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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2004/02/26
by Mike Gruenberg

Rod Stewart: Unplugged…and Seated

Friendship is a rare commodity. We have friends at work, friends at the gym, friends at our houses of worship and friends that we simply meet while doing our weekly errands. It’s truly comforting to know that we have people whom we can consider as friends to spend portions of our life with. However, the person you meet on a regular basis at the gym while you are both on treadmills can probably be classified more as an acquaintance as opposed to a real friend or even, best friend.
In sheer numbers, acquaintances are usually many, friends are far fewer and best friends are rare. In teaching our children about the pitfalls of life, we often say that it is gift to have many friends, but it is a blessing to have one best friend in your lifetime.
In my life, I have been blessed to have two best friends. At any given time in my life, circumstances dictated that either one or both them shared their time and experiences with me. One of those best friends of mine shared a very crucial time period of my life with me. We met while I was in high school when he moved into my neighborhood. I was one of the first people he met as he tried to find his way through the neighborhood. We played sports together, hung out together and went through college together. When the Beatles landed in the U.S. and played their first concert in New York at Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, we cut our morning classes to buy tickets to the concert. We attended the concert and had the time of our lives.
After college, we both got jobs and remained close friends for many years. However, at one point due to immaturity and/or forces beyond our control, we drifted apart. We both raised families and lived our separate lives. I often wondered what had happened to him, but with other more pressing issues with job and family, never took the time to investigate what happened to the guy who shared so many experiences with me. Recently, the alumni association of the college we both attended sent me an e-mail announcing that they had perfected an on-line system that gave you the ability to find any person from any year at the college. I decided to see if the system worked and I typed in my old friends’ name. I found him, I called him and it was though we were never apart. After more than thirty years, I was able to reconnect.
My wife and I went to visit Nat and Connie and their kids recently. Nat’s parents were also there. It was an emotional time for us all. It made me realize how special true friendship can be and that it is a gift to have a best friend. You cannot choose your relatives, but you can choose your friends. I am grateful for the experience of getting together with him again and seeing his wife and family.

Time has always been the great healer of painful memories. Moreover, time will also enhance the good to make those events of the past seem even better than they were. You may remember that your first car was beautiful and shiny red, but you may not remember that it never started on cold mornings. Time can do that. A high school sweetheart may sure look a whole lot better today than that person actually looked on your first date. Time can do that. French class at 8:30 AM on Monday morning does not seem as severe now as it was when you sat there without your homework. Time can do that too.
I have always considered my music collection as a chronicle of my life. In particular, my LP’s and 45’s remind me of the circumstances surrounding the purchase of each particular piece of music. When I play an LP, I immediately remember where I was at the time the music was popular. I remember my friends, my hopes and fears. Those records are like old friends for me. One of the joys in writing this column is that when I research a topic, I play my old records and reminisce. The records are my old friends,
I recently bought the Rod Stewart album, "Unplugged…and Seated" which is a live recording of an Unplugged performance on VH-1. I normally do not buy live recordings and quite frankly have not bought a record by Rod in many years but what intrigued about this CD was that he was being reunited with Ron Wood. To me, Ron Wood represents the quintessential rock star of our time. He currently plays in the Rolling Stones, content to let Mick and Keith grab the spotlight. He is an extraordinary musician and a talented artist. His artwork is displayed in galleries throughout the world and best of all; he’s been in the rock music arena for over thirty years! Seeing Rod and Ron united gave me the impetus to buy the album.
Another reason I bought the CD was because my all-time favorite Rod Stewart tune, "Handbags and Glad Rags" was included on the album. That tune first appeared in 1969 on "The Rod Stewart Album" that was issued on Mercury Records. The album only contains eight songs, a curiously limited amount even for that time, but every song on that album is a masterpiece. Mike D’Abo wrote "Handbags and Glad Rags". He was a member of the Manfred Mann Group at the time. Mike plays piano on this tune and also did double duty as the tune’s arranger. Ron Wood is credited as playing Bottleneck Guitar on this album.
It was therefore like reuniting with some old friends when I began to listen to my new Unplugged CD with Rod and Ron. Rod never sounded better. Not only was his voice in great shape, but it sure seemed like he was having a great time. I did not see the video, but the energy and good vibes come through from start to finish on the album. When Ron Wood played his first chord, you knew that it was going to be a great album. At one point, Rod tells the audience that he and Ron had not performed that particular song in over 21 years and that most of the members of the band probably weren’t even born when he and Ron first performed it. Yet, it was as though Rod and Ron had performed continuously for the past 21 years. It was like they never left each other’s side. Time and friendship can do that.

This month’s column is not only about music; it’s also about time and friendship. Yes, the Rod Stewart Unplugged album is great and I certainly recommend that you purchase it. However, to me I could not help thinking about how two friends who shared so many experiences can pick up right where they left off even though a gap of years took them in separate directions. Time heals and yet time takes away. My old boss used to say that time could be your greatest friend or your greatest enemy because if you waste time today, you will never have that time come back to you. I am happy to be back in touch with my dear friend, but I am sad that I allowed so much time to be wasted.

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