(Originally published April 1, 2017)
Imagine you’re going to see one of your all-time favorite artists – a soul music legend the name of whom I’ll reveal at the end of this article.
You’ve got front row seats, which were not cheap by the way…I’m talking hundreds of bones, a decision that will easily set you back months in your budget, but you figured it would be worth it in the end.
This artist is an icon worthy of a coronation that was bestowed upon her some 50 years ago – one whose career spans nearly six decades – with many gold and platinum records, Number One hits in Billboard, and more diva status than Patti, Chaka, Mariah, Janet, Beyoncé, J-Lo and Celine combined.
You’re at the concert, along with your date (yes, there was a date involved, people), and the opening act, an up-and-coming R&B singer whose name I shall also reveal at the end, is going through his admirable but much too long set.
By the time he finishes, the crowd – whose average age is probably in the 50 range – is about as antsy as a bunch of twenty somethings at a rave event. It would be another 30 minutes before the main attraction – in true diva-like fashion – shows her face with all its time-worn wisdom and half-grace (I say only half because she’s so late on this night and she’d previously cancelled a show only a few months earlier, making us all have to rearrange our schedules to accommodate hers).
But I digress…and show up she does.
And it quickly goes downhill from there.
As a reminder, you have front row seats, and there’s nothing separating you from the stage – which is a little surprising at first because of this artist’s legendary status. But you don’t dwell on that detail – you’re just happy to have a front-row view of a singer who’s likely on everyone’s bucket list – at least everyone of a certain age with a true respect for real music, particularly soul and R&B, of which this woman has been considered royalty for decades.
And you just know that she is about to launch into a cavalcade of her hits both old and older, and you’ll be singing along gleefully with your date and everyone else in the audience.
And so it begins, she starts the show by the usual hellos, welcomes and shout-outs to the city of Chicago for having her. You can tell she’s been here before, well, because she tells you as much…with her hometown of Detroit being only hours away and the Windy City being a popular stopover for many artists near and far.
She first issues a half apology for postponing the earlier date from a few months ago, but deadpans that we wouldn’t have wanted to be out in that weather anyway just to see her perform (she’s wrong there, but many of these concert-goers understand that this same septuagenarian who didn’t mind making them wait hours after the advertised showtime to hear her belt out her first note would have no problem cancelling a show at the first sign of inclement weather).
After a few more minutes of opening banter, the music starts. This artist launches into a classic from her early years, then segues into another, then another.
About 30 minutes into her set, she sees the audience is singing along and matriculates to the front of the stage where you’re sitting and bopping your head so enthusiastically, and looking up at her with all the gawk and awe of a ten-year-old kid at his first Cubs game.
Then the strange part happens.
She motions for you to get up and join her on stage. You look around to see if it’s really you she’s beckoning…she sees your doubt and literally sing-shouts in her glorious tenor/soprano, “Get up here, boy, I’m talking to you!”
You look at your date, then get up and nervously walk to the stage, entering from Stage Left and walking across to where this icon is standing with thousands of people screaming and cheering in the audience.
Now this is no Janet Jackson, so you’re not expecting to be serenaded with whips and chains or anything like that. But surely this legend of many decades won’t have you singing with her. She’s notoriously sung only with the best of the best, what in Heaven’s name would you be bringing to the table?
But there you are, you and this diva, on stage at the Chicago Theatre with musicians playing in the background and fans cheering in front of you.
She asks, “what’s your favorite song of mine?”
And just like that, you draw a complete blank. You, a music blogger and self-proclaimed connoisseur who believes he knows everything about music of a certain era, can’t even come up with the title of one of the many hits this person has made…and you’ve written about…over the years.
Then, just as you collect yourself and are about to name one, she launches into song and implores you to sing along, handing you a conveniently placed microphone to make her job easier. You are pitch-challenged to say the least, as this powerhouse literally absorbs your voice with her somewhat aged, but still-respectable soprano. You instantly feel like Celine Dion must have when the two shared the stage at a diva-filled event many years ago and this singer had to show Celine who was still queen.
Then, as you’re singing along with this artist on a very popular golden oldie, out of the corner of your eye you notice the keyboard player get up and exit the stage on the left. Behind the curtains, and clearly visible from your vantage point, you see him take a massive bong hit…then return to his post and clank on the keys of his instrument as if nothing had just happened.
The diva sees you’re distracted and implores you to focus on her and keep singing.
Just then, you glance to your right and see what looks like smoke emanating from a rotisserie chicken roasting oven. You peer at it harder while singing with said diva and realize that’s exactly what it is…a rotisserie oven just behind the curtain at Stage Right, complete with a roasting chicken inside.
This is all too surreal, but no more so than when the star of the show again implores you to stay focused on her and the music.
By this point she’s a bit frustrated at your easily distracted ways, but you’ve always been an inquisitive sort. As the tune ends, she, completely out of left field, says, “tell me what is your darkest fantasy.”
Before you can answer, a couple of stage hands roll out a chair with whips, chains and harnesses attached. The crowd sees this and roars with anticipation as you stand there in complete wonder, not exactly sure of what’s gonna happen next or who exactly will be involved. Certainly, our 75-year-old star won’t be mixing it up with you on this stage with iPhone cameras rolling (folks were told the phone cameras were prohibited but who ever really listens to that admonition?).
She then directs you to be seated, puts a blindfold on you, then launches into something that sounds like “I Never Loved A Man” as sweat beads roll from your shaven bald head. She (or someone) slowly rotates the chair at least 360-degrees, then removes the blindfold, revealing a full table setting with a three-course meal in front of you – including the half-chicken you saw basting in that oven only moments earlier.
Seeing this, you have no choice but to eat it, while all the while your date – whom you’d completely forgotten about at this point – is recording all of this with an iPhone and FaceTime live-streaming it on the Internet.
The audience is screaming with laughter and applause and then gives you and the diva a standing ovation…you likely for your sportsmanship and slight embarrassment, and she for the ingenuity and creativity to come up with all of this at such a late stage in her career.
Now, here’s the kicker. I’m asking you to imagine all of this because, well, none of it really happened. Yes, there was a concert in Chicago last night, but I didn’t go to it.
In fact, I spent much of the night thinking about what I was going to post for…
April Fools Day.
Oh, and if you got here by way of my Facebook page, all that stuff about this being the last article? Yeah, that was a joke also.
Happy April Fools Day!