Van Chronicles – Chapter 15 (continued)

To answer Haji’s question: Yes, we are ready to party. It’s Canada Day for Dennis and me, reason to celebrate, and what better way than a night of Van. Jones Beach is in the middle of nowhere, Long Island, New York, with a parking lot the size of Singapore. Which meant only one thing: tailgate party, just like the football fans do. Not being a serious football fan, this was going to be my first. And you know me, always game to do something once. Dennis and I had brought enough alcohol for a carload, but it was just we two. A 40-oz J&B and a 40-oz Southern Comfort. Which we did our level best to demolish.

I have had my share of nights doing my Janis Joplin goes out on the town impersonation. I don’t know that I was that good at it, but not for lack of practice. Tonight’s was the pièce de. It was enough to make me swear off Southern Comfort forever. I’m serious; it was an easy task. My Janis days were over (well, the impersonation ones), but it’s good to go out on a high note; I’m sure she would say the same thing.

It’s a bit of a hike from where we live to get down to Jones Beach – it’s probably an hour as the eagle flies, but it’s three if you drive, and we were driving. But it’s a Saturday, a summer afternoon out by the beach; what could be better? We had lots of time to spare by the time we arrived and parked the car in the sea of cars already there. Part way through the bottle and before things got too fuzzy, I headed off to the closest port-a-potty, to join the party there. Where the two hottest topics of conversation were how long it was going to take to get out of the parking lot at the end of the show and how much they loved “Brown Eyed Girl.” When I got back, Dennis showed me a flier that some guy had handed to him or had put on our windshield. It was an advert for a Van Morrison fan magazine called Wavelength and it was encouraging our subscription. My first thought was, are there really enough Van Morrison fans to have a fanzine? And my second thought was, regardless of how many fans there are out there, there are at least two, this Simon Gee in England who is responsible for Wavelength and the guy who was walking around the parking lot at Jones Beach with a sheaf of 8½ by 11s. Bird in the hand, as they say, and I was off in the direction Dennis pointed me toward, where the fellow with the fliers had wandered off. I finally caught up with him and his friend back at their car. It was Dan Murray and Joe Hauldren. I couldn’t believe my eyes – two fans, in the actual flesh. It felt like I was at a secret club meeting. I was dumbfounded. Like I wanted to touch them to make sure they were real. Not to put too fine a point on it, but it felt like I was getting out of solitary after twenty-six years, and the light kind of blinded me. They were talking up a Van storm, stories of this and that, and I, of course, had no clue what they were on about. Save for a biography by Johnny Rogan and some interviews in Rolling Stone, none of which were very illuminating, all I had was my love of the music. These two had that in spades too. And hey, it was a gig day. As Joe says, “A gig day is a good day.” It is a good day. And tomorrow I’m going to send my shekels to Simon Gee. But for now, we’ve got a show coming up.

Back at the car, Dennis and I continued our tailgate party with the neighbors, the music up loud, just having a fine time of it. I had a sufficient buzz on by the time we packed up the accessories and headed off to the venue, waaaaaaaaaaaay over there on the other side of the lot. It had started to spit rain, and by the time we got to our seats in the open-air theater, it looked very much like it was going to get worse. Like good Scouts, we came prepared with our umbrella. But for now it was just spitting. As it turns out, it could have poured rain and I wouldn’t have known. I spent the bulk of the show lying horizontal in a tent, where the issue of rain and umbrellas never came up. If nothing else, I stayed dry. And somewhere on the other side of the tent flap, Van and the band were doing what they came to do. I came to somewhere around “Wonderful Remark” because I remember opening my mouth to ask my caretaker to shush and listen to the song and immediately puked up my guts. That felt better as I crashed back on the cot. Very quickly I learned that as long as I didn’t move, I was fine. Well, not fine; but I was alive, and that counted for something. All I had to do was not move. Just lie there and listen to the music. And puke up my guts. After each bout of that, I’d declare I was much better and couldn’t I just pretty please go. I promised to behave. Of course, every time I moved to get up, the tent began to spin and it was all I could do to reach the bucket. By the fifth time of going through this rigmarole, Florence Nightingale was getting a little testy with me. Even I could tell she just wished I would pass out again. There I was with my head in the bucket and she was giving me a speech about how lucky I was to be alive; at that precise moment I could see who had the edge here, and it wasn’t the person with her head in the bucket. So I lay back and kept my mouth shut and tried not to spin. And it started to come back to me. The band, led by Georgie Fame, opened with “Symphony Sid,” then Haji introduced Van to the stage, Mr. Van Morrison! and as Van started singing, I had the urge to be one of those ladies who throws their panties up on stage. Not really. But I did want to be down front right where if I were the panty-throwing type, I’d be in range. I never made it. I remembered getting out to the aisle after clambering over the phalanx of knees in my row, and I remember running toward the stage, and then it was lights out. Next thing I know I’m telling the nice but chatty nurse to keep it quiet so we could all listen to Van.

If the show the night before had been all horns, tonight’s show was all bass. It seemed like the infirmary tent was parked right next to Nicky Scott’s amplifier. With the knob turned up to high. Every time the tent reverberated, I could just imagine what I was missing out there. It wasn’t until later that I learned it wasn’t Nicky Scott at all, it was simply that the thunderstorm had moved in and parked itself directly over the infirmary.

Then the music stopped. And the clapping stopped. It dawned on me, just before I fell asleep, that Dennis could spend hours looking for me and not once think of looking in here. When I came to a couple of hours later, it turns out that I was right on both counts. When I finally caught up with him about 2 in the morning, his recollection of events over the last six hours was only slightly less sketchy than mine. I like a man who can hold his liquor like that. As he remembers it, he didn’t even notice me heading off to the aisle the minute Van started singing. Later, when it did occur to him he hadn’t seen me in a while, he assumed I had rushed the stage and was enjoying the concert from an up-close vantage point. He headed down that way for the last few songs, and when the show was over, he realized he’d left the umbrella back at our seats. Trouble was, he couldn’t remember where his seat was. He figures he chewed up a fair bit of time working on that piece of the puzzle.

Umbrella found, but still no Shannon, he figured I must have headed out to the car, and so off he went, in search of car and wife. He doesn’t remember how long he wandered around the lot, but at one point he simply gave up – the car (not to mention the wife) was simply not there. It was somewhere around this time that an officer of the law noticed Dennis weaving around, and before Dennis knew it, the officer had relieved Dennis of his car keys. So now he had no car, no wife and no keys and promptly sat down to ponder life as it was unfolding.

It was eerily gloomy when I finally woke up; the place was empty, and I got the sense they were holding it open just for me. I was a bit wobbly on my feet, but I think at that point they just wanted to get rid of me. They’d had quite enough of me for one night.

I found Dennis sitting at the front entrance; they’d returned him his keys, and by then, whoever was in charge of thinking at the venue had managed to put it together that these two drunks belonged to each other, and told him to sit tight and I was bound to walk by sooner or later. So he sat there and waited. That I actually showed up seemed like some sort of miracle to him. As we recapped the evening’s events, sketchy as the details were, the one thing we could agree on was that this might not have been the smartest thing we’d ever done, that in terms of actually getting the full benefit of the music, we hadn’t earned any merit badges this particular concert, although I still couldn’t get over how great the bass was all night.

The other thing we agreed on is that there’s something to be said for being the last one to leave – when yours is the only car in the parking lot, you can spot it a mile away, and it takes no time to get out of the lot.

Chapter 16

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