When Beth and I saw Bonnie Raitt last week at the Chicago Theater, I looked around and had a laugh—it was all 55-65ish people like ourselves, grayer and more, ahem, prosperous-looking than when we all first listened to Bonnie decades ago. But something in the air felt the same (and it wasn’t pot smoke).
The warm-up band—the California Honeydrops—was fantastic. A rootsy mix of horns and great vocals and harmonies. And then Bonnie came out. She looked exactly as she’s always looked, which is to say cool, naturally sexy, and kinda tough in a good way. And she’s 66.
When she did a number from Luck of the Draw, Bonnie noted that the album had come out 25 years ago. Which just doesn’t seem right but it is, and that’s just how it is now. And I remembered Beth and I seeing her at the Assembly Hall in Champaign, Ill., back then in, gulp, 1991. Her then-husband Michael O’Keefe joined her on stage for a duet, which completely stoked the crowd. And I remembered running into our friends Karen and Jim, who extended their condolences—my father had recently died. I remembered how bewildering that all still was, and how much their kindness meant.
Back at the Chicago Theater: When Bonnie did a Sippie Wallace tune from her very first album (1971), I was reminded of my sister, when she brought home a new album from college during a holiday break. She and her dorm pals had discovered this cool girl singer named Bonnie Raitt who played a mean slide guitar. Kris played it for me, and I was hooked as a teenager, way back then. And I remembered how much good music my big sister introduced to me.
Then Bonnie did a song that was written by a member of NRBQ, a band that warmed up for her when I saw her with my friends Mike, Susie, and Pick at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. back in the 80s. And I remembered all the good times we had back then, camping along Skyline Drive, and just sharing home-cooked meals.
And during Bonnie’s final encore, well, I went into full teary-eyed nostalgia mode.
Pick and I go back to 1978. We met when I was a college student on a D.C. internship.
And I’ve known my friend Kenwood since we were freshmen in college—we became roommates as sophomores and have been fast friends ever since. Let’s say we have stories.
When I graduated from the University of Illinois in 1979, I was one of the lucky few who had a job waiting for me—in D.C. with the same organization where I’d interned. I was a green kid away from home, lonely, and living in an expensive place on a very modest salary. Pick took me under his wing—and his friendship helped keep me above water. We hung out together, and eventually, when he decided he wanted to save a few bucks by taking on a roommate, we moved into the euphemistically named “Country Club Towers” apartment building.
One thing, though: Only a couple weeks after we’d moved in, my old buddy Kenwood would be visiting. He was on the tail end of a months-long motorcycle journey. He’d been on the road, camping and rarely sleeping in a bed, and when he arrived, well, that’s how he looked.
He announced his presence by pulling his motorcycle onto our apartment’s first-floor patio. I wasn’t sure what the neighbors would think, but I was more concerned about how my new roommate would take it all.
Pick didn’t blink. Kenwood ended up staying a few weeks, and somehow, the Culpeper, Va.-born gay guy—and the Mossville, Ill., country boy with long hair and bug splatters—hit it off splendidly. They even sang some hymns they both knew from childhood churchgoing days. Who knew?
Over time, the three of us adopted a song from Bonnie’s Home Plate album called Sweet and Shiny Eyes. It’s a simple little tune written by Tom Waits that recalls a road trip with friends. Over the years, we’ve been known to sing this song and drink a toast to one another on our birthdays.
So yeah. Music is pretty damn amazing. If you’re keeping score, in a two-hour span in a theater in downtown Chicago, I was transported to my hometown when my sister was still alive and introducing me to cool stuff from college. To my college dorm room in a triple in Hopkins Hall. To Washington, D.C. where I met friends from exotic places like New York and North Carolina and Virginia. To our lives and friendships in Champaign-Urbana.
And here’s to great music, and all my great friends.