Saturday, April 12, 2014

No. 54 – Little Wing

Performer: Sting
Songwriter: Jimi Hendrix
Original Release: … Nothing Like the Sun
Year: 1987
Definitive Version: None.

One of my favorite liner notes of all time—maybe my favorite—is a line by Sting on … Nothing Like the Sun. He discusses something about each song, of course, what led to their writing, etc. Under Little Wing, he talks about seeing The Experience when he was 15 and says “I’d never seen or heard anything like it in my life and don’t suppose I ever will.” Absolutely right.

I decided at the start of this here blog that I would limit a song to only a single performer. In other words, a song could appear only one time on this here list, regardless of how many people recorded it. So I had to choose my favorite performance out of all of the various recordings.

If I didn’t limit songs in this way, this would’ve been the fourth time that Little Wing appeared on this here list, because I also love the Stevie Ray Vaughn version, the Derek and the Dominos version and, yes, even the Hendrix version. They’re all very different. Ironically, I like the original version by Hendrix the least.

At Debbie’s request, I once played all four back to back to back to back. She loved hearing all the differences, although she—naturally—preferred the Clapton version the best. I like the Sting version the best, not only for the dreamy quality of it but also what it came to represent. To me, Sting’s rendition of Little Wing is the sound of passionate love.

When I awoke the morning of April 9, 1988, I groaned. I had to set an alarm, because I was supposed to be at New Buffalo High School before 8 to shoot mug shots of the baseball team for the News-Dispatch before practice. (The sports department—and, by consequence, Harbor Country News—used mugshots extensively.) That was early for me back then.

But my displeasure turned to joy when I opened the door from my bedroom to head to the bathroom to wash up. I saw Melanie on the floor next to Jin, smiling at me as I walked through the room. As I bathed, I recalled the stunning turn of events of the previous night. Did that really happen? Did I really end up on the love seat, making out with Jin’s friend, to whom I’d been introduced only a few hours earlier? That kind of spontaneous combustion never happens to me.

Then it was out the door and off to the ballfield. When I arrived, no one was there, and a tarp covered the infield. The tarp had a few puddles on it. Did it rain last night? I was unaware of that being the case, but no matter. The bottom line was no practice was going on, nor did it appear any practice would go on that day. I wasn’t broken-hearted. I could reschedule the mug shots, and this meant we could head to Chicago that much sooner.

As I mentioned (good ol’ No. 219), the entire purpose of the visit by Jin and Melanie was to partake of cheap housing, so they could see the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at The Art Institute. Originally, I wasn’t going to go, but things had changed dramatically. Anywhere that Melanie was going, I wanted to be, too.

But beyond the romantic incentive, I had been introduced to the world of art through Wabash, so I wasn’t totally closed off to the experience. I suppose if it was just Jin going and she asked me to go, I still would have gone anyway. Fortunately, they invited me to go the previous evening, so it wasn’t as though I just was tagging along.

Jin and Melanie were surprised to see me when I came home as they were rolling up their bedding. The plan had been that we wouldn’t leave until lunchtime, but we could grab some breakfast and head out now. Because Jin had driven over from Albion, I volunteered to drive to Chicago.

When we arrived, Jin and Melanie got another more unwelcome surprise. Neither was prepared to pay $20 for the O’Keeffe exhibit, on top of the admission, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to pick up the entire tab. They had a quick consultation and decided to pass on the O’Keeffe exhibit.

That was fine with me. That meant I didn’t have to wander around the Art Institute myself for a few hours while they went through the exhibit. We hiked up the massive stairs to the beginning of the paintings galleries.

My interest ran more to brunettes who appreciated art rather than the art itself, but that changed as the painting moved into the 18th Century. In one gallery, in each corner of the room, was a series of four paintings of massive Roman ruins by Hubert Robert. Those paintings fascinated me—the mix of the unreal and real and how the people of the day were both overwhelmed and seemingly oblivious to the structures looming over them. Huh. Maybe I do like art after all.

As we walked along, we moved forward in time into the 19th Century. I liked the Caillebotte: Paris Street, Rainy Day. I felt I’d seen that painting before, in my Cultures & Traditions class. I remember Professor Greene, aka Professor God, talking about impressionism (although this painting isn’t impressionist work, of course) and Mahler, and that stuck with me.

Then we turned the corner, and I saw a painting I knew very well and loved from that same C&T lecture—A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. Hey, cool! I didn’t know this painting was here.

I was excited to see it in person. I took note of the huge painting’s pointillism, and I could hear Professor God’s words in my ears describing the coldness of the work, how even though dozens of people were in the scene, none seemed to be interacting in any way. I now heard Debussy instead of Mahler.

I said all this to Jin and Melanie, and Jin was shocked that her big brother actually seemed to have a bit of a previously undetected cultural interest. Melanie flashed a smile of approval and gave my hand a quick squeeze … and then didn’t let go.

We kept walking, and I recognized more of the works, more of the artists: Monet, Renoir, Picasso, hey, Salvador Dali. Cool! Look, Nighthawks. I know that one! The biggest surprise came when we entered a small gallery in the back of the second floor, and I was face to face with American Gothic by Grant Wood. It had to have been the most famous painting I’d seen in my life up to that point. I was very impressed. “Wow. THAT painting is HERE!?” I assumed it would be in New York or Washington. Nope. Chicago.

After we wrapped up the painting galleries, Jin wanted to see the Chinese and Indian sculptures on the first floor. By this time, Melanie and I were holding hands more tightly and even stopping to kiss once in a while. Whatever happened the night before seemed as though it was going to continue.

When the museum closed, it was time to get dinner. I didn’t know any places downtown, but I knew a great place—very cheap—up in Evanston. Besides, that gave me a chance to show where I went to school to Jin, who’d never visited me at Northwestern.

The place I knew about was Dave’s Italian Kitchen. Everything was homemade, from scratch, and nothing was more than $10, so right in the wheelhouse of two college students and one entry-level journalist. Back then, Dave’s was in a hole in the wall building (now gone) close to the L. Jin and Melanie loved it.

We headed out for the two-plus hour drive home, and everyone was hitting the wall. We hadn’t gotten far on the Dan Ryan when the women announced that they could use a bathroom. That’s trouble, because there was nothing around except the Robert Taylor Homes, and we don’t want to stop there. They said they’d do the best they could. I knew I had to find something quick.

A McDonald’s was at the Skyway toll stop, except it was closed for renovations. Oh crap. Fortunately, I spotted a motel, called the American Inn, at the next exit, Exit No. 0. I pulled off, and Jin and Melanie raced in, much to their relief. Well, I might as well go, too. When we met up in the lobby, everyone was feeling better.

I wasn’t in danger of falling asleep as I drove home, but Melanie made sure I wouldn’t. She took my right hand and began running her fingers lightly over the back of it, then over the palm. My eyes were wide open.

I suppose it was inevitable that when we arrived back in New Buffalo, Melanie and I weren’t ready to call it a night. As Jin turned on the TV, we went for a walk down the street to Lake Michigan. We hiked along the dark beach until we reached a huge log that lay up the beach from the shore.

We made ourselves comfortable and then made ourselves more comfortable on the sand beside the log as our passion built to the limits of the situation. But … soon, there would be more. Before we made it back to my apartment, Melanie and I agreed that we wanted to see each other again.

We parted for the night, and I lay on my back in my bed, my mind once again reeling with thoughts of the events now of the past two days. I’d never been attracted to any of Jin’s friends before; now I was making plans with one of them to see her again—this time without Jin around.

If I’m fortunate to receive total consciousness on my deathbed, one of the memories I will think about is what happened next. The door to my bedroom opened, and Melanie, wearing a thin white nightgown walked in. She closed the door and announced: “I don’t want to be out there. Can I stay in here with you?” It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

My acceptance came in the form of an outreached hand that pulled her to me. Hurricane Melanie had reached landfall, striking me full force and wreaking devastation on my heart.

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