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The Stub Project: Miles Davis – Greek Theatre – Berkeley – 8.13.1988

March 13, 2011

It was so cold that night. I should have known better – I had learned to bring my stupid red winter jacket to ballgames at Candlestick that summer – but I was freezing. I was lucky enough to be witnessing one of the true geniuses of the 20th century in a beautiful venue with a girl I was in love with. It should have been a perfect night. To be 20 years old and realize how good you have it, is it even possible? That August evening I had it all, but I was miserably cold and I couldn’t get over it and now my memory of this show is solely a tale of my own idiotic discomfort.

For me, the point of live music is hopefully to reach some sort of transcendence, to escape the confines of my head and become part of something larger than myself. It’s a lot to hope for, maybe too much. But when everything is clicking, a musical performance becomes a celebration of life. Of course, a lot has to go right for that to happen: a free-flowing synchronicity between the band, the audience, and the venue …. and the thoughts in my mind – which is, naturally, the wild card in the mix. Or more specifically, to clear the thoughts in my mind. That is the great challenge of our existence: to be present, to be in the moment. And that night, instead of letting Miles Davis work his magic, all I could think is I’m cold, I’m cold, I’m cold

To further complicate the tyranny of my memory, or lake thereof, I looked up the weather on that day and it supposedly was 58 degrees in Oakland at 10pm. While the Bay Area is full of micro-climates, I am further chagrined. Maybe it wasn’t that cold at all.

While I’m losing trust in the veracity of my recollections,  I’m quite sure I didn’t realize just how cool Miles Davis’s version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” was that evening. I probably thought I was listening to muzak. So much was lost on me then, I can only wonder how I possibly had the sense to get tickets for Miles Davis in the first place.

That night was just a blip of my youth.  As I’ve grown older, it’s become harder and harder to overcome myself and meet the music on its own terms, to turn off the chatter in my brain. I’m cold is just an extreme rendition of that chorus, usually it’s something much less urgent, more mundane. Am I too close to that girl? Am I in the way of the people behind me? Do I look like someone’s dad? Will I make the ferry home? It’s so easy to erect walls between the moment and ourselves; it’s so hard to tear them down. When I was young, I used to dance at concerts. I wasn’t good, I’m sure, but I didn’t care what other people thought. It didn’t even occur to me. Now, I sway and maybe if the moment really moves me, I shuffle. But I don’t dance. I came of age going to Grateful Dead shows, where everyone danced and no one cared if you looked silly doing it. For a long time, I was embarrassed by my Grateful Dead days. These days, it seems, I’m more likely to embarrassed for myself.

I’m cold. At least that night, I had an excuse. No matter what the thermometer said, it was cold. (Maybe if we’d been dancing, I would have felt differently). Now, more often than not, when I let the outside world get in between me and the music, the only environment I have to blame is the one I’ve created in my own head.


The videos are from Stuttgart, performed a few months earlier with the same line-up: Miles Davis (tp, syn) Kenny Garrett (ss, as, fl) Adam Holzman, Robert Irving (syn) Joe “Foley” McCreary (lead b) Benny Rietveld (el-b) Ricky Wellman (d) Marilyn Mazur (per)

Thankfully, I would get the chance to see Miles Davis again in a few short months, a do-over. This time at the climate-controlled confines of  University of Iowa’s Hancher Auditorium on October 7, 1988 – although, sadly a stub from that event does not survive.

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