Sorting out a life: Moving backward & forward at the same time

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Gaaaah! The more I try to go through stuff so we can move on to Belize, the more I get pulled back in time. Time to look straight ahead!
Gaaaah! The more I try to go through stuff so we can move on to Belize, the more I get pulled back in time. Time to look straight ahead!

Did you ever feel like you were moving backward and forward at the same time?

I know such a thing mucks up the laws of physics but that is just how I feel at the moment.

We are in the process of winnowing down our possessions as we prepare for our move to Belize. One of the tasks for me is going through about a half dozen boxes of old papers, letters, notebooks, writings and newspapers from Nixon’s resignation and John Lennon’s assassination – stuff  that I began accumulating at least as far back as my “lost years” in Washington DC during the Vietnam War era.

As I open each of these boxes and begin a fresh journey in personal archaeology, my mind travels back to times, people and events long forgotten.

I find I must relive the past before I can let go of it. I have no idea if this is healthy or not but for the most part it has been, well, kind of fun.

I ask myself, who else would hang on to a letter from the 1980’s that begins “Hey Creepo” or an obscenity-laced message in excruciatingly neat printing from an angry fan of a band that I once panned in a concert review?

Well, I did.

I became “Creepo” after  writing about an especially awful hip-hop concert in Los Angeles in which the headline rapper kept the audience waiting for more than an hour. His explanation? He was busy counting his “mother fucking money.”

Ticked me off.

So I included his statement in my review – although, working for a mainstream newspaper, the quote became “m—— f——-ing money.”

That was apparently still too much for some guy who wrote me the angry note about smuggling filth into his household.

Ah, well.

Over time, I got plenty of angry letters – some even when I liked a concert. Apparently I didn’t like it enough to suit some of the fans.

I generally avoided meanness in my reviews. Unless I felt that a performer was basically screwing fans out of hard earned dollars by giving sub-par, uninspiring performances.

I do regret writing that a hefty white-robed Boy George and his equally hefty white-robed back-up singer looked like two white whales humping each other as they body-slammed  during a duet.

I do not regret writing that some especially turgid performances by the Moody Blues and several other art rock bands made me feel like I was trapped in the La Brea Tar Pits of rock ‘n roll. Even though that crack unleashed a torrent of hate mail.

My favorite letter was from a Billy Idol fan who took offence at my contention that the guy was an absolute fraud. The girl, a high schooler, decorated her letter with crude drawings of bloody daggers and a rudimentary profile of Idol with a voice balloon that said “Oy like ta sniff panties.”

I dunno.

Mostly I was fortunate to experience terrific music during those years and took great pleasure in returning to the office late in the night to write up my reviews in order to make deadline.

I worked for an evening newspaper in San Diego at the time and it gnawed at me that the morning newspaper came out with next day reviews many hours before our paper hit the street – even though their reviewers usually left concerts early to meet their deadline.

I eventually convinced my editors to send me out of town to see shows that were on their way to San Diego so that we could run a review before they hit town, thus beating the morning newspaper.

Newspapers were that competitive at one time.

I flew to Kansas City for the opening night of a Michael Jackson U.S. tour and was totally wowed – by MJ, of course – but more so by a backup singer who performed duets with him. She was a then unknown Sheryl Crow who would soon release the album “Tuesday Night Music Club.”  And my editors were concerned when I lead my review with praise for her and Michael didn’t get a nod for three paragraphs.

Among the other things I saved are ticket stubs from concerts, plays and sports events. Why, I don’t know. Before I tossed them, though, I have cataloged them chronologically. That’s enough. One that I’ve saved is from an April 25, 1994 Eagles concert on a soundstage at Warner Brothers Burbank Studios.

This was the first time the band had played together in years. One of them had vowed that hell would freeze over before they would ever play together again. This show became the foundation for the “Hell Freezes Over” album, video and tour that followed of course.

I was invited backstage after the show to interview the band, one of two music critics in the country. We sat at a picnic table in the middle of a circle of RV’s – one for each band member. The ground was littered with children’s toys – far cry from the early days.

None of that compares with hanging out backstage with Bo Diddley before a concert and getting a tutorial on the fine art of barbecue, until his daughter piped up and said “Bo burns everything!”

My seatmates Michel and Liz leaving the Bruce Springsteen concert early, to avoid the crowds, I guess.
My seatmates Michel and Liz leaving the Bruce Springsteen concert early, to avoid the crowds, I guess.

Still, my all-time best memory from those days was from my first (of many)  Bruce Springsteen concerts, at the L.A. Coliseum. I had a 20th row pair of seats but too far to the side I felt. Being way too early, I walked around the massive coliseum looking for a better angle, I happened upon an elevator with a brass plaque that said “Press Only.”


The doors opened and I walked in like I owned the joint.

When I stepped out in the press box area it was immediately obvious that I didn’t belong. There were record label execs in suits with families in tow and a smattering of Los Angeles celebrities. There was also a buffet table with a huge shank of roast beef being carved up by white coated chefs. I immediately went for the buffet thinking that if I’m going to get kicked out I may as well eat first.

I sat in a front row seat and began chatting up a hairdresser Jose Eber, credited with creating the Farrah Fawcett look. The lights dimmed, the show started and I was still in my seat.

I ignored a slight commotion to my left as The Boss and the E Street Band totally commanded the stadium. I did glace over to see who my noisy new seatmate might be.

Elizabeth Taylor. And Michael Jackson. They were hanging out a lot together back in those days.

At intermission I turned to Taylor and immediately fell deep into those famous violet eyes and could only stammer “How, uh, how, um, how do you like the show so far?”

“So much fun,” she said. “I wish I could be closer, though.”

I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled my tickets out. “I’ve got two in the twentieth row if you guys want to use them.”

She paused. Smiled. Then said, “Oh, thank you, but I don’t think we should go down there.”

 “You’re right,” I replied. “You’d get torn to pieces.”


Later I loaned a pen to Michael Jackson so he could autograph stuff for the kids of the music execs. I wanted to ask Michael what he was thinking, as a mere two weeks earlier he’d closed out a sold out U.S. tour in the very same stadium .

They left before the show was over.

The only other ticket I’m saving is from a “Day of Mindfulness” with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh in San Diego’s Balboa Park. It was a blissful, sun-washed day of meditation, inspiring talks and shared joy. That was Sept. 8, 2011. A few days later, everyone’s life would change.

That day I moved on from entertainment to the news desk and never looked back.

OK, enough time travel. There are rooms to be painted and clothing to be sorted and stuff to be sold before we move to San Pedro in Belize. That is the present. That is the future.

Time to get it done.

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13 thoughts on “Sorting out a life: Moving backward & forward at the same time

    Els said:
    January 10, 2014 at 6:51 am

    Aint it fun?
    We are in the same proces, moving to Belize at the end of the month. Love going through all the old stuff: report cards, birthday cards, school pictures.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 10, 2014 at 9:47 am

      Time travel! And congratulations.
      Where in Belize will you be moving to? I’d love to hear your strategy for getting there — what to take, what to leave behind, what to jettison. I’m hoping to get my life reduced to a single dufflebag and carry-on but that is harder to do than I ever imagined.
      Right now were packing for storage, piling up for a yard sale and Craigslisting for the big ticket items.
      Good luck! See you in Belize!


        Els said:
        January 10, 2014 at 11:34 pm

        We are moving to Belmopan. Its the best place for me to find a job. My husband is a Belizean and we have lived there before. So its not all that new for us. When i first went there 20 years ago i left everything behind ( well at my mom’s). Now my husband has decided to ship one crate. So i am filling that up with things that i missed at that time, like pots and pans, clothes, books and a vacuum cleaner ( i hate sweeping). But i guess Belize has moved on and maybe all of that is readily available now. We’ll see.


        robertjhawkins1 responded:
        January 11, 2014 at 9:48 am

        I really like the idea of shipping one crate. That can sure help you focus!
        Thanks for that!


    Gerry Neumann said:
    January 10, 2014 at 9:47 am

    I am another going through the same process. My wife and I are moving to San Pedro in june. I have thoroughly enjoyed your blog. I write poems and music and found it ironic that two days before reading this post I was working on a song. It starts off, “Sifting through memories one box at a time”. Good luck on your adventure. Hope we can meet.


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 10, 2014 at 9:49 am

      OK, Gerry, we can definitely relate to that song! Good luck with your move. Are you finding it hard to let go of those boxes full of memories? Keep in touch.


    lifeagain said:
    January 10, 2014 at 10:23 am

    Great read for me Robert……as always



    The Miss Adventure Journals said:
    January 13, 2014 at 3:09 pm

    Wow, what great stories … you met Michael Jackson! You are now a legend by association


      robertjhawkins1 responded:
      January 13, 2014 at 5:42 pm

      Awwww. In my own mind, Miss Adventure. No where else! Thanks for the note!


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