Tuesday, March 24, 2009

A beautiful thing

Once upon a time, I wanted to save the world. I know, pretty idyllic, and not grounded in any sense of reality, either.

By the time I hit thirty, life had kicked the idealism out of me. Yeah, I still sought the perfect solution, but falling short of that, which was nearly always, cynicism became my daily bread. Family responsibilities, a string of soul-deadening jobs, and the only time I was able to escape was my weekly stint on the mound for a variety of beer league ball teams, which only reminded me of what might have been if I hadn’t blown out my shoulder in college.

Five years ago, I reinvented myself. The transition from bitter, ex-believer, failed baseball hopeful, and consummate asshole, to someone doing what he was meant to do with his life didn’t happen overnight. These things are only immediate on television, and in the movies.

This morning, I sat in a room at the Cross Building in Augusta, and was part of a group of collaborators that have accomplished something pretty amazing over the past three years—we’ve taken a grassroots project and parlayed it into a program that is having a positive effect and making a difference across the state.

As I glanced around the room of educators, members of various non-profits, and others committed to making their little corner of the state a better place, I realized how foolish I was to have at one time had the world as my focus. By “brightening the corner” where we all are, we are all having an effect on something larger.

No one in the room was there to promote their own personal agenda. In fact, many of the participants purposefully put their own pet projects, and priorities aside, for the good of the group. The irony of being in Augusta wasn’t lost on me, and I’m sure many of the others. What occurred in our three hour meeting was a model of how these kinds of things should work, and possibly, how government could function, when people don’t grind ideological, or personal axes, and put the group before individual wants. I think what I experienced was an example of community organizing in the purest sense of the word, and in its most functional form.

[Weekly musical non-sequitur:

The Tragically Hip: Up To Here-

Released in 1989, nearly a decade after I graduated from Lisbon High School, listening to Gord Downie in the boys in their early days always makes me hearken back to those halcyon high school years.

The vibe is “classic rock,” albeit with a literary bent on the lyrics, courtesy of the poetic Downie’s songwriting prowess.
I scored Up To Here on a trip to Montreal, and a consumer excursion to Eaton’s Department Store, on St. Catherine Street. Apparently Eaton’s is no more, going out of business in 1999, a victim of Wal-Mart and other big-box monstrosities, just like similar retailers in the U.S.

We were visiting our hospitable neighbors to the north, soaking up the European vibe that is a visit to Montreal.

I had heard “New Orleans Is Sinking” on WTOS, still a freeform FM mainstay. The song was like nothing else being played on the radio at the time. While The Hip were virtual unknowns in the U.S., except on the few stations like ‘TOS that prided themselves on real variety, in Canada, they were rock and roll royalty.

I picked up both Up To Here, their third release, and Road Apples, their 2nd record. Actually, back in 1992, I actually bought both on cassette, subsequently replacing them both with CDs over the past few years.

It’s been awhile since I’ve listened to The Hip, even though they’ve spent considerable time in both cassette decks, and now, CD players of mine. Pulling the disc down off the shelf Saturday, I’ve been playing it regularly the past several days, including today’s trip north, to Augusta.

One hot August day, in 1998, my wife and I had gotten away for an afternoon at Old Orchard Beach. As was common, single prop planes flew overhead, with the usual advertisements for Lisa’s Pizza, local drink specials, and other assorted tourist trap enticements trailing behind. On this day, however, the trailer read, “Tragically Hip: Tonight at the State Theater.” I said to Mary, “We’re going!”

Apparently, the show was poorly promoted, as about 500 people showed up to see Canada’s Rock Gods put on the kind of high energy show that has won them legions of fans for the past 25 years. This chance encounter was one of the top five rock shows I’ve ever been to.

Long live (Canadian) rock!]

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