Music as a Time Machine

by Roger Johns

I’m taking another time trip this month, just like last month, only this time I’ll be going much further back. A couple of weekends ago my wife and I went to see the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Those are musical acts, for those of you two young to remember. They played a huge covered amphitheater in Alpharetta (one of the many communities engulfed by the endlessly voracious Atlanta Metro area). The house was packed, and the bands were superb. I’ve been a lifelong fan of Steely Dan, but had never seeSteelyDan(20May2018).pngn them in concert. During their salad days, they rarely toured and never played anywhere near me. I’ve also been a lifelong Doobie Brothers fan, and I might have seen them in concert before. As the old saying goes: “I’ve been a lot of places and I’ve done a lot of things” . . . but, I just can’t remember them all, anymore. One of the things I do remember, though, from the many rock concerts I’ve been to is that, in the old days the musicians came out on stage whenever they damn well pleased, and they were always late. The start time on the ticket wasn’t even close. Things have changed, from the good ol’ days, and in this case, the change is good. At the event in Alpharetta, the bands strode onto the stage at the exact time specified on the ticket and they played like there was no tomorrow. For an old man like me, punctuality is a welcome development.

But I digress. Back to the music. A long time ago, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter was, at different times, the lead guitarist for the Doobie Brothers and Steely Dan. Given that one is a straight-up rock band and the other is a jazz band that sometimes rocks, I’ve always found it amazing that one person could so thoroughly master two such different styles, and play both with such intensity and inventiveness. Baxter was not listed among the players touring with either band, this time out, but I kept hoping he would make a surprise appearance. He didn’t. But, my disappointment was very short-lived. These folks were tight and hot, and the (mostly grey-headed) crowd was on its feet for much of the show. Both SD and the DB were significant parts of the soundtrack of my high school and college years, and as the songs unfolded the other night, I was transported back to those days that I somehow survived, and the memories came in big rushes. During the concert, I sent several emails to parties who shall remain nameleDoobieBrothers(19May2018).pngss, letting them know where I was and reminding them of the shenanigans we were up to, to the tune of whatever was playing at the moment. Their responses were enlightening. They remembered me having more fun (and causing more trouble) than I remembered having (causing), and vice-versa. Memory is a funny thing, that way: I remember myself as the angel among demons. Others remember it differently. Hmmm!

This was the first rock concert I’ve been to since the mind-blowing ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd double-header I went to in the Cajun Dome back in 2000. At my age, I probably need to pick up the pace if I want to get to the end of my bucket list.

Roger Johns is the author of the Wallace Hartman Mysteries from St. Martin’s Press/Minotaur Books. River of Secrets, the newest installment in his series, wiRiver of Secretsll be out on August 28,2018. Please visit him at

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