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Kymberlie Ingalls is native to the Bay Area in California. She is a pioneer in blogging, having self-published online since 1997. Her style is loose, experimental, and a journey in stream of consciousness. Works include personal essay, prose, short fictional stories, and a memoir in progress. Thank you for taking a moment of your time to visit. Beware of the occasional falling opinions. For editing services: http://www.rainfallpress.com/

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Piano Men

          It should have been a spectacular way to spend our sixth anniversary last November.  I rarely enjoy going to big concerts, so large you end up watching the entire performance on a video screen.  Pointless.  Save a hundred dollars and wait for the DVD.  I prefer small venues like the open air Mountain Winery in Saratoga on a gorgeous starry evening where I’ve seen the likes of The Beach Boys, Olivia Newton-John, Kenny Rogers – all idols of mine, and of course the greatest songwriter of the twentieth century, Willie Nelson.
          But, this would be an exception.  This was two legends on the same stage, side by side, face to face. 
          Alas, thanks to the “pig plague,” as my husband Roger calls it, having struck one of the singers, the concert was to be postponed.  I’m not usually one to anticipate things of a good nature, I tend to dwell instead on the worst - but I’d been so looking forward to this evening, and to have it cancelled the day before was such a letdown.  So, our anniversary concert was now to be our Valentine’s concert, rescheduled in February.
          We headed out to the San Jose Shark Tank, also known as the HP Pavilion.  Fighting traffic all the way, the evening didn’t start well and wasn’t improving with the bland Japanese dinner at a local café.  Shelling out twenty dollars for parking was just the icing on the cake! 
          Making our way through the crowd, Roger and I found our seats in the second to the highest row in the enclosed arena.  The stage looked pretty tiny from where we were in the middle of a long row, and our crowd seemed like they wouldn’t be too out of control.  Soon enough, however, a young couple came to plop in the vacant chairs beside us, bouncing around and giggling.  Realizing they were in the wrong seats, they climbed to the row behind us.  Little did I know how unfortunate that would be!
          Eventually the lights dimmed, and dual spotlights crossed each other as two grand pianos rose up from beneath the stage.  Then, slowly, they entered from either side, walking with the gait of two aged men who’d walked a million miles of stage between them.  They met in the middle with waves to the cheers that surrounded them.
          There stood Elton John and Billy Joel, two men who had written and sung epic soundtracks that have encompassed much of my lifetime.  My eyes stung slightly at knowing I was in the presence of greatness, sure as an artist stands before a painting by Picasso and is transfixed by its agelessness.  As they sat at their pianos facing each other, I could hear the beginning of one of my favorite romantic songs tinkling out through the audience. 

“So excuse me for forgetting but these things I do – you see, I’ve forgotten if they’re green or they’re blue – anyway, the thing is, what I really mean is yours are the sweetest eyes I’ve ever seen…”  Simple in its words, with the earnest of an everyday love, their voices blended, going on to duet each other’s hit songs. 
Eventually, Elton took the stage alone, and gave a fantasmic performance with graphics from his colorful albums floating in a sea of lights behind the band.  The only thing to deter Roger and I from becoming completely lost in the sweeping melodies was the over-excitement of the high-pitched screaming from the row behind us.  The young girl’s animated voice pierced our ears over the amazingly loud concert, and as Tone Deaf Minnie Mouse sang and yelled, her inebriated companion shouted “It’s a party!” to which I promptly turned around and “politely” replied “No, it’s a hundred dollar-a-ticket concert that I did not invite you to ruin.”  This seemed to quiet them down for a few minutes, but not nearly long enough. 
The summery ballad Tiny Dancer that always takes me back to a rare, happy memory of my youth.  The mysteriously dark Madman Across The Water, and the forever rebellious Goodbye Yellow Brick Road that evokes a time of survival as I came of age. 

Elton’s gnarled fingers still had a touch of grace as they danced across the ivory and black keys, his voice as powerful as ever as he told tales of wisdom and introspect.  This has always been what’s drawn me to his songs – the inner soulful search and an angst that I would come to understand too well as the decades passed me by all too quickly.
“He was born a pauper to a pawn on a Christmas day, when the New York Times said God is dead…”

After Elton’s commanding set, Billy took his place on the stage.  He began with a joke at his own aged expense before he began to pound the keys in front of him in a rollicking frenzy.  “Hi, Billy Joel couldn’t make it tonight, I’m his dad.  But it’s okay, I know all his stuff!” 
The songs that followed transcended the memories of my teen years, flowing into adulthood.  Like Billy, I have grown from an angry young person to someone who has tempered themselves with the time and tide of a long-lived life.  Ironically, when I hear these songs, the first association I have is my stepmother.  This music told a crazy tale of a turbulent time, these heated songs were played over and over to showcase her dislike of life, and of my brother and me.  And yet, over the years, I’ve found my own echo in the words.
He sang to the appreciative crowd with his early rebel songs such as Movin’ Out and My Life, songs about taking a stab at independence.  The industrious tribute to the blue collar worker Allentown still rings true today.  Billy even rocked out with his guitar while “having a senior moment” in trying to remember the tongue-twisting lyrics to his middle-aged revolution We Didn’t Start The Fire.  Not bad for sixty plus years of rough living.

A church-like atmosphere overtook the stadium with the jaunty rag Only The Good Die Young, leaving every woman in the hall wishing that she could be the innocent Virginia he was trying to lead astray.  ”They say there’s a heaven for those who will wait, some say it’s better but I say it ain’t.  I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints – the sinners are much more fun ‘cause only the good die young..!”
 The tribal sounds of The River Of Dreams jubilantly played, from his last original album of music, aptly titled Famous Last Words, released in 1993.  Few know that Billy did release one more album after, a classical composition that fulfilled a long-awaited dream of his. 
But nothing stilled me such as hearing my own personal theme song, Always A Woman, played out before the hushed crowd.  All of my life I have felt nobody could write a more appropriate song to describe my longings, my quirks, my reasons and rhyme.  It was a moment of pure shivering magic that I hadn’t felt since seeing Liza Minnelli belting out New York, New York.  I remember that night vividly, as I’d waited for so long to see such a moment, only for it to be more bittersweet as the strain was apparent in her once magnificent voice.  Still, magic is magic.

The two icons then joined together once again to lead the crowd in a sing-a-long of such classics as Bennie And The Jets, a song that brought back memories of singing quietly to a sweet little namesake kitten as I nursed her to health.  The golden Candle In The Wind with the ghost of Marilyn Monroe vividly reflecting off of the stage.  We were all carried away to our younger days as they pounded furiously on the ivories with You May Be Right (I May Be Crazy), the proclamation of a half-crazed generation.
It was beautifully appropriate when the harmonica sweetly played over the melancholy piano notes as they serenaded us and each other with Piano Man, the song that introduced the world to a young songwriter named Bill.  A song that still encourages us to look around at the people who are stones in a path to where we want to be.
The three hours these men shared with us are likely to be one of the sweetest memories I will cherish.  As I listened to each bit of their lives, I reflected on my own.  It saddens me to watch my idols grow older, but comforts me to know that what they’ve gifted us with are songs in the key of life. 
”Son, can you play me a memory, I’m not really sure how it goes, but it’s sad and it’s sweet and I knew it complete when I wore a younger man’s clothes…”

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