Back when no one thought twice about being nose-to-nose with masses of people from who-knows-where, I saw “The Master of Space and Time” in concert. Leon Russell died four years ago this November. I loved him.
I loved him from the first moment I heard him sing, his voice raspy and soulful. I was in high school when Leon came into my life, and I believed his words were clearly written for me. I knew his lyrics by heart, and listened to his 8-track tapes over and over.
“I know your image of me is what I hope to be … Darlin’ can’t you please see through me,”
from “A Song for You” breaks my heart. And the older I get, the truer these words seem to be.
I went to Engle Stadium to see him in concert in high school, along with most every other Chattanooga resident under the age of 25. It was epic, and folks who were there remember it. Or at least they remember not remembering.
We’d had days and days of rain just before the concert, and the infield was not quite as solid as quicksand. Which deterred no one. Some of us took to the field on boys’ shoulders; others plodded through, all eager to get closer to the longhaired bored-looking poet making the piano his love slave on the stage. He opened with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and he may as well have thrown a match on a field of gasoline. The crowd was on fire.
I came home with only one shoe. Other friends fared much worse. I can’t say I remember every detail of this concert that I attended 46 years ago, but his music will always catapult me back to my youth.
Years ago, when my youngest son asked me where my Leon Russell albums were, I probably droned on too long. But that didn’t deter him from buying “Carney” on eBay. And this particular son jumped at the chance to meet Leon in Nashville a few years ago, although it meant staying in a hotel room with his parents. We were actually invited to have dinner with Leon, and although we weren’t at his table, we were right next to him. As in he had to walk right past us to get to his table. As in we could have snatched a piece of his white hair if we’d wanted to. But Leon Russell clearly wasn’t interested in meeting us. He kept those hooded eyes down, not making eye contact with anyone at the gathering.
Later that night, when Leon was sitting alone in a chair, I told my son to go introduce himself.
“Mom!” he hissed in a tone all mothers know well.
I paid no attention.
“Hi, Leon, I heard you play 45 years ago at Engle Stadium in Chattanooga. It was amazing,” I gushed. I think I even told him I loved him.
Nervous and talking nonstop as he sat silently, I’m pretty sure I told him my white Dr. Scholl was still somewhere in that field, probably buried deep under the pitcher’s mound by now. I like to think he cracked a tiny smile.
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(Ferris Robinson is the author of two children's books, "The Queen Who Banished Bugs" and "The Queen Who Accidentally Banished Birds," in her pollinator series, with "Call Me Arthropod" coming soon. "Making Arrangements" is her first novel, and "Dogs and Love - Stories of Fidelity" is a collection of true tales about man's best friend. Her website is ferrisrobinson.com
. She is the editor of The Lookout Mountain Mirror and The Signal Mountain Mirror. Ferris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )