Monday, November 5, 2018

Moments with Johnny Marr: Meaningful Music, Marathons & Memories

“When you do a show nothing else is really going on. There has been no past, no future, you try to really be in that moment.” - Johnny Marr

My dear friend, Anne, who I met on Twitter when The Afghan Whigs reunited in 2012, has written many beautiful and poignant posts on her blog, Mama Deak Speaks, about music, running, motherhood, baseballlove, faith and grief. She has the ability to share her thoughts and feelings in a profound way that I greatly admire. Incredibly grateful for the music that led her into my life.

My identical twin, Leah, has an MFA in Creative Writing, and can be quite witty with her writing. Sadly, she doesn't write as much as she used to in college and graduate school even though I'm always encouraging her to do so.

We started this blog so we could share our experiences running to support charities we care about. Leah and I are grateful for the one or two people who are still reading our posts. ;-)

Writing does not come easily to me. I have thoughts and feelings that I want to share but I can't seem to convey them in a series of succinct sentences. Maybe that's why I preferred Twitter when it was still 140 characters. ;-) So, I procrastinate about writing and then I end up forgetting most of what I thought was unforgettable.

I was so excited when I saw the announcement that Johnny Marr was going to play at the Theater of Living Arts (TLA) and offer a "Meet & Greet" opportunity. Since the concert ticket was inexpensive, I thought it was definitely worth the reasonable fee for the "Meet & Greet" since I enjoyed similar experiences with The Afghan Whigs.

I noticed on social media that some people complained about offering this option, but I was grateful for this opportunity. Sure, it would be fun to have a serendipitous encounter with your favorite musician on the street or in a coffee shop. And, many musicians will interact with fans before or after a show, but it's a gamble to wait outside the venue.

I did have the chance to talk with Greg Dulli on my birthday after The Afghan Whigs show in Baltimore and after his solo show in Philadelphia which were meaningful and memorable experiences.

As a teenager, I was one of the "I wear black on the outside because black is how I feel on the inside" fans of The Smiths. Now, I just wear black because I don't have the time or energy to care about fashion. ;-)

I spent hours listening to The Smiths while drawing with colored pencils in my bedroom. At the time, the lyrics resonated with me more than the music although it was the combination of the two that inspired me to draw. A few of my drawings evolved over the years and and were incorporated into my tattoo designs.

When I started running at age 23, I listened to The Smiths on my cassette Walkman. When I ran my first marathon on October 22, 1995, there were many Smiths' songs on my mixed tape that I desperately tried to untangle after it got stuck in my Walkman. ;-)

When I read Johnny's autobiography, Set the Boy Free, I learned that he had taken up running and finished the NYC Marathon. Since I've enjoyed running to Johnny's music for over 23 years, especially his new album 'Call the Comet,' I knew that running would be a good conversation starter when I met him.

I also knew that I wanted him to sign my 2016 Philadelphia Marathon poster. I asked The Afghan Whigs to sign it earlier this year because their music was in heavy rotation on my marathon training playlist and I felt comfortable talking about my admiration for their music as it relates to my running.

I also wanted Johnny to sign his record and book for my daughter since her birthday was later in the week. I'm fairly certain my daughter would've prefered a signed record and poster from Twenty One Pilots,  but I hope one day she'll appreciate the music her mom adores or at least enjoy reading his book.

We were instructed to arrive at 5pm and there were already several people lined up outside when I arrived. It was colder than I anticipated so I began to regret wearing my Boston Marathon jacket. I was also exhausted from crutch walking and still had some moderate pain following the hip arthroscopic surgery to repair the labral tear in my hip. Even though I wasn't feeling my best, I knew it was worth the effort. It was fun to listen to other fans talk to each other while we waited and that made the time pass more quickly.

Unfortunately, we ended up waiting outside for over an hour which was less than ideal since I was cold and tired. I was texting Leah that I was beginning to lose my patience like she did waiting for the winners of the Chicago Marathon. Luckily, she listened to me when I told her to wait and she got a photo of the winners, Sir Mo Farah and Brigid Kosgei, that she fixed with PhotoShop skills. ;-)

When we were finally allowed indoors, we formed another line inside the back of the venue next to the soundboard in front of closed doors. They let each person or group inside one at a time. I have to admit, I started to feel a little nervous when I realized we each had one-on-one time with Johnny. When I met The Afghan Whigs, we were all together in the same room as we stood next to each other as we each took our turns talking with the band and having our posters or other items signed.

I was relieved I wasn't the first in line because I was completely discombobulated trying to organize my stuff while maneuvering myself on crutches. I guessed that each fan had about 3 - 5 minutes to spend with Johnny so I was trying to compose myself so I could make each moment count.

When it was my turn to stand in front of the closed doors, I started to get really nervous. Multiple scenarios and potential conversations whirled through my mind in a matter of minutes. Even though every fan account I read said he was very kind, I was afraid I would embarrass myself and then ruminate over that moment for the rest of my life. ;-)

When the doors opened, my heart was racing and I held my breath. When I walked through the doors, I saw Johnny and smile. Within seconds I was standing right in front of him and shaking his hand, after awkwardly maneuvering my crutches. ;-)

To be honest, I nearly melted right there on the spot. It was surreal to be in the presence of someone I've appreciated for so many years and whose music has been the soundtrack to so many important moments in my life.

So, we started off with the customary "Hi. How are you? Nice to meet you." And, then Johnny asked "What's your name?" which normally wouldn't be stressful for most people but I really don't like my name and I can never seem to pronounce my own name correctly but I managed to say it. ;-)

He handed me a guitar pic I said I had a couple things for him to sign. Then, I awkwardly tried to maneuver my bag and crutches to get the record and book.

I explained that I injured myself running with a labral tear in my hip to which he responded with a grimace, "Ooooohhhhhh - that hurts!" I confirmed that yes, it did hurt. ;-)

Then, he asked if I did the marathon and I said I finished the Boston Marathon this year and he said, "Congrats!"

Moments later I went from giddy to confused. Ugh. I think he asked me, "How'd you get on?" which for some reason completely baffled me and I responded, "What?" Then, he asked it again and when I continued to look puzzled I think he realized that I was clueless about his question and asked, "Are you doing OK?" And, I said, "Yes." Face palm! :-(

I said I couldn't run for a few months which is really hard and he agreed. Then, I took out my album and he asked if it was for me/ I completely forgot that it was for my daughter so I said it was for me. Oops.

Then, I asked him to sign his book which I did remember was for my daughter. He asked how old she was and I said she's going to be 16 this week. He said, "Happy Birthday" and wrote it inside the book. He then said that his song "Hi Hello" is about his daughter and that I should be able to relate to it, which is so true. I absolutely adore that song and the lyrics mean a lot to me. I told him I loved running to that song when (when I was able to run) and then asked him to sign my 2016 Philadelphia Marathon poster.

I explained that this was when I finally earned a Boston Marathon qualifying time and “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby” was my theme song during my previous 11 failed attempts. He asked me how many marathons I ran and I said that Boston was my 24th to which he responded, "Twenty-four! Shit!" and that made me smile. :-) Then, I said that it was the anniversary of my first marathon 23 years ago.

At that point, it was time to "grab a picture" so I grabbed my flat twins and said"My twin isn't here so I'll have you hold us." To which he replied, "Got the two of yous!" which made me smile again. :-)

I explained she was upset she couldn't join me. He asked why she wasn't here and I said she lives in Charlottesville. It was another bittersweet moment for me like the 2018 Boston Marathon. I was grateful for the opportunity to be there but I wished that Leah was there with me by my side.

I took a few photos with my iPhone but I should have tried a little harder to make sure I got a good one. It was really dark in there so the photos didn't come out very well but I'm grateful that I got something.

I must have thanked him a half a dozen times and I was ready to leave since I didn't plan to get a photo with Johnny because I'm so critical of photos of myself. Fortunately, the gentleman assisting Johnny with the photo taking insisted that he get a picture with the "real person" and I'm glad I did.

As I was getting ready to leave, Johnny asked me what I was doing when I wasn't running marathons and I said I was the Bereavement Coordinator at Children's Hospital. He said, "That's intense." I responded, "Yes, it's intense. Running and music are my stress relief. So, thank you. I've been listening to your music for so long. I really appreciate it." To which he responded, "It's a privilege."

I was hobbling my way towards the door when he asked, "Oh, do you want one of these?" and picked up one of his posters. I said, "Oh yes" and thanks so much a few more times. Again, I was just about to leave and I completely forgot about Leah. Oops, again. Luckily he asked, "Does your twin want one?" So, I got a poster for Leah, too.

I was able to secure the perfect spot in front of the stage towards the left before the doors opened for everyone else. Shortly thereafter a couple enthusiastic young fans secured their spots next to me. I noticed they were drinking and I was worried I was going to have to use a crutch if they started to act inappropriately. ;-)

Belle Game was the opening band and I really enjoyed their set. When Johnny and the band arrived on stage, I felt pure joy. Again, it felt surreal to be there, right in front of the stage, watching Johnny play his guitar and listening to him sing my favorite songs for the first time. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute, even when the guy behind me kept yelling "Messenger!"

I noticed there were many fans taking photos and videos around me. I have to admit that it can be annoying to see a sea of raised cell phones during a concert, but I'm also guilty of liking them all on Instagram. ;-) Luckily, it wasn't a distraction for me since I was right in front of the stage. I did pause a few times to take a few rapid fire shots. Luckily, I got a few photos that I think captured his joy so I'm grateful for that.

The set list was perfect - just the right combination of The Smiths, Electronic and Johnny's solo music - which is why I fought for a copy that was thrown to the audience after the show as evident by the crumbled paper. ;-)

It was an absolute treat to hear Johnny sing one of my favorite songs by The Smiths: ‘You Just Haven't Earned It Yet, Baby’ - since it became my unfortunate theme song during my 11 failed attempts in 3 years to qualify for the Boston Marathon (chasing the unicorn). Fortunately, I finally earned my BQ at my 12th attempt to qualify at the 2016 Philadelphia Marathon. 🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🦄🏃🏻‍♀️

After the show, I waited in a long line for merchandise and had the chance to thank Belle Game for their performance. Since it took longer than I anticipated to buy a shirt for myself as well as a sticker and buttons for my daughter, I missed the train. Since I had to wait another hour until the next train, I decided to wait outside the venue for another chance to see Johnny. Sadly, I missed him seeing him even though I waited until the last possible minute to "run" for the train.

As I was waiting for the train, I saw a woman and teenager who were holding items from the concert. Since we were the only ones on the train platform, I decided to ask, "Did you like the show?" which led to a very nice conversation. The mother was from Philadelphia but lived in Ireland for many years where her son was born and this had been his first concert.

By the time I arrived home after 1am, I was thoroughly exhausted and regretted scheduling a 7am physical therapy appointment. ;-) Fortunately, I did get a couple hours of sleep before it was time to take the train back to the city.

As I reflected on this evening, I thought about how my passions for running and music are very similar. While I prefer to run alone and listen to music through my headphones, I appreciate the communal acts of racing and attending concerts. I'm extremely grateful that I've been able to connect with others through my passion for both. As the years pass, I've become more selective about the races I run and the concerts I attend. For me, every race and concert tells a story of meaningful moments.

Suffice to say, this night meant so much to me on so many levels. My heartfelt thanks to Johnny Marr, Jack Mitchell, Iwan Gronow and James Doviak for the much needed musical respite. 🙏❤️

Malinda, Flat Leah & Anne at Afghan Whigs gig
My colored pencil drawing inspired by The Smiths

Flat Malinda, Sir Mo Farah & Brigid Kosgei

Waiting for the gig to begin
Johnny smiles at his fans
Watching Johnny play his guitar

Young & enthusiastic fan

2016 Philadelphia Marathon (3:46:13)
Signed by The Afghan Whigs & Johnny Marr
Happy Birthday
Flat Leah & Flat Malinda held by Johnny
Johnny & the "real" Malinda
"Does your twin want one?"
Crutch crushed setlist

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