This diverse collection is subtitled "50 Writers Relive Their Most Memorable Concert Going Experience," which pretty much tells it all. The musicians range from
The Beatles to Beck, from David Bowie to Kevin Spacey (yes, the actor) pretending to be Bobby Darin. The venues range from Madison Square Garden to somebody’s living room (no, really). The Show I'll Never Forget offers a great opportunity to gift your musical friends, crossing as it does the lines of gender, race and genre with smatterings of blues, bluegrass, jazz and heavy metal.
Some of these tales are less about the music and more about the writer’s often skewed memories of society and subculture. You've probably never heard of Redd Cross, a group now-bandleader Carl Newman recalls with fondness, because even though “they were playing to almost nobody…they remembered what rock ’n’ roll meant.” Award-winning writer Nick Flynn’s brief encounter with Mink Deville lands him in jail, in what passes for fact but could be a drug-inflamed fantasy inspired by Deville’s “weird hybrid of punk dischord.”
But some segments are about the music, pure and simple, such as popular music expert Holly George-Warren’s paean to Van Morrison: “The music had taken hold of him, the years had slipped away. His eyes closed, he swayed as he sang, his distinctive phrasing imbued with emotion.”
Woodstock 1968 is among the fifty musical events highlighted, its iconic splendor reduced to a few pages of classic recollections from author (The Last of Her Kind) Sigrid Nunez who rode to Yasgur’s Farm on the back of a motorcycle driven by a stoned Viet Nam vet. Nunez and her acid-head friends had come mainly to hear Jimi Hendrix, but by the time he took the stage early Monday morning “we were long gone…we’d been rained on one too many times…we looked like mud people.” Even her biker buddies craved a hot bath. Back at Barnard College, Nunez found that having been at “our generation’s biggest party” was quite a distinction. For a while. Now, she laments, having been at Woodstock just means you’re old.
Art critic Linda Yablonsky blends a soulful evening with Nina Simone, “a woman alone in a man’s world,” with musings about the death of her father, a singer who encouraged her to get into entertainment. Author Rebecca Brown saw
The Beatles in Spain when she was just nine: “The Beatles were more than just a new kind of music. They were also a calling, a stance, a reason and a way to try to live.”
In a slice of black history that resonates across the years, James Brown was scheduled to give a concert in Boston less than 24 hours after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Ignoring the question “How good an idea was it to be a young white kid among thousands of justly angry black people?” novelist (Jernigan, Preston Falls) David Gates attended the concert. He believes it was Brown’s powerful cool, his repeated exhortations to the crowd not to dishonor King’s memory by destroying their own communities, that kept a seething mob inside the confines of the Boston Garden rocking to “Please, Please, Please” instead of rioting outside.