Thanks, Lionel, for a lifetime remembered

It’s not often I write about personal experience, but an adventure Tracey and I shared in Vancouver over the Labour Day weekend cries out for attention.

We were fortunate enough to find tickets to a concert event featuring Mariah Carey and Lionel Richie. To be honest, as our anniversary had recently passed, I felt attending the event might be a nice belated gift from me to Tracey.

What that means, of course, is although I can listen to Mariah’s music (in the presence of my spouse) and like a number of Lionel’s songs, I would have preferred to attend a Tom Petty, Eagles, The Who or even a Pink Floyd gig.

I came home with a different perspective, my eyes opened and memory of my youth much clearer.

Mariah was everything one would expect of a diva. The music was great, her presentation flawless; but the show, I felt, was a bit flat.

The evening was going as I thought it would — a nice time out with my wife but nothing that would frankly go in the extra-special section of our book of memories.

And then Lionel Richie took the stage.

As Tracey would put it, Lionel was timeless.

I won’t do Mr. Richie the injustice of calling him “spry, vigorous or peppy” — or put upon him any other characterization we reserve for a person of advanced years.

As Aaliyah once noted, age ain’t nothing but a number, baby — and Lionel Richie lives that adage.

His immediate presence on-stage Sunday evening brought an energy to Rogers Arena that I have never before witnessed at a live performance — no matter the venue.

He was charismatic, his energy bigger even than the larger-than-life video of him projected on to screens above the stage.

It has taken me a few days to understand exactly why, but it seems so clear now. As Lionel shared with the Vancouver audience — and as he has surely shared with so many other audiences — we grew up together.

While I learned Saturday night is all right for fighting from Elton John, a few night moves from Bob Seger and even that it’s OK to rudely question identity and authority from Pete Townsend and The Who, when it came to matters of the heart, Lionel Richie was my go-to guy.

As a teenager, I slow-danced to Easy and Three Times a Lady — bear-hugging, we used to call it — almost overwhelmed with the affection I would feel for my dance partner. Later, when I had to deal with the separation angst of a university girlfriend moving across the country to chase a dream in New York City, my first cassette-tape recording sent to her included a sing-along rendition of Hello.

At school, we partied All Night Long, danced on the ceiling and later ran with the night. Through it all, Lionel was the soundtrack for adolescent adventure, coming of age and whatever else you want to call your late teens and early-20s.

But it was sitting with Tracey in the dark of the Rogers Arena — and standing and swaying while so many others around us held cellphones like candles — that I came to a full appreciation of Lionel and his music.

As my wife and I shared kisses in the dark so many of Lionel’s songs brought a fresh purpose and promise — punctuating anew the endless love I now share with Tracey.

Three Times a Lady — a song Lionel Richie says he wrote about the love his father shared with his mother — now has new meaning for me: it speaks to me of a deeper, fuller expression of love you cannot appreciate until you have a partner who embraces you completely no matter your faults.

Timeless, but certainly elevated to a higher plane.

Lionel is pushing 70 now and Sunday’s concert had a farewell sense about it, like he was offering all of us who grew up with him one last chance to get together and appreciate each other.

He spoke of the “competition in my class” — Maurice White, Glenn Frey, David Bowie, Natalie Wood, Prince and George Michael — and how so many of them have fallen away over the last year.

And then, with the humorous commentary he delivered throughout the evening, Lionel put into perspective that time together — and sent us away with new resolution.

“I look at the world the way it was then; I look at the way the world is now. And I realize that with the causes we were fighting for then, nothing has changed,” he said.

“And I realize now that my resolution every year I ask for the same thing: may we one day find intelligent life on Earth.”

We are the world, he asked us to sing with him. And I believed.

With a spouse you adore by your side and Lionel around to help you appreciate all she means to you, it’s easy to resolve to try harder, be better and live bolder. Love, as Lionel would say, will conquer all.

It certainly did Sunday evening in Vancouver.

 

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