There are any number of interpretations and applications of the theme, “You can’t go home again.”
Several months ago, I considered the following variant: “You may no longer like your favorite band at age 17, 40 years later.”
But that didn’t stop me from throwing caution to the wind, rallying three of my high school buddies and putting together a middle-aged-guy road trip that had the potential to be really great or disappointingly lame and a waste of time and money.
It all started when I read that Ian Anderson, leader of the British folk and progressive rock band Jethro Tull, was going on tour to play the band’s heralded 1972 album, “Thick As A Brick,” in its entirety to commemorate the album’s 40th anniversary. We followed the band around like Deadheads during that era, and, yes, we followed the Grateful Dead around, too. So I emailed several of my high school chums (hey, the Brits say “chum”) and said, when this comes around, let’s do it. Why not?
As tour dates were announced and I looked at the specific dates and venues, I settled on Nov. 3 in Detroit. It was a weekend, and despite all of the unflattering images one envisions about Detroit these days, I attended a conference there two summers ago, had a great time, and knew that the venue and nearby hotel were first rate.
It took some persuasion, but ultimately I got the boys on board for the beautifully restored Westin Book-Cadillac Hotel and the even more stunning Fox Theater. The coup de gras was working through a local colleague (name omitted to shield him from similar requests) to score 11th row center seats.
Seeing that the trip was shaping up as a first-class affair, we rented a Lincoln Continental for the drive.
Again, say what you will about Detroit, and, certainly, much of the city is blighted, but spend a little time downtown and you recognize pretty quickly that this once was a fabulous, prosperous city. Handsome architecture abounds, even though many beautiful buildings sit empty.
On Friday night, a newspaper buddy stopped by the hotel and led us down the street to a delightfully quirky, hipster bar and restaurant named Cafe D’Mongo’s Speakeasy. Only open on Friday and Saturday nights, it was filled with antiques and odd decorations, offered just two entrees, each accompanied by macaroni and cheese, and could easily be called an engaging, one-of-a-kind place. Score.
After D’Mongo’s, we traveled to a downtown club called PJ’s Lager House, which was running very good bands on and off stage virtually every hour. Score again.
Saturday, we found another great place for lunch, and when we toured the downtown, we encountered something entirely unexpected: a giant anime convention with more than 10,000 young people dressed up as bizarre, cartoon-like characters. The normally not-busy downtown people-mover was packed like a Tokyo subway with people with blue and pink hair, strange costumes and nerdy but fun-loving attitudes.
That led up to our ultimate destination — the concert — which turned out to be even better than we’d imagined. For all of us, our Tull period came and went a long time ago, but for one night, the theatrics and classically influenced music sounded pitch perfect. And the audience of middle-aged folks like us was large, attentive and appreciative.
The final piece to the puzzle was no small component: four high school friends, traveling to Detroit, sharing hotel rooms and agreeing on what to do and where to eat and drink?
It could have been a major distraction, but as it turned out, I think all four of us would say that we’re all pretty much exactly the same as we were in high school. A little more mature, hopefully.
But our group dynamic was very familiar. There were no arguments, political, religious or otherwise. No disagreements. So congenial it might have been the highlight of the trip.
So can you go home again — can you relive a time or a feeling or a sense of place — as Thomas Wolfe once asked? Most of the time, the answer surely is no. But it can be done.