Today is November 6th. Don Shepherds birthday. I woke up and immediately thought about him. The heart knows.
The next thing that happened is that I smelled bacon. Mmmm. This made me want to get out of bed, of course, and I went into the kitchen where my “hell of a great cook husband” Nick was making us breakfast: egg, cheddar, and bacon sammies on whole wheat toast, with hash browns on the side. Him making breakfast was not surprising, although ALWAYS appreciated. He makes us breakfast every Sunday, because its part of our tradition as a couple. One of many traditions we have as a couple. This one is “Sunday Rock ‘n Roll.” He makes us a lovely breakfast, and we rotate weeks choosing a music DVD to watch together right after breakfast. We have done this almost every Sunday since moving into first, our apartment together in 2020, and then our house in 2021. Now and then, if we are away or something unexpected happens, we skip the tradition – but not often. It has become a staple in our relationship, and in our marriage. Nick always posts on Facebook with a photo of what he made and of the chosen DVD we will watch – and the few times he didnt post or we couldnt do the tradition because life got in the way – people would reach out asking: “Where is the post” or “no post this Sunday. Everything okay?” It has become something that our friends expect to see from us each Sunday, and something that helps make people smile or feel nostalgic.
Sunday Breakfast and Rock n’ Roll has become one of the many things that I think about immediately when I think of my husband Nick. And because I’m widowed, my brain is wired weird, and I often have thoughts like: “What if he dies before me? Will I still continue this tradition? Would it hurt too much? Maybe Id do a different version of it, in time. But probably Sundays and breakfast in general will be super emotional for me if he dies.” Then I tell myself to stop thinking about that and just be in the moment of now, enjoying our breakfast and our love of music together.
Anyway, today it was my turn to choose the music. I looked through our large drawer filled with our collection of music DVDS, and finally chose what looked like an amazing concert: “The Best Concert Ever: 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” This concert took place in NYC, in 2009, and it is 3 DVDS long of an incredible live event with pairings of so many legendary musicians performing together on each others music. Since it is 3 DVDs long, today we watched the first of the three, and will continue with the rest over the next couple of Sundays.
As we started watching the concert, almost every performance had a memory of me and Don in it. I realized that while I didnt purposely choose a concert that would have so many Don-related moments for me, it happened naturally anyway. As Stevie Wonder sang a few of his classic songs, I was instantly brought back to a few years after Don’s death, on his birthday, November 6th, going to see Stevie Wonder in concert in NYC with my good friend Andrew. He took me to the concert largely because the concert was on Don’s birthday, and it seemed like the perfect thing for me to do on his birthday, was to see a concert. As I thought of that memory and smiled to myself, I shared it out loud with Nick, and then I texted Andrew and shared the moment with him also.
Then Sting joined Stevie onstage. They sang a few songs together, and one of them was “Roxanne.” Immediately, I started laughing. Don hated that song, and during our wedding reception, his Best Man Rob had the DJ play it, and call Don up to the dance floor to sort of “mock-sing” it. Its in our wedding video and always makes me laugh anytime I can get myself to watch it without crying more than laughing, and I laughed again watching Sting and Stevie together. Then came B.B. King out to the stage. As he did his thing brilliantly, my mind was brought back to all the many times Don and I went to “B.B. Kings” Blues club in Times Square over the years. Many times, we went for their “Beatles Sunday Brunch”, which was a Beatles cover band doing a great show, followed by a delicious soul food brunch buffet. We also saw many blues artists there in concert, and even saw B.B. King himself a couple times. It was always such a great way to spend a few hours in the city.
Next up was Simon and Garfunkel, and when they sang “The Boxer”, I thought about how that was Don’s favorite song by them, and how when I asked him his favorite S&G song, and he said: “The Boxer”, and I said: “what’s that?” and then he attempted to sing it, and he couldn’t sing for crap, so I didn’t recognize it, and so he played it for me, and I said: “Oh, THAT! Yeah, that’s a great song. I thought it was called “Lie la Lie” though. Why is it called The Boxer?”, to which Don said: “I dont know. I didnt write it. Ask Paul Simon.” Then there was a pause, and he went on Google. “What are you doing?” “Im googling it. I never thought about it before. Now I need to know why its called The Boxer!” Then we found out it was a metaphor of some kind, and had something to do with Paul’s frustrations with his treatment by record companies, and I remember Don then saying: “Well thats boring. Now I don’t like it as much. I thought it was some big deep metaphor about life and death and getting older and all that. But no. Its about record execs. Lame! Thanks for ruining my favorite song!” Then he laughed heartily and shook his head at me while smiling, like he always used to do.
There were so many more performances that brought me back instantly to times in that life, or to memories or moments that included Don in some way, or that made me think of him. To list them all would be the longest post ever, but I think you get the idea. One of the last performances on the first DVD was from Aretha Franklin, who is now dead. Many others that performed in this concert are also now dead. And although I didnt have a specific memory involving Aretha that included Don, her performance sort of put it all together for me. How powerful music can be, how it reaches across the universe and the decades and offers up such love and nostalgia and emotion. How all these different legendary artists were on that stage that night in NYC, all those years ago, performing each others music, sharing it with one another and with the world, and celebrating so many artists, some who were still alive and others who were not. How it all connects and it all makes sense and its all so damn sad and beautiful and precious and strange. Life. Death. All of it. Don Shepherd lives on every single time I think about him, and every single time I hear music, and in so many other ways. Everyone does. All of the people we have lost to death – all of them – they are alive in so many different ways, and the ripple effect of that becomes so natural and normal over time, that it’s easy for the beauty of it to get a little bit lost.
Happy Stardust Birthday, Don.
It no longer matters to me how old you “would have been” today, because in my mind, you are Forever 46.
And you are also Forever Alive. Your soul and your presence and your spirit are forever here with me …
In music. In food. (tonight is my night to cook and I will make a version of what he used to always order at Houlihan’s in Jersey where we lived when I’d take him out on his birthday – chicken breast stuffed with garlic herb and ricotta and spinach, with roasted potato and carrots.) In stories. In memories. In laughter. In traditions, both old and new. In love. In everything.
Long live the endless power of love and music, and long live Rock and Roll.