Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Time Isn't Always On Our Side (Op/Ed)

Everyone has that one band that means more to them than any other, don't they? The one group that connected with you through their music, maybe even played a role in a wonderful memory. Iron Maiden has always been that band for me.

I got into them kind of late in the game, as you can guess. They've been around since the 80's, after all. Luckily, I skipped the 90's, which was when they were stuck in Replacement Singer Hell. It was around 2000, so I must have been thirteen or fourteen. Dad picked up their Somewhere in Time album to replace a copy he lost a long time prior. At first I didn't pay it much heed, but eventually I listened to it. I was hooked immediately. I rushed to devour every prior album all the way up to the 1990's.

Around this time, Maiden made their comeback. They reunited with their most popular singer and guitarist, made a new album and almost immediately set out on the road to tour. I bought that album of course- its title was Brave New World - and fell in love with it. After my parents bought me the Rock in Rio tape, one thought stuck with me. "I have to see these guys live".

It's funny how many old bands have made triumphant comebacks in the 2000's. Several of my old favorites have returned, putting out amazing new albums that earned a place in my CD collection. They practically defied conventional wisdom; it's usually said - and most of the time it's true - that eventually a band is going to taper off in quality before sinking into the depths of irrelevance.

Maybe it's just bias on my part, but no one bucked conventional wisdom more than Maiden. Of the four albums they've put out, only one was anything even remotely resembling a disappointment and that's only when compared to the other albums released during this comeback period. I'd go so far as to say their most recent - The Final Frontier - is as good as anything they've done in the past. Maiden didn't just age gracefully. Musically, they're far better than they've ever been.

I bought all four of those albums when they came out, of course. For some reason or another, I didn't get to see them live for the longest time. Tour after tour passed me by. It wasn't until last year that I finally managed to see them in concert. It wasn't until this year that I'd know what that night would mean to me.

My mother could never get around well. Hit by a drunk driver when she was seventeen, her knees slowly degenerated over the years, leaving her all but crippled. By last year, she could barely get around with a cane and my arm for support. Much of my life over the past several years has revolved around taking care of her.

I took pride in it. She was a wonderful lady who, despite her lot in life, loved her kids and would do anything for us. It felt like a small way to pay her back. Plus I got to spend a lot of time with her. She was, without question, my best friend and the person I looked up to most in life. I managed to get paid for taking care of her; it wasn't a ton, but it was enough. I'd always had plans for afterwards; she was going to get knee replacement surgery and as soon as I felt I could be away for a while without worry, I intended to go to a training school.

She, as I recall, was the one who convinced me we should go to the concert. She wasn't as excited as I was about it - she had, after all, seen Maiden in their prime and had her stories, which she loved to tell - but she wanted to go to keep me company. Not to mention the fact that Alice Cooper was the opening act; Cooper was one of the few rock bands she had never attended a concert for, even in her youth. So we bought our tickets and when the time came we made the journey down to Darien Lake.

We had a wonderful time. It was hard on her, of course - the simple act of walking was agony for her - but she managed. We took pictures, bought overpriced shirts to remember the occasion by and revelled in the experience. She was enthralled by Cooper, who put on a great show as always. For me, it was the main event that hooked me. You'd never guess the members of Iron Maiden were in their fifties judging by how effortlessly Bruce Dickinson raced across the stage. The energy he possesses is enough to be the envy of men half his age.

After the show, we ate at Denny's and holed up in a motel for the night. I was too exhausted from the show to safely make the drive home. It wasn't some big vacation, but we had a great time. We always figured there would be more to come; she'd get her knee surgery, I'd get a decent job and I'd take her with me to see all sorts of different places. It wasn't supposed to be the last time we got to do anything big together.

Turns out it was.

My mother died this year on the 13th of July around 11 AM*. I'll never forget it. Three days later and it would have been exactly a year from our trip. I still don't know what happened. I still don't understand why. She didn't deserve it. There was so much left for her to see and do. There's so much left we never got to do. So much left, stolen from us without warning. I miss her all the time, months later. The tears have dried, but everything's changed. What I wouldn't give to go back in time.

I'm two days away from my 27th birthday. I can't help but think of her and think of where my life is right now. I put so much into helping her and I can't help but ask myself what I have to show for it? Aside from my father and sister, I'm alone. I haven't had a girlfriend in years. I'm struggling to get everything in order so I can go on with the plans I made well before she passed. What do I really have?

She'll never see me get married. When I have kids, she'll never get to meet them. She'll never see me make it in anything I want to do. It wasn't supposed to be this way. I'm still struggling to figure my life out. To figure out where I go from here. It isn't easy.

One thing I do still have are memories. A big one is that concert. If Iron Maiden weren't around anymore, I wouldn't have that memory.

I guess when it comes down to it, that's part of the point of this. In some way, it made a band I already loved special to me in a different way. I guess I can never make fun of the Rolling Stones again for the fact that they're still around despite being half dead.

So keep on upping the irons, Maiden. Keep going until the six of you are a bunch of skeletons performing on stage if you want. I'll be there. I like to think Mom will be there with me in spirit.

* Yes, this is why the blog has been reduced to maybe a post a month.