Leaving Las Vegas … Looking back on four days in the desert

As the Airbus 320, flying as Jet Blue Flight 611, made its way over the Utah mountains, banking towards lower Nevada, the lights down below finally came into view.

With every drop in descent, they grew brighter and brighter until right before landing when the city below became clear as day, even in the darkness of the hot desert night.

Las Vegas.

When the wheels touched down at McCarran International Airport, I had no idea what to expect from the next four days.

I was at the whim of myself, which is exactly what started this journey almost two weeks prior to landing.

• • •

It all began with a tweet, believe it or not.

“Taking a loaded squad out to Las Vegas July 20-23 for the BigFoot Live event,” read the words of @douglasrscott, boys basketball coach at Greens Farms Academy. “This crew = me being popular w/ scouting horde there #ctbb”

I quickly shot Coach Scott a text message asking why I wasn’t invited.

A tongue-in-cheek follow-up tweet asking if anybody had room in their carry on for me got me thinking.

Why couldn’t I go to Las Vegas?

To be honest, Vegas had never been a bucket list item for me.

If Kenny Rogers is “The Gambler” … If Darrell from Storage Wars is “The Gambler” … then I am the antithesis of that.

I lose money playing solitaire, so wasting money at any casino has never been high on my list of fun nights out.

But the more I thought about it – Las Vegas – the more I thought, “Why not?”

It might not be a bucket list moment, I figured, but as a full-blooded American male I should visit Sin City at least once, right?

I hopped online and booked my trip within minutes.

I was going to Las Vegas.

• • •

The Luxor, where I stayed for four days.

The first thing you notice is the heat. Sure, it’s a dry heat, but even at 11:36 p.m., PST, it was toasty hot.

I was staying at The Luxor, which is located on the south end of the infamous Las Vegas Strip – a stretch of land I would get to know very well a few nights later.

The second thing I noticed is taxis are expensive. More expensive than New York City, believe it or not.

Trying to make the trip as inexpensive as possible, I wasn’t renting a car until the final day. Uber, I found, was much cheaper and would be a key mode of transportation for me.

Checking into the hotel shortly before midnight was another big key to enjoying Las Vegas.

The team, its parents and its coach were all staying at The Luxor, so that’s where I chose to stay.

For those of you who don’t know Vegas, it’s the big pyramid hotel/casino nestled between Mandalay Bay and The Excalibur.

During day light hours, there was a long, twisting line of people waiting to check in and, sometimes, eight to 10 workers waiting to check them in.

At midnight, I was able to walk right up to the clerk and get pointed to my room.

Considering it was 3 a.m., Eastern Time, my body was ready for bed and nothing more.

• • •

Four members of the Greens Farms Academy boys basketball team joined forces for a summer AAU basketball tournament in Las Vegas.

Those who know me know I love basketball, especially at the high school and college level.

After all, four boys – four members of the GFA basketball team who joining forces to play on a make-shift AAU basketball team – were the big reason I flew almost coast to coast.

They had already played one game against an opponent from Houston while I was flying west on Thursday.

On Friday, at 8 a.m., they were to tip-off against a team from Montana and I would be there. After all, since my body was still on East Coast time, it was closer to 11 a.m.

And, they won again.

The game on Friday afternoon should have provided a different ending. After all, the “Dragons” as the team dubbed itself was squaring off against a team called the Las Vegas Prospects.

To put it simply, the Prospects are sponsored by Nike. They play in the EYBL, which stands for Elite Youth Basketball League.

This is big time AAU basketball, but our eight players – seven Connecticut bred and one out of New York – were more than worthy.

In fact, they were victorious, 57-53.

It gave them the No. 1 seed from their pool and a berth in the Sweet 16 of the tournament, where they would face a team from Chicago on Saturday.

Finally, after Friday’s second game, I was able to experience a little bit of Vegas.

I had made plans for Friday, to go see Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears in concert at the T. Mobile Arena.

The T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.

It would be my 103rd concert, albeit first west of the Mississippi River.

Tears for Fears didn’t disappoint. I enjoyed them.

Hall & Oates, however, was the opposite. They sounded like a bad karaoke band trying to sing Hall & Oates.

I left early.

The highlight of Friday night, though, was the fact T-Mobile Arena wasn’t that far from The Luxor so I was able to go on foot patrol to get there.

I made a dry run in the early afternoon, picking up my ticket from the will call window.

I only had to be outside for about 200-meters of time.

The Luxor and The Excalibur are connected through a series of hallways and conveyor belts. From The Excalibur, I only needed to walk 50 yards across a bridge – and below a rollercoaster – to get into New York, New York, which literally looks like New York, New York.

The T-Mobile Arena was located just behind New York, New York.

Before the show, I decided to grab a bite to eat at a little Irish Pub located within New York, New York.

The great thing about each and every casino in Las Vegas is each one is a city onto itself.

In addition to the slots and table games there are a bevy of restaurants, bars, stores and other things to fill a day.

This particular bar had one of the best chicken pot pies I’ve ever had.

Thankfully, I didn’t vomit it up after Hall & Oates’ yak-job.

On the way back to The Luxor, I took my time checking out the different casinos.

The time change was catching up with me, though, and I was in bed before midnight – which I later found is when Las Vegas is really picking up.

• • •

Saturday meant another basketball game, against a team from Chicago.

It was the Round of 16, which meant if the boys lost their Las Vegas run would come to an end.

Instead, they again stepped up and won, advancing to Sunday’s final day of games.

I used most of Saturday – which was the hottest day of the trip — to stay local and explore the connected hotels.

First, I explored the rest of The Luxor before making my way over the Mandalay Bay.

Next door to The Luxor.

On the way I found a Guinness Store, complete with a Guinness bar. I was told it was one of just two in the entire world, with the other being located in Ireland.

I bought a t-shirt, saving myself $25 in lost gambling money.

After returning to The Luxor, I also decided to put my money where my devotion is.

I stopped by the Sports Book and put $20 down on the Boston Red Sox winning the World Series. If they win, I get $120 (plus by original $20) back.

I also decided to pick a National League team, opting for the Washington Nationals. They matched the Sox at 6-to-1 odds, meaning $120 would be coming my way.

Needless to say I’m rooting for a Red Sox-Nationals World Series.

I made it past midnight on Saturday, but not by much.

An 8 a.m. quarterfinal game awaited us the next morning.

• • •

Spring Valley High School, Las Vegas, Nev.

I didn’t get up early with the team and parents and arrived at Spring Valley High School by the end of the first half.

The boys were play a team based out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, and with two 6-foot-9 players they were the tallest team we had faced.

Again, it proved not to matter as the eight-man Dragons slayed another opponent, running their record to 5-0 in four days.

Not to switch sports terminology to those who got this far, but a curve ball was thrown into the tournament at this point.

AAU basketball being what it is – let’s face it, it’s about making money for the tournament organizers – the quarterfinals, semifinals and championship games are sometimes held in one day.

Anybody who has played basketball knows three high-tempo games is a lot and injuries are more apt to happen on such days.

With departing flights scheduled to start at 1:40 that afternoon, Coach Scott decided to pull his team out of the tournament.

He brought his team to Vegas so players could be seen by college scouts and that mission had been accomplished. Two of the eight players would be heading off to college soon and Coach Scott wasn’t going to send them off injured.

With that final buzzer, so ended my basketball duties.

My final 36 hours in Vegas were all about me.

During a nap back at the hotel, I received a text from some parents saying they were going to visiting the Red Rock Canyon and go out for some Thai food.

I paused and opted not to answer, but it would be something different. After days of basketball and casinos, nature would be a nice break.

And I’d never had Thai food before.

Red Rock was beautiful. Not to be confused with Colorado’s Red Rocks musical venue, Vegas’ Red Rock is on the western side of town and was clearly visible from Spring Valley High School, which is why a journey there appealed to us.

A 13-mile loop gave us views we simply don’t get here on the East Coast.

I’m glad I went.

As for the Thai food, I was cautiously optimistic.

The restaurant itself – Lotus of Siam – didn’t look like much.

Located inside of a strip mall, it opened at 5 p.m., and by 5:15 it was packed.

And oh my was it good.

We sampled each other’s appetizers and wolfed down our meals.

From Duck to seafood to some sort of spaghetti-esque meal with seafood and chicken on my plate, we gobbled down nearly $200 worth of food which was worth every penny.

I even had a Thai beer.

That night I decided I was going to walk part of the Las Vegas Strip.

Around 9 p.m., I left the Luxor took a Uber up to The Venetian.

I got out and began my journey back, step by step, under the lights and sounds of the Las Vegas night.

• • •

I walked through the Venetian and into The Palazzo, which I must admit I’d never heard of.

Entering The Venetian Casino.

I found a bar and ordered a margarita. When I got the tab, it was $16.

What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas and thank goodness that goes from the prices of alcohol.

I paid because … well what the hell, it’s Vegas … and once it was gone I was on the move again, back through the Venetian and outside to the strip where I had options galore.

There was Treasure Island to the right, Casino Royal or Harrah’s to the left.

I opted to cross the road and head to The Mirage, which wasn’t as advertised, but really stood there.

And the air conditioned inside told me I’d be stopping at most of the casinos on the strip to at least cool off.

The $16 margarita.

I had another drink and walk around the casino, checking out the games and those who were playing.

People who go to Las Vegas run the gamut of mankind, that’s for sure.

Old people, young people, families; people both foreign and domestic.

It was the kind of human mash-up that gives New York City it’s unique vibe and energy and you could feel a little of that energy in Vegas.

After leaving The Mirage, I walked to Caesar’s Palace and this is where I became a winner in Vegas.

I had dropped $20 in the slots at The Luxor earlier in the trip.

But sitting and playing black jack I decided to call it quits when I was $13 up.

That way, I figured, I could say I left Las Vegas having lost just $7 in gambling.

Not bad, I figured.

But it was also while walking around Caesar’s that I witnessed another Las Vegas first – the hooker picking up a man at a bar.

She was in her 20s, he was in her 60s and, as odd as it sounds, it was a pleasure to watch them work the back and forth before heading off together.

There were a lot of young woman walking all over Las Vegas, most of them in packs.

This was the only time I saw a pro in her natural habitat, though, going after her prey and successfully taking them down.

With that, it was time to head to the Bellagio.

• • •

The Bellagio.

If I had my druthers – not to mention the money – I would have stayed at The Bellagio. To me, it’s the cream of the Vegas crop and it looks like it.

I wish I had spent more time checking it out, but I could feel myself growing tired and I was just a little over halfway back to The Luxor.

On the way out, though, I was caught up in the crowd standing by the water that sits in front of the facility and once the song “Hey Big Spender” started, I was treated to the infamous Bellagio water show, which was a lot of fun and brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.

I continued south, hitting a few more casinos in the process.

The Aria and the Monte Carlo were connected without going outdoors and once I realized New York, New York was on the horizon I got my second wind for the finishing lick to The Luxor.

I got turned around in The Excalibur for the second time (casinos are made to confuse people, thus keeping them inside, you know?) but before long I was back on the conveyor belts heading home.

Once I got into The Luxor I found a bar and ordered a rum and coke and some water.

I glanced at the pedometer app on my cell phone and realized I had walked more than 20,000 steps that day.

That’s more than 10 miles to you and me.

It was after two in the morning – which meant people back home in the east would be waking up soon.

I drunk texted a friend back home in Maine who I knew would be asleep, but would laugh when she woke up. (She later responded with “Yay”).

Then, hooker-free (not even hit on … am I that old and ugly?) I made my way back to my room.

I ordered a late check out for $30 more and found myself falling asleep with sore feet shortly before 3 a.m.

The last day in Vegas would come soon enough.

• • •

Again, to cut cost, I took the cheapest flight home and that would be the infamous red-eye, which was schedule to pull away from the gate at 11:56 p.m., Monday night.

That left me all day to find something to do.

I had budgeted a rent-a-car into my trip for Monday and was fortunate enough to get a Jeep for only $49. (They had no small cars left, but gave me a bigger model for the puny cost).

I returned to the hotel, packed up and checked out, hitting the streets of Vegas with no set schedule and only a mini-plan of what I wanted to do.

The first thing was to swing by the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.

Keeping up with my basketball theme of this trip, I was a huge UNLV fan back in the day when they were good and winning (and losing) an NCAA title.

The Thomas and Mack Center – the place where UNLV played – wasn’t far from The Luxor, so I drove into the parking lot and took a picture of the place Larry Johnson, Greg Anthony and Stacey Augmon once called home.

I then found the school bookstore and bought a t-shirt.

Then I set my GPS for The Hoover Dam.

Why?

Well, why not?

When you have a day to kill in Vegas and not much money left in your pocket or on the credit cards you need free things to do and such a man-made treasure was only 45 minutes away.

Before getting to the damn dam, I was pleased to find out that bridge that runs high over the dam and offers a spectacular view was named after former NFL star Pat Tillman, who left the league to join the armed forces and was killed by friendly in Afghanistan while protecting our country.

I even drove over the dam and into Arizona (technically another state I can cross off my list).

Growing ever more hungry, I decided to find a nice hole-in-the-wall palce instead of a chain restaurant.

I found it in the Boulder Dam Brewing Co. in Boulder City, Nev.

I ordered a Shandy (half-lemonade, half beer) along with some outstanding beer-battered mushrooms and not-so-great Philly Cheesesteak.

Some local talker who had bellied up to the bar proceeded to tell me how he special ordered his Toyota truck (“Cement is the official color,” he said) and was soon to retire from the national park service for which he walks.

With a full belly, I was soon on my way back to Vegas (another $20 poorer since I bought a Boulder City Brewing Company t-shirt), arriving by 7 p.m.

I still had five hours to kill and there was a movie theater on the way to the airport, so I pulled in and shelled out $12 to see Dunkirk.

I give it two thumbs up with the realization that anything that has Kenneth Branagh in it is usually really good.

After returning the rent-a-car, I took the shuttle to the airport and, in my heart, wished I didn’t have to leave.

There was so much more left to see in the valley of Las Vegas.

That means one thing: I’ll have to go back and finish the job.

You can bet on it.

Celebrating 100: I’ve Got The Music In Me

Bryan Adams in concert, the author’s 100th show. (Photo by John Nash)

“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
— Friedrich Nietzsche

I have always loved music. I can’t carry a tune from here to the shower, and can’t play any instrument worth a potato, but do I love the music from those who can.

For as long as I can remember, a radio, a record player, a cassette player, a CD player, an iPod, and Spotify have always been one of my closest friends.

And live music?

It has become a pretty big part of my life over the past 10 years.

On Thursday night, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena and watched Bryan Adams in concert.

It was the 100th concert of my life, a milestone moment that nobody but me truly cares about, but that’s OK.

Music is personal. Music is memories.

It was probably early in 2016 when I hit my 75th concert – seeing The Ballroom Thieves for the second time, at Stage One in Fairfield, Connecticut – that I realized my 100th show was fast approaching.

I wondered back then who would it be. Phish or the Barenaked Ladies, perhaps? I’ve seen them both seven times each, as they lead the pack of the bands I’ve seen the most.

Or, would it be somebody more obscure, or unique?

It wound up being Bryan Adams.

Somebody mentioned to me in passing that it was too bad it couldn’t be somebody better, but the more I thought about it that more I realized that I was alright with Adams being my milestone 100th.

And here’s why:

One of the reasons I love music so much – and sometimes hate it, I suppose – is because of its uncanny ability to take us back in time, to a place we will never forget.

More often than not, it’s a happy time. But it can also take us to places we don’t want to go, too.

That’s the power music has over all of us, and why we join together as one – as an audience – to see our performers do what they do best.

During the sixth song of my 100th show, that’s what Adams did to me … he took me back in time in an instant.

“Oh, thinkin’ about all our younger years
There was only you and me
We were young and wild and free

Now nothin’ can take you away from me
We’ve been down that road before
But that’s over now
You keep me comin’ back for more

Baby, you’re all that I want
When you’re lyin’ here in my arms
I’m findin’ it hard to believe
We’re in heaven.”

All of a sudden I was 19 again. Young and wild and free, and I was dancing with the girl of my dreams at her prom.

Just like that I could remember everything about that relationship and what it meant to me at that time of my life. I could remember her face, her beauty, every essence of her being — her eyes, her smell, her touch.

It all came back through a single song.

And it happens a lot.

When I hear America sing “Sister Goldenhair,” I think of standing in my sister’s bedroom at 9 or 10 years old, listening to that song and her trying to get me to guess the title.

When I hear Nazereth sing “Love Hurts” or ELO sing “Telephone Line” I think of middle school dances where a force field of nerves and teacher’s prying eyes would keep the boys and girls, stiff-armed, slow dancing two feet from each other.

When I hear “Hotel California” by the Eagles, of “If” by Bread, or “Baby Come Back” by Player, I think of the girl that got away.

When I hear “Careless Whisper” by George Michael or “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” by Meatloaf, I think of a girl who was taken from us far too soon.

It’s the music, I tell you. It’s inside of us and the fastest way to our emotions.

It’s makes us dance. It makes us cry.

Sometimes at the same time.

I remember my first concert like it was yesterday, even if it was 34 years ago.

It was my senior year of high school and a friend, Pat Ross, had a ticket to Duran Duran at the Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland, two hours south from where I lived.

The band Duran Duran played the Mohegan Sun Arena on Thursday night. (Photo by John Nash)

I ended up going with him and everything fell into place. It was the perfect evening. The lights, the music, the energy from the crowd. I even met a girl that night – Valerie from Brunswick – and went home knowing my life had changed a bit from that one show.

Later that school year, I saw Aerosmith in concert at the Bangor Auditorium.

Talk about “Sweet Emotion.”

In 1999, my affection for live music and attending concerts went to the next level. I started photographing the bands as they performed.

The Barenaked Ladies came to Manchester, NH, and I put in a request for a photo pass to shoot them while they performed.

Three songs. That’s all they give you, you know. Then they usually kick you out of the building, unless you have a ticket.

(For the record, Bryan Adams was one song. “Do What You Gotta Do” – which has a run time of 2 minutes, XX seconds. I banged out 159 shots, of which nine different ones were useable).

But back to BNL. As I developed the film from that night’s show, and saw my images come to life, I realized I had a new hobby.

Concert photographer. Soon after, I shot Green Day. And so began a new chapter of my life.

Before 2013, I had seen one show at the Mohegan Sun Arena. It was, of course, the Barenaked Ladies.

I had gone to the Eastern Connecticut area to see a baseball game, but stopped by The Sun to kill some time before the first pitch, and realized the Ladies were playing.

I had already seen them twice, yet instead of going to the baseball game, I shelled out $35 for a ticket and went to the show.

Three years later, I was shooting my first show at the Sun when a lady naked “Pink” emerged from the sky and started performing.

Pink

Pink in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena. (Photo by John Nash)

Since that night in 2013, I’ve shot 62 different shows at Mohegan Sun, and have even started writing reviews of the shows I’ve attended.

People ask me what my favorite concerts have been and once you’ve hit 100, you’d think it’d be hard to pin-point a top five.

I think my favorite of all-time was Phish at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. It was the first time I had ever seen the band and the energy created at such a magical venue was intense and enveloping. That single show is a big reason why I keep going back.

Seeing Prince meant a lot to me, too. I was a big fan of his when I was growing up and he was one helluva performer. I only wish I had the chance to shoot him (Photographers weren’t allowed … typical Prince).

Bruce Springsteen was another show that stands out. I’ve heard how good he is live, but you just don’t understand how good he and the E Street Band really are until you see it for yourself.

Hour photo/John Nash – The legendary Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band was at the XL Center on Wednesday night.

The first time I saw Bob Segar stands out, too, as does seeing Sting perform.

I think that’s my top five with my first Duran, Duran show coming in a close sixth.

The worst I’ve ever seen are much easier – Jackson Browne and Avril Lavigne.

I saw Browne at the Oakdale Theater and his setlist that night was a major disappointment that left most of the crowd sitting on its hands.

And, Lavigne, who I saw at the Foxwoods Casino’s Grand Theater, was closing her tour that night and she short-shifted the crowd with a 12-song set list that lasted a little more than hour.

One thing I’ll never be accused of, though, is being a fair-weather concert-goer.

I don’t just pick and choose the bands I want to see. I try to get to as many shows as I can, which is why I’ve seen Jay Z, the Jonas Brothers, Selena Gomez, Kid Rock, Demi Lovato, Justin Timberlake, Ariana Grande, Paramour, The Killers, Hunter Hayes, Neil Diamond, Tony Bennett, Ed Sheeran and Lady Gaga.

I try to embrace the music, no matter the performer, and rate the show on the effect it has on the crowd and myself.

Sometimes I get surprised by how good a band is – O.A.R. and Twenty One Pilots, quickly come to mind – while sometimes I walk away with less than I expected.

I’ve seen a lot, too.

Mosh pits. Drunken fools being carried away by security. A girl breaking off her engagement and giving back her ring, with the man storming off and leaving her alone. People throwing up or urinating against a fence (outdoor venues are fun). And, of course, boobs …. But not as much as when I was younger. That’s not as much of a thing anymore.

What will I see and who will I see in the future?

Good question.

All I know for sure is as I sit there letting the music in, I hear the word of Friedrich Nietzsche ring true: Without music, life would be a mistake.”

Monday in Manchester: The World Just Changed Again

An injured girl is helped from the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England, on Monday, May 22, 2017. (AP photo)

Every tragedy seems to carry with it that one image that becomes iconic because it gets splashed across television screens worldwide, and in newspapers from Calcutta to California.

For Monday night’s terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena, at an Ariana Grande concert, of all places, the image is that of a teen-age girl being helped outside the venue (See above).

Her pants have been cut open, her knee has been wrapped up, blood streaming down her left arm.

But what grabs you – what hits you right in the heart – are the faces inside the photo.

The girl’s face. The face of another girl – a friend, perhaps? – behind her. To the left, a bystander looks stunned. Even the faces of the police woman helping this young lady seem stunned.

What the hell just happened?

My heart sunk when the news alert hit my Twitter account.

All it said was an explosion rocked the Manchester Arena after an Ariana Grande concert.

Ariana Grande in concert at Mohegan Sun Arena in February of 2017. (Photo by John Nash)

Terrorism. Period.

We knew. We all knew. It took a couple of hours, but we all knew what was coming.

Yet another piece of shit in this world’s Us vs. Them battle decided to attack.

Only instead of flying planes into a building filled with some of the greediest, money-loving adults on the planet, this one decided to attack our children.

Our children.

OUR FUCKING CHILDREN!!!!!

This is the world we now live. Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.

Our children are now terrorist targets. As if sending them to school here in the United States isn’t dangerous enough.

When terrorists opened fire and blew things up at the Bataclan theater in Paris, raining terror down on an Eagles of Death Metal concert, it shocked the world.

It was the next salvo in attacking soft targets and adults everywhere went into the next concert with their eyes wide open.

I know I did.

I’ve been blessed to see 98 concerts in my life and have never felt unsafe inside a venue. Walking in and walking out, though, you realize how easy it would be to pull off an attack like Mondays.

On Feb. 17 of this year, I walked into the Mohegan Sun Arena, to take photos of Ariana Grande.

I got a first-hand look at her audience and, for the most, they were children. They were little kids no doubt going to their first-ever concert. They were teenagers who idolized Grande for her ability to sing and act and dance. They were college-aged fans who undoubtedly watched Grande grow from a child actor on Nickelodeon’s “Victorious” or “Sam and Kat” into the actress who wowed a nation in a live performance of “Grease.”

They were people just like 18-year-old Georgina Callander, a person who could “light up a room,” according to friends. She was the first victim identified out of the 22 who were killed.

Georgina Callander, left, and Ariana Grande with a friend at a previous concert. (Photo via Instagram)

Who would attack this crowd? And why?

Why?

Because they can.

In the wee hours of the Manchester morning, Grande took to Twitter to send a message to her fans: “broken. from the bottom of my heart, i am so sorry. i don’t have words.”

None of us do.

This is a broken world and the hatred is too strong, coming at us from too many angles.

It’s wrong. Just wrong.

And now our children are dying.

We are left with lasting images that will remind us of the carnage that occurred, wondering when it will end even as we fear what is coming next.

Orlando

Ray Rivera, left, a DJ at Pulse Orlando nightclub, is consoled by a friend, outside of the Orlando Police Department after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at the nightclub, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Ray Rivera, left, a DJ at Pulse Orlando nightclub, is consoled by a friend, outside of the Orlando Police Department after a shooting involving multiple fatalities at the nightclub, Sunday, June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Twenty dead children in Newtown isn’t going to change anything, why would 51 people in Orlando?

Sorry. That’s cold. But that’s just how I feel.

I’m so disgusted by this country right now. By our leaders. By a certain part of our citizenry. By the Us vs. Them attitude that is so decisive that there is no room for any middle ground.

It’s wrong. It’s just wrong and people are dying every day because of it.

Orlando is supposed to be about Disney and Magic — both the NBA team that calls the city home and the bright-eyed wonderment of young children who get their first hug from Mickey Mouse, or take their first awe-inspiring trip through Spaceship Earth.

Over the past 48 hours, it’s been about madness and darkness coming together, leaving behind too many dead bodies to ignore.

Lives are shattered. Hearts are broken. Everybody says the right thing, but nobody does anything about it.

Here we go again.

This isn’t just about guns, but it is about guns. It’s also about mental illness. It’s about terrorism. It’s about hatred. It’s about a never-ending wave of violence coming to your neighborhood soon.

It’s about us looking into a mirror and saying is this really the country we want to be?

It’s about Littleton. Aurora. San Bernadino. Newtown.

And now it’s about Orlando.

Shots ring out, blood gets spilled, the spotlight hits and then it fades away until the next shots are fired in the next place you’d never expect it to happen.

This isn’t just about Sunday’s deadly massacre at The Pulse, either.

Twenty-eight hours before that a 22-year-old young woman whose talent was inspiring others was gunned down after she gave a concert to a group of her fans.

FILE - In this June 29, 2014 file photo, "The Voice" Season 6 contestant Christina Grimmie performs as part of "The Voice Tour" at Cobb Energy Centre, in Atlanta. Florida authorities say "The Voice" star Grimmie is in critical condition after being shot at a concert venue in Orlando by a suspect who then fatally shot himself after being tackled by the singer-songwriter's brother. Orlando Police Department officials tell WKMG-TV that Grimmie was shot Friday night at The Plaza Live, where she was scheduled to perform. (Photo by Robb D. Cohen/Invision/AP, File)

In this June 29, 2014 file photo, “The Voice” Season 6 contestant Christina Grimmie performs as part of “The Voice Tour” at Cobb Energy Centre, in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

Christina Grimmie’s death is in the shadows now. Few will know why her killer did what he did because some other sick son of a bitch was able to buy an assault weapon and a hand gun, and days later walk into an LGBT club and open fire.

Fifty people killed. Another 53 hurt. It’s being called the worst mass casualty shooting incident in the history of the United States of America.

And it happened on our watch, folks.

Before the shots rang out, both sites were all about celebration — a concert and a club. It didn’t matter who was inside and what was being celebrated. It was all about love and music and enjoying each other and the night together.

It was about what the United States of America is supposed to be about.

And then it wasn’t.

Yet because we are too weak as a country to find a solution, we can’t stop it.

We say the right things in small talk to each other. We find a way to send our prayers in 140 characters or less, and it feels like we’re doing something.

Asshats like me who put together their own soap box of a blog to bang away their frustration on a keyboard will spew forth all the things that need to be said. Yet nothing is going to be done.

These United States of America has become a war zone.

During the Blitz in World War II, you never knew for sure where the bombs were going to fall. One day is was a neighborhood across the city. A week later, it was your neighborhood being destroyed.

It’s a whole new century and we’re fighting this war on multiple fronts, never sure where the next blitz will come from.

We have terrorist overseas and those here who are “home grown” and being called “lone wolves.” We have the mentally ill who either fall through the cracks, or never even get a chance to get into the system to get any kind of help. We have those who were bullied, lashing back out at the world and dealing in retribution that is 10-fold from which they had received.

We’re barely fighting back, so today a mother was forced to stand outside of a hospital not sure if her son is dead, or hurt, or dropped their phone as her ran away from the hail of bullets and the carnage of fallen people behind him.

She’s heartbroken and it’s understandable.

We continue do nothing — NOTHING!!!! — and I don’t understand that at all.

THE MUSIC OF MY LIFE: Part 1 – The Early Years of Paper Lace and Billy

Paper Lace, a Nottingham, England-based band who hit it big just once in the US of A with the song "The Night Chicago Died."

Paper Lace, a Nottingham, England-based band who hit it big just once in the US of A with the song “The Night Chicago Died.”

Daddy was a cop, on the east side of Chicago.

No, this is not my biography. Nor is that of my father.

To the contrary this is a memory, another dance with the ghosts of my past, as I look back on a life filled with music and how it led me to where I am today.

Last night — which was Friday, Feb. 26, in the Year of Our Lord — 2016 — my 49th-plus year on this journey — I attended the 80th concert of my life. On the ride home it got me thinking, what kind of role music has played in the life of a non-musician who just happens to love and admire the craft.

Thus, the first line of this blog — the first of this “The Music of My Life” series that I’ll be looking at from time to time — is actually the opening lyrics from a song called, “The Night Chicago Died” by a band called Paper Lace.

Now in America Paper Lace is known as a one-hit wonder and “The Night Chicago Died” was that one hit.

It was a song that told a story of a night of mob violence in a far away city, and had a nice little rock beat to it and when it burst onto the scene in 1974 . I was only eight years old then, but it became my favorite song.

Perhaps, I dare say, my first favorite rock and roll song.

This is one of the first songs I remember turning up the radio, so I could sing a long — and probably also when I realized that I couldn’t sing a lick.

I couldn’t have told you the first thing about Paper Lace when I was eight years old, but I could tell you who the starting second baseman was for the Boston Red Sox (Doug Griffin) so obviously even then my life was already heading down a path toward what is now my present.

But the love of music never left me and on the drive home last night as I thought about Paper Lace, I realized I didn’t know the first thing about the band other than my affection for that very first song.

For the record, Paper Lace was a band out of Nottingham, England — my parents likely would have approved — Carlo Sanntana (who obviously can’t be confused with the great Carlos Santana) and drummer Phillip Wright were the two main front men for Paper Lace, and I’d never heard of either of them until I looked them up today.

However, I did get thrown for one loop during my research.

Before Paper Lace released their third album, which found some acclaim on this side of the pond, they had released an album in England that same summer that included a song called, “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero.”

Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods.

Bo Donaldson and The Heywoods.

The funny thing about this is “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” was another of my favorite songs growing up, only I knew the version made famous by a band called Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods.

That group, founded in Cincinnati during the 70s, released “Billy” the same summer that Paper Lace released “The Night Chicago Died.”

Paper Lace saw “Billy” go No. 1 in the UK. Bo and band covered it and saw it hit No. 1 in the U.S.

Until today, I can’t remember the last time I heard either song — not even on Sirius XM’s 70s channel — but as I listened to both songs today, I was taken back almost 42 years and remembered the young boy who first started to hear the music, to embrace it and — most importantly — enjoying it.

Now, in the October Weekend of my life, I’m enjoying it more than ever and working at making it a major part of my world.

Say what you will about these two songs, but for me they were the beginning of something special.

And I’ll never let that go.

Glenn, Scott, Cathy & Me: The Road Trip that gave me a love of friendship, girls and music

Glenn Frey of the Eagles (1948-2016) (Photo courtesy of Zelman Studios)

Glenn Frey of the Eagles — (1948-2016)
(Photo courtesy of Zelman Studios)

I remember the car. Vividly. A green AMC Gremlin that lives on as a classic in my mind only because of the stories it helped to create during my formative years.

I remember the friend. Scott. He was the kind of guy you could always count on to do you a favor — no matter what — and he should have been much more appreciated back in those days, but, sadly, in my heart I know we all took him for granted.

I remember the girl, too. Cathy. She was my case of puppy love. I was a sophomore, she was a freshman and together we tried to work through the confusion of two hearts connecting and everything that goes with it.

And, I remember the music. The Eagles. The album? Their Greatest Hits (1971-75).

Add it all up and it was one of the greatest road trips and weekends of my life.

And it call came crashing down on me on a Monday afternoon, ghosts demanding to dance with me at the news that shocked my world.

Glenn Frey was dead.

I grew up a fan of the Eagles. From my earliest days of listening to music,  of counting down the Top 40 with Casey Kasem, the Eagles — part rock, part country, soon to be legendary — was something that grabbed me and never let me go.

Glenn Frey in the early days.

Glenn Frey in the early days.

I can’t remember the first Eagles songs I heard. I can’t even pick my favorite. There are too many in contention. But it seems like every time I hear an Eagles song these days, I’m taken back to a time and a place and with it a memory.

Growing up, I had no clue who Glenn Frey was. Or Don Henley. Bernie Leadon and Randy Meisner? They could have been the governor of South Dakota and Prime Minster of Canada for all I cared in those days.

I just knew I liked their music.

When the band started, I was just beginning kindergarten. By the time they dissolved (the first time) I was heading off to high school.

They literally were the music of my youth. And that music followed me through the years since … through high school, through my single days, in and out of my only marriage, all the way through today, this October Weekend of my life.

When I turn to Spotify or iTunes for some solace from the real world, more often than not some Eagles songs are on the playlist.

Losing Glenn Frey today wasn’t just losing some musician I never met.

It was like losing a family member I hadn’t seen in years.

It’s been a bad month for music lovers. Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead. The oddities of the legendary David Bowie. And, now, Glenn Frey.

Frey’s death has hit me the hardest and the reason why goes back to the winter of 1982, almost 34 years ago.

I had fallen head over heels for an adorable freshman from my Civics class. This was my sophomore year, so I was 15 and, needless to say, I was far from wise to the ways of the world when it came to girls.

I had done the whole playing doctor thing, held hands with a girl or two and had those uncomfortable stiff-armed slow dances to “Love Hurts” by Nazareth.

But with Cathy it was different. She was the first girl who touched my heart in a way I didn’t quite understand. But I knew it liked it. And I knew I liked her. A lot.

We ran cross country together in the fall and during the early part of the basketball season she was my No. 1 fan. And, as an added bonus, she only lived about two blocks from our high school, right around the corner so a lot of our down time was spent together.

We officially became boyfriend/girlfriend in October, but by December she was taken away from me when her mother decided to move from Bangor and go back to Falmouth, about a two-hour drive to Southern Maine.

When you’re 15, though, it might as well be Wyoming.

I finally knew what a broken heart felt like. And it hurt like nothing I had ever felt before.

I think it was probably Scott who came up with the idea of a road trip to see Cathy.

He had his license and he had the car — that aforementioned AMC Gremlin. And like I said he would do anything for anybody, no questions asked.

He wanted to see me happy again, I suppose. And he would do whatever it took to make it a reality.

All we had to do was convince all of our a parents that a heartbroken boy and a heartbroken girl wanted to be together again, even if it was for just one weekend.

Somehow, we got everybody to say yes and thus the first road trip of my life was ready to happen — a two-hour journey from Bangor, down to Falmouth where somehow Cathy’s mother would allow Scott and I to stay at their home.

It was probably March, maybe April … basketball season must have been over, but snow was still on the ground … it’s so long ago I barely remember the details.

But I do remember the music playing in the cassette player of that car. The Eagles Greatest Hits (1971-75). The music of my childhood, even if I was, in my own teenage way, still a child.

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Two hours of the Eagles — of Glenn Frey and Don Henley singing to us and with us — as we made the trip, my heart yearning the minutes away before I saw Cathy again.

It was quite likely on that trip that I learned every single lyric of those Eagles songs and every time I hear one today that journey is still the first thing that comes to my mind.

I was growing up with each mile and each note.

And then, once again, Cathy was back in my arms.

I suppose back then I wanted to hold on to her forever. But we all know how life really works, don’t we?

Somewhere in my box of memories is a card Cathy wrote me and gave me to the day she moved away.

It’s a Ziggy card, drawn by Tom Wilson. Ziggy is in a bathtub, a shower of hearts raining down on him and a rubber duck.

When you open the card there are two clear pages of nothing but words.

Cathy’s words.

“John — Well today, December 18, 1981, is the day we looked at on October 23 and boy did that seem like a long ways away. I am glad we went out and I don’t regret it at all. I hope you don’t either. It’s hard to say how much you’ve meant to me.”

She signed it “Much, much LOVE always forever and ever, Cat.”

Why do I have this 34 years later?

Same reason I have the memories when I hear Glenn Frey’s voice on the radio, or Don Henley’s, or so many other songs that strike that chord and take me back to a time and place.

One of the songs on that Eagles album is “Peaceful Easy Feeling” and there is a set of lyrics that read, “I get this feeling I may know you, As a lover and a friend, But this voice keeps whispering in my other ear, Tells me I may never see you again.”

Driving away from Falmouth and heading home, I didn’t know that two-day weekend at Cathy’s house would be the last time I ever saw her. Once upon a time, you really do believe in forever, but sadly in most cases it is just the memories that last forever.

Feelings fade. Hearts heal (somehow). Life goes on.

Memories, like the music, that lasts forever.

The Eagles have made sure of it.

Despite the road trip, life did go on and the Eagles were always there … even after they weren’t.

Like I said, by the time I was in high school, the band had not officially broken up, but just stopped being.

Glenn Frey went one way. Don Henley went another. The Eagles remained via their music, though.

“Hotel California” takes me back to a time and place. So too does “Wasted Time.” They invoke the same emotions in me today as they did when they did back then when they became embedded inside me.

Frey and Henley still remained at the center of my formative years thanks in great part to MTV, which brought many names and faces to music lovers in a vastly different way — through music videos.

I will never forget the video for Frey’s “Smuggler’s Blues” or Henley’s “Boys of Summer.”

My teens became my twenties and the Eagles were still such a big part of my life.

In the past decade alone I discovered Showtime’s incredible three-hour documentary film, “The HIstory of the Eagles” and watching it I fell in love with the band once again.

Twice, they’ve come to Connecticut to play in concert. Unfortunately, Both nights I had conflicts and wasn’t able to see them.

Now, I’ll never be able to see the Eagles.

I still can’t believe Glenn Frey is gone.

I can only be thankful his gift — his music — will be with all of us fans for as long as we all shall live.

And, of course, for any road trips we once again get to take.

 

Her Name Is Still Rio And She Still Dances On The Sand

The present-day Duran Duran, almost the same as the 1984 version. (Photo courtesy of duranduran.com)

The present-day Duran Duran, almost the same as the 1984 version. (Photo courtesy of duranduran.com)

It’s not very often that an e-mail arrives in my phone and it makes me smile. But at precisely 4:13 p.m., on this day, I received one that made me do just that.

And, just like that, it instantly took me back to a time where I could dance with ghosts, back to a day before there was a thing called e-mail. In fact, nobody even carried cell phones back then, but that’s only because they didn’t go on sale until the following year and even then they cost $4,000. Plus, you couldn’t fit one into your pocket.

It was March 11, 1984, and I was riding in a car heading from Bangor to Portland to attend my first-ever concert at the Cumberland County Civic Center.

It is here, I fear, that I must pull over the Memory Machine to digress for a moment.

I have taken my Man Card from my wallet and temporarily locked it up because there is a chance this post might very well be ridiculed by some. Some might just blatantly laugh in my face. I’m ready for it because, if anything, The October Weekend is about honesty for me when I sit down and starting banging away at the keyboard.

Others — those who get me — might find it sweet and sentimental (That’s you, ladies) even while being on the less manly side of things.

So as I was saying ….

We were driving from Bangor to Portland; myself and a kid named Pat Ross, a year my senior, who had graduated just the year before.

He worked at a men’s store in the Bangor Mall and since this was 1980s there was little to do in Bangor, Maine, so running into Pat was common place.

I can’t remember exactly how it happened, but he brought up the fact he had tickets to this concert and somehow I ended up being his date for the night.

I was 17 and had never been to a concert that wasn’t put on a school band in an auditorium.

And now here I was going from the small city to the — ahem — big city to see my first one.

The band was Duran Duran.

(I am pausing here to let the laughter die down).

My affection for Duran Duran had actually began the year before when the video for “Rio” came out on MTV. That coupled with the fact that I learned one of my English cousins had gone to school with lead singer Simon LeBon helped that affection grow.

When My First Love bought me the album “Rio” for my 17th birthday the year before the concert, I was a full-fledged, albeit primarily closeted, fan of Duran Duran.

How closeted was I?

Duran Duran's "Rio" album cover.

Duran Duran’s “Rio” album cover.

Well, to poke fun at the band, during my senior year at Hampden Academy, my friend, Deane Shaw, and I told anybody who would listen that we were starting up a Duran Duran tribute band and we were going to call it Narud Narud. (Read it backwards, you’ll get the lame joke).

Yet later than spring, when I had a chance to to go see the band perform live, I talked my parents into letting me drive two hours from home for a concert.

Looking back on it now, I just realized it was a Sunday night — a school night — so my parents were being pretty cool for letting me go and I didn’t even realize. (A belated thanks to them, I suppose).

I remember the excitement of walking into the Civic Center, seeing the stage at the far end of the arena, an empty floor (general admission standing!!!) ringed by seats that would put the crowd at close to 8,000.

I remember the blackness right before the band came out and how the entire building hummed with electricity and anticipation. I remember the smell of marijuana, though I myself wouldn’t try the stuff for a couple more years.

I remember the explosion of lights that kicked off the night with the opening song called “Tiger, Tiger.” (I don’t remember that song at all, to be honest. I had to look up the set list).

But all my favorite Duran Duran songs were coming up, from “Hungry Like The Wolf” to “Union of the Snake” to “Save a Prayer.” And the night ended with “Rio” and “Girls on Film” and my ears ringing and hormones raging.

I met a girl named Valerie that night, who for the shortest of times became my girlfriend. She lived in Brunswick, just 20 minutes north of Portland, which put her about 90 minutes south of me.

I actually once hitch-hiked to her house to spend the weekend with her.

Her parents put me on a bus back to Bangor, if I remember right, and I never saw her again.

Ah, fun times.

From time to time as I’m pushing my Sirius XM buttons I’ll come across a Duran Duran song and I’ll listen for a while, maybe a sing along. More often than not, I’ll move on to something else.

Today, Howard Stern was on the radio when at 4:13 p.m. I received an e-mail from my contact at the Mohegan Sun Arena.

The subject line read: “Duran Duran To Play Mohegan Sun Arena In April.”

I smiled because I know I’m going to go.

For old times sake. And for new times sake, as well.