When you're young, you're immortal.
At 19 or whatever, sitting on a pile of dirty clothes in a dorm room listening to the Greatest New Band In History, it would never occur to you to speculate how or even if the music will resonate four decades down the road. Because there are geologic epochs that don't last four decades, right?
However, as you get a bit older, such thoughts might occasionally occur to you.
-- Maybe you're 30 and, suddenly, that Babys haircut doesn't really work any longer. Seriously: it doesn't.
-- Maybe you're 35 and it dawns on you that Molly Hatchet was actually not very good at all and, wow, do you ever regret that Flirtin' With Disaster tattoo on your inner thigh with an arrow pointing in the direction of, ah, Old Chief.
-- Maybe you're driving back from a Cure concert in New York City and it's 3 a.m. on a weeknight. Yes, the band was still good but, also yes, you're 43-years-old and exhausted and it makes you queasy to remember a time when you'd have driven 72 hours straight to see the Cure and 72 hours back – alternating quarts of Little Kings Cream Ale with amyl the whole time … Now, the only thing that keeps you from pulling over to the side of the road and checking into a hotel is A) you have to be at work in three hours and B) let's face it, even though Robert Smith looks a lot worse than you do, he's presumably on a Lear jet or at least a customized tour bus. Either way, he's not driving and he didn't stay up all night like an idiot to see you …
Five weeks ago, out of nowhere, all of these thoughts suddenly materialized like an outta nowhere wintry mix.
I was in St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, 48 hours after a total knee replacement procedure, and other than the slightly irritating presence of an old Kansas song* which was repeatedly unspooling for some reason in my brain, I really wasn't thinking about music.
Instead, I was concentrating on trying to Put. One. Foot. In. Front. Of. The. Other. Two cheerful physical therapists and my wife Eileen were rooting me on as, leaning heavily on an aluminum walker, I clomped in Frankensteinian fashion through the scrubbed corridors of the Joint Replacement floor.
It was my second day of "trying to walk," and I was slowly getting the hang of it. I felt like a dog sticking his head out the car window into the sort of wind you'd call Maria!
After completing the circuit around the nurses' station — "the loop," I suppose — I assumed we'd head back to my room and ice the knee down.
Instead, Rehab Dude and Rehab Babe, with expectant grins on their faces, pointed me down a side corridor. "Let's go that way," I was directed.
I bumbled my way down the hall — which opened into what was normally a large, square waiting room. Instead of anxious relatives or loved ones, though, the room was full of similarly bandaged knee- and hip-replacement patients and beaming nurses. To the right was a buffet table with trays of fruit, pastries and cubes of cheese and various beverages.
I looked at the therapists. What the hell?
"It's a tea party!" one of the nurses cried.
And indeed it was. Turns out, given the high number of joint replacement patients revolving through the floor on a weekly basis, there is always a regular queue of folks who have "graduated" to a certain celebratory level of ambulation -- and the group reward for this New Mobility is a tea party wherein you get to nosh and compare stories with your fellow patients.
It's a very nice idea and gesture but, frankly, looking around at my similarly limping and gray-haired colleagues, a wave of reality washed over me. It's true, I thought. I really am old. How did that happen?!
I found a seat catty corner from the entryway and my wife brought me a small plate of savories and a cup of tea. Free food and drink, to be sure, but it was like being at Grandpa Simpson's birthday party.
Then, from diagonally across the room came a loud voice in a harsh Yankee accent.
"Hey! King Crimson!"
Huh? I looked and a burly, bald dude with the sort of weathered complexion of one who toils outdoors, was grinning at me.
"Saw Crimson in the early 80s" he called. "The band with Tony Levin and Adrian Belew."
It was only at that moment that I realized I was wearing a baggy black T-shirt sporting the iconic cover of King Crimson's In the Court of the Crimson King – not only one of the greatest albums of all time but certainly one of the most brilliant lp covers ever. The fact that I was wearing the shirt wasn't a hip statement of my Rock Coolness. Indeed, as per instructions, I'd packed a bunch of very loose and baggy clothes to ensure maximum comfort after coming out of surgery. The Crimson shirt just happens to be the size of a circus tent and that's why I brought it along.
Anyway, it seemed this similarly-old-guy was a fellow Crimson nut! And he was telling me he'd seen the Mark IV lineup of the band.
We chatted loudly back and forth across the room for a few moments, me offering my opinion that the Mark III group — with Robert Fripp, Bill Bruford, David Cross, John Wetton and Jamie Muir — was my favorite version. I told him about seeing them out in support of Starless and Bible Black. Then he countered with a few cool details of the show he'd seen in Toad's Place, probably on the band's Three of a Perfect Pair tour.
The conversation didn't last long. Neither of us could easily move around, obviously, and there were several other patients trying to have their own conversations – gardenias versus lilacs; Patriots versus Giants; Vicodin versus Oxy.
That's when it hit me. I remembered being in college, so blown away by In the Court of the Crimson King that I carefully transcribed the lyrics to "Epitaph" on a bedsheet in Olde English text — it completely blew my roommate's parents' collective Baptist minds to see that on the wall and read it.
Confusion will be my epitaph / As I crawl a cracked and broken path
If we make it we can all sit back and laugh
But I fear tomorrow I'll be crying
Jeez. Back then, as I said at the outset of this blog, it never remotely occurred to me for any reason that one day I'd end up in a hospital tea party with several other post-surgical codgers.
And, if such a thing had occurred to me, the idea that I'd fall into a whimsical debate with someone over the best line up of King Crimson would have struck me as ridiculous if not impossible.
After all, that sorta thing can't happen if you never get old.
* See the previous Aging Rock Dude blog for more info.