moments – indefinitely brief periods of time: john hiatt at music millennium 11-02-2000

I never count my blessings. I’m an American. I have too much though I’m broke. I’m loved. I’m sick, but I have nine lives. I’m sometimes bored but I have all the toys in the world…”


by john brown


When you die, your life does flash right up there before you, against the big screen of your minds eye. Snippets. 3D Polaroids. Surround sound. The warm hand of all whom you love. Moments in time. The end is, or it will be, the realization that these indefinitely brief moments in time are exactly what “it” is that defines us. Not our successes. Not our failures. Just our moments. Strung out endlessly like the glassy elements of our last nights sky.

I never count my blessings. I’m an American. I have too much though I’m broke. I’m loved. I’m sick, but I have nine lives. I’m sometimes bored but I have all the toys in the world. I’m sometimes mad as Alanis but my moments are the only thing I can lay claim to.

And then again, can I even call those moments completely my own?

And… it doesn’t matter. Tonight I count one-moment-more, and maybe, since it’s not completely mine, I count it again… or a hundred times. And again, again and again, for each of my kids with whom I’ll share it. Once more for each of those I’ll retell it to. Then, times it by the number of people who showed up for the brief, but free, John Hiatt concert at Music Millennium.

The show was only seven new but wonderful songs and it was over. This was just a quick taster of things to come the following night at the Aladdin theater. Mr. Hiatt is touring for a new CD with a slightly quiter acoustic sound. Whatever that means. Although much of his material has always leaned in that direction, there is nothing quiet about this man’s acoustic guitar playing or his voice, that is bigger than a silo in the Indiana sky from whence he comes.

Three songs into the set, after one verse and one chorus “Gone,” the crowd broke into the chorus along with John, spontaneously, without any coaxing from the artist himself. As if we’d known the song for years. Albeit an easy chorus.. “gone, gone away”, but the thing was,we sounded kind of good. I think John was surprised and, I hope, happy. After the song he said plainly and dryly, as is his style “hey, we did some singing there!” A moment more… A few more new songs and it was over.

A good show for me must have two things: “Perma-Grin,” you know that feeling that your face hurts when you leave. (Artificial “Perma-grin” is good too, but we’re talking music here.) The longer you’re aware of it, the better the show. And secondly, and sometimes this is a little tricky, you got to leave with at least one tune stuck in your head. Preferably, one of the artists own tunes you just paid to see, although I do remember a Guided by Voices cover of “Baba O’Riley” that I chanted for a week, but that’s another story.

Well my face hurt after seven songs. And, surprisingly, I wasn’t depressed at all at my stupidity of not get tickets for the Aladdin show. All was forgiven and I was humming the last bars of “Lift up Every Stone.” It took more than a moment to work through the capacity crowd to find the last two copies of the new CD on a folding table. Maybe a moment came for John Hiatt when, if he, like I did, noticed the variety of his just performed tunes clearly stuck in the head and on the lips of the fans lining up for a word and an autograph. (Some actually were lined up to have their babies held or their photo taken with the King).

This maybe be a normal John Hiatt experience or just a hang over of the current political season, I don’t know. Moments, I’m sure, nonetheless…

I don’t believe anyone left the building right away. All who were there lined up for the new CD Crossing Muddy Waters and an autograph. He seemed tired but had something nice to say to those who were bold enough to engage him in a word or two. My turn came and I was able to tell him a quick story about a moment I shared with my wife and son. We saw him perform last year in Sisters, Oregon. It was a benefit for the Starlight Foundation. It was just John Hiatt, a couple of his guitars, his electric piano and that big voice of his wrapped up in what he said was a new brown suit. When he sat at the piano for the first time, it wasn’t for “Have a little Faith in Me. ” We knew that would come at the end of the show and it was much too soon. Funny, but not really embarrassing, I can’t remember the name of the song.

And then, there’s that moment.

With the first few chords ofhis first song at the piano, Jordie, my fifteen year old took one of those audible, shaky deep breaths. One of those breaths that just make your eyes water even more — water too much. Where you can, if your quick enough, nod your head forward and blink out two big gator drops that splash on whatever they hit without leaving too much on your face. My wife panicked and tried to whisper, “Whats wrong…your…you’re crying?”

“Whats wrong?”

Jordan , looking straight ahead, trying to be cool … “I’m just happy” he said, and meant it. My wife, who is tone deaf and isn’t quick to be moved by music unless it is in exactly the pitch or tone that is accessible to her ear, says “Jesus JB, he’s crying. But he says he’s just happy…”

Trying to keep my head steady as to keep the water in my own eyes even long enough so the dry mountain air will dry them enough so I can blink, “Honey, just take a deep breath and let the boy have his moment.” She breathes one of those audible, shaky deep breaths that just make your eyes water more. I could hardly breathe at all…

Telling this to John Hiatt he laughs and wipes his eyes. My moment, my indefinitely brief period of time, stretches on. These moments stretch on long enough to carry me to the damp Portland streets. Humming. On to the pub. Off to bed and on and on, strung out like those glassy elements that ARE there, are always present in every night sky.

Thanks John Hiatt for the moments.


Originally published:
Issue Three
November 2000


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