Stop in the name of love

Published 7:49 pm Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The night was cool, but there was electricity in the air.

People were mulling about, introducing each other and telling stories about the memories that had brought them all to this one place at the same time.

Then the lights went dark, the music started playing and the crowd rose to their feet. As the music hit a crescendo, the spotlight hit a lady in a stunning red dress. Diana Ross, named the Female Entertainer of the Century the year I graduated from college and considered the most successful female artist of all time in the 1990’s, had hit the stage.

Email newsletter signup

From our seats in the middle of the front row last Friday night, Mary Lou and I were instantly taken back to the music of “The Supremes,” who were in the their prime when we first met. Anyone who attended Girard Junior High School in 1969 can still remember the fabulous rendition of “Stop In the Name of Love” by three of our classmates.

Ross looked stunning. From our close vantage point we wondered if it was possible to look that good at age 66. Her voice was clear and strong as she sang non-stop for 90 minutes. For much of that time I sang along with her, remembering words I hadn’t thought of in years.

The crowd was very Southern Californian. The older gentleman next to me was quiet and still until the show began. Then it became obvious that he knew her as he sang and danced to every word of every song. There were people in feathered boas and sequined jackets.

It was the crowd in the boats that captured my attention. Prior to the show, we dined adjacent to the outdoor venue sitting by windows overlooking the marina and water. We began to notice people coming up below us in boats of all kinds. They were putting out anchors and then lashing the boats together.

The grills were fired up and the appetizer trays were pulled out. There were kayaks, small fishing boats and canoes. There were old classic wooden cruisers and sleek boats that would hold a dozen people. Some of the ladies were wearing heals on the boats, which just amazed me. Beyond this group of boats were what seemed to be literally thousands of sailboat masts, looking almost like a pine forest in South Georgia.

Most of the people on the boats couldn’t see the stage, but they could hear the music. What fun they all appeared to be having.

Thinking the concert would be the highlight of our vacation to San Diego, we were quite unprepared for our dinner the next evening. Jim Croce was a musical favorite of mine while I was in college. His acoustic guitar and simple lyrics fit the times and gave birth to the term “junkyard dogs” in one of his hits “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.”

Before he died in a plane crash at the age of 30, Croce had other hits such as “Time in a Bottle,” “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim” and “I’ll Have to Say I Love You in a Song.”

While we were dining at a restaurant named for Croce in the Gaslight District, his widow, Ingrid, came up to our table. What a delightful person she was we discussed his music and his life. We left thinking what a wonderful experience we had just had.

The next evening we traveled to a dueling piano bar. The three men rotated in and out without ever taking a break. The youngest had on a hat that made him look like he was a kid in southwest Georgia.

Every single song they played and sang was from a request. They had no music to read, just heads full of lyrics and hearts full of song. Their hands would fly up and down the keyboards as they had fun with everyone in the place.

For three straight hours we sat there, sometimes singing, sometimes smiling, but always enjoying the music and the crowd. Some were older than me, many were younger. There were two brides to be there with friends. Two young sailors from the Navy base seemed to know the words to every song in the last four decades.

Our fourth night out on the town could not possibly compete with the first three, or so we thought. The 5.7-magnitude earthquake that hit as we were having dinner didn’t involve music, but will forever remain a memory of our visit.

Music can play such an incredible role in our lives. For three straight nights, music brought ML and me together with people we did not know. It bridged gaps between different age groups as we all reached back to in our minds to remember where we first heard a particular song.

Music can make you like a kid again. It can calm you down or make you wild. Research has shown that 30 minutes of calming classical music can have the same effect on your body as a dose of Valium. Former Gov. Zell Miller believed in the power of music to develop brainpower when he had the state give classical music CDs to newborn infants in Georgia.

Music is more than a language. It has been called the language of languages. People who share no common words understand what they are hearing. It bridges gaps and offers bonds all too few in our complex world.

In the year that Mary Lou and I had our first date; the No. 1 song on the charts was by Diana Ross and the Supremes. It was “Someday We’ll Be Together.” Who would have ever imagined that 40 years later we would hold hands and sing that song again?