You know how sometimes a day goes just the way you imagined?
Or maybe not just the way you imagined, but even better than that?
I had one of those days, last summer, when we went to see Nick Lowe in concert.
I thought I might write about it then, but the days got away from me and it seemed weird to write about something we’d done a month or two earlier and then, whattaya know, it’s winter and then it’s spring and here we are, seven months later, and the bright, lucid perfectness of the day has faded into a softly-focused, rounded-corner, old photo of a day. No less perfect, but less specific. In another seven months, what will be left?
Here’s what I’m remembering, so that you can picture the day, and so that I will, too.
It’s a post-card, blue-sky summer day, and H and I are sitting in the station in White River Junction, waiting on a train, laughing at the signs in the station.
The train will be an hour late, but then it’s only 24 minutes late, and we feel like it’s early because its lateness is earlier than we’d expected. And we get on board and there are seats galore and the sunshine is streaming in the windows and we’re about to enter that matchlessly lazy zone where you’re in transit and there’s just nothing you can do but BE, read a book, buy a snack you don’t need in the cafe car, and watch the river and the backyards fuzz by the windows in a blur.
And the conductor who punched our tickets tells us our stop is coming, and we prepare to arrive at a station where we’ve never been before, and we, along with a handful of others, disembark in the mid-morning sun, blinking, like coming up from underground, and start walking towards town.
Our walk takes us up a hill, along a painted yellow fence that protects Emily Dickinson’s house from the road. And I briefly entertain the thought of stopping for a tour, but we have another agenda, and that is finding the bus that will take us from Amherst to Northampton.
Up the hill and it’s hot and the sun is glaring and we spot a bookstore, which is welcoming enough on its own, where I can ask about the bus. Minutes later, H has found a book of British slang she wants, and the friendly clerk at the register who sells me the book also knows which bus to take, where the bus stops (within sight of the store) and when (five minutes), and H and I are out the door, new book in hand, catching the bus, paying our fare, snagging seats at the back.
And the bus deposits us in the middle of Northampton and we’re famished and the only thing that will satisfy is a burger and fries and lo and behold there’s a burger place, where we end up sitting by the open front windows, reading H’s new book and watching people drift by.
And then we have the afternoon to waste, because the concert doesn’t start for hours (though we want to line up earlier than that because it’s first-come, first seating) and waste it we do, window shopping, talking, hanging out in a cafe.
Later, we line up outside the Iron Horse (sixth in line) and listen to the people around us talking about concerts they’ve been to and concerts they’re going to, music they love. And the line accumulates behind us, which feels more than satisfactory. It feel like we’ve somehow earned our spot, though, really, it’s nothing other than by virtue of being able to take the day off so that we could arrive early.
And the doors open at the appointed time and the waitress offers to seat us at a little table for three to the side and I’m the sort of person who usually says, “okay” at someone else’s suggestion, but, instead, I point to the table for six that’s right in the center, touching the stage, and ask if we can sit there. “Sure. If you don’t mind sharing the table.”
I don’t mind in the least.
And then we’re ordering snacks and drinks and craning our necks in the direction of the front door because M is supposed to be coming through that door any minute (he’s driven down to meet us) and then finally he’s there and walking towards us and we’re all where we’re supposed to be, together, all at the same time, on a warm August evening.
It’s become perfect and the concert hasn’t even started yet.
And the opening act, Kim Richey, is fun and she sings some gorgeous songs that I didn’t write down so now can’t remember but I do remember the feeling of hearing them and wanting them to go on and on.
And then she’s done.
And then he comes on stage. And he’s older than he used to be. And so am I. But his voice is true and pure and he’s got that mischievous grin and he starts playing and singing and then we know, yes, this is going to be great.
And it was. He couldn’t possibly sing all of the songs I wanted him to in one concert, but he sang a lot of them.*
And we were right there, and he finished a song, and he looked down at our table, at our upturned faces, and he lifted his eyebrows and said, “Thank you,” and it seemed he was saying it right to us. So I said, “Thank you” back.
He won’t remember that. He won’t remember how we sang along, practically every word, practically every song. You could tell he was having fun, but it was just another stop, another concert on the tour for him. But I won’t forget what music can do. Or what being in the place where you want to be with the people you love feels like. Or how you know a favorite song from the very first note. Or how it feels to drive up a dark highway late at night, homeward bound, songs on the radio, songs running through your head, reliving the day, already forging an imperfect perfect memory that will last and last.
Happy Birthday, Mr. Lowe. May there be many more.
*August 20, 2013, Iron Horse Music Hall set list
Where’s my Everything?
Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day
She’s Got Soul
I’ve Let Things Slide
Has She Got a Friend?
I’ve Trained Her to Love Me
I Live on a Battlefield
A Dollar Short of Happy
Cruel to be Kind
Somebody Cares for Me
House for Sale
I Knew the Bride
When I Write the Book
(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding