Making the Music Perfect

Larry standing proudly in front of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame

My blog is about the music that I love. Though I set out to write about musicianship and songwriting craft, I often find myself talking just as much about my own life. Where I was when I first heard a song, or what was happening in my life at the time. My life informs the music that I love, and the music I love informs my life.

When I think about the music I listen to, I think about my family and friends, and I was thrilled when I recently got an invitation to join two of my friends for an overnight trip to Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The invitation came from David and Michael. David and I have been friends since he and my wife worked together in the early 1990’s. He happens to be friends with Michael, who has been a good friend of mine since high school.

David plays the bass, which may make him my coolest friend. He loves the music of Rush, Peter Gabriel and other artists of the progressive rock era. Michael and I have introduced each other to amazing music since we were 15 years old, and together we have enjoyed artists like The Band, Bruce SpringsteenJohn Hiatt, Green Day and even The Gutter Brothers (a band you must listen to). We made our playlists for the long drive. We planned our turnpike bathroom breaks. We were ready to go.

Frank Orrall’s guitar, resting between songs

It just so happened that on the Friday night we were in Cleveland, the Chicago based band Poi Dog Pondering was playing a local club. We are all big fans of the band, and thanks to David’s intrepid timing, we lucked into getting front row seats.

Sitting at the lip of the stage, we each three were reminded of the pure joy of music, and how a simple song can evoke deep feelings of joy and memory. Poi Dog leader Frank Orral laid his guitar out before us. He got us singing. Clapping. He even played a request I rudely shouted out towards the end of the show. It was a great night.

The next day we woke up early, found a place for breakfast that featured (as we all agreed) the best pancakes we have ever had, and then made our way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Michael and I had each been there before, but this was David’s first visit.

Michael and David in the Hall of Fame

We got in as the doors opened, and let the decades of music history, stories and secrets unfold before us. We started with the Hall of Fame itself. In a bright, sunlit room we surveyed the inductees year by year, watching clips of their induction ceremonies…stories shared, grand exaggerations, fantastic egos.

We each found ourselves gravitating towards artifacts and displays that were of particular interest. Guitars that had been smashed. Music lyrics for perfect songs, haphazardly scrawled on note pads and envelopes. Stage outfits and cars. Amplifiers. Pinball machines.

David at the Rush wall

David particularly enjoyed seeing the larger than life photo of Rush, his favorite band, that adorned an entire wall. I liked seeing Rick Danko‘s bass, who played for The Band. Michael appropriately ogled at the Bruce Springsteen’s guitars and handwritten lyrics.

We all got a sense of the story. A story that begins with Gospel music played in churches, and Country and Western music played at barn dances. Loud music being played from garages and school gyms. Overdoses and plane crashes. Friendships and arguments. Amazing music that challenges us, entertains us, makes us want to turn the volume up. Way up.

Pieces of Otis Redding’s plane

We saw a piece of the airplane that crashed in a cold Madison, WI lake in 1967, killing the great Otis Redding just as he was entering a new, reflective state of his career. We saw the guitar that Dickey Betts, guitarist for the Allman Brothers Band, used to write “Blue Sky.” We saw the handwritten lyrics for “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, “In My Life” by The Beatles, and “London Calling” by The Clash.

Dickey Betts’ guitar
Purple Haze original lyrics

As we strolled through the museum, we talked about why we liked the music we did, and we reminisced about when we first heard a favorite song or artist. We ribbed each other a bit. We shared arcane bits of trivia, trying to impress each other with our self-perceived encyclopedic knowledge of rock and roll. We made sure everyone was aware of an artifact that would be of special interest, and that we all had time to see the displays we each would care about the most.

We were learning about the music and its history for ourselves, but we were also informed by the interest and curiosity of the other two. We noticed things we may not otherwise have seen, we studied displays we might have otherwise passed by, and we definitely listened to music we may have dismissed if we were by ourselves.

We left at 6:00 a.m. on a Friday morning, and got home at 10:00 p.m. the next night. Music has always been so important to me, and my trip to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with David and Michael was a wonderful reminder of what makes that music truly special. Our trip reminded me of what makes the music perfect.

(L to R) David, Michael and Larry

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