Saturday, May 7, 2011
Leon Russell - Still Performing at the Speed of Light
Sometimes the messy threads of life unravel and re-form into a great big bow. Sometimes you unknowingly attach to something that lasts, permeating your consciousness with such force that even a slight nod to that memory brings a special kind of bliss. Those moments suspend time, destroying momentarily its linear power.
Leon Russell's music is one such thread in my life. College years - blasting his first solo album down the halls of my old dorm and out the windows toward the banks of the Fox River on a spring day. Wearing down those grooves - repeated playings - joyous movement. Innocent times, good times. I moved those vinyl albums faithfully through the years because I couldn't imagine parting with them. Old friends those songs.
I didn't sense he had stepped off the big stage because I often returned to those tunes. By the time I met Tim, technology had advanced and, sharing our love of Leon and Tim's chronic need to downsize, we eventually ditched the bulky albums and stereo for replacement CD's and hand-selected mixes great for road trips of our own. Good times, not as innocent times.
Tim and I were thrilled to see him live in 2006, and during Tim's last days in 2007, the association became indelible. From the hospital bed now moved into our living room, Tim was surrounded by the sights and sounds of things he loved. One night, sitting by his bed, the random feature he loved hit on Song for You. As we sat there listening, I turned to him and simply said "this was our song, wasn't it?" We'd never consciously picked it, but so much of what it expressed about the spiritual quality of love reflected Tim's philosophical musings about Now and time and the speed of light and what remains in the residue of an Eternal Consciousness.
He was weakened, but his eyes looked into mine and he said, "Yes." Here, near the end, it was that poignant and simple.
Leon's tour bus rolled back through my life in 2009 and now 2011. To see him in the El Rey - well, it's intimate and a smaller venue than he deserves - now a Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame Living Legend. I make a point to witness the legend whose songs threaded so beautifully back through my life. It's another way I witness Tim and find the beauty in bows tied from the strings of my life. Revival is good for the soul.
My blog of the 2006 concert reflects that sense of revival that this man's music has always provided, but especially these days.
Sep 22, '06 9:10 PM
In my office, there is a taped note on my computer that states
It's never too late to learn to play the piano.
Nearby, a tambourine is handy for the occasional Happy Birthday or Happy Trails back beat, wishing co-workers well on their way to the next birthday or the next job.
So, when I feel depleted and blue, it's best to go to the well.
Last night, I needed the very deep well.
The gamblers upstairs were playing blackjack,
But downstairs the rest of the sinners were in the showroom
Gathered together to greet the Saint of Syncopation
Circuit rider supreme, Leon Russell
To partake of the sacrament and watch a heavyweight
Battle the Cosmic Dustdevil of Age.
Tulsa's favorite son - is it Leon Russell or Oral Roberts?
The stage lights dim, the opening chords of Delta Lady blast out and
Knock the first row into the second; the domino effect works only with music
Check out his holy card
He wears a white oversized cowboy hat, sunglasses
And a yellow/black print Hawaiian shirt.
Ecumenical vestments befitting a minister whose gravel voice
Is iconic yet resonant with country, blues, boogie and rock DNA strains.
From the second row, I had a clear view
At times I was sure he was singing his song for me.
For ninety minutes, he rolled through his catalogue
Relentlessly, with little need for patter or introductions
The melodies and the words were familiar hymns and anthems.
Delta Lady, Lady Blue Hosannas.
Georgia, Lucky Old Sun, et cum spiritu tuo,
Brother Ray Charles and Nighttime is the Right Time
The banshee female power wailing speaks in tongues
Brash, yet classic covers of Dylan
It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry and A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall
Hallelujah and amen
Papa Sang Bass/Momma Sang Tenor coupled with May the Circle Be Unbroken
Roll in My Sweet Baby's Arms
Back to the Island and Out in the Woods
Stranger in a Strange Land, Prince of Peace, Hummingbird
A pentecostal testifying
Wild Horses and Dixie Lullaby
Now featured solos by bandmates
Let the Good Times Roll and Come Into My Kitchen
Leon watches, they play for love and his imprimatur.
Suddenly, the players leave the stage Save Leon
Suddenly, the descending glissando of the keyboard
Ends in the chord of confirmation
A Song for You is to begin
In the spotlight, alone, he has now removed his sunglasses
His long white hair appears translucent
He looks well, rosy cheeked, and his eyes are clear
Yes, I see, I hear I'm transformed, born again.
The players had drifted back in place
And he announced from the pulpit
That we did not need to play out the ritual stand and clap
Waiting for the obligatory encore.
Here they were, here they stayed, and for the encore
Which required no passing of the collection plate
Got first Great Balls of Fire and then Jumpin' Jack Flash
We were primed for Youngblood but instead
He delighted and amazed with an instrumental Paint It Black bridge
That miraculously turned into Papa Was a Rolling Stone.
Transfiguration and renewal.
For one night, for ninety minutes, in that place where there's no space or time
We were suspended in the speed of light with Leon Russell.
Love this Hall of Fame induction Tube which retraces a remarkable journey and an iconic artist's career. Hallelujah, indeed. But then, for me, he never was that far away. It's never too late to learn to play the piano. Perhaps there's more than one reason I love that thought.