29 Years Down the Line
Sometimes you can go back, at least for a moment. Last Saturday I joined my high school colleagues and performed as our old 80s cover band, I ON U, before an audience of family, friends and classmates at Oscar’s Pub and Grill in Milwaukee, playing a ninety minute set that briefly transported us back three decades. When the band last played together on May 16, 1986, Ronald Reagan was president, Whitney Houston ruled the airwaves, and we five musicians were headed for glory. Our closing song was INXS’s “Don’t Change,” and ever since then this song has represented for me the end of something and the beginning of something else. Back in 1986, the “something else” was life. Fortunately the intervening twenty-nine years of living did nothing to hamper the enjoyment of the group on Saturday.
It began as a lark. When my daughter and I visited Belmont University last January I called on guitarist Bill and his family to meet for lunch. That we did, and sometime during the afternoon we put two and two together and realized that it was January 10, twenty-nine years to the day of I ON U’s first concert back in 1986. Bill’s wife Anne took a photo of the two of us and posted on Facebook:
Part 1 of IonU reunion — at Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe. Bill and Paul just realized that today is the 29th anniversary of the first show!
Kevin, a high school classmate who remembers every person he’s ever met and is the consummate event planner, responded:
Is part two going to be Live Sept. 19th 2015 For Team Bryce and Al's Run/Walk for Children's Hospital??? Hmmmmmmmmm!!!!!!
Kevin was referring to the team that for nine years has participated in the Brigg’s and Stratton Al’s Run and Walk for Milwaukee Children’s Hospital, which this year grew to 370 participants.
That set the wheels in motion, and within a few weeks singer Rob, drummer Jim and keyboardist Aaron were all on board, busily deciding on a set list, dusting off our old equipment and praying that muscle memory would take over. Two rehearsals in June made it apparent that nothing had changed in twenty-nine years. We still played well together, but what I really liked was the ease with which we were able to hang out. For me, it was as if no time had passed at all.
Playing Saturday on a pitch-perfect day, I was focusing more on playing the correct notes on my non-native bass guitar (and sometimes succeeded!) than what was happening around me, but for a few seconds I glanced up into the cerulean sky and thought, “Well, this is pretty much perfect.” And while playing the song “Abacab” by Genesis, keyboardist Aaron and I stood side by side and placed our four hands on the same Roland Juno-60 that we played back in the 80s, and I turned to him and said something like, “This is pretty cool, huh?”
It was, indeed.
It was also great seeing our old classmates looking terrific in their late 40s. What I really like about these mini reunions is that it no longer matters who knew who back in high school, who was the jock and who was the band nerd, who glided through school and who struggled, who was homecoming king and who was the class clown. @@None of that shit matters any more. All that matters is that we’re alive. We’re here.@@ We’re doing the best we can with all that life has dealt us: all the joys and heartaches, the little victories and monumental losses, the struggles and disappointments, the friendships and celebrations. All we really want for everyone at this point is to keep on keeping on, and it’s a good feeling.
As the band once again closed with INXS’s “Don’t Change,” my fingers slid to the F sharp to begin the song’s descent and I again felt that twinge: it was the end of something, just as it was twenty-nine years ago. Back then it was the end of high school, the end of the band, the end of friendships. On Saturday, it was the end of something else. I can’t quite put my finger on it and maybe don’t even want to. @@I think it might have something to do with ending that period in my life when I had more days ahead than behind me.@@ Something reminding me to embrace the moment, because none of this is going to last forever.
“Don’t change a thing for me,” says the song. But change we will.