It was Valentine's Day humpty-million years ago.
Rob and I were driving to the Birchmere to see one of his favorite bands, Lowen & Navarro. He couldn't have been happier: he was back in town after a few long years of grad school, he was following his calling to be a teacher and he was about to introduce one of his closest friends to one of his favorite musical groups.
To say Rob loves music is like saying I love books. 'Nuff said.
So, he popped in a tape of theirs (I warned you that it was a long time ago!) and I listened. It was good. I enjoyed it — but I just couldn't see the "dance in your seat" aspect of their performance. I hoped I'd get it when I saw them.
And boy, did I! I made Rob recommend two CDs for me to purchase on the spot (which I did: Broken Moon and Live Radio) and both Eric and Dan signed them for me.
Rob also had an interesting relationship with them: he was the civics teacher of the past president of the L&N Fan Club. It was kismet, our meeting.
And for more than a decade, our relationship was one of give-and-take: they gave performances and I took joy in them. I saw them at all of the local venues, and I thoroughly enjoyed their work. I scribbled furiously during their performances as their images brought forth a torrent of my own images. I can point at three of my poems that came directly from lines in three of their songs.
In 2005, I watched Eric walked on stage at the Barns of Wolf Trap with the help of a cane. Seems he had been diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig's Disease. At the time, I thought it was sad, but he was okay: a cane and a stool weren't a bad compromise if he could keep performing.
How mighty is the silence, indeed. By now, I hope you Googled the disease. By now, you know more than I did at first. In little words, the nefarious disease robs the body of its ability to function over time. Eric wasn't going to need only a cane. He wouldn't stop at a stool.
But I decided to be there in the audience for as long as he and Dan would let me. For a while, Eric could play his guitar (if someone put it in his arms). Then he could sing. Then, at last, he sat on stage with oxygen and MC'ed his final concert at the place it started for me: The Birchmere.
Rob was there. So were his wife Melissa and my husband David, both of whom came to the L&N fold even later than I.
Dan tossed packages of tissue into the audience, which he mused aloud that we might need. (They had just played The Ram's Head the night before, so he knew of whence he spoke.)
Many people sang Eric's songs for him, including Eddie from Ohio, one of my other favorite bands and another of Rob's successful recommendations. Others who joined them on stage were family, literally — their children.
Eric quipped during the show, introducing acts and making jokes as he could. He revealed the last time he played the guitar, which was captured on his last album.
Once (and only once!), when Dan couldn't keep it together, he took a quick moment at the back of the stage, then came back forward and sang the song of Cilantro, a character on an animated series I had never seen. I teared up from time to time as the music played, but Dan's moment touched me — well, almost as much as his Cilantro song did. I will be conducting my stepdaughter's marriage ceremony next June, and I will use that as my secret weapon against losing my composure. If it's good enough for Dan, it's good enough for me.
In the end, Eric spoke the words of one of my favorite L&N songs, "If I Was the Rain." Dan led the audience in their last performance of their trademark (and most famously covered) song, "We Belong." I stood on a chair, David steadying me, and I grasped Rob's hand as he held Melissa. We all belonged together at that moment.
As the last note played, as the performers exited stage left (or is it right? Dan couldn't tell, either), I knew it wasn't really the end. I know it sounds corny, but Eric and Dan would forever perform together for me: in the wonderful memories I had, in my long and fantastic friendship with the man who introduced us, in the poems they would continue to inspire within me.
In the future, I will get used to seeing Dan on the stage with others, or without. I'll continue to support him, and I look forward to his future as a solo artist or his work with other musicians.
Eric isn't holding a guitar these days, he's not playing off Dan's quirky humor — but he's there, oh, he's there — in my heart and my memory, he is there.