Last night at sundown was the beginning of my mother’s yahrtzeit, the anniversary of her death according to the Jewish calendar. I can’t think of a better evening for this to take place. First we attended the premiere of Leah’s latest play, “Bugsy Malone,” in which she played several characters from a temperamental singer at Fat Sam’s speakeasy to the gum-chewing moll of gangster Dandy Dan. It wasn’t an easy show and the kids did a great job. Leah’s characters were nicely delineated despite the lack of costume changes that I’m sure left the audience thinking they were all the same person. While the content wasn’t as questionable as some of the plays this theatre company tends to perform, most of the girls were painted up like dime store floozies trolling Times Square. Oy. But oh how my mother would have loved seeing this and all of Leah’s shows.
From there we raced to the Greek Theatre in L.A.’s Griffith Park for my brother-in-law’s show which was superb. I’ll leave the real reviews to the music bloggers and the Wilco fansites but I can’t remember them ever sounding better than they did last night. It was such a great evening and again, my sister and I couldn’t help thinking how my mother would have been so excited about the band’s success. If she were still working at the Merchandise Mart, she probably would have had a couple thousand of her coworkers on the guest list and would have continually burst into her boss Chris Kennedy’s office with news of Wilco’s Grammy wins or their latest CD sales.
I definitely felt like she was there last night and I was so touched that Jeff placed a Manischevitz yarhtzeit candle right there on center stage between him and the brilliant Wilco drummer Glen Kotche. It remained lit throughout the show giving my mother the best seat in the house. After the band finally left the stage we screamed as one of the crew members blew it out (you’re supposed to let yahrtzeit candles burn out on their own) but I’m sure my mom could forgive the goyishe roadies who were probably panicked all night about the fire hazard burning atop one of the amps.
Being L.A., I of course combed the VIP section for celebrities who were Wilco fans and I was able to spot Toni Collette, Juliette Lewis, Jason Bateman, Catherine Keener, James Spader, and some guy from “Entertainment Tonight.” The crowd, as always, was wildly enthusiastic and I spent as much time watching them as I did Jeff. Seeing thousands of people mouthing his words and getting so much joy from Jeff’s songs, I can only imagine what that feels like. It’s amazing for me to think of a handful of people reading my blog so I can’t even fathom what it must be like to consistently face enormous crowds who hang on to your every word. How lucky that it hasn’t gone to any of their heads, all the band members seem as down-to-earth as they are talented.
When we first met Jeff he was still in Uncle Tupelo and seemed so very young and innocent. I remember an early dinner with Sue, Jeff, and my mom in Chicago where my mother bizarrely went off on a rant about some of my sister’s old boyfriends, several of whom were also musicians, listing the ways that they were deficient. Catching herself as she dissed the men in Sue’s life, she quickly added “except Jeff, who’s darling!” This became a catch-phrase we started adding to the end of our own slanderous diatribes. We could talk trash about anyone we liked as long as we ended with “except Jeff, who’s darling.” About a year or so after they met my sister got cancer and had to go into the hospital for surgery. It all turned out fine but at the time we didn’t know what to expect. As soon as my sister’s gurney was wheeled into the elevator to go up for surgery, Jeff collapsed to his knees, sobbing against the elevator doors, forever endearing himself to my family.
Leah came to the Wilco show last night straight from her performance in “Bugsy Malone.” At one point when Jeff dedicated a song to his family and the giant TV screens at the Greek showed my nephews and Leah, I wanted to hold up a sign behind her head that said “My daughter just performed in a play! I swear I don’t usually let my 10-year-old go out looking like Brooke Shields in ‘Pretty Baby!’”
I don’t think we need a trance channeler to hear my mother’s kvelling from the Great Beyond. I can still feel her incessant and happy “Oys!” from last night ringing in my ears.