Monday, November 7, 2016

November 4

I went to Philadelphia on Friday to see a very special concert by Temple of the Dog. The trip was a moving experience - for multiple reasons. The concert, that was something I expected to move me, and boy did it live up to those expectations. My visit the next day to Valley Forge National Historical Park? That took me by surprise.

But first, Temple of the Dog.

You might not recognize the name, but there's a good chance you've at least heard their hit song "Hunger Strike." In any case, some background is in order. Andrew Wood, lead singer of the band Mother Love Bone, died of a heroin overdose on March 19, 1990. Wood had been the roommate of Chris Cornell, lead singer of Soundgarden. Inspired by his good friend's death, Cornell started writing songs, then joined up with Wood's Mother Love Bone bandmates Jeff Ament and Stone Gossard, as well as guitarist Mike McCready (who had recently started collaborating with Ament and Gossard) and Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron and the project turned into a full-fledged album - Temple of the Dog. A little-known at the time vocalist named Eddie Vedder also came in to share lead vocals with Cornell on "Hunger Strike."

Soon, Vedder, Ament, Gossard, and McCready would become famous as four of the five members of Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden's popularity would also soar as the Seattle grunge scene took the early '90s music world by storm. And thus Temple of the Dog, a band that would otherwise have been mostly forgotten, started to get a lot of airplay.

I've been a big Pearl Jam fan for most of my life, and a fan of Soundgarden as well. When I got the Temple of the Dog album, I fell in love instantly. It's been one of my all-time favorite albums ever since. I never expected to see a live Temple of the Dog show - Temple had been a one-off project; they never even toured to support the album, playing just a few shows. So I was simultaneously shocked and exhilarated when it was announced earlier this year that, to mark the album's 25th anniversary, the first ever Temple of the Dog tour would be taking place.

I was even more shocked when I saw the date of the very first show on the tour: November 4, 2016.

You see, November 4, 2016 would be the 10-year anniversary of my dating Cara.

These things keep happening. Oddly significant timing of significant concerts. Cara and I planned our wedding on June 12, 2011 in Columbus, and then Okkervil River announced a tour with a show in Columbus on June 11, the night before the wedding (we went to the show, of course). Bowerbirds, the band whose song "Northern Lights" was the first dance song at our wedding, played a show in Cleveland on June 12, 2012 - and so we got to dance to a live performance of our first dance song on our first wedding anniversary. The last concert I ever went to while Cara was still alive (and although she had little more than a week to live, I had absolutely no idea of this at the time) was by Sufjan Stevens, and as I had so often done in the past when I was at shows without her, I called her so she could listen to a song she liked - and it was the last song of the concert - and that song was "Chicago," the recessional music at our wedding. The first time Cara's birthday, September 22, came around after her death, Godspeed You! Black Emperor - the band whose 2011 show in Chicago was easily one of the most powerful and memorable shows we ever attended together - had a show in Cleveland.

On November 4, 2006, Cara drove up from Columbus to Cleveland, the first of many such drives she'd make. I remember feeling simultaneously very excited and very nervous. There had been a funny feeling in the pit of my stomach intensifying since at least the day before. Having become amazingly close friends with Cara over the past seven-and-a-half months, and having suspected for a while that she had a crush on me, I'd finally come around to deciding that yes, I did want to try being more than friends with her. Having been an exceptionally shy person my whole life, I'd never told a girl something like this before. Hence the combination of excitement and nervousness. It was a sunny day, a bit chilly but not too cold, nice weather for a walk. Going for walks was something we'd done before, so it was natural that we'd go for a walk that afternoon after she arrived. We headed out from my apartment on East 115th Street near Case's North Residential Village, down Hessler Road and through the campus to the lagoon by the Cleveland Museum of Art. Early in the walk, Cara remarked that her hands were cold. I don't remember how I reacted. We walked around the lagoon, enjoying a nice conversation as we always did together. We made at least three loops of the lagoon. I was kind of stalling for time, to be honest. Trying to muster up the nerve to say something about the feelings I had developed for Cara. I was almost completely certain those feelings were mutual - but what if I was wrong? I'd never done anything like this before!

By the lagoon, Cara took this picture of me. (I borrowed her scarf for the picture.) I don't have any pictures of her from that day. Back then, she didn't like having her picture taken.

Another snippet of conversation that I recall from by the lagoon: Cara said something about how all the guys who liked her were weird or creepy. "All the guys?" I said, trying to hint at but not actually saying "what about me?"

After several times around the lagoon and me still not overcoming my fears, we headed back in the direction of my apartment, but did not go directly there; instead, I suggested we go see the new dorms and stadium. While walking up Bellflower I asked Cara if her hands were still cold. She said yes. We reached the stadium and paused "beneath a great brick arch" (as Cara put it in the storybook she made me for Valentine's Day three months later). This was the view from where we stood (well, almost; the building in the background between the scoreboard and bleachers wasn't there at the time):

Standing there next to each other, I said to Cara (paraphrasing of course; this was ten years ago), "Well, I was going to say if your hands are cold, maybe it would help if we held hands?"

(Aaaah! So corny! So awkward! And yet, so right for that moment and for our friendship/romance! The next day on AIM chat after Cara had returned home, I said, "The way you reacted when I asked if we should hold hands was so adorable" and Cara replied, "Teehee. I don't even remember what I said. Everything went fuzzy then.")

So we did hold hands as we walked around the stadium and back to my apartment. I recall we both had a fresh spring in our steps for that last portion of the walk. It was really a magical feeling. And for the whole rest of her visit that day, we were both finally able to open up about so many things we had both been keeping secret.

Upon returning to my apartment, if my memory serves me correctly, we sat together at my kitchen table and played a game of Scrabble (we had occasionally been playing online Scrabble with each other so it seemed like a natural thing to do).

Actually, my memory is rather hazy on that. I do remember playing Scrabble, but had thought it was before the walk. What I don't have to rely on my memory for, though, is what music we listened to that day and when we listened to it. That's thanks to the listening history in my profile.

You might be wondering what this all has to do with Temple of the Dog (or maybe you've forgotten that this post started out as being about the grunge supergroup).

The first album we listened to that day? Temple of the Dog.

That's why it was so astonishing to see that the first show of the band's first-ever tour was scheduled for November 4, 2016.

From about 4:40 pm to 6:15 pm on 11/4/06, we listened to the Temple album and then the first nine tracks of Okkervil River's Black Sheep Boy. I think we must have played Scrabble during that time because the timing makes more sense that way. Then there was a two-and-a-half hour gap, during which we went out to dinner at Aladdin's. Every year from then on, we again went to Aladdin's to celebrate our anniversary, usually on November 4 itself but with some exceptions (such as in 2008 when November 4 was Election Day and we were Obama volunteers, and in 2011 when my aunts Mary Beth and Lynn had their wedding that weekend). That night, we sat across from each other at a table in the upper level of the restaurant, conversing in a way that was simultaneously very familiar and very new, each of us adjusting to the idea that we were now, finally, on an actual date with each other. I ordered a bowl of chili and a pita wrap. Cara got the Garden Pocket ("Garden Pocket? Garden Pocket!!!" we no doubt joked with each other), which she some time (months or maybe even years) later confessed she didn't actually like very much but she wanted to have something light because she was afraid I would think badly of her if she ate too much. I remember at one point her telling me a story about being in high school and she and a friend would go on dates with guys and order salad and just pick at it, then go home and order pizza together. Because they thought that was how girls were supposed to act on dates. A lot more could be written about that, but it's not the point of this post. Fortunately, on all our subsequent visits to Aladdin's Cara got things that she enjoyed a lot more!

When we returned to my apartment we listened to a single (22 minute long) track, "Storm," by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. The band opened with the first section of this track at both the Chicago show we attended together and the Cleveland show on September 22, 2015. Both times I was brought nearly to tears by the beauty of the music. Perhaps I subconsciously recalled listening to it on that long-ago November night and that had a little something to do with my reaction. After this there was another long gap in the music listening, during which we watched Return of the Jedi, which I suggested because Cara had told me that she had seen only the first two movies of the original Star Wars trilogy (whereas I was a huge Star Wars fan). I did not have a sofa in my tiny apartment. We laid next to each other on the floor, on our stomachs with our heads facing the TV - which also sat on the floor; my place was quite sparsely furnished - to watch the movie. I'm not sure how into the movie Cara was, really, but we were both very happy to be with each other.

After that came the last album we listened to, The Earth is Not a Cold Dead Place by Explosions in the Sky. During this time we were sitting together on the floor, spilling our guts out to each other. And then the last song of the album, "Your Hand in Mine," became the soundtrack to our first kiss at about one in the morning.

I didn't have a bed in my apartment either, just a single mattress on the floor. I feel stupid to this day for not offering the mattress to her and instead having her sleep next to it in my sleeping bag, but fortunately she didn't hold that against me! During future visits we would take turns sleeping on the mattress and floor - Cara's apartment, by contrast, had a king-size bed so there was no such issue there. The two of us did, however, both experience a great deal of difficulty falling asleep while we were in each other's presence, bed or no bed. We were afraid that this would be an issue that would never go away! Of course, it eventually did (I really don't remember how long that took).

If you've been keeping track while reading this and my other recent blog posts, you might have noticed that, of the four artists whose music we listened to on our first date, three (Temple of the Dog, Okkervil River, and Explosions in the Sky) are bands I've seen live in just the last two months and the fourth (Godspeed You! Black Emperor) I saw live on Cara's birthday last year!

Going to that Temple of the Dog show in Philadelphia on Friday, it struck me, how would I have reacted if I could somehow have been told, sitting in my apartment with Cara on November 4, 2006 and listening to that great album, that in exactly ten years I'd be going to the first show of the band's first ever tour? I'm sure I'd be thrilled and amazed, and then I'd probably wonder, "Will Cara be there?"

"No," would be the answer.

"Oh, what happens with her?"

"She moves to Cleveland in 2008 and the two of you get married in 2011." And that wouldn't really surprise me. This, on the other hand: "Then she dies of lung cancer in 2015."

Life really does have a way of taking the oddest turns, in ways both wonderful and horrifying.

While waiting for the show at the Tower Theater on Friday night, I'm sure I was far from alone in thinking that it was hard to believe that this was really happening. When the band took the stage, the roar from the crowd in the sold out theater was like nothing I'd ever heard at the beginning of a concert. "Welcome to the first, ever, full length Temple of the Dog show," Chris Cornell said to the audience, sparking another roar just as loud. I mean, wow. How often do you get an opportunity to experience something like that?

The band opened with album opener "Say Hello 2 Heaven," and as I've experienced many times over the last year and a half, a particular few lines of a song reached out and grabbed me right in the heart. Those lyrics on this occasion?

I, I never wanted
To write these words down for you
With the pages of phrases
Of things we'll never do

The show was everything I'd ever hoped a Temple of the Dog show might be. Well, almost everything. Eddie Vedder (who, on the original album, was more a guest vocalist than an actual band member) was not present. But this hardly detracted from the highly emotional evening. On "Hunger Strike," Cornell had the audience sing Vedder's part, and it was beautiful. By the end of their two hour, ten minute performance, the band had played not only all ten songs from their album, but also the fantastic Chris Cornell song "Seasons" from the Singles movie soundtrack, several Mother Love Bone songs, and a number of other covers of artists ranging from Black Sabbath to The Cure. It was a night I will absolutely never forget.

(Whether I would have been able to talk Cara into going with me is something I'll just have to go on wondering about. She liked Temple of the Dog a lot but not nearly to the level I do. She'd certainly have been interested in the show and in taking a trip together but she'd also certainly have been apprehensive about the price. The show sold out instantly and I ended up dropping $250 after fees on StubHub for a very good seat in the 12th row of the theater. I wrote earlier this year that a Florence + the Machine show was the most expensive concert ticket I'd ever purchased but was well worth the price - this show was far more expensive, and again, was worth every penny.)

I remember that before we got married, I told Cara that I thought November 4 would always be very significant to me, perhaps even more significant than our wedding anniversary. After we got married, I decided that November 4 and June 12 were about equal in significance. But as more time has passed since Cara's death? I'm once more leaning toward November 4 being on top. It was so much more than a typical first date. It was two people who had already formed an amazing connection with each other, at long last really opening up to each other and taking that connection to a whole new wonderful level.

And what a way to commemorate the tenth anniversary of that occasion.

I had originally intended for this post to cover my whole trip to Philadelphia, but I guess once I get going with a story about Cara and me, it's hard for me to stop! So my visit to Valley Forge will have to wait for my next post, which will be coming soon.

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