Monday, July 4, 2016

Under the Big Top # 27: “Friendship”

(Personal reflections inspired by Who songs)

Song: “A Friend Is a Friend”
Album: The Iron Man
Release Date: June, 1989

Of all the Who shows I have seen, the closest to a Who-fan dream-set-list was probably the ’89 Reunion/Anniversary Tour, which I witnessed at the old Foxboro Stadium that summer.  Among the deeper, not oft-played cuts that evening were “Amazing Journey”, “My Wife”, “Sister Disco”, “Rough Boys”, “Mary Ann With the Shaky Hand”, “I Can See For Miles”, “A Little Is Enough”, “Join Together”, “Trick of the Light”, “I’m One”, and “Too Much of Anything”.  It was a treat for those of us who long for a shakeup of the standard fare from time to time.

Also performed that evening were two new songs, “Dig” and “A Friend Is a Friend”, both from the then-just-released Pete Townsend musical The Iron Man.  The Who, whom had not recorded together in the studio for seven years, were ‘special guests’ on the album for two songs: “Fire” (a radically-adapted cover of The Crazy World of Arthur Brown song of the same name) and the Townshend-penned “Dig” (prompting this nugget of trivia in Who history: What is the only original Who recording that Simon Phillips plays drums on?).  Both “Dig” and “A Friend Is a Friend” were highlights for me that evening.  On the studio version of “Dig”, Roger Daltrey sounded like a man who yearned for the magic of the Who, and he did not take the moment for granted.  His heart and soul went into that song, which I could feel when it was performed live in Foxboro. 

As for “A Friend Is a Friend”, a wonderfully upbeat Pete Townshend tune, I wrote a story inspired by this song back in 2009.  Seeing as my son Peter reconnected with an ‘old’ middle-school chum over the weekend, who similar to my friend in the story below, also flew up from his current home in Florida, and with the coincidence of my listening to The Iron Man all week, I’d like to resurrect it here.

Blog entry, August 27, 2009: I’ve heard it stated often and also experienced it: You make connections with an old friend who you have not seen in a while, and it’s like no time has passed.  Whatever bond you had way back when kicks in again, almost immediately.  Old memories are brought back from the dead and new ones take form.  This rekindling has never failed me, but if there was ever a time it would be put to the test it was two weeks ago.  Because two weeks ago, I reconnected with a friend I had not seen in twenty eight years.

Jeff Dangelo was a neighborhood friend all through grade school. He moved to Alaska with his family after high school and later ended up in Miami, Florida after joining the Air Force.  I made a few comments about him for Entry # 67 (the original “Gem-Video” write-ups which are available for your viewing pleasure on this Blog site) while lamenting the fact that we had lost touch.  Before two weeks ago, most of the old gang would have likely admitted that the chances of seeing Jeff again were slim at best, and I was beginning to believe it myself.  Too many opportunities to reconnect had fallen by the wayside: There was a last minute cancellation to attend my wedding, and a few other aborted reunions.  Also, for whatever reason, I’ve never been to Florida, never mind Miami. Ten years had gone by since Jeff had touched base with any of us.  Fate seemed to weigh heavily against us ever seeing him again and it appeared we had all moved on.

Twenty Eight years is a long time and a lot of water can pass under the bridge in that span, particularly if it’s that period of your life that covers your 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.  For me, there was college and road trips, double dates, bachelor parties, weddings, home purchases and children, along with concerts, sporting events, weekend gatherings, parties, new friends, and, unfortunately/inevitably, funerals.  Even if there was a reunion, the idea of reconnecting at any meaningful level seemed farfetched.  We are all after all very different people in our middle age than when we graduate from high school…. aren’t we?

Two weeks ago today, I was about to find out.  A series of events over the previous month or so had led up to that point.  There was the initial suggestion by my Sister Amy that I get on Facebook (something I was very reluctant to do) and the virtual guarantee by Cousin Jack that it would one day pay off (Jack also made a noble but futile attempt to track down Jeff after reading the email for Entry # 67).  There was the surprise Facebook ‘visit’ from Jeff’s wife, Ivonne, asking if I was indeed who I appeared to be.  There was a follow up two hour phone conversation with Jeff, during which I half-jokingly suggested he join the old gang in Humarock at Mac’s cottage that very weekend.  Finally, there was the email from Jeff, stating he had a ticket and was ready to board a plane the very next day.  I spread the word to a shocked gang and we began to piece together what was to turn out to be a classic weekend itinerary. 

That Friday afternoon heading into Logan Airport, it all felt a bit bizarre. I was reassured, however, thinking back on the prior 24 hours and the reaction I was getting from everyone about seeing our old friend again. And so, after Jeff and I spotted one another in the baggage area, and sized each other up for a moment, that old truism kicked in yet again.  And though this time it was a twenty eight year challenge, it mattered not.  We were back on a track we left behind many years earlier.  There was no shortage of laughter and conversation on the drive back to Franklin.  On the contrary, we did a LOT of catching up on that ride, tumbling over one memory after another as well as catching up with each other’s lives to the present.  This carried through for the remainder of Jeff’s visit, not just between him and me, but everyone else as well. In some ways, Jeff’s visit even bridged a few gaps between the seven of us he left behind:  A much needed missing puzzle piece, I suppose.

Friendship can be a funny thing, playing out in all sorts of ways.  Two weeks ago, I saw it as a whole of eight; in a one on one moment; and all permutations in between of 3 or 4 of us, and so on.  I’ve seen it on entirely different planes with other friends from college, work and extended family, and certainly have seen it play out with Nancy’s long-time and extremely loyal friends (including Madeline, who is on the receiving end of these emails) and the friends of Fred, Jen, Joe, Amy, Pat, and their spouses, as well as Mom and Dad. 

This week’s Gem ‘A Friend is a Friend’ is live concert footage of Pete Townshend performing this song and it touches on much of what friendship is all about.  Sorry for the back-to-back Townshend-centric videos, but this I realized would happen sooner or later during the compilation of these Gems: There’s too much in Pete Townshend’s catalog (with and without the Who) that passes for Gem material to continue to avoid this inevitability.  As for this particular Gem, after what transpired two weeks ago, I’m more believing of Townshend’s lyrics now than ever before.  Below the Gem link is a second url link of the same song from the animation movie ‘The Iron Giant’.  Below that are the lyrics to ‘A Friend is a Friend’.

I searched a bit for other definitions of friendship on the Web.  Here’s one from a 19th century writer that stuck: “Friendship is the comfort, the inexpressible comfort of feeling safe with a person having neither to weigh thoughts nor measure words, but pouring all right out just as they are, chaff and grain together, certain that a faithful friendly hand will take and sift them, keep what is worth and, with a breath of comfort, blow the rest away.” 

Ok, perhaps a line is needed in this definition regarding tossing some friendly abuse out on occasion, but not bad.  Not bad at all.

And this feedback from Jeff after reading my post:  Pete, old friend/new friend. As if my reunion with you guys couldn't have been any better, you top it off with your Gem e-mail. It brought tears to my eyes, as well as Ivonne's. You truly may not know how healing it was for me to see you all, and to know that I'm still, after all this time, thought of as a friend. I know now more than ever I won't waste this re-connection, and will consider going "home" every year a new tradition. Sorry I don't check my e-mail as much as I should, I really don't spend time on the computer that much, but I'll try harder. Keep those Gems coming, that's pretty cool that you write stuff like that all the time.”

Keep those friendships alive, everyone.  That advice includes me.


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