My favourite rose

This year has been the first since 2007 when I didn’t commemorate february, which was the month when I heard Josh Groban sing for the first time. It happened six years ago, and the reason why this event turned into an anniversary is the profound impact this singer has had on me. I won’t repeat myself – if you know me, you know the details. But in a nutshell – his voice reassured me, gave me strength and inspired me in more ways than one, for a long time. There has been no other performer who has had such a big influence on me.

But with time, every influence weakens. It happens naturally, because we grow, and we move on. What used to have an impact becomes trivial, because we have absorbed its message, and have learned our lessons. Josh Groban was never an ordinary singer for me, and because of his extraordinary impact I always considered him a messenger and even a mentor in some ways. As the years went by, the power of the teachings I received through seeing him perform, or listening to his songs waned. I accepted this fact as a natural occurence in life, and I was grateful for two things. For his presence that left a lasting imprint on me for years, and for the fact that I was growing. I tried to stay cheerful when I thought the time of goodybe came. Josh is a wonderful person and I would always cherish that, but if the time came to let go of the side of him that used to play such a crucial role in my life, I would do it. I was growing, and I was learning my lessons all this time – through other experiences, theatre, music, literature, psychology, etc. Josh became a mere singer, however magnificent. And I stopped listening to his music, because I felt no need to hear his voice.

All that echoes came out earlier in February this year (when I think about it, I find the sweet coincidence of months very satisfying – it’s as if he decided to catch my attention on our “anniversary” once again – I know I’m reaching but this thought pleases me, so indulge me, will you?!), and when I first heard it, I knew it was a special album. It didn’t mesmerise me the way Illuminations did, which is a very tight, very deep, very personal record, a resonating realm of private moments which I felt privileged to hear. With each and every one of those songs I was peeping into very personal space. Josh wrote or co-wrote almost all the songs, mostly original, and the album was a valiant jump from the carefully produced, tame and expected music that his name used to mark to a place of confessions and shattering tenderness both in the personal and the musical sense. I cried so much over that album I lost count. All that echoes contains many covers and a few originals that, despite their different styles somehow work together – probably because of the personal power of Josh’s voice. He’s the unifying link. He chose songs that mean a lot to him, and that comes through. I was deeply touched by a very personal experience when I decided to listen to the album for the first time, and this could be one reason why the album did not disappoint. In fact, I cried through half of the record. The other half amazed me. But I would like to give my opinion about it regardless of what I was going through that day. Musically speaking, it’s Josh’s best CD so far. There is so much richness that needs to be discovered in it still. I only heard it about five times – the reason I stopped listening to it was that whenever I did, the power of the songs simply swept me off my feet and I was unable to do whatever else I was doing. Besides, I felt no real need to hear the songs more times: they moved into my heart on the very first occasion.

When the tour dates were announced, I was perplexed and angry by the fact that my closest location, Vienna, was also the costliest when it came to tickets. I impulsively decided to skip this tour altogether. I had no need to see Josh live. I thought I’d make an adult decision and not see him live, for the first time since the “Awake” tour. I felt no envy that most of my Grobanite friends were going to one or more tours, I was happy for them and I knew that my responsible goodbye from Josh was more important than toeing the line for the sake of peace and not standing out. My resolve lasted all two hours until I got home from work and my husband told me I should reconsider. Knowing what Josh meant to me, he told me to go to Vienna, no matter what. My Grobie friends were also not helping, because they displayed disbelief and derision at my original decision. And so, because I could afford it, I was influenced against my original resolve.

I would like to state for the record that I have never been happier to be proven wrong.

There was basically no preparation or anticipation before Vienna. I work a lot, I had no time or energy to mentally prepare myself. I knew that a bus would take me, that I had the ticket, and that it would happen, so why stress or fuss about it? Those time are over. I used to have pre-concert depression, post-concert depression, and everything in between. Not any more. I am better at living for the moment than I used to be. I accept and count my blessings and absorb the joy that comes from being fully present during an experience. I don’t want to spoil it all with expectations, and so I expected mostly nothing from the concert. I’ve had so many wonderful experiences already, that I thought Josh wouldn’t be able to surprise me any more. If I was expecting anything it was that quiet, peaceful farewell to happen.

Just like the new album, the new tour is also, musically speaking, the richest, most complex and many-layered that the J-Gro and his band have put together to date. The acoustics of the Stadthalle were also magnificent. All this resulted in a flow of rich, potent sound, music at its best. And the ultimate best part – Josh’s voice – was also on a higher level than before. (If that is even possible.) He’s learning to play on the instrument in his throat better each time, and I don’t mean with more precision or discipline – I mean that he truly is playing with his voice. It’s what makes the songs more alive every time you hear them. Songs like “Alla luce” alone would be worth going to his concerts. Each year it sounds better and better. (Now would be the time to re-record it!) The new songs literally blow the mind – and thanks to the acoustics, the body, too. The first song, “Brave” and the one that followed, “False alarms” set the mood and rhythm right from the start. “Hollow talk” was a favourite of mine ever since I heard it – and on stage, toward the half of the show, it was indescribable. The potent waves of drum and bass and the sudden explosion of music toward the end of the song tore me to atoms. I wept like an idiot, I couldn’t help myself. “Vincent”, beautiful, wonderful, immortal Vincent… tender and loving song, bringing back so many memories. It was the song that made me truly love Josh – and Van Gogh’s art, as well. They are closely connected and when I hear the song today, I see the paintings of Van Gogh before me as the lyrics describe them. It’s great that Josh still performs this particular song. “Falling slowly”, a very gentle cover of a uniquely beautiful song from a uniquely, memorably beautiful movie, and now, stage play. I’ve loved the movie for years and when I heard Josh would sing this song, I had goosebumps of joy – last night, those goosebumps returned and I felt so happy that he loves the movie as much as I do. “Voce existe em mim” rocked us to pieces, so much so that the audience stood up to dance to the rhythm. The strict Austrian audience. It was my first time dancing at a Josh-concert! This was repeated during “Machine”, which will remain one of my favourite songs by him – by the end of it, a crowd formed just below the stage. I felt euphoric! I watched the faces of the musicians. Their expressions were priceless, I’ll never forget the sense of pride and joy and gratitude that showed in their eyes, in their smiles, in their gestures. Josh was loving our closeness just as much. I felt free, I felt in shock, I felt grateful, I felt alive!

“I believe when I fall in love” was spectacular, but we knew it would be. With a wonderful little choir it took the breath from our lungs. Endlessly uplifting, rich and respectfully different from Stevie Wonder’s equally magnificent original. (The thing about Josh Groban covering a song is that he does it with so much respect. Musicians should learn from this guy.)

A wonderful surprise was hearing “Awake” again. It’s Josh’s most special, most meaningful song and this time, the musical arrangement was different. Toward the end they added a string of fast drumbeats that translates to the fearful drumming of a heart, which senses the imminence of loss. It adds urgency and desperation to an otherwise gentle, tender song about the power of now. It was a touch of genius.

“You raise me up” was sung by several thousand people. Whoever said this song needs to be taken off the setlist should check their hearts and souls. It sounds better and better and the message cannot be ignored.

The last encore was “Smile”. Ruslan, the crazy Ukrainian pianist and Josh, the crazy American-Jewish-Russian-Norwegian singer made us smile deep within our hearts with their duet. Charlie Chaplin would have been proud!

I thought Josh couldn’t affect me much any more. It is very typical that when he finished “Alla luce”, he instantly jumped into the Q & A part, which is always funny. I am not sure how he does this, but he always manages to bring me to tears by making me laugh first. I don’t mean the laughing so hard that one cries part. I mean that moment when laughter changes into weeping. So when everyone else was laughing their heads off, I was trying to make as small of an idiot of myself as possible. After the Austrian waltzing lady fell in her own feet on stage, it was just a riot till the end of the Q & A. (And beyond.) We ate from his hands. I first cried, then laughed, then was cold from all the goosebumps, then became a shaking blabbering mess of snivel during “Hollow talk”, then rose to heights I never experienced during a JG-show. And what’s more important, I saw the man, and I saw the musician, and I saw everyone else beside him – and I was his slave no more. I loved him with all my heart, but I loved him in the moment, aware that after he left the stage, I would let go of him. I loved him for as long as he was mine in that immaculate white shirt and the facial expressions that I know by heart and adore every single time. I took what he gave me and felt glad, and gave back what I could, every way I that could as part of his audience.

This sense of euphoria lasted even after the show ended. The Hungarian “delegation” was quite a big one and many people were taking our photos. Josh noticed our flags and dammit, by now he should know we’re on the map, seeing as 6 of the 10 meet and greet fans were Hungarians! I was disappointed I didn’t win a meet and greet, again. It’s been a long time since I’ve longed to meet him for real, in person, and the occasion just keeps eluding me. I was disappointed and frankly, envious and jealous of everyone who got their chance. Not as envious as I used to be years ago, but there was a trace of envy. I won’t deny it. I felt cheated and worthless as a fan. But I knew, in the end, that Josh has given me so much more already than 1 minute of meeting and greeting and a general smile photo. And I was really happy for everyone who won their chance to meet him. After the concert every sense of anything negative was gone, blown into the murky, grey, drizzly-cold weather. (It just shows that you can have your own celebration inside your heart even if there’s a storm outside!) I felt over the moon. I remember how two years ago Yanni had the same effect on me – but this was better, because this was Josh! My darling, amazing Josh. Josh, who brought friends into my life, who gave me faith, who erased my fears, who stirred my soul, who inspired me to create, and to open my eyes to a lot of new music. And I used to think that albeit being a one of a kind singer, his songs are not the pinnacle of music. I knew he had it in him to grow as a musician, and he proves that with each album, making all of his fans, including me, so proud! Well, he grew a lot with his new album and even though he cannot be called the pinnacle of music, I know that the combination of a unique voice, a truly likeable persona and the humble attitude he adopts as a musician make him rather outstanding.

About twenty minutes after the show (during which time we frolicked and laughed and made group photos) I decided to take a look outside the building, where the tour buses were. Two of my good friends, with whom I shared the love of another unique performer, and who also became JG-fans later, joined me. It was cold outside and we thought that if Josh came out at all, he would come much later. We were wrong – the moment we got to the tour bus there he was under an umbrella Darren (God bless him) was holding above his head, surrounded by appr. twenty people only. We couldn’t believe our luck. I edged closer, waited for Josh to get right where I was standing behind someone and I told him how much I loved the new arrangement of “Awake”. He looked up from signing something to someone and he thanked me, like he meant it. I remember thinking after the meet and greet winners were announced that even if I won the chance to meet Josh, what the hell could I possibly say to him, how on earth could I cram several years’ worth of life-changing experiences, friendships, inspiration that he gave me – into one sentence??? There would never be a way, and I also knew that all these things are important for me, and my friends involved in those experiences, but Josh doesn’t need to know. I don’t need to tell him. He knows he is loved – we buy his albums, go to his shows, we keep his career alive and we give him feedback in all shape and form and through all possible channels. Personal stuff – that’s mine, because I experienced it. He didn’t. I did. So I can’t and probably shouldn’t tell him. And here was my incredibly lucky chance, to see him up close, and to tell him something that would matter to him rather than to me. I did, and it did matter to him, because it concerned his music, and he was grateful. We saw him for about 30 seconds more, before he was ushered into the bus to be driven to Z├╝rich.

There are five rosebushes on the edge of our garden, just under our living-room windows. They were planted when we moved to this house, almost nine years ago. I haven’t done much tending of them over the years, just the occasional spring trim, or some minor fertilizing, when I remember to, perhaps once every second year. Despite my almost negligence, these rose bushes have been growing beautifully, yielding roses every year, from spring till late autumn. I love my roses very much.

But I love the one bush that is the strongest, and largest, most; the one that yields dark-purple, blood-red roses, a hue impossible to describe, truly the mixture of red and purple. And they smell like no other rose I’ve ever smelled. This is my favourite rose-bush. Roses will come and go, but this particular rose-bush will always remain my favourite.

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