Peter Frampton, in case you haven’t heard, is doing a farewell tour.
It seems many of the legends of my youth are doing farewell tours. Elton John comes to mind. The Moody Blues will never appear as The Moody Blues again. Such happens if you live long enough. Susan (wife/partner/Princess) and I are spending this year going to final tour concerts.
Eariler this week we saw Peter Frampton in concert. This is the third time for Susan, fourth for me. We saw him together when he played in David Bowie’s Glass Spider Tour, then long ago when he played at an abandoned drive-in theater in Ogunquit, Maine (the first stop in a comeback. He was testing material. And it was bittersweet then. In the middle of the concert he had to put on glasses to read something. He apologized to us. I remember everybody waving cyalumes, not lighters). He’s still got it. He has neurologic challenges that are making it difficult for him to perform. Couldn’t tell by his performance. And gracious as always…
He opened by letting everybody know they could video and take pix of his first three songs, then he’d prefer if we all simply sat and enjoyed.
But this post is about the first time I saw Frampton perform. I was already a big fan. I told anybody and everybody that he was underrated, that he had serious chops, pay attention.
And we’re talking the early to mid 1970s.
The first time I saw Frampton perform, I was hiking The Dragon’s Spine and came down to resupply. That meeting stayed with me and became a focal point in my Pushcart nomimated story, The Weight. Here’s the excerpt that deals with my meeting Frampton many years ago (read the full story).
I woke up in the middle of a street of what can best be described as the east coast equivalent of a ghost town. In my time, I’ve learned there are two for real ghost towns in New England and both are in Massachusetts; Dogtown just outside of Gloucester and Purgatory down by the Rhode Island border. Both towns have similar histories and both are spooky as hell.
That’s how I felt now, sitting in the middle of the street in the middle of the town. The cart, the driver, and the horse were nowhere to be seen. I still had all my things and a quick inspection told me everything was still in my pack.
There was a general store in front of me and not much else. To the right was an Esso gas station and to the left an apothecary. All three buildings had broken windows and doors falling off their hinges. The whole town shimmered briefly as if warm air had risen from it so I rubbed the sleep from my eyes. Someone was playing a guitar in the general store and I went in.
The general store was actually pretty clean inside. One side was set up like an “open-mike” bar although there was no bar to be seen. There were tables and chairs with ashtrays and those little votive candles in holders on each table. The stage – more a platform wide enough for a stool and a mike – was against the wall and draped with purple cloth. That’s where the guitarist sat.
If he saw me come in he didn’t show it. I dropped my pack at a table near the middle, pulled out a chair, and sat, hoping somebody would be by with a menu or something. Coffee would’ve been fine.
All that happened was that this guy played. I recognized his style and form but the actual tunes he was playing were new to me. His blonde hair was shorter than I remembered and darker, now just bright blonde strands amongst the rest which was darker. Same beautiful blue eyes, same killer smile. Somebody once told me it was a shit-eating grin and I smiled, remembering. His playing was smoother, more relaxed. The last time I’d heard him was thirty-five years ago in Acra and back then his playing had this bizarre intensity, as if he had something he had to say but didn’t know how to say it and his music echoed his frustration. He lost a lot of his baby fat since then and had the look of someone who’d been physically working for a long time. His sleeves were rolled up and I could see veins and the movement of his muscles as he played. The last time I watched him his arms still carried some baby weight and there was no clean separation of muscle movement. His skin was darker, too. Tanned, like someone who’d been out in the sun. I couldn’t see any tan lines but the fact that his face, neck, and what I could see of his chest matched the color of his arms told me his work was real, not just for relaxation or performed as leisure. I looked for a watch mark and saw none. He was timeless.
Then, my jaw dropped. Perhaps because I hadn’t eaten in a day so my mind was weak I didn’t think of it at first, but now it came on me like strong waterfall – I remembered this guy.
He looked up at me and smiled. Without a break he went from whatever he was playing to Show me the way, acoustic. His voice still had the power and intensity I remembered but now, hearing just him and his guitar, it seemed like he’d found out where he was going.
He sounded great.
“You-ou-ou, show me the way,” he sang. His bright eyes fixed on me. “Hey, Joe.”
“Frampton,” was all I could get out. “Jesus Christ, Frampton.”
He laughed and put his guitar down. “That’s twice we’ve been confused.”
“You remember me?”
“I remember then.”
I leaned back in the chair, noticing I was breathing high and shallow and getting giddy. I could even feel my face flush. The whole place shimmered again. My eyes ached and started tearing before I could cover them. “Prove it.”
“You came into town a little differently then than you did this time. Then you walked in. You came in for food. That’s the same. I was playing and you listened. Same. You said, ‘You know you look like Peter Frampton?’ I said, ‘People have told me.’ You said, ‘You even sound like Frampton.’ I said, ‘Thanks. I work at it.’ You listened some more and said, ‘Frampton. Jesus Christ, Frampton.’ That puts us back on track, I think.”
I was still breathing fast and high and getting dizzier by the minute. “You said, ‘That’s the first time we’ve been confused.'”
He continued, “I asked you if you played. You nodded, but when I asked you to join me you said no.”
“The stage,” I said. It was getting hard to see. Everything was bubbling and fading in and out. “There wasn’t enough room for two.”
“Back then there was barely room for one.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the stage. A foot away from the table he stopped and pointed at my pack. He didn’t let go of my hand so I lifted my pack over my other shoulder. “Not going to let go?”
“There were others,” I said, confused.
“While you listened, David, Steven, and Graham came in. We started to jam. You listened.”
“You stayed a few days.”
“I needed time.”
“Joni came in the next night. You were on your way to Montreal, maybe further. You had a decision to make. Arlo came in the night after.”
“Ode to ancient children gone, we are one,” I mumbled. The stage got bigger with every step.
He supported me in his arms as we walked. It felt like a good friend helping me home after a good drunk. Except I never drank. Never drank and never smoked. Cigarettes. Helped a lot of other people home, though. Just like this.
So this is how it felt.
“That wasn’t the song.”
And now, as a thanks for your patience…a really crummy video from the last Frampton concert we attended (I’ve got to get a better phone).