I think it was my sophomore season, but it might have been earlier.
Those four years flew by so quickly, it was hard to differentiate the here-and-now from the yet-to-be.
Seemed as if everything changed in an Alice in Wonderland way: What made sense one minute was ridiculous the next.
Time was measured in ever-shifting realities and, as an open-eyed English major, I subscribed to the Experience Everything school of thought.
Take part in a panty raid? Yep, I’m good with that.
Snowball fight in the courtyard? Sure.
Try this ... try that? Why not.
Write a piece of strange fiction that could win a prize? Didn’t care about the prize, but I could write.
Fall in love and get your heart smashed? I guess that’s the price you have to pay to learn a bitter lesson.
Notre Dame was different back then.
You’d see “CIA OFF CAMPUS!!” graffiti spray-painted in bloody red letters on the sidewalk as you wandered off to an 8-in-the-morning class and attend a “lecture” offered by an unsteady Hunter S. Thompson the next night.
You’d shoot pool in the student center, winning a few bucks, and light a candle in the Grotto, stuffing those same bills into the votive slot, atoning for sins yet to be committed.
You’d take a girl to a movie and think to yourself, “Maybe ‘Straw Dogs’ is a little graphic for a first date.”
You’d buy a ticket to the Van Morrison concert and hope he played “Almost Independence Day,” a tune you’d loved since you first heard it.
It was all about expectations ... and disappointments.
IT’S NOT EASY to list the worst concerts I’ve ever seen/witnessed/walked out on.
Faithful readers might remember the review I wrote in the aftermath of seeing Dylan at Blossom, the way I called him out for going through the motions, treating that show like a dress rehearsal or, worse, a throwaway money-grab. As I recall, I did include this qualifying phrase, words to the effect that “Dylan, after all he’s given, owes us nothing.”
That was a caveat of praise, a way to make sure that I wasn’t going to totally slag Zimmerman after a particularly uninspired performance.
I mean, I saw Mickey Mantle go hitless in four at-bats.
Same thing with Carl Yastrzemski in Fenway.
We all have off days.
This could be one of mine, who knows?
I’d rather write about the best concerts -- John Cougar Mellencamp in his home state, Patti Smith in Chicago, Jackson Browne in Oxford, the Stones at the old Cleveland Stadium, Neil Young anywhere and the Faces at Notre Dame.
That, my friends, was a roof-lifter. After the J. Geils Band had lit the fuse in a manic warm-up set that would have headlined anywhere else, Rod Stewart and his band waited 45 minutes before coming on.
They knew the bar had been raised, they knew they’d have to kick it into another gear, they knew thousands were doubting them.
And that’s when it went crazy.
Sure, it was their last tour and they could have said, “Who cares?”
But they played as if their very lives depended on it and, well, melted faces.
Back then, ND attracted lots of fine bands/artists and it wasn’t unusual to see two great shows a month. To name only a few: Joni Mitchell, Alice Cooper, America, Paul Simon, Springsteen, Crosby and Nash, Linda Ronstadt, Chicago, the Doobies, Yes, Jethro Tull, the Beach Boys, Suzi Quatro and, well, Van Morrison.
Van the Man.
PUDGY AND PALE, he looked older than the visionary who’d invited us into his song cycle of immortal songs that was “Astral Weeks,” five or six years before, and he wasn’t looking especially hip, more leisure suited than ripped denim.
But cool has never been his calling card; no, Van’s more into the whole inner vibe, the way his words can strike chords in strangers’ minds.
What he did -- what he’s always done -- was stand there and share the blues.
Which brings us to “Almost Independence Day,” his Fourth of July opus.
It’s going to sound like an exaggeration, but this one’s mental/visual fireworks, the way it draws the listener to the edge of the continent and invites us to close our eyes and actually SEE what fires our imagination as technicolor blossoms bloom and boom over the water.
Every holiday has its soundtrack and I’m not here to tell you what to listen to when you’re savoring Thanksgiving dinner or being humble on Christmas Eve.
All I’m saying is that “Almost Independence Day” is a balm for the ravaged soul, a soothing salve for the flayed flesh, a way to look up and feel, well, uplifted.
Life has a funny way of bringing a person full circle, from optimist to cynic to pessimist back to optimist once again. When there’s nothing left but hope in a better tomorrow, I say, “Throw on some Van Morrison and don’t be so afraid.”
That night I saw him, though, I kind of was thinking about leaving. I was 19. What did I know?
But I’m glad that I didn’t walk out on Van Morrison.
He didn’t move much from that one spot on the stage and he mostly sang with his eyes closed ... but here’s the thing.
It was what’s being called now a “teaching moment” and we all had a choice.
“We ought to go,” my friend said. “This isn’t good.”
I shook my head.
“No,” I said. “It’ll get better.”
And it did.
Published: July 2, 2012