Raised On Rock

“It’s great to be here. It’s great to be anywhere.”
-Keith Richards

Keith Richards turns an immortal 71 today. I wrote this for him.
And for my dad. And for me.

Anais Nin said, “we write to taste life twice”, and I say that perhaps we write to taste it twice, and then read those words over and over to dine on life for the rest of our days. Perhaps we write to create appendages to things, and moments, and feelings already beautiful in their own right.

There’s a sense of surrealistic wonder that comes from experiencing something you never thought in your realm of possibility. Maybe that thing was seemingly “un”possible because it is theoretically impossible- like, swimming with mermaids (a girl can dream). Or, maybe it is seemingly impossible merely because it is beyond the scope of your resources or ability or dedication, like, initiating a successful ban against mayonnaise (a girl can dream). And then there are some impossibilities that glimmer with potential even though their proximity of attainment or their theoretic probability is completely unfavorable. Like, seeing the Rolling Stones with your dad before one of them disintegrates. (A dream come true!) How does one even begin to describe what it feels like when the glimmer of one of those hoped for future memories flickers and burgeons and is all of the sudden a tangible, incandescent moment in time? And even though you are quite literally part of it, the whole experience is completely surreal. It’s as if the moment itself is a floating glass bubble that you can peer into and be inside of, all at the same time.

Let me preface the illustration of this particular glass-bubble experience by setting its stage somewhat. Two years ago, my dad and I were driving home for Thanksgiving and in what has now become standard practice, The Rolling Stones were on full rotation. We sang along and remarked on this lyric or that riff all while bemoaning and condemning the unremitting bleakness that is a Utah winter. As we were contemplating what contemporary rock-and-roll band could stand the test of time as well as the Stones have (we couldn’t come up with any), Gimme Shelter took its turn on the rotation, and we both, independent of any provocation from the other, immediately began our own air-renditions of Keith Richards’ first few unmistakable, indelible chords. With smiles from ear to ear, we relished in its craftsmanship as well as its ability to spark aesthetic devotion even forty years after its creation.

If you asked me to list the quintessential components of a pleasing moment, I would urge that, in its most ideal delivery, it must have three things:

1). Something sonorous for the senses.
2). Something meaningful to the soul.
3). Something that reminds you how simple happiness can be.
*4). If you laugh anywhere in between, well that is just the (buttercream) frosting on the cake.

Most time I spend in the company of my dad has at least two out of three (and always the laughing). But those four minutes and thirty-seven seconds had all three. And that Gourmet Cheeses of the World gift basket-esque delivery of a pleasing moment (I love cheese almost as much as I love The Stones. And my dad.) really would have been enough. But, sometimes life donates itself in the most generous of ways. That night in the car, as my dad and I were unwittingly checking into our very own Memory Motel, our air instruments in tow, the Universe must’ve been cantillating (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, because It wasn’t content. On the contrary; it had so much more to give. Two years after that car ride, my darling dad and I stood no more than 15-feet from a (miraculously) living, breathing, guitar-slinging Keith, and watched his pirate-y, cigarette-wielding fingers orchestrate that signature opening riff of Gimme Shelter we have come to revere so deeply. And in all my 31 years on this plentiful planet, there have been few things that have thrilled me more than that manifestation. Seeing my dad smile from ear to ear and sing every. last. word. of every. last. song. was a whole new form of heroic to me. He was teary-eyed during the songs that Keith sang because those were some of Uncle Brad’s favorites. He was personified Joy during Sympathy For the Devil, his favorite. But each song, in its own right,  brought a different current of appreciation for them and their music, and affirmation of the bond that all of it has fused between me and my Pops.

It was a truly eudemonic night for my anachronistic soul. As each Stone rolled onto the stage, it occurred to me that one of my deepest regrets is not having been born twenty years earlier. I languor in wondering what it must have been like to see them in their beginnings, and to feel the changing tides of the country undulate with their sound. I know  I’ve disbosomed this before {here and here}, but there is no other experience that rivals the magic of seeing a song. I’d heard so many of these anthems since childhood, not having any idea how much I would come to love them as an adult. One thing I love about The Stones is that they are not just practitioners of sound, they are purists and disciples of it. They love music. Keith and Mick’s first album purchases were blues records; it was an appreciation for blues pioneers such as Chuck Berry, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed that brought them together in the first place. In a letter to his aunt, Keith wrote of his first chance encounter with Mick after not having seen him since their grade-school days: “He’s got every record Chuck Berry ever made and all his mates have too. They are all rhythm and blues fans, real R&B, I mean… Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Chuck, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker, all the Chicago bluesmen, real lowdown stuff, marvelous…”. {Sidenote: Keith would later induct Chuck Berry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In his presentation speech, he dubbed Berry as the “gentleman who started it all, as far as I’m concerned“. If that doesn’t give you chills, then clearly, you have no soul.) Brian (RIP) and Charlie, Mick and Keith- they were all true devotees. Just watch Keith and Mick play alongside Buddy Guy during their Beacon Theater performance in 2006. Keith swirls around Buddy like an apprentice eager to prove how he’s mastered the trade, and Mick, of whose “blues harp” skills Keith has acclaimed as “one of the best… in the world”, ministers his harmonica like an offering at the altar of blues that is Buddy Guy himself. In an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, Keith reflects on the opportunities he has taken to see the votaries who left a trail of musical bread crumbs that he would eventually follow, the  iconic likes of Otis Redding and Etta James. So, for me, it is more than just the music they make. It is their respect for the art of what they and those before them have done- this abiding appreciation for the music that bound them together, before they made the music that binds them together.

That night was one of those hoped-for future memories that, to me, seemed about as probable as swimming with mermaids. But, of all life’s little marvels, perhaps this is my favorite: when through no workings of your own (contrived or otherwise), you are granted a sky-high, buttercream frosting’d piece of happiness, and there are no conditions. It simply finds its way to you, weaves you into its existence, and becomes yours to keep for as long as you let it endure inside of you. These become integral moments, not only for the beautiful imprint they leave on our souls, but because they remind us that happiness is not a depleting resource, and sometimes the stars align in precisely the pattern you hoped they would. I may never stand that close to my beloved Keith Richards again, but it won’t matter. Because I got to, once. And that is exactly the kind of waking dream that makes you never want to fall asleep again.

Peace and Love. And Rock and Roll.

P.S. I found this wildly appropriate:


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