There’s something about having a major experience that feels very conspicuous, like it’s written all over you, a banner imprinted on your being with large, bold type screaming, “I just passed the bar!” “I just finished my novel!” “I just saw Bruce Springsteen on the street and he waved at me!” “I just got back from Russia!”
I’ve been to the deli, the bank, the gym, and no one seems to notice. Not a single person has said, “Hey! Did you just get back from Russia?” So perplexing. I feel changed, impacted, affected. There must be a mark somewhere, a visible sign. But no.
Some kinds of change do show on our faces. We can usually see happiness, sadness, fear. But we can’t read what’s behind it. Joni Mitchell said, “Happiness is the best facelift.” I remember returning from my first-ever tour, a Midwest swing for the True Lovers of Adventure album, and a friend said, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you had a facelift.” The tour had made so happy—my music finally out there, a sense of who I really was fulfilled—that something about me visibly changed.
The people who do know that I just got back from Russia want to know what it was like. Despite being a writer, I don’t feel like I’m the best observer, I think because I’m so busy feeling. I noticed what it feels like not to know the language, not even the alphabet. It felt scarier being out alone. Not so much English around as in European countries. At one of the hotels, one of the staff kept speaking to me emphatically in Russian despite my repeated statements of “No Russian. English. Only English.” On and on she went, with some urgency. I’ll never know what she wanted to say to me. Maybe I had food in my teeth.
We have a lot of assumptions about other countries and people, based on whatever information is floated in front of us, or what we seek out. Russia is almost unfathomably huge, and we only saw cities. So I can hardly say that I know what Russia is like. Generalizations are impossible, and I don’t like them anyway. When I told a friend about the magnificent Moscow subways, how they’re made of marble with beautiful, very intentional lighting, she was stunned. “I think of it as decrepit.” I think many Americans do. There are probably decrepit areas of every country, or most, I assume. We didn’t, for example, see any starving people (I was asked that). We also didn’t see any people of color. That was perhaps the most notable thing. Oh, and they like liver. It’s kind of a staple. So I can make this generalization: they like liver and music. And they take their music with a healthy side of dance.
Our concerts were divine experiences. We played a Hard Rock Cafe in St. Petersburg, a diplomatic mansion and a jazz club in Moscow. I especially loved playing the philharmonic halls in Togliatti and Samara. So much room to move and dance and sing and jump around with my guitar, trading stage smiles with my sublime band, Eric Ambel, Jeremy Chatzy and Phil Cimino. I learned snippets of Russian. The audiences applauded after my phrases and I took a Beatles’ bow. We all laughed together at the silly moment. The people were passionate. They gave us standing ovations and Instagram videos. All the juicy good stuff of yesterday and today.
Nothing happens out of context of course. A part of the context of this trip for me was completely personal: I haven’t been on a tour of my own in years. I’d sort of quit touring and was barely performing, but I’d wanted to start again. The singer in me was screaming to get out. I had no idea that my book would lead me back to singing, so loud and so often. It’s been an unanticipated benefit and a true gift. Life can hold surprises at any stage.
Thank you Spaso House! You sure did it up big for us.
My last international trip was to China. I wrote a blog about it and talked about wanting to feel forever changed, but I notice with some happiness that that’s not a concern of mine this time. Maybe I’m already forever changed. But not from trips to other countries, not from going far from home where it can be easier to find and feel yourself. It’s the internal journey that has shifted things. Old darknesses have brightened a bit, enough maybe. I’m comfortable in my own skin, which is forever changing on its own schedule.
No one can look at me and tell I’ve just been to Russia. But they can surely tell I’ve been somewhere, that I’ve travelled some miles. Reviewing where I’ve been gets richer all the time. But I must say, I do like the looks of that road ahead.
Thanks for traveling with me.
Please watch (and like, I hope) my new video for the new release “Dreaming of Him,” co-written with Eric Ambel. While you’re there, please subscribe to my YouTube channel if you’re so inclined. And while you’re in the mode of doing things for me:
You can order my book, Dreaming of Dylan. A great gift for a birthday, late Father’s Day or any day.
And give yourself a present. I’ll consider it a personal favor.