scialfia families, the Boss of the Boss Adele Springsteen, and the Boss himself. In 2013, because the #WreckingBall tour was overseas,#EStreetRadio in my dad’s Mustang, became my favored companion during a year that was not so great. Whether it’s a YouTube video, a live stream concert from #RockinRio, or a live concert, my spirit awakens and lights up to the sounds of #Springsteen.
Last year, I wrote a long letter to the well-known film producer #RidleyScott who was making a documentary called Springsteen and I, a movie about #Springsteen by the fans about what he means to them in three words. I grew up vacationing on the #JerseyShore and hadn’t been back to #SpringLake since my grandmother died five years ago. In fact, even though my aunt still lives there, I vowed never to go on Monroe Avenue again because the owners tore my grandmother’s picture-perfect home overlooking the Atlantic down. Upon receiving my letter, Ridley Scott’s team asked for me to give them footage for the documentary. On a whim early last December, I drove down the #NJTurnpike and the Garden State Parkway to Exit 98 (of course listening to #EStreetRadio) filming and photographing all the way down. Driving the highway, particularly down to the #JerseyShore, is not only home to me, but also hallmark #Springsteen.
I visited all of my favorite childhood haunts and filmed in town, from the South End, past the old Monmouth Hotel (a real relic which no longer stands, but is firmly etched in my memory), and the #Essex&SussexHotel. I took this route purposely, because my grandmother’s house was on the North End, pretty close to the gates of the neighboring town of #Belmar. As I approached her street, the police barricades were up and Hurricane Sandy’s devastation was visible. I decided it was time for me to take that ride to the other side around the corner. As I did, I saw the entire boardwalk on the corner of Ocean & Monroe Avenue lifted up onto Ocean Avenue itself. And so, I broke the promise I made to myself, drove right by 9 Monroe Avenue, looking at a new house in place of what I had known my entire life, and then drove right up to the barricade, where the pent up emotions filled my being, and cried my eyes out. I am happy to say that my grandmother’s house and my childhood and adult emotional attachment to 9 Monroe Avenue is still firmly intact and nothing will ever change that, not even the new structure in its place. I also experienced the real emotion of letting go and moving on, empathizing for the real losses from this devastating storm, appreciating how lucky I am to have had a gift of so many wonderful memories, of looking out from my grandmother’s screened-in porch onto a shimmering Atlantic, when others have lost their homes, their belongings, their loved ones. On that day, I gained perspective of how much I have been given and how grateful I am for a roof over my head, my friends and family, my health, and my life.
What I also realized on that trip was that greatness and brilliance was yet again, right next door under my nose the entire time, for my entire life! 10th Avenue and E Street in Belmar is a very short distance from my grandmother’s home. Growing up, I always knew that Bruce was from and on the Jersey Shore, but I thought it was somewhere else, much farther down the boardwalk. Even later in life when I had close friends in #Rumson and #Sea Bright, I never realized how close that brilliance was to where I spent so many summer days in my summer clothes, on the “’hood of a Dodge drinking warm beer” – well, ok, not really on the hood of a Dodge, but next to my Uncle Tom’s Dodge Dart in the driveway at 9 Monroe Avenue in #SpringLake #NewJersey. I think I even learned to drive on that car, so hopefully that counts, though the song Jungleland conjures images of something much more enticing!
2013 was not a particularly good year for me. I was not able to seize the day and synthesize my Springsteen and I footage to accompany the very personal narrative that I still have yet to share. I still have it all on my Mac, and I still will produce my little feature, even if it is just for myself and to say that I did. The producers asked the fans for three words to describe what Springsteen means to me. There are so many great words to describe him, and I really have had a hard time choosing them, though I feel pretty strongly about the words/themes I have decided to pursue. In short and to me, he is the not only the greatest musician, storyteller, and live performer ever, but also one of the greatest American exports we have, along with democracy, APPLE computer, and yes, General Motors and Ford. Now it’s time to put those themes to work, not just for my own Springsteen and I, but most importantly for me, my own life, my own narrative. For the purpose of ending the year on a high and lighter note, I have the perfect three words to describe him, the essence of what he means to me, and in theme with light and illumination:
LIT FROM WITHIN.
May your Christmas be merry & bright, and in 2014, may you be lit from within.
To my family, my friends, Daniel’s Music Foundation, to my “blood brothers”: May we all be blessed with the spirit of being lit from within this holiday season, but most importantly for 2014, to never take it for granted, and to find that light within each and every one of us, every moment we have here on this Earth. The light is always there – from the sun, the moon, the stars, the rainbow. Grab some of it, find that spark, light it, keep it lit, shine your brightest light possible. Find that external beacon that helps you to find it within you. Mr. Springsteen has certainly challenged me to rise up to the challenge, so let’s find it. Who’s in? As Bruce says, “Let me see your hands!”
If you aren’t in that festive, holiday spirit this year, then please join me at one of the shows in 2014 because the light shining from his spirit will at least light you up, if not from within, then just for one night. May you have a very Blessed Holiday, and as the Boss always says, “I’ll be seein’ ‘ya”. I might add….lit from within.
“Now we’re out here on this road
On this road tonight
Close my eyes and feel so many friends around me
In the early evening light
And the miles we have come
And the battles won and lost
Are just so many roads traveled, so many rivers crossed
And I ask God for the strength, and faith in one another
‘Cause its a good night for a ride, cross’ this river to the other side
My Blood Brothers” – Bruce Springsteen