“I stand here at the bar, I hold an empty glass” – Pete Townshend, “Empty Glass”
A belated Happy New Year to all of you out there! I hope everyone had a safe and fun holiday season. I have to admit, I’m just happy I survived it… all the events, the family politics, the sensitive feelings… Covid. Thank God it’s over. I know not everybody feels that way. I know the Rock Chick has gone into her annual post-holiday funk. She invests so much into it – and she really does a lovely job – when Xmas is over she can’t help but feel let down. I know there are a lot of people like her. I think even those of you who love the holidays can use a break when January rolls its ugly face onto the calendar. My corporate masters have seen to it that both the end of every year and the beginning of another are painfully busy so I haven’t had a lot of time for rock n roll. Oh sure, with the advent of the “mute” button one might walk past my home office and hear both conference call discussions and at the same time Neil Young singing “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” in the background. My 13 year old self would be proud.
What people tend to forget this time of year is that Winter really only just began. Winter’s official start is on December 21st, aka the Winter Solstice. Strange we celebrate Christmas around that time… it’s almost as if the Church co-opted Pagan holidays and aligned their significant dates to that calendar. It gives you pause or it should. Anyway, since Winter only officially began, we have 3 hard months ahead of us. Seasonal affect, the depression some people feel during this gray and cold time of year is real. I dated a woman, years ago, who would wilt like a flower without the sun. I took her to Miami one January and it was like she’d gotten a blood transfusion. The next thing I knew she was cavorting around the beach topless. I can’t say much about those days only that I love Miami but I digress. Sadly I don’t live in a sunny climate. I live in the American Midwest so it’s relentless gray cold. If you’re out there and you’re feeling blue, reach out to a friend. You’re not alone. We should all treat mental health issues very seriously.
In terms of all of this post-holiday funk, winter blues, crappy time at work I have resorted to the dreaded Dry January, as is my annual habit. I actually started doing this, in miniature, years ago in my mid-20s. I spent a lot of New Year’s Eves/New Year’s Days in Chicago visiting my friends Doug and Bert (name changed to protect the guilty). Every year was the same thing. We’d go out in the cold slushy streets of Chicago to some party a bar was throwing and drink a whole lot in search of that elusive New Year’s Eve hook up. The closest I ever came to that goal was a guy we knew named Brian ambushing me with a head butt. I think I was concussed. Of course there was the one year Doug disappeared with a woman leaving Bert and I alone in some tent. It was virtually impossible to get a cab as there was a sniper at Cabrini-Green in the projects. We finally had to fist fight a couple of South Side chicks in order to get a cab. After one of them body checked me against the rear quarter-panel, I jumped in and pulled as hard as I could to close the door and the handle came off in my hand. Bert was left to slug it out with those ladies. I think he had a black eye. I’m certain one of those gals had done time. He had to battle around the cab in order to get in. He still accuses me of cowardice in the face of the enemy on that one. Bert, I broke the cab’s door. I’m sorry.
After those big, long weekends in Chicago I did something strange for a man in his 20s. Who am I kidding, I did this into my mid 30s. Whether I was in my Arkansas exile or Kansas City in the later years, I would take the first weekend in January, like this very weekend, and I would retreat to Pittsburg, Kansas, a small hamlet in the southeast part of the state, to see my grandmother. Both my grandmothers lived in Pittsburg but at the time one of them had gone into a home with dementia. I loved both my grandmothers. My Grandma Marj was a wonderful woman and I loved her with all my heart. She would sit at the kitchen table for hours talking to us. She’d ask about our lives and oddly for an adult in those days, she seemed interested in the answers we gave. She made you feel like an adult, like you were important. I’m sad that I didn’t get to spend time with her in those later years. My presence seemed to confuse her. I asked her, the last time I went by, if she knew who I was. She pointed to a picture of me she had on her shelves and said, “You’re the man in that picture.” I remember wiping tears from my eyes as I walked to the exit. Mom told me to stop going by…
So in those later years, I’d go to Pittsburg the first weekend in January, post-New Year’s Eve in Chicago and I’d have my “Dry Grandma’s Weekend” with my other grandmother, Frances. I wish every day I had met the Rock Chick earlier so she and my stepdaughter could have met Frances. She was a ton of fun. She always wanted to play a game. She and I would have epic Crazy-8 card games when I was a child. While I loved her dearly, she was an ungracious winner who constantly accused me of cheating…which I would deny. But in truth, because of her habit of standing up and dancing around the table when she would beat me, yes, I cheated. There it is Grandma. Again, I’m sorry. As an adult I’d call her on a Friday morning and ask if I could come visit. She usually had plans to play bingo – the woman loved to gamble – and she’d sound bummed that I’d ruined her games of chance. But by the time I pulled in on Friday night she’d have a jar full of freshly baked chocolate cookies and a pie made from scratch. She’d pull that off in a matter of 4 hours. We’d always go to Chicken Mary’s with Frances’ sister, my beloved aunt Molly. Frances would slip me 40 bucks before Molly arrived and tell me to insist on paying. Molly never let Frances pay for her dinner but she’d let me. “Games people play, when they wanna say ‘I love you’…” Sadly all of that ended in 1999 when Frances passed. She’d been at the hair dresser and was heading home to watch an NFL playoff game (I’m guessing she had money on the Broncos) when she passed. I wept like a child that day as I did for both my grandmothers.
Those weekends in Pittsburg, where I drank absolutely nothing were a strangely refreshing thing in my life. It was like a booze and emotional reset. I’d relax in the company of these old ladies and do everything I could to make them laugh. It was like getting off the party treadmill I was on for just that brief moment to get clarity. Its probably not dissimilar to the Buddhist concept of letting go of the wheel of suffering…and believe me my life had a lot of suffering in those days. I’d take time during the dry weekend to contemplate the coming year and assess how little I’d accomplished up to that point. When my grandmother died, I decided I’d start doing a Dry January in earnest to honor both my wonderful grandmothers. I remember when my friend Al (named changed to protect the guilty) who I was hanging out with at the time, joined me one year. He hated hanging out in bars trying to talk to women while we were both stone cold sober but he hung in there with me. He’d always say we were holding hands and skipping away from looking really gay. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…but we were both single men in our 30s, tall and thin. Even my sainted mother was wondering…
Anyway, last year my friend Doug joined me in the endeavor, but this year at the request of his family he’ll not be joining me in Dry January. So I’m going it alone this year. And like those years so long ago in Pittsburg, for me it’s a chance to reset. I love a good tumbler of bourbon on a cold winter’s eve but not so in January. I’m going to get through the mess that is my work life right now, listen to as much rock n roll as I can and try to get my bearings. I read on the internet recently – so it’s gotta be true – that even quitting drinking for one month has amazing health benefits so there’s that. I’m more focused on the mental health benefits. I hate to admit it but I tend to lose a few pounds during Dry January. I actually sleep better. Like most people I’ve got a few things I need to sort out this year and a clear perspective may just help me do it. I’m like all of you, I’m just trying to fight off the darkness inherent in our existence and fight toward the light.
To all of you out there, again, Happy New Year. I hope you’ll join us here at B&V in 2022 for what appears to be an exciting year for rock n roll. I don’t make resolutions but I will say, I’m hopeful to see a few more concerts this year. I really dug getting back to the live music experience – standing in the dark with strangers in a communal setting, vibing on music – at 311 and Joan Jett/Cheap Trick last year. I want to get back to that!! And maybe, just maybe, we’ll get that new Stones album I’ve been hoping for over a decade now… Hopefully you’re all safe and happy. Stay warm and stay cheerful. It’s too easy to get down in January.