When the Splurge Is Worth It

Most Americans are not wealthy, unless compared to the millions of people who live in less-developed countries around the world. Although there is a vast household income spectrum in this country, most of us have limits on our discretionary spending. We have to make choices, especially about our wants as opposed to our needs. Some folks are truly prudent and seek savings that other families pass up: driving small, fuel-efficient vehicles; eating at home or taking lunch to work; shopping around for insurance; or even selecting generic products over name brands. Americans are among the most consumer-driven individuals on the planet. We love our stuff! We crave gadgets, electronics, toys, and a whole host of disposable products. We will spend hard-earned money on the most useless objects to occupy the limited time we have away from our jobs. The latest obsession that comes to mind is the fidget spinner, ranging in price on the low end from $3 to $10, but going well over $400 for the designer models. Millions have been sold across the country in 2017 (and in other countries as well). What is the function of this incredible device? It spins. That’s it. Oh, and it is branded as a remedy for everything from boredom to Attention Deficit Disorder.

I have absolutely no issues with what people choose to buy with their money, as long as they are paying their own way and taking proper care of their dependents. I certainly do my part when it comes to blowing money on the absurd too. However, as I look back over the decades, I regret a few times that I didn’t make certain choices that would have afforded me with lifetime experiences and memories. One example that comes to mind was during the summer of 1984 when I was studying abroad in England. Pop music has been an important influence in shaping my world view since I was a child. Some of the lyricists and musicians from the 1970s had the effect on me that poets and painters have on others with more sophisticated taste than my own. I was and shall always be a huge fan of the music of Elton John and his long-time collaborator, Bernie Taupin.┬áThat summer in 1984, Elton John was on his “Breaking Hearts” tour and played a concert at Wembley Stadium in London. As a graduate student who depended on the sacrifices of my parents and the funds from two grants, I was on a tight budget. Still, I could have found a way to purchase a ticket, but I didn’t. There would be plenty of other opportunities to see Elton John in concert, especially in the states, but it would not have been the same. That chance came and went but left its mark on me.

Since that summer in 1984, I have made countless spending decisions — most were fairly routine but some were certainly significant. I am thankful to have more discretionary income now than I did as a graduate student! My wife and I love to travel, and even though some trips can get a bit pricey, I never regret the money we spend this way because of the incredible experiences we share during our journeys. In recent years, I have taken advantage of opportunities to attend concerts with family and friends because I never want to miss out like I did that summer so many years ago. My older son and I saw Bob Dylan a couple of years ago — who knows how much longer this musical icon will be around? We also saw Pearl Jam in the band’s hometown of Seattle a few years earlier. I understood about 2% of the lyrics that Eddie Vedder sang, which is absolutely irrelevant. My son is a huge fan of the band and the whole grunge movement, and I was so glad we could take the trip.

My wife tells a proverbial story from several years ago when she was stressing over the decision to spend extra money on a wonderful hotel for a trip we were planning to Rome. She asked the opinion of a good friend and mentor, who wisely said, “Five years from now you won’t remember how much you spent on the hotel, but the two of you will never forget the experience of staying at that place.” She was such a wise woman, and we followed her advice with absolutely no regrets. In that same spirit, we have attended several concerts in recent years and have seen some incredible shows, including Fleetwood Mac and Earth, Wind & Fire. In 2012, The Rolling Stones announced that they were coming to Newark, New Jersey and to New York City for a 50th anniversary limited tour. Thinking that the band might be announcing their retirement, we jumped at the opportunity to see them. We bought plane and hotel tickets and made it a long weekend in NYC, which was expensive. Do we remember how expensive now? No. Will we ever forget the moment Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood, and Charlie Watts walked out on that Prudential Center stage? Can’t imagine. Of course, we couldn’t have known then that the Stones would end up touring several cities in the U.S. the next year and are still making appearances around the world. Again, no regrets.

The Rolling Stones
The Rolling Stones, 2012

One more example should be enough to make my point here a tad more convincing. The Eagles are a band that helped define the music of our generation. They have a tumultuous history of substance abuse, infighting, breaking up, and reemerging from the ashes. They also created some of the most memorable music of the rock era. Their harmonies were close to perfect, their lyrics spellbinding, and their performances were almost legendary. They have won almost every major Grammy and at least five American Music Awards. They were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. When the band announced the “History of the Eagles” tour for 2013, we paid an additional fee to grab early tickets and the best seats we could afford. Their concert in Charlotte on November 15, 2013 was truly the best show I have ever seen. The vocals, instrumentation, stage presence, lighting, acoustics, and video production were just outstanding. As a reporter for the Charlotte Observer wrote, “The Eagles didn’t just give fans a typical concert Friday at Time Warner Cable Arena. It gave generations of fans a musical history lesson from its 1971 formation to its 1994 reunion.” As thrilled as we were at the end of that phenomenal evening, it would be just over two years later that we truly appreciated how fortunate we were to have been there. The news on January 18, 2016 of the unexpected death of Glenn Fry, the band’s front man and one of its founders, sent a shudder through the world of popular music. It also drove home to us the realization that, whenever possible, we need to take advantage of every one of those once-in-a-lifetime opportunities that comes along.

The Eagles
The Eagles, 2013


The Legend of Bob Dylan

My older son and I recently saw Bob Dylan and his band in concert.  My son is quite the connoisseur of classic pop music going back to before he was born, and to some extent, before I was born.  Going to this show was what he requested for his birthday because he feels certain that there won’t be too many more chances to see Dylan live, and judging from how frail the aging rocker looked on stage, I would agree.  While 73 doesn’t seem so old when considering how many of his contemporaries are still touring extensively, Dylan doesn’t seem to “get around” with the same agility of guys like Mick Jagger or Paul McCartney.

Just before the show began, the house lights went out and the stage was dark.  A single member of his band came out in the dark, picked up a guitar, and started playing a gentle, folksy tune.  It was like being in church.  When the lights went up, the rest of the band was in place, wearing matching outfits.  I leaned over to my son and said, “How often do you see band members dressed alike?”  He replied, “I never have.”  They were definitely representing a different era, when rock-n-roll was reaching adolescence and getting more rebellious, but there was still a touch of class and style left over from the very early days of the bands that accompanied Buddy Holly and Elvis.

President Barack Obama presents Bob Dylan with a Medal of Freedom (May 29, 2012)

Most people don’t become legends during their lifetimes, nor do they become iconic.  Bob Dylan is an exception.  Some of his songs clearly define the rock-n-roll era, especially the elements in the genre that are most significant historically: protest, reflection, freedom, and change.  More than any other popular musician and songwriter from my generation that I can recall, Bob Dylan has proven over and over again that rock-n-roll was never just about the music, and certainly not about beautiful voices.  Hell, he never even tried to make pretty sounds with his voice, that is, on the occasions that he decided to sing instead of speak his songs.  But I would argue with anyone that his lyrics were some of the most powerful and moving of that generation.

At this particular show, Bob Dylan sang an incredible variety of music in a short time. He was probably on stage for less than two hours altogether, but during that time, we heard folk, blues, country, reggae, and rock.   He never picked up a guitar, but he played a miniature grand piano, and of course, the harmonica.  The instrumental variety from his band was impressive, including tunes using a violin and a huge string bass.  It was clear that he was playing what he wanted to play, not what the crowd expected or necessarily wanted.  He didn’t include “Like a Rolling Stone,” which no doubt irritated some of the audience.  But he did play “Tangled Up In Blues” and “Blowing In the Wind.”  Dylan performed that last song as his finale for the single encore he gave, and true to form, he used a variation so different from the original recorded version that I didn’t even recognize it until he was into the chorus.  I leaned over to my son and said, “I almost didn’t recognize this one, the way he’s playing it.”  Looking straight ahead to the stage, admiring the legend, my son replied, “He’s earned the right to do it anyway he wants.”  I couldn’t agree more.