Feeling pretty damn satisfied

I have this “I can’t wait until…” thing. Like, “I can’t wait to go home for Christmas break;” “I can’t wait till graduation;” “Oooh, I can’t wait to take a break from working;” and the most recent biggie: “I can’t wait to finish this damn thesis.” I’m constantly looking forward to something. Relatively happy, but for this one nagging circumstance that stands between me and ultimate happiness. When the objectives are achieved, I think there’s usually a moment (whether that’s actually a moment or several months) of celebrated achievement. Graduations from both undergrad and law school were acknowledged by spending a couple of months in Ghana, for example.  But for the most part, I spend my time anticipating something better.

The school I couldn’t wait to get into became the school from which I couldn’t wait to graduate. And the city to which I couldn’t wait to move became the city I couldn’t wait to leave (I’m not talking about Amsterdam here, promise). Kind of like a traveling version of “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction.”

But I think most of my anticipated next steps were actual upgrades, whether strategic or indulgent. And after getting through the recent full-time student dysfunction, I think I reached a real clearing.  Maybe there really was some sense to my madness.  Nowadays I’m spending about 90% of my productive time on turning my nonprofit fantasy into a real thing, splitting my time between research in the archives, meeting with remarkably brilliant and inspiring people, and doing laptop-type work from home – oftentimes outside on the porch  (maybe another 5% of productive time is spent on naps – I have no reason to be dishonest).  This was definitely the outcome I couldn’t wait for as I drudged through every forced word of my thesis (about a topic I love, mind you).  But could this also be one of the main points I’ve been anxious to reach all along?  

Living in a place I genuinely enjoy and feeling entirely on purpose, I’m finally feeling pretty damn satisfied.

Not to say I’m not still looking forward to the day I don’t have to worry about money. And absolutely by no means has everything fallen into place seamlessly.  I just have to remember to enjoy those challenges.  These are the types of problems for which I’ve been waiting!

And now, since I’ve been silent for an extended period, I’ll share a mostly unrelated story:

A few nights ago I went to an event in the center of town.  I walked the half mile (or so) to the bus stop.  And I took the bus (1.60 SRD).  The buses are essentially vans – if you appreciate a Ghana reference, they’re like decent tro-tros without the mates.  Vague stop locations, uncomfortable middle seats that require constantly lifting your seat to get out of the way, and a relatively cheap fare paid when exiting. Everyone seems to know what’s going on, even when it’s completely unclear.  And I always feel like the only one anxiously looking over my shoulder when an unexpected turn is made, strategically plotting my exit strategy.

But anyway, there are a couple of bus routes that now make me feel like a local. So I was relatively confident on this night, flagging the poorly lit and barely distinguishable bus after dark. Although sometimes I get on and sit down in one of the awkward middle seats before I realize that I’ve walked irrevocably far from a preferred seat, this time I got a window seat in one of the ideal rows – right by the door and only an arm’s reach from the driver.  But as I settled into the best seat I had ever gotten, I became aware of a strange silence. Everyone was super still, looking forward. It felt kind of eerie – too calm.

But I wasn’t finished reflecting on the weird quiet people before Pebbles started singing “Mercedes Boy.”  It turns out this bus had driven straight out of my 80s-music-loving subconscious.  And it took every ounce of power I had not to dance through the whole ride. Eventually I reached my stop and had to leave the most favorite-weirdo-80s-bus-of-my-dreams during “Don’t Disturb This Groove.”  Bizarrely, it was the first stop the bus made since I had gotten on.  And when I got off, the bus waited at least 45 seconds before pulling off. I could still faintly hear the music as I turned the corner.

After the event, I hoped to retrieve my 80s-dream-bus bliss on another reasonably priced ride home.  But someone offered to drive me.  And for a second I actually thought, “damn, I couldn’t wait to take the bus.”

Prince…among other producers of awesomeness

When I heard that Prince would be performing in the Netherlands, of course I knew I would be there for at least one of the shows.  Other than my guaranteed presence, I didn’t know anything about the context of the performances.  Would it be a European extension of the Welcome to America tour?  No clue.  But obviously it didn’t matter.  As you know by now, Prince could show up in a bathrobe, perform karaoke Backstreet Boys, and I would cry tears of joy from the very back row of a stadium.  The context really didn’t matter.

But it turns out the context was almost as cool as Prince himself.  The North Sea Jazz Festival is an annual weekend of incredible music in Rotterdam.  Each day offers an unreal line-up of artists on separate stages.  So not only must you decide which day(s) to attend, you must also sketch at least a loose schedule to be sure you get a taste of everything you want to see and hear.  Prince closed-out each day of the festival – Friday, Saturday, and Sunday.  Since I could only afford one day (and barely that), I chose Sunday, with the hopes that he would save the best for last.  The other artists scheduled for that day would be a bonus.  But honestly, I didn’t know who else would be there until after I purchased a ticket.  Some of the artists from other days who I sadly missed were Chaka Khan, Janelle Monae, and Esperanza Spalding.

So Sunday in Rotterdam.  It was going to be tricky.  Prince wasn’t scheduled to finish until 1:30am (the earliest of all three days).  And since I don’t know anyone in the city, I thought about staying in a cheap hotel for the night.  That was going to be expensive and likely a hastle to get to after the show. So I decided I would either rely on a combination of taxis and night trains to get me back to Amsterdam after the festivities were over, or commit to partying all night until I could return home in daylight.  As it turned out, sometime during Snoop Dogg’s performance, I decided it would be an all-nighter.

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I arrived at the festival a little bit after 5pm.  The main stages were all indoors, which seemed unusual.  It felt like a mall of live shows, with arrows pointing to the various “rooms,” for the performances.  Everyone carried around little schedules for the day, listing at least eight options for any given time.  Music poured out from every which way…to the right, in the back, upstairs.   Lesser-known bands  (all high quality) performed  on smaller stages outside, which felt like refreshing transition spaces between the big shows.  Anywhere I walked, at any time in the day, I could find something new, and likely exciting.

In addition to the music there were food and drink stands all over the place.  But to purchase anything, I had to hand over a wad of cash to get tokens, the only accepted currency throughout the festival (a stroke of capitalist genius).  I turned in token after token for beer, dutch pancakes, and apparently some other stuff.  Because by the time I reached Prince, I had to purchase more tokens.

The first main performance I saw was Raphael Saadiq.  And it was a legitimate, 1.25 hour show.  I pushed my way toward the front and danced along with the equally hype crowd.  Brilliant. The next big one was Tom Jones.  I didn’t stay for the middle of his performance, as I was distracted by another band outside.  But I did return just in time for him to close with his version of Kiss, which felt fitting.  I danced like I was the biggest Tom Jones fan in the room, which I can assure you I was not.

Snoop Dogg was next in the same spot.  So lots of folks just waited in the hot venue for him to come.  And perhaps to everyone’s surprise, he started on time.  Rage opened up for him.  I was happy to see her and her afro puffs, rockin’ on with her bad self.  Warren G was also there.  And of course they did a Nate Dogg tribute.  Tall Dutch people in front of me prevented me from seeing everything.  So I’m pretty sure I missed some scantily clad ladies doing whatever it is that they do.  But it was for the best.  I enjoyed the music without having to see everything.  And I danced to the point of exhaustion and sweaty discomfort.

Oh, and then there was Bootsy Collins!  He’s a legend who I imagined I would never see perform live.  But there he was, in all of his funky, sequined glory. At this point, I was just so thoroughly entertained, it almost didn’t matter that Prince was starting in 30 minutes.

But yeah right.  I had to leave Bootsy early.  On my way out, I grabbed a piece of apple pie and briefly stopped for a jam session happening in the hallway.  But then the pie and I made our way over to Prince’s venue, almost in a jog.

I fear I’ve already gone on too long before getting to the best part.  Shoot.  So the show wasn’t nearly as flashy as the stateside version.  He started off with ballads on a barely lit stage.  And then we got a bunch of the classics, as he gave a shout to those of us who understood.  And I have to say that was most of the crowd, an incredible crowd of like-minded lovers of Prince.  Two encores later, it was 3am.  He left the stage.  But about 25 percent of the crowd refused to believe it was over.  We shouted, chanted, and banged on chairs.  But when they finally took away the mics at 3:30, we accepted that he was long gone.

I took a taxi to an after party, with the hopes that I would dance down a soul train line with Prince and Bootsy. But no such luck.  But I did hear some more live music that kept me going until after 5am, at which time I was completely faded.

With incredibly sore feet and blurred vision, I walked to the train station in daylight. And I rode the train back to Amsterdam with grown-ups who were starting their Monday morning after full nights of sleep.  But as crazy as I must have looked, and as exhausted as I was, it was a perfectly fitting ending to one of my favorite days in the Netherlands.

Welcome 2 America – Well, thank you, Prince.

I was with Prince last night – at Madison Square Garden.

As you may know, I sincerely love Prince.  And I’ve loved him pretty much for as long as I’ve appreciated music.  Really, he’s one of the reasons I appreciate music.  Although I didn’t learn the meaning of many of the lyrics until much later, I always understood the brilliance of it all.  His voice, every instrument, the moves, individuality, ridiculously cool, and really sassy – but yet so quiet and shy.  He’s my ultimate.

In a way, my borderline worship becomes a problem when it comes to expectations.  I build him up in my head, enjoying each time I see a video of him or hear any of his songs as much as a normal person would enjoy a big cupcake or a peppermint patty – delighted, satisfied, and a bit blissful.  When it comes time to see him in person – live, in the same room with him – it makes me a little nervous.  Is that weird?

First, I worry I won’t enjoy the moments together if they have to be shared with thousands of people.  It’s too important to me for it to be so public.  And it’s a 100 percent guarantee that those people won’t understand me or what I feel for him.  They’ll be assholes who think they’re cool because they know all of the words to 1999, but have never heard of Lovesexy.  Or they’ll constantly complain that they miss the nasty Prince since he no longer grinds on the stage or performs Darling Nikki.  Or, worst of all, they won’t want to dance.

But then the unreasonable fear is that he’ll disappoint me.  How could he disappoint me, we all wonder.  We all know that he could walk on stage and curse us all out, and I would simply gaze into his eyes.  But the small fear is there.  He’ll walk on stage and for the first time in my life, I’ll wonder what all the fuss is about, basically questioning my faith.  Seeing him in person could reveal the lack of true depth of my love – I’ll be exposed as a fraud (even though now I’m exposing myself as a crazy person).

So Prince concerts come with a bit of anxiety.  The first opportunity I had to see him was in 2004.  A friend bought me a ticket to see him for shortly after I moved to Oakland.  It was the Musicology tour.  I loved that album.  And Prince was just recovering from a bit of a nonsense period – so it was good to have him back.  It was the perfect way to welcome myself to Oakland.  The only problem was timing.  The concert was on Thursday, September 9, 2004, about two weeks after my move.  My father died on Saturday, September 4th.  I flew right back to Philadelphia.  But several days later I returned to Oakland to commit to the move, and to see Prince.  I figured Dad would have been pissed if I chose to sit around and mope rather than enjoy Prince for a couple of hours.  So I did.  At least I did my best.  The concert was amazing.  He did old and new, and it felt like a party.  But I’m pretty sure I cried through parts.  Not really what I imagined my mood to be at a Prince concert.

Six years later, I got my second chance.  At almost an exact opposite time in my life (I’m super happy, I’m moving east rather than west, I’m chasing not running), the Welcome 2 America tour feels like perfect timing.  Less than a month before I leave “America,” only Prince could provide me with such an ironic send-off.  And it was perfect.  Well, Prince was perfect.  And the music was perfect.  And my seat was perfect.

in the red, in the middle - that's Prince

There were only two problems.  I was sitting alone since I wasn’t able to get a group of 3 seats together to sit with my friends.  And then there were grumpsters sitting next to me – literally sitting.  How can you sit through Purple Rain, you freaks!! (I wanted to scream that, but didn’t).  How can you have your arms tightly crossed over your chest during Let’s Go Crazy, you no-good-party-poopers!  And how does the mere sight of Sheila E. not make your head want to explode, you monsters!  Fortunately, my annoyance with my neighbors was peripheral.  I danced like I was auditioning for America’s Got Talent (if my talent were fanaticism).  And I screamed so very much – I even gave myself a pep talk that involved accepting the fact that I may do permanent damage to my voice.  And plenty of other good people around us came prepared for the party.

And that’s what it was – a party.  A party with Prince.  A really great party.  I didn’t mind that it wasn’t an intimate setting.   And it solidly confirmed my genuine love and appreciation for him.  It’s a real thing.   And I’m coming to terms with the fact that I narrowly missed an opportunity to go to the after party (damn me and my uncharged phone).

Really, nothing could make a night with Prince anything less than perfect.  Thanks for the right send-off, my friend!