The Woman Behind HeLa: A Review of "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," by Rebecca Skloot
A Keeping God

Closer to the Edge, Closer to Home

Yes-band-logo During one rousing moment, the middle-aged woman next to me is shaking her head back and forth in ecstasy, undoubtedly reliving some bygone concert.  Behind me a man hoops and claps nonstop through every song, heedless of the actual beat.  On the other side a grizzled over-prime hippie keeps up a running commentary whether we want it or not; already inebriated, he continues to imbibe and opine. "You like Yes?" he says." I think "Yes, yes, after all, why would I be here if I didn't?"

This is Yes 2011.  An aging, perennially thin Steve Howe continues to play some amazing chops on the guitar.  A solid (that is, heavy) Chris Squire reminds us that a bass can play lead just as well as a lead guitar, only lower, a fact that resonates in my chest from the slightly too-loud music.  A balding (well, they are all balding) Alan White is amazing, still banging out a drum solo and hitting 8th notes at his age.  And while these prog-rock stalwarts keep on, there are signs of change: lead singer Jon Anderson is gone, replaced by a youthful Canadian singer, Benoit David, and keyboardist Rick Wakeman is replaced by look-a-like son Oliver Wakeman.  It's the same music, as both newcomers do a respectable job, but a Yes lineup without Anderson and Wakeman is a bit unsettling (not that the band hasn't been somewhat of a revolving door through the years).

This is Yes 2011.  I last saw Yes in 2004 on their 35th Anniversary Tour, in the Greensboro Coliseum with my then 12-year old son, his first rock concert.  I'm thankful I did, as the more historic lineup with Anderson and the elder Wakeman were on that tour.  Little did we know it might be their last one.  That evening held some historic significance for me, as I had first heard the band in that same arena in 1972, when they had a great deal more hair, the music was frightfully loud, billowing clouds of marijuana smoke rose from an arena floor, bong pipes were passed down the aisles, and police were stationed around the perimeter of the hall.  I was in the pit of this love fest of rock and roll moment, standing throughout on a folding chair on the fourth row from the front --- with my first date.  I was 14.  She was 13.  I didn't know what to say to her, but it didn't matter; the music was so incredibly loud we could not hear each other, even when we yelled.  Then, I was thankful for the volume.  It was one the best yet loudest and most illegal concert experiences I have ever had (though I assure all my smoke was second-hand). 

I suspect the band then was little different than me: the horizon of our life was the next day or, stretching our minds a bit, maybe the next week, and life seemed to stretch endlessly in front of us.  I had no idea the turns it would take.  I would not have been able to conceive of looking back on that moment 39 years later.

Last night I wasn't really reliving that bygone moment, though recalling it was inevitable, listening to time pass through the songs of youth.  Looking at these aging rocks stars, seeing equally aging fans caught up in the moment, I had to stop and remind myself that life is not, in the end, a "roundabout," a futile and nostalgic chasing after the youth of the past or narcotic numbing of the present as we all draw "close to the edge." In the timeless melodies and instrumental beauty of Yes, there is actually a deeper reminder that a Creator, the very "rhythm of life, is drawing me Home.  That's the "wondrous story."

But enough song titles.  I made it through that first date.  We broke up, though.  Maybe it was the perfume that smelled like marijuana (remember that?) or the distance (she lived cross town and I did not drive).  I don't know.  But perhaps in that Land ahead, I'll see her and share a redeemed memory of that amazing concert.  Maybe then we'll finally know what to say to each other. . . right after I introduce her to my wife.