I think the last time I was in Cleveland was about. . . umm. . . seven years ago. I always say seven when I know it wasn't last year and yet it wasn't so long ago as to be ancient. I really don't know how long ago it was. Now that I think about it, it had to be at least 12 years ago, and that's verging on ancient, but they say memory is the second thing to go, if I remember correctly. I forgot what the first thing is.
I'm in a smelly Comfort Inn room, courtesy of United Airline, a non-smoking room that reeks of cigarette, in route yet interrupted to Grand Rapids, for a Festival of Faith and Writing. A party of books, if you can say party about bibliophiles. But that macaronic collection of people and books is tomorrow. I mean today. I mean I just had dinner with some new friends at 1o:30, which is like the middle of the night for me, and now it is tomorrow, at least yesterday's tomorrow (or is it today?). I haven't had anything to drink, if you're wondering.
But enough of that. Cleveland holds fond memories for me, at least with time they seem fond. Whenever it was that I was last here, it was as the record mogul fool that I was was then, the godfather of Silent Planet Records, at the annual convention of the Folk Alliance, with several artists in tow (and on the dole). I learned a few things that trip, like full size vans do not fit in parking garages. I rented one to tote my starving artists about, drove into a parking garage, and discovered with horror, once in, that it didn't fit. I mean vertically. I scraped the top of the van a few times and became terribly concerned that I'd never make it out. Stuck. I felt claustrophobic, scrapping my way through the first floor of the garage until it disgorged me into the street, thankful at that moment for the collision damage waiver I never buy but did buy that time. Sorry, I tore up your van. Thanks. Goodbye. Absolutely freeing.
You can do legal U-turns in the middle of a busy street in Cleveland. It's fun. Everyone's doing it. Which makes it not so fun after all. Particularly in a full size van. And did you know that have a high center of gravity and that you should slow down to do a U-turn? I know that. . . now.
One night I had the bright idea to take the artists to dinner. . . only my little group swelled to what seemed like 30,maybe 40. A few homeless people (they looked similar to my artists), may have been with us. We hired a few taxis and asked the driver of the lead car to take us to his favorite restaurant. He did, after a tour of seedy neighborhoods, and it was good, and it cost me. It really cost me. I don't even know who all those people were. And they drank. I don't have a problem with alcohol, really, but drunk arists. . . well, there were moments of incredible inspiration, verse and song. And tears. Mine. Someone had to pay.
Self-avowed anarchists walk the halls of Folk Alliance. I didn't really believe such folk existed, but they do. They have a problem with authority. They strum guitars and complain about their mothers and fathers and teachers and governments. And people of faith? I didn't even meet a Muslim, much less a Christian. These folk were irreligious. If I had found a crystal-gazing New Ager, I would have thought him/her a kindred spirit, a co-belligerent. But not to be.
I'm thankful for at least one thing. I met the fantastic Jane Kelly Williams in Cleveland. I sent her an airline ticket. She came. She played and sang, and the room was absolutely still, reverent like high church. It made it all worthwhile, being a record mogul that is.
I wasn't even a proper record mogul. I always imagined a stretch limo pulling up to the convention center and me with shades and black skinny jeans and t-shirt advancing on the Folk Alliance with several admirers in tow, a couple of big strapping guys on either side to deal with hangers-on.
I have to tell you: the record business wasn't what I thought it was. It was more like this: hang out with some wacky but inspiring people, spend money, listen to music, spend some more money, and when you think it's over, spend even more money. It was a glorious waste of time.
I loved it all.
[The facts above bear some resemblance to the truth. Sorry, but I can't remember it all.]