Bill Knight column for Mon., Tues. or Wed., June 23, 24 or 25
A successful reunion is like your own wake – except you’re alive. A recent gathering of musical-political-social zanies who survived sizzling through the 1960s and ’70s together at a rural Illinois college town stressed that binds exist that can hold us together through decades of separation, success and loss (also proving wrong Robin Williams’ line, “If you remember the ’60s, you weren't there”).
Alternately dubbed the “No Class Reunion: The Roots Run Deep” and the “Zombie Roundup – a Musical Gathering of Those Who Refuse to Die,” it was held at a community building at a Macomb, Ill., retirement center (prompting my wife and son to acknowledge it as a “hippie geezer” get-together). There was no smoking, which caused more than one participant to ask, “Nothing? Or just pot?” But there was a lot of playing, talking and eating – a restaurateur and his crew from the era re-created the great Italian beef, Chicago-style hot dogs, etc. from the legendary Shlocky’s menu. The music was a counter-culture soundtrack: folk and bluegrass, blues rock and classic bar-band rock ’n’ roll.
Ably organized since February, the reunion drew more than 150 people from most of the country – southern Missouri and northern Minnesota, Chicago and New York, Seattle and Atlanta – all momentarily leaving behind careers and obligations to return and remember mutual moments. There was a judge and attorneys, an environmental activist and a union electrician, college professors and retirees, a CEO and a self-described Hindu guru, farmers and a marketing exec, the guy with maybe the toughest gig – a professional clown at a children’s hospital – and a guitar-playing drug and alcohol counselor (whose rendition of his original tune “Drinkin’ and Thinkin’ ” may have been shortened in performance to just “… Thinkin’ ”).
Conversations resumed after a 40-year interlude; laughter filled the rooms; family news updated – with fellow unindicted co-conspirators from campus groups, student newspapers or radio stations; with former co-workers in kitchens and cafeterias; ex-roommates, classmates or lovers; wives of old running partners; and friends of friends, like the Democratic Party activist from Champaign or the speech-pathologist buddy of a mutual pal.
Some couldn’t make it; a few had died, from cancer, heart trouble, a car accident, a fire.
One woman – a one-time waif with wide eyes and a big heart who now teaches literature –said, “I had no idea how rich and memorable the gathering of the tribe would be. Sharing little vignettes of each other from our youthful adventures offered us pictures of our forgotten selves that were fascinating and endearing. Old bonds reaffirmed. New bonds forged.”
Memories flowed like wine, as it’s been said and sung, and recollections ranged from building takeovers to outdoor music fests, from all-night jam sessions to late-night production of magazines, from start-up record stores to marathon Frisbee bouts through parks, from softball games to art and fashion and undeniable, irreplaceable camaraderie.
The “Those Who Refuse to Die” tag line became more appropriate as we shared experiences of having lived days like they were our last.
Other comments: “An incredible musical lovefest,” “I am still abuzz,” “Nearly 200 peaceful folks who are still bonded by their positive values – I really feel the love!” “A fantastic event: the best people in the world.”
Throughout the building were old photos and posters, books and articles, t-shirts and vinyl records and even pages from FBI files and much more: Survival.
It’s a survival without sacrificing or surrendering most of the ideals or dreams we held and have, those beliefs and passions that took root when we thought we had all the demands and questions and most of the answers.
Of course, as Hall of Fame baseball manager Earl Weaver said, “It's what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
That, and the love that’s stitches all the knowledge, hope and faith together.
[PICTURED: Graphic from event flyer by Ad Image Communications.]