Thursday, December 20, 2012

Newtown: A Nightmare, and a Brief Call to Action

One week ago tonight, I was on the back end of a business trip to Texas. My computer buzzed; Lori was calling me on google. I put the call on video. Elianna got on, then Aaron. Elianna put devil's horns on her head, then a mustache on Aaron's face. It was funny and silly and care-free. But I also missed my kids, and was counting down until I could be home again.

Early Friday afternoon, a holiday lunch was ending. The mood in the room was cheerful, volunteers were wrapping gifts for children served by a local charity. I checked facebook on my phone. A message said, "unable to move," and then, "god bless the 26, 18 of which were children. There are no words for this." I looked across the table, and asked to those who were still there, "Was there a shooting somewhere today?" Inevitably, the sad answer was yes.

It is my worst nightmare. I expect it is the worst nightmare of many, many parents. We drop our kids off at school, we wish them a great tell, tell them that we love them, we expect they will reunite when the school day is over... I saw a picture of Noah Pozner, the youngest of the children to die. He had just turned 6 years old. A winter coat, dark hair sticking up in back, sweetly smiling, big eyelashes. He looked not altogether unlike I looked at that age.

Shortly after, I read a blog post entitled, I Am Adam Lanza's Mother. It was a cry of help from a mother who feared for her mentally ill child, and in fear of her mentally ill child. She wrote: "In the wake of another horrific national tragedy, it's easy to talk about guns. But it's time to talk about mental illness." The post went viral. Her small personal blog, which had received very few comments in its 4 year history, got thousands of new comments. On facebook, the post was liked more than a million times. The mother, Liza Long, was right: It is time - past time - to talk about mental illness.

Fortunately, relatively few of us who are parents will ever have the issues that Ms. Long claims, or that Mrs. Lanza had. But just having a child, that we know. We're already there.

I am not Noah Pozner's father. I don't pretend to be. But his reality is my nightmare. There is only so much a parent can do to protect their kids. So I do want to talk about guns. I want to talk about too many guns that can do too much damage and that can all too easily end up in the hands of people who are all too willing to use those guns to kill others. At 31 school shootings since Columbine, we are nationally out of control.

Adam Lanza's mother was described as a "gun enthusiast" who was very careful with her guns. She acquired her weapons legally. She broke no laws by having those guns in the home along with a child she knew to be mentally ill; one media report claimed that just days before the attack, she confided to a drinking buddy that "I'm worried I'm losing him." But the guns remained, legally, right up until the moment her son used one of them to kill her.

I'll start there. Whatever laws need to be changed so that the next parent can't have those guns in that place, change those laws. The combinations of the weapons and magazines and ammunition that the murderer used, there is no reason for civilians ever to have those. The 2nd Amendment protects the right of the people to bear arms; it does not protect the right of all people to bear all arms and all ammunition in any quantity. Many people have written sensible suggestions; some of the best I've seen have come from the Nicholas Kristof of New York Times.

If you agree, you can write your congressman or your senator. Stand up and be counted.
If you would like to sign an online petition, here are links to two of them:

Mayors Against Illegal Guns

New York Daily News

ADDENDUM: On December 21, Wayne LaPierre, chief executive of the National Rifle Association (NRA), called on Congress to "to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every school in this nation." This is wrong, on so many levels. Presumably he'll be back to propose more appropriations for shopping malls, movie theaters, school buses, Jungle Javas, McDonald's Play Places, Chuck E. Cheeses, and anywhere else people -- especially children -- gather in large numbers. LaPierre didn't even have the decency to propose that appropriations come from new gun or ammunition taxes. Their answer to too many guns, is to add ever more guns.

This must stop. Stand up and be counted.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

"Vacated" is short for "Vindicated": Bounties, the New Orleans Saints and the NFL, concluded

In August, I wrote a blog post called Bounties, the New Orleans Saints, and the NFL. The post was just my personal thoughts on the then 5-months old public flogging of the New Orleans Saints organization, from its highest management level to its defensive players. While I noted that certain coaches of the Saints were "a bit detached from what I might call 'normal'," what seemed inescapable to me at the time was that the league had not presented "any evidence of a bounty program." The league, led by commissioner Roger Goodell, suspended 4 current or former Saints players, for terms of up to one year.

The league was required, per its Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) with the NFL Players Association (NFLPA), to provide the evidence upon which it intended to rely, as part of the players appeal process. Those exhibits are still retrievable from the NFLPA website. Although the league trumpeted those exhibits as "overwhelming," I found the exhibits to be, at best, amateurish attempts to dress up a bad case. Some pundits agreed, but I was in a distinct minority with them. Comments on discussion boards such as at decisively sided with the league; almost anyone who wasn't a Saints fan seemed overly eager to display their toughness by demanding the accused players to "man up" and accept their punishments. Not being a Saints fan, I had little company.

Since my initial post, it became apparent that nearly all of the league's evidence came from two former coaches. One of the coaches may have been carrying out a vendetta for having been fired by the Saints (that that coach was subsequently hired by Princeton University gives me some pause, when considering the judgment within the Ivy League); the other coach -- who did author some batshit crazy powerpoint decks -- was apparently threatened with a lifetime ban from the NFL if he did not "co-operate" (i.e., give up the names of "guilty" players). Both coaches, according to various reports, attempted to recant either partially or completely.

Commissioner Goodell had authority to rule on the appeals. "Policeman, prosecutor, judge, jury and appeals court, if you will," was how I put it in August. The players, nonetheless, demanded that Goodell recuse himself. One of the players had filed a defamation suit against Goodell in Federal Court and the judge had seemed sympathetic. Goodell turned the appeals over to his predecessor, former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Over these past 4 months I also noticed something else in my blog space. My August post started getting hits. More hits than any of my personal posts, more hits than most of my music posts. It seems that a search on some combination of "Saints," "NFL," and "bounties" managed to find the page in some search engines. Recently, the hit rate picked up. Not many hits, but more than enough for me to notice. I'd like to think that more than a few others saw the case for what it was... or perhaps more accurately, what it wasn't.

Today, the case ended. Commissioner Tagliabue vacated the suspensions against the four players. Tagliabue issued a brief statement, that included this: ""My affirmation of Commissioner Goodell's findings could easily justify the issuance of fines." The word "affirmation" may seem to support Goodell, but the rest of the statement gives it away: This was never a bounty program. Commissioner Tagliabue's statement is consistent with how a competent Commissioner might approach a garden-variety pay-for-performance program, more commonly known as a "kitty."

Naturally, the very people who insisted that the players "man up" are now circling the wagons. Witness Sports Illustrated's Peter King. King was completely snookered by the NFL's sham evidence in June and wasn't exactly saying, "I was wrong" or "I was fooled by a PR campaign." But no one denies that Commissioner Goodell has lost this case -- and perhaps his grip on the job of NFL Commissioner.

The case against the players is over. I don't know if Jonathan Vilma will continue with his defamation case against Goodell. The Saints hardly "won"; their 2012 season has been a disaster, due no doubt in substantial part to their head coach and top assistant having been suspended as part of this case. Even the underlying issue of "pay to injure" has long since faded; in each of the past two weeks active players have died the day before a game, in horrific events. The league plainly has more important things to deal with than trumped up charges from things that may or may not have been said 3 years ago. For a day, though, I'll take a moment out and cheer a bit of justice, however rationalized, and however delayed.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Graham Parker and the Rumour in Downtown Newton, NJ, December 7, 2012

Graham Parker and the Rumour at the Newton Theater, December 7, 2012 (photo: Aaron Orel)
The Newton Theater is a 605 seat theater in the small town of Newton, New Jersey. That's up in the northwest corner of the state, and I expect that even people who grew up in New Jersey -- like me -- generally have no idea where it is. The theater was built in the 1920s and has gone in and out of operation, most recently re-opening as a concert venue in late 2011.

Last night Graham Parker and the Original Rumour appeared at the completely sold-out theater, playing a non-nonsense mix of songs originally recorded with The Rumour, post-Rumour songs, as well as most of Parker's newest album, Three Chords Good. Parker certainly knew where he was: as I heard one amused fan saying it on a bathroom run just prior to the show starting, "we're in bumblefuck New Jersey!" But if Parker is, as my brother described, "the best rocker no one's heard of," the Newton Theater might be the prettiest little theater (with a wonderful no-frills pizza joint right next door) in the nicest looking little town that no one's ever seen.

Parker and the band took the stage as Bruce Springsteen's version of Jersey Girl played, and quickly launched in to Fools' Gold, from the 1976 album Heat Treatment.Parker easily integrated his new material in to the show, eventually performing 7 of its 12 tracks. Early on in this mix, Parker said it was time to get the "controversial" song out of the way, referring to the politically charged Coathangers.  Another highlights among the new songs was Old Soul; Parker called it his favorite among the new songs.

The setlist included Watch The Moon Come Down, which will be included in the upcoming Judd Apatow movie This is 40. Noting that the movie is to be released on December 21st, the same day as the supposed Mayan end of the world, Parker advised the audience to see a matinee on the day of release.

Don't Ask Me Questions
Unlike other concerts I've seen with band members changing out instruments between nearly every song, there were no guitar techs in sight last night. Parker -- dressed in a button down shirt and with shades that would have gone well in 1979 -- had two guitars: an acoustic and an electric. The other band members stayed on their basic instruments the full evening. Martin Belmont and Brinsley Schwarz traded off on the guitar solos, each adding their own distinctive sound to the mix. Last night's set also included the tour debut of the title track from Howlin Wind, a crisp performance the segued seamlessly in to the new song Live in the Shadows.

Throughout the show, Parker repeatedly referenced his location ("downtown Newton") and his history with New Jersey, and this inevitably led to mock-horrified remembrances of other bands that sold more records than The Rumour (Christopher Cross ended up on the wrong end of one particularly biting reference). He had nicer things to say about New Jersey natives The Smithereens. The audience ate it up.

After the show, Martin Belmont remarked that playing and recording together again was "easy," and that many of the new album performances were first takes. Hopefully, more people in easier-to-find places will be able to discover this for themselves.

(note: the first edit of this post misidentified the song used in "This is 40." I have corrected it.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Who at Jou Louis Arena, November 24, 2012

We can't see every big show that comes through Detroit. Money and sanity are limiting factors. But, sometime after initially getting in to the Beatles -- and before keying in to Bruce -- Aaron had found The Who. He found The Seeker on Guitar Hero III, and, as is his fashion, subsequently devoured every recording I had of them. Last summer, he brought to my attention that they -- well, Roger and Pete, anyway -- would be coming to Detroit, for a revival Quadrophenia tour, and he wanted to go.

Frankly, the prospect of a Quadrophenia tour didn't thrill me. It was hardly my favorite work, and besides, Lori and I saw The Who put on a Quadrophenia show at The Palace in 1996, back when John Entwistle was still alive. My main memories were that Pete Townshend played only acoustic guitar during the album presentation that evening, and that the tour program I had purchased was missing many of its pages. Then there was the ticketing: for the kind of seats I might want, I might have to buy a "VIP package" that would throw in souvenirs I didn't really want, at prices I certainly didn't want to pay. So I held off... right up until the day before the show, when 12th row seats opened up at a regular price. Gonna see The Who!
Playing along with Keith:  Bell Boy
We prepped for the show by putting on a borrowed LP of the album. Not CD, which I don't have. LP, all 4 sides, with a sense of nostalgia as I got out the D4. I never really dug deep in to the Quadrophenia story, but I did get a sense of its introspection and melancholy, not to mention the musical attack. We played the entire album before leaving for the show.

Vintage Trouble opened the show
Before The Who took the stage, Vintage Trouble played a high energy opening set. Their lead singer, Ty Taylor, has clearly studied the moves of James Brown. But he could sing, and the band's music was tight and urgent. Highlights included Total Strangers and Nobody Told Me, from their album The Bomb Shelter Sessions.

The Who -- now a 10-piece band -- came out around 8:30. Pete, with a checkered jacket over a white t-shirt. and Roger with his own button down jacket and shirt combo (the shirt, of course, would be in various conditions of buttoning throughout the show, finally culminating in "fully unbuttoned" for the encores). Not a uniform band, in terms of clothes, anyway. By the time The Real Me was over, we could see how the show would proceed: Huge overhead video displays were used to present, alternately, a history lesson, the story of Quadrophenia, and a retrospective of the band. Pete would play plenty of lead electric guitar. And the vintage moves -- Roger twirling the microphone, Pete's windmill attack on the guitar -- would be in evidence, over and over again. All of the sound effects, from the roaring sea, to the snippets of The Kids Are Alright and The Thunderer, were presented seamlessly. The only obvious glitch was when Daltrey came forward to play harmonica, and no sound could be heard as his transmitter was off.

Hope I get old and don't die? The windmill lives.
Roger and Pete both can still sing, and Pete's guitar playing sounded as good as ever to my ears (and, for me, a bit of a revelation after the acoustic presentation in 1996). That said, the musical highlight of the evening was a blistering solo by the dead man: Entwistle is gone, but his extended solo during 5:15, taken no doubt from the 1996-97 tour, lit up the room. During that prior tour, Entwistle had a camera at the end of his bass, to provide a dramatic live effect for the audience. To say that it still worked 15 years later would be an understatement; Zak Starkey easily synced to Entiwstle's axe, and the other band players turned to watch The Ox on the overhead. A bit later, Keith Moon rose to take his solo for Bell Boy, never mind that he's been dead for almost 35 years. This might suggest a question as to just how much of the show was really live and how much might be Memorex, but no one seemed to mind.

The album portion of the show concluded with a typically forceful version of Love Reign O'er Me, starting with Roger silhouetted against images of the sea water tumbling down, and going through to the final screams and windmill chords.

A drink of cool cool rain.
For the encores, both Pete and Roger became a bit chatty with the audience. Pete reminisced on The Who's first show in the area, when the band stopped off in Ann Arbor on the way from New York to Monterrey in 1967. As he described it, there were about 30 people at the show, half of them in the MC5. Daltrey made remarks as to how much he loved the city, and that he believed the city wouldn't "be down forever." Pete and Roger never greeted each other, though, not until a brief embrace at the very end of the show.

The encores were drawn mostly from Who's Next, and completely lacked the urgency of the Quadrophenia presentation. In the audience, the reaction seemed opposite; through the main portion of the show the audience -- save for the people down front with us -- were mostly sitting on their hands. But when the band started Behind Blue Eyes, suddenly there were 12,000 people who knew all the words and were very willing to sing them, loudly.

Tea & Theater
After the band departed the stage, Roger and Pete stayed behind. Roger announced that Chris Stamp, who had helped manage the band during its early years, had passed away that morning. They concluded the evening with an acoustic performance of Tea & Theatre, from the 2006 album Endless Wire.

The show worked. No pretense, really, of seeing anything "new," though with the fresh musical attack and the video presentation, Quadrophenia retained a certain timelessness. In a sense, perhaps it was old even when it was first released in 1973, so it just hasn't aged that much. Before the concert, when I had told my good friend, and The Who biographer Dave Marsh, that we were likely going to the show, he offered up that "they are still the perfect introduction for classic rock for young teen boys," but that too much could turn one in to a "yobbo" (I had to look that up). We got the introduction. And the kid is alright.
Future's bright...Daltrey's next move: FTD spokesman

Sunday, November 18, 2012

The Year of the Hat

Elianna, on dad's shoulders with her new hat, takes in Obama's speech in Detroit, September 5, 2011
(photo: Aaron Orel)
Elianna wearing the hat at school, September 6, 2011 
(photo: Hillel Day School)
Over the past two decades, one might say that I've had my share of blessings. Happily married, living in the same home since 1994, two beautiful and wonderful children. Occasionally, I write something family-oriented, and I try to be fair to the children.

This blog piece, however, is going to be somewhat one sided. It's about Elianna. And her hat. And their adventures over the past year. It's a bit of a photo-essay, with occasionally useful words. I have included 45 still shots; 26 of them I took myself, and the others, I tried to credit when I knew who took them. There are youtubes for some of the events described below, but for this note I am sticking to the still pictures.

This note doesn't have only Elianna. Aaron's in it, and Lori and I are even in it. And Bruce is in it, too. More than once. But not as the lead. So it's a bit of an annual news-letter type thing, too, and I haven't written one of those in 5 years. But it's really more a somewhat disjointed story of the year of a growing child, things that happened, and her hat. Some call it a magic hat. But I don't think it's the hat that's magic. So, without further setup...

August 26, 2011: It started with a routine shopping excursion to TJ Maxx. Time to get things for the start of a school year. Elianna hadn't found anything for herself yet, but as she and Lori were getting ready to check out, she saw a lone hat sitting on a shelf. It had black and white stripes all around, a hot pink band, and little peace signs and hearts in yellow, green, and other bright colors. She had to have it, and at the steep price of about $4, mommy agreed.

September 5, 2011: President Barack Obama came to Detroit to make a Labor Day speech. The warm-up speakers included Jimmy Hoffa, and Aretha Franklin performed. I managed to get several passes to the appearance, and thought it would be a good educational opportunity for the kids to come. Elianna needed something "special" to wear. The hat made its first public appearance. I had to put Elianna on my shoulders so she could see the performers. As President Obama spoke, Aaron took out my Flip video camera and recorded. And that's where the photos begin.

September 6, 2011: Encouraged by her successful fashion statement the prior day, Elianna wore the hat to school for the first day of 5th grade. There, she appeared in several pictures that were posted to the school's website. Sometime that day, a school administrator reminded her that girls are not allowed to wear hats in school. But the pictures stayed on the school's website.
Elianna poses in her new hat, September 6, 2011Posing, in uniform, September 6, 2011

After school, Elianna demanded that I take pictures of her in her hat outfit.

We took two: a close-up that showed off her smile, and another shot that allowed her to show off an outfit that eventually became her concert uniform.
Auditions for "The Wizard of Oz" at FJA, September 13, 2011 (photo: Timothy Rath)
September 13, 2011: At Frankel Jewish Academy, the year's high school play was The Wizard of Oz. They allowed tryouts by younger students for the roles of munchkins and flying monkeys. Of course Elianna wanted in! Elianna, with hat, auditioned on September 13th. A photographer from the local paper recorded it. Elianna had parts as a munchkin and as a flying monkey in the eventual production of the play in December.
Elianna, Ruby and Lori take in the Tigers game, and some carbs! October 13, 2011
October 13, 2011: School was off for the first day of Sukkot. The Detroit Tigers were at home, playing in Game 5 of the American League Championship series against the Texas Rangers in an afternoon game. Tickets were at giveaway prices on stubhub. It was a beautiful fall day. I worked out an arrangement with a friend to see the game, but then my friend couldn't go. No problem!! Elianna and her best friend came. They both wore hats, and after I posted this picture, the hat got its first facebook comment. The Tigers won the game. Six months passed without any further pictorial documentation of the hat.
Elianna reads Percy Jackson in advance of her first E Street Band show, Auburn Hills, April 12, 2012
(photo: Kevin Kinder)
April 12, 2012: Bruce Springsteen was coming to town. Although Aaron had been to three Bruce concerts as a much younger child, and Elianna had been to a show during the Seeger Sessions tour (when children's tickets were free), I knew better than to ask if they were interested. Mostly, the kids were indifferent or hostile, and Elianna regularly mocked my listening habits.

The E Street Lounge pass completed the outfit. April 13, 2012
But then, something unexpected happened. Aaron asked for my copy of Wrecking Ball. Not long after, he said, approximately, "I'll go to the Springsteen concert," apparently not fully realizing that that would require acquisition of an extra ticket. I thought, if Aaron is going to come, then either Elianna is coming too, or we're going to need to find a babysitter or have her stay with someone. And it's been years since we've had a babysitter, and it'll be difficult to find a place for her on a Thursday night. Over Lori's objections, I asked Elianna if she'd be interested in coming with us. Of course, Elianna is always interested in doing what we do, and especially in what Aaron does. "I wanna come, I wanna come!!"

The next challenge was to find something to keep her interested. Aaron, I had covered: He had been listening to Wrecking Ball, and, for good measure, I'd let him bring his camera. Elianna... has artwork. She could make a poster. And we'd teach her Waitin' On a Sunny Day. Just in case.

During the beginning of the show, I was taking photographs for Backstreets Magazine and couldn't be with them. After that, we were in the "pit," the standing room only area in front of the stage. Elianna wanted to move forward, however she could, to get a better view. Upon realizing I wasn't going to be dragged by her, she went on her own. She ended up on the side, just 2 people deep from the stage, right behind the camera woman whose name we would later learn in Kim. When Bruce went to the back of the pit, though, Elianna enthusiastically followed him around -- temporarily surrendering her "spot" in the process. At one point late in the show, something hit me in the chest... I later realized it was a soft guitar pick, tossed by Bruce in Elianna's general direction. But I had handed it to two 20-something girls, and they weren't about to give it back. Clearly, I couldn't be trusted with any largesse from the band!

During Dancing in the Dark, I could see Kim the camerawoman's red light go on while the camera was pointed directly at Elianna. I was told, later, that Elianna appeared on the overhead video screens, to the delight of some friends who were in the audience. After the show, Elianna was giddy, telling how she'd made eye contact with the girl singers (Michelle Moore and Cindy Mizelle), and was so happy that the singer of her favorite song, Rocky Ground, was a girl.

April 13, 2012: My 50th birthday. Since it was still Passover, there was no school for the kids. My friend Dave Marsh was in town; he's originally from Pontiac and had attended the show the prior night; this day he would be hosting his weekly radio show Live from E Street Nation from a studio in Southfield, and his guests would include friends such as Stewart Francke, Chris Buhalis, Frank Joyce, and Mike Stone. Of course I'd like to be there, but being there and being in Buffalo for the "pit" drawing at 4pm, that wasn't possible. Dave solved that problem; for my golden anniversary there'd be passes for the E Street Lounge (a separate "lounge" area set up before the show with drinks and light snacks) and the pit waiting for Lori and me for Bruce's show in Buffalo. Then Backstreets made contact, and I had a 2nd photo gig, and, and... that meant we could take Elianna.
Bruce prowls the stage during Born to Run in Buffalo as Elianna and Kim the camerwoman watch (from youtube).

On the radio, Dave paid special attention to Elianna. He asked her questions about the prior night's show, and also described her hat in some detail. Elianna bubbled over with enthusiasm for the show she had witnessed the previous night, and about her favorite song, Rocky Ground. She showed Dave the poster she had made; we'd ended up leaving it in the car on Thursday night, but Bruce did play the song it referenced, Incident on 57th Street (a suggestion I had made due to its reference to fairies, a favorite art subject of hers).

Coming home from the radio taping, Lori and I debated whether to allow Elianna to come with us to Buffalo. We weren't staying overnight, and it's a punishing ride. Aaron would be left home alone. Lori didn't really want to take her. But Elianna and I outvoted her, and anyway, it was my birthday.

So, at 1pm, we decided to take her... nearly forgetting the tickets in the process. Along the way, Elianna slept, or occasionally practiced Waitin' On a Sunny Day, with the caution that it was not especially likely that he'd recognize her or give her any attention; after all, he'd made eye contact the previous night; most people never get that. When we got to Buffalo, Elianna and Lori got the E Street Lounge and pit passes, and Elianna's uniform was complete: the E Street Lounge pass -- a sticker -- has yet to come off.
Elianna with her new harmonica. Buffalo, April 13, 2012. (photo: Mark Gagne)
Elianna did not wait for me to come back from taking pictures, this night. By the time I got to the floor, she was up front, in about the same spot as the prior evening. This time, a couple of gracious fans were happy to accomodate, initiating a hat-inspired friendship. Lori and I hung back. But, during The Promised Land, I could see clearly as Bruce played the closing harmonica passage that he'd locked in on her. A few seconds later, he placed a Hohner Marine Band harmonica, key of G, in her hand. He made sure that there was no chance anyone else would get it. When Bruce walked away, he made a gesture to the band; a shrug of sorts. We still don't know what that was. When the show ended, Kim the camerawoman handed Elianna a printed setlist.

We went out in to the corridors, and people were stopping Elianna. "That's her!" They recognized her from The Promised Land, usually by the hat. We spent some time with the people who had sheltered her up front, making new friends and determining that we were both hoping to be in Toronto later in the year. Elianna slept on the entire ride back to Michigan; we got home at 5 am.

Elianna now has a ziplock bag with her souvenirs. Mostly ticket stubs. And the harmonica. Aaron is learning to play harmonica. He has determined that Bruce's harmonica is better than the set he bought, so he has been using it.
Elianna with Ruby at sailing camp, Keego Harbor, MI. June 18, 2012.
June 18, 2012: On May 10th, Elianna got braces, and on June 14th, school ended for the year. So now she was a middle schooler with lots of metal in her mouth. For her first two weeks of the summer break, we sent her to sailing camp at the Pontiac Yacht Club. Which begs the question, "there are places to sail in Pontiac?" Yes, there are; the club is along Cass Lake, and provides an affordable and fun local camp for a couple weeks. Not to mention that both our children can now sail a boat; Aaron was part of the Pontiac Yacht Club's junior sailing team in 2011.

This year, Elianna was joined at camp by her best friend Ruby. The didn't sail much together, as Ruby was a beginner, but they had plenty of fun.
Aaron and Elianna checking out the rides at River Days, June 22, 2012.
June 22, 2012: For each of the past 6 years, towards the end of June, there is an event along the riverfront in Detroit called River Days. It's a big carnival with food and rides and music, and the first day this year, entry was free during the afternoon. With school having been let out for the year, it was a perfect time to come down to the city.

We spent several hours at River Days. The kids went on many stomach-churning rides; I could handle just one. Then, we stayed long enough to see Stewart Francke play on the main stage. The hat was not allowed to remain on Elianna's head during the rides.
Helping out in the Michigania barn, July 1, 2012.
June 30-July 7, 2012: The past 5 years, we have taken one family vacation per year, to Camp Michigania. The camp is for alumni of the University of Michigan; I'm not an alumnus, but Lori is. Next to home, it is the kids' favorite place in the world, with many sports and arts & crafts activities to try. This year, the hat came, too. For most of the week, temperatures were extreme, and so activities were severely limited. The horses were not permitted to ride during the afternoons, but Elianna helped out in the barn each morning. She also tried playing tennis, and of course had fun with her brother.
Helping with the horses, July 1, 2012.Trying tennis, July 3, 2012.
Aaron, looking blissful, July 3, 2012. Elianna, looking triumphant, July 7, 2012.
July 6, 2012
Yankee Doodle Dandy. July 4, 2012.
Boarding the bus to camp, July 23, 2012.
July 23, 2012-August 16, 2012: Lori and I became empty nesters this summer for the first time since Elianna was born, as both children went away to summer camp.

Elianna left for Camp Ramah in Canada on July 23rd one week after Aaron had left for a month to Colorado. For the first time since April, the hat traveled across the border.

Over the course of the next 3 and a half weeks, various clothing items mysteriously disappeared. But not the hat.

Occasionally, the camp would send back pictures. We'd recognize Elianna in the picture... by the hat.

Utterson, Ontario. August 9, 2012.
photo: Camp Ramah in Canada
The girls of cabin 31. August 15, 2012.
photo: Camp Ramah in Canada
Arriving back home from camp, August 16, 2012.

August 24, 2012: The Springsteen shows in April were such successes that we considered going to more shows after the summer camp season. The summer shows had actually been announced while we were in the studio with Dave Marsh in April; we determined that we would try to go to shows before the school year started, or on weekends within driving distance. As of the end of camp, I had only been able to get tickets to one show -- a roadtrip to Philadelphia over Labor Day weekend. The day after the kids came home, there were onsales for fall shows; Aaron helped by getting tickets for a Sunday evening October show in Hamilton, Ontario, and Lori secured tickets for an early November show on a Saturday night in Louisville, Kentucky. So long as we could drive them and the budget didn't totally implode, we could go.
Singing "Thundercrack," Elianna's image towers over Max Weinberg in Toronto. August 24, 2012.
But there was another show, before school even started, the next Friday evening at the Rogers Center in Toronto. On August 22nd, I was offered both the photo shoot and the official review for, of the upcoming Toronto show. There was only one small problem: I didn't have tickets. I turned down the offer.

The day before the show, as often happens as showtime approaches, more General Admission tickets were put on sale. I grabbed them, and we made our plans. It was too late to get the official review back, but I could still rent a lens and do the photo shoot. Concert on!

The drive to Toronto was a bit of a nightmare, with one traffic jam after another; we were so late that we missed the "pit"lottery altogether. But our friend Mark, who had sheltered Elianna in Buffalo, had drawn the 19th position in the lottery; tell Elianna to just find him, he said, he's wearing a yellow shirt. As I set up my camera gear, Elianna wandered off to find him. We shot emails back and forth to make sure we knew where we were, but after Elianna went off, we didn't hear from Mark again until after the show. I didn't know that his cell phone reception had gone dead.
Singing and having fun with "Thundercrack," August 24, 2012 (photos: Jack Schwartz)
About an hour after the start of the show, my photography session was long since complete and I had rejoined Lori (Aaron, too, had wandered off to catch a different vantage point of the stage). I sent a message to Mark: "btw, we have no idea where she is. If you see her, let us know!" Bruce completed that song, Spirit in the Night, and, going from a sign, started Thundercrack. Towards the end of the song he quieted the music down, and started roaming the front of the crowd for children. First, a young boy. Knowing that Elianna might be nearby, I wondered... Then, there she was! Towering over the band, on the big screen. In the official review for, Charles Landau wrote of our Toronto girl:
During 'Thundercrack,' Bruce led a young Toronto girl in a refrain of 'All night... all night...' getting progressively quieter each time around, until they were barely audible. The audience followed them perfectly until you could almost hear yourself think. Just as gradually the sound came back up, a little bit louder each time, and when the band released us from the trance, the cheers landed on the stage like a thundercrack."
Dancing in the Dark. Toronto, August 24, 2012 (photo: Dan Reiner)
If that was all, it'd be a really nice story. Bruce played for other non-hatted children that night, too. The young girl -- about Elianna's age -- who sang during Waitin' On a Sunny Day even became a bit of a media sensation in Toronto over the next several days.

Bruce and Elianna and the hat weren't done yet. Lori and I stayed at the back of the pit, with a very friendly crowd, who were mostly impressed that we'd let out daughter go up front without us (these are Bruce fans. We trust them. Maybe we shouldn't. But we do).
Dancing in the Dark. Toronto, August 24, 2012 (photo: Dan Reiner).
Dancing in the Dark. Ever since Courteney Cox, Bruce has plucked someone from the audience to dance with him at the end of this song. But Elianna didn't know this; we hadn't prepped her for it and how much could she remember from her two shows back in April? I wrote what happened next:
As Bruce came down early in the song, he looked over to where I guessed Elianna was: He wouldn't... would he? I mean, how often does he ever go to a child more than once during a single show? A couple minutes later, we found out that... it does happen. As Jake played his solo, there was Bruce heading down the riser, and there was Elianna, on the stage! We had prepped Elianna for Waitin' on a Sunny Day (I am of the opinion that this is a moral imperative for any parent bringing a child in to the GA area, we've seen the horror of the poor child who realizes they don't know that part only after Bruce hands them the microphone), but never for this. And now, here's Bruce motioning to her how to dance. And now, here's Bruce twirling her, once, twice, five times. And now, here's Bruce lifting her up. After more than 3 hours on stage, with his guitar still slung across his back, carrying her. And now, here's Elianna, one arm secure around Bruce's neck and the other extended to the crowd, with her OhMyGodICan'tBelieveThisIsHappening smile, the one that would light up cities if you could hook up a generator to it, the one I've seen a few times but never quite managed to capture with a camera. And I still haven't. But this time, there were 40,000 witnesses.
August 24, 2012: Star for an evening.
Fans stop to take her picture along Front Street after the show.
Aaron, from his vantage point, never saw it. He was watching Jake play his solo. But pretty much everyone else did. After the show, when asked about what it was like, she mostly just said that it was a lot of fun, and that Bruce was "very sweaty," the same description she had used in Buffalo.

Along Front Street after the show, people were stopping Elianna, having their picture taken with her. Several couldn't believe it hadn't been staged, that she was just a kid in the audience... until they spoke to her. That she was on her feet after a 3 hour 37 minute show was a miracle enough, but she somehow managed to be lucid and bubbly and happy through it all. Finally, at 2am, after a stop-off at a restaurant, when the last remaining table of Bruce fans applauded her on her exit, a flustered waitress came over and asked... "who... is she???" Our star for the evening, hat and all. That's who.
Driving home from Toronto, August 25, 2012. Children and hat, at rest.
We stayed away from the arena that evening, at a hotel near the airport, where none of the guests had been at the show. The hat and the girl were anonymous again. On the ride home, Elianna asked when Bruce's birthday was. "Next month," I said. "Is there a concert on his birthday?" "No, but he's playing in New Jersey the night before, a Saturday night." "Let's go!! I'm going to make him a birthday sign." After that, the children slept, the hat carelessly laid under her legs. The date was August 25th, completing one full year with the hat. But that's not quite the end of this story...

Anticipating chocolate perfection. Millburn, NJ. September 1, 2012.
September 1, 2012: The Philadelphia Labor Day weekend trip morphed in to a Philadelphia and New Jersey Labor Day weekend trip. The prospect of making separate driving trips to Philly and to New Jersey was beyond my limit, and besides, my older brother had just gotten engaged and we needed to meet the bride! It was also my sister's birthday weekend, Lori and my 19th anniversary, and the 5th anniversary of my father's passing.

Staying at the house where I grew up, we engaged in hometown activities. We went to the township swimming pool where I spent so many hours as a child. My sister brought in a cake from Carlo's Bakery in Hoboken, a chocolate miracle. Elianna loves chocolate and loves blowing out candles. It was perfect. Our cousins came in from Short Hills to share dessert.

September 2, 2012: A packed day, and here's where the photo essay really starts resembling a diary of sorts, with the pictures there to remind of what happened in what order.
Elianna shows off her collected and organized rocks at Grandpa Leo's grave, September 1, 2012.

It is customary, in our faith, for loved ones of the deceased to visit the graves at least once per year. The cemetery was significantly south of the house, and right on the route to Philadelphia. My brother and his fiancée came in from New York, and after breakfast we headed out for the Garden State Parkway and points south.

Another tradition is to gather stones, when visiting the grave, and to leave them on the gravestone. That serves as a marker of sorts, that someone has visited, that someone remembers. Typically, one or two medium size stones serve this purpose. Elianna gathered up a small minyan. 11 stones in all, arranged in a circle around the Star of David on the gravestone. I believe her grandfather would have been suitably amused, and not at all bothered by her beaming smile upon completion. He'd have even tolerated the stones, even though he never really showed much affection for tradition; he'd have tolerated just to see her enjoyment in putting them together.
Is it wrong to smile at the cemetery? Auntie Gwen hugs the hatted one. Woodbridge, NJ, September 2, 2012.
(photo: Stephen Orel)
A sign for her favorite song.
Philadelphia, September 2, 2012. (photo: Aaron Orel)
From there, it was on to Philadelphia. Elianna went to her first pre-concert tailgate. We got to be inside the stadium for a wild soundcheck that included the never-played in concert "TV Movie." Elianna's completed song request and birthday card sign were ready; figuring we wouldn't come back to New Jersey for the actual birthday show, she'd try it here. A few people even recognized her from Toronto. With a huge General Admission "pit" of several thousand people, it was not difficult to find a spot at the front, albeit way to the side... the other side from Kim the camerawoman. Bruce never saw Elianna, or the sign. Not that that stopped her from having a great time.

September 3, 2012: The hardest part about the various odysseys for Bruce shows is the drive home. This would be our longest trek back. Staying for Springsteen's show this evening wouldn't be an option: School was starting for Elianna on the 4th, and one rule for the travels was that it would not involve missing time at school -- especially not the first day of school.

Aaron and Elianna at the Liberty Bell, September 3, 2012.
Elianna shows her... excitement to
eat at Geno's. September 3, 2012
But it seemed wrong to leave Philadelphia without actually seeing any of Philadelphia. We had tickets for the Springsteen exhibit at the National Constitution Center, and spent an hour or so there. It was amusing for Elianna, a notoriously poor speller, to see Bruce's manuscripts. He may be rich and famous, and he may be a great songwriter, but he still can't get "i before e except after c" right." A super-size manuscript of Glory Days showed the evidence: "I had a freind who was a big baseball player..."

As long as we were parked at the Independence Visitor Center anyway, we decided to make an impromptu attempt to see what was available within walking distance, that wouldn't take too long, and that, on a rainy day, wouldn't get us too wet. The Liberty Bell was the perfect answer, sitting right in the middle of the mall, with a line that wasn't even very long. The building where the bell is housed has a nice historical display of the bell and its significance, so the visit -- besides being free -- was educational as well as a look at an historic artifact.

Aaron asked to have some "Philadelphia food" before leaving town. I know one "Philadelphia food": cheesesteak. There are two institutions of sorts for Philly cheesesteak, right across the street from each other: Pat's and Geno's. There are other cheesesteak palaces in the city, and some may well be better, but these two are the institutions. I'd been to Pat's with Lori in 2007, so this time we opted for Geno's. This meant putting up with some wacky over-the-top jingoist signage; to this day Geno's continues to call its fries "American Fries," even though founder Joey Vento passed away last year. Elianna was not excited about the culinary experience, and I ended up eating most of her sandwich. The next day. In Michigan. She did like the fries, though, and especially appreciated the ready supply of hot sauce that was actually hot!

At the Sukkah party. October 7, 2012.
October 7, 2012: Every year, we build a sukkah for the holiday, and on the Sunday of Sukkot we host an open house. Elianna was very excited this year to pass out invitations to all of her classmates, and all of her friends from her American Mix Martial Arts class. We had a cider-making demonstration that attracted both kids and adults, and that wasn't too easy considering the state of Michigan apples this year (I wrote about that in March, and hopefully will post an update before the year is over).

Because the weather turned cold earlier than usual this year, most of the gathering was inside. Then it started to rain, and that chased everyone else inside. Except for the cider making, which was under a ledge. Over the course of the open house, 85 people came, a new record for us. There was no leftover cider.

For a while before the party, it seemed that Elianna's hat had disappeared. In the abstract, this would be no surprise, really; Elianna was pretty good at losing things. But losing the hat would be traumatic. Finally, the hat turned up... under a pillow. During the open house, Elianna - with her hat - held court at her computer with her school and martial arts friends. Her pleas to download various games went unfulfilled.
Two families after the show. Hamilton, October 21, 2012.
October 21, 2012: Time for the first of two Bruce shows we had purchased back in August, and back in Canada again, this time in Hamilton - a 4 hour drive. I would be photographing for backstreets, and writing a review for Bruce's web site. Elianna had gotten her ears pierced on the 15th, a reward for getting her brown belt a couple days earlier, and was eager for her first time in public with earrings. Because it was a Sunday and Monday was a school day, we'd have to drive back straight from the show. Maybe our toughest ride of the year. On the plus side, we could go in early, and then meet up with Mark, who had been Elianna's BCFF in Buffalo and Toronto. The C stands for Concert, and in this context one needn't be female to qualify.
Hamilton, October 21, 2012. Families up front. Bruce checks out who is behindthe sign.
Hamilton is only about an hour from Niagara Falls. We had just enough time in the early afternoon to get to the falls, go on to the Maid of the Mist, which was in its final weekend of the year, and then get back to Hamilton. We were blessed with a beautiful fall day, warm enough so the boat didn't feel cold at all. The hat, mercifully, did not come on the ride.

Elianna hadn't left time to make a new sign, so we took the Rocky Ground / birthday card sign that she made for the Philadelphia show. The paste-ons for the cake candles had loosened due to rain in Philly, and she repaired them. I reminded her that Bruce's birthday was now 4 weeks past, but she didn't care. This was her art.
Bruce has just read the sign, and Elianna is happy. Hamilton, October 21, 2012. (photo: Mark Gagne)
We met Mark and his family in Hamilton. His daughter was going to her first show. Several people recognized Elianna and the hat from Toronto; Hamilton is only about an hour away. People also recognized me as the photographer; I met the father of the girl who became the media sensation in Toronto, and another couple that insisted I take a picture of them holding their Rosalita sign (Bruce ended up using it, and we published the photo it on the backstreets site). We rubbed Elianna's hat for good luck in the "pit" lottery, and it worked out: The number was good enough to put everyone elbows to the stage for the show.

Bruce recognized Elianna... or at least he recognized the hat. Early on during the show, he greeted her personally. I could see it from where I was shooting photographs; unfortunately I wasn't quite high enough to get her in the pictures. Later, when he decided to examine the signs, he eventually came over to her. But, for reasons I can't fully explain, Elianna and Lori had turned the sign from the song request of Rocky Ground, to the birthday greeting. And that's what Bruce saw. "Ah... a birthday card! Thank you, for reminding me. Yes. Thanks for reminding me, yes! That's good!" (laughs). The audience -- and Bruce -- got a good laugh out of it. Elianna was doubled over in laughter.

At the end of the show, Little Steven rushed over. He handed Elianna a guitar pick. Aaron is learning to play guitar. He has determined that Little Steven's guitar pick is better than any that he has, so he has been using it.

After the show, as I retrieved my camera gear I had a brief opportunity to talk to Kim the camerawoman. I thanked her for putting Elianna on the overhead, and Kim said, "she's adorable." Hey, this is my blog piece, I can kvell. I told Kim we'd be back for Louisville, "yes!" was the response.

Louisville, Kentucky, November 3, 2012.
November 3, 2012: This is where the story is going to end. For now. And it needs a good ending, and so this is it. Bruce's show in Louisville would mark Elianna's sixth, in barely six months. She could now be fairly described as a "veteran."

The Louisville show was on a Saturday night, and it would be the last in driving distance. In short, this would be it. I figured it might give Bruce a bit of a jolt to see her there; after all, he had seen her in places like Hamilton, Toronto and Buffalo, which were all close to each other but nowhere near Kentucky. We had no plans to see any of the city: See friends, see a show, stay overnight, go home.
Louisville, Kentucky, November 3, 2012.
At one point in Hamilton, Bruce had put on an audience member's hat. The hat was obviously too small for Bruce, but he had fun with it, and it got the crowd going. This gave me an idea, and the conversation went something like this:
Me: Offer him the hat.
Elianna: But it's my hat!!!
Me: Offer him the hat.
Elianna: But it's mine!!
Me: He'll give it back to you.
Elianna: How?
Me: He'll come back and give it to you.
Elianna: What if he can't find me?
Me: He will find you. If he can't reach you, he'll give it to another fan.
Elianna: I don't want my hat to go to another fan!!!
Me: The other fans will get it back to you. We can trust them.
Elianna: He'll put on my hat?
Me: No promises. Maybe. Do you think he'd look good in your hat?
Elianna: (laughing) OK, I'll offer him the hat.
This time, we had no luck in the "pit" lottery. We would be behind the barrier; no elbows on the stage. I determined that I wanted to be on Little Steven's side; there, at least, Kim the camerawoman might see us if Bruce came to the back of the pit.

Bruce Springsteen wears the hat.
Louisville, November 3, 2012. (photo: Amber Sigman)
When the show started, even though we were only two deep behind the pit railing, Elianna could see nothing. And, without anyone like Mark in front of her, no one was polite enough to let the short kid stand in front of them. So, I did what many dads would do: I put her on my shoulders.

After the 2nd song, Lonesome Day, Aaron said to me, "Dad, there are people behind you getting angry." ok, so I couldn't really keep Elianna up a whole lot longer, even though she was very much in to the show up there, and wouldn't be able to see it at all if I put her down. But my initial reaction was, "tough." I figured Bruce was coming back, and she should be able to see it. Just then, Bruce launched in to Hungry Heart.

Having been to a bunch of shows this year, we knew the routine. Hungry Heart was early in the setlist in Hamilton, too. He'd come back, play a little on the rear platform to the people behind the pit barrier, and then crowd-surf back to the front stage. I turned with Elianna to face the rear platform, and waited for Bruce. When he got close enough, she was ready. Bruce saw her, and he lit up. Like a Christmas tree, it seemed like to me. Not breaking stride from the chorus of the song, it went like this:
(Points at Elianna:)
You look good! 
(Points at his head:)
I like your hat!
Come on now!! 
(reaches out for the hat, then puts it on, taxi-cab driver style, over his right eye)
I feel good, with this hat on!
(smiles, and poses some more:)
This hat, is making me happy!
(turns to face the other side of the audience, still posing).
Elianna applauded every gesture, emphatically. "Happy" is one of her favorite things to be, and and making others happy is one of her favorite things to do. Not that I could see any of this, but I could feel her reaction; later, I got to see some video that showed it. After a few seconds, Bruce removed the hat and flipped it back in Elianna's general direction. Another fan caught it, and... handed it back to Elianna. Kim the camerawoman caught Bruce's part of the sequence for the overhead displays.

After the show, as we were leaving the arena we saw people lined up at an exit, hoping to catch Bruce for an autograph as he departed. We passed. Elianna just said, "I'd ask him to sign the hat, just to remember." But she won't need any signature to remember. I think I have some of it recorded now. So does she. The hat will come out again.
Man with hat. Louisville, November 3, 2012. (photo: youtube, from Kim the camerawoman)