Wednesday, January 5, 2011

THE OLD MAN AT THE ROCK CONCERT

The late summer of nineteen seventy five was my last as bachelor.  I had graduated from high school, had a decent professional job and was going to get married in November of that year.  I was accustomed to going to concerts to see some of my heroes play their music for me.  Starting in seventy three I had begun to trade in going to the concerts with "the boys" and started taking my soon to be wife with me.  I am not sure if she enjoyed the music as much as I did but she was a good sport and went to see acts that she had never heard of before.  This was the summer I was going to take her to see the keyboard genius of Rick Wakeman.

Rick Wakeman was considered one of the best at playing the keyboards.  He was best known for his work in the rock group Yes but had recently started doing solo work.  He did concept albums and for those of us who loved the new progressive electronic rock, Wakeman was a god.  His first album told the story of the six wives of Henry the Eighth.  He followed that with an album telling Jules Verne's Journey To The Center Of The Earth.  This album rocketed him into superstar status.  There was very little vocals on his albums as he preferred to tell the tales through the music.  He was a master at it.. 

His third album was released in seventy five and was based on King Arthur and the Knights of the round table.  I had bought the album as soon as it was released and as far as I was concerned it was his best work to date.  The man just seemed to be getting better and better.  It was during that summer that it was announced that Wakeman would be coming to Kansas City to perform the King Arthur work.  I immediately bought two tickets with the intent of letting Barb see what a genius at work looked like.

As the day drew near her friends and family planned a wedding shower for her.  They planned it for the night of the Wakeman concert.  I begged and pleaded for Barb to beg off the wedding shower to see the master keyboardist but she felt that a wedding shower was more important or more fun, I really don't know what was going through her mind.  I knew that if it was me facing her situation that Rick Wakeman would definitely come first.  I ended up taking my little brother with me instead indicating that I obviously lost the argument on how important this event was.

My little brother and I arrived at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas early and settled in for what would turn out to be one of the best concerts I ever attended.  My little brother didn't know much about Wakeman but I recall he was very impressed by the end of the show.  Wakeman could make a fan out of anyone.

When the Hall went dark and you could see figures moving into place on the stage the tension in the little building increased.  This was it, the moment that all three thousand of us gathered there had been waiting for.  The lights came up and there he was surrounded by keyboards and synthesizers and a huge grand piano.  He was on a platform above the rest of his band and his long straight blond hair fell almost to his waist.  He was wearing his trademark gold cape around his shoulders as he began racing those magic fingers across those keys.  He would be stretched out with his right hand on one keyboard and his left on another playing them as if they were one instrument.

I sat there in a trance as I let his music pour over me and into my very soul.  I had heard the songs before but to see it performed, to hear it performed was a whole new experience.  I do not have the proper words to describe the feeling that his music forced into my head and my chest and my feet.  I would not feel this overwhelmed at a concert again until I saw Frank Sinatra some years later.

As the concert progressed I began my usual habit of people watching.  I was trying to take in the whole atmosphere of the night and the crowd was a big part of it.  Then he caught my eye.  At the end of the row we were sitting in was a little old man.  I am not sure how old but at that point in my life, he was definitely old.  I had never seen anyone this old at any of the rock concerts I had attended and wouldn't see anyone this old at a concert again until I would see Sinatra.

Some members of the crowd were standing putting their whole bodies into motion with the music.  The little old man just sat still, leaning forward as if to catch every note coming off of that stage.  He held a cane in his left hand.  As the man was focusing on the music his cane was moving up and down tapping on the floor to the rhythm of the music.  I nudged my little brother and motioned for him to look at what I was observing.  He smiled a little and watched the man along with me for awhile.

I kept one eye on him the rest of the evening and he never changed his position or his cane tapping.  this little old man was totally into this great new progressive rock that was telling the story of King Arthur.  When the concert ended and we stood to leave the Hall I looked back at the little old man with the cane.  He was sitting back in his seat now observing all the young people leaving and he had a satisfied look on his face.  He had felt the same genius as the rest of us felt that night.  The music had spoken to him and he had relived the message.

It only confirmed my thinking that Rick Wakeman was such a master at his art that he could make anyone a fan of his music.  Anyone.

Video of Rick Wakeman performing King Arthur

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