Me, Glen Hansard & Shedd's Belugas: A Priceless Experience

I’ve never been one to swoon over VIP-type experiences. But I have to admit, I’m also not one to pass up a chance to meet an Academy-awarding winning singer/songwriter, hang out with some beautiful Beluga whales and have what turned out to be a truly once-in-a-lifetime experience with my family. And that’s exactly what happened last month when Glen Hansard performed at Shedd Aquarium as part of MasterCard’s Priceless Chicago campaign.

With so many around me freaking out that I’d scored a few golden (and free) tickets to see Glen Hansard perform live, I was a little embarrassed to disclose the truth: I had no clue who this dude was. Sure, I love music as much as the next gal, but if it’s not smushed into my eardrums by someone who has more knowledge than me, I’m not likely to know it. Plus these days, as the mom of a pop-loving little girl, I spend a lot of my time trying desperately, and unsuccessfully, to drown out Katy Perry's shrieks.

So I googled Glen Hansard and saw this photo:

Glen Hansard_Shedd_2012

Now I don’t know about you, but when I see a picture like this, I don’t think music genius, I think someone needs a vacation or has just been arrested. He does look a little scary, am I right?

I do my best to keep an open mind and even invite hubby and the kid to join me for the concert, catered dinner, and unfettered access to Shedd that each concertgoer was given. While they go off to hang with the jellyfish, I try to stuff some amazing chocolate cake and yummy Pinot in my mouth before I'm called back to interview Mr. Hansard. Being the stellar reporter that I am, I have prepared nothing for this conversation. No questions, no anecdotes to inquire about, no brilliant comments to quote back to him, nothing.

I pass through a long, quiet hallway adjacent to Shedd’s main hall and enter a bland white room, and the first thing I notice are the handlers. Wow, this guy Glen Hansard sure does have a lot of handlers. Uh oh, I think, he may actually be a bigger deal than I thought. I’m immediately intimidated. But when I and a few other people sit down with him at a table for the interview, he seems sweet, shy and mellow. No rock star attitude, just scruffy hair, kind eyes and a gentle Irish accent.

The other writers start peppering him with questions about his Academy Award, his spot on the Simpsons, and the fact that his band, The Frames, is a really big deal in Europe. I sit silently, playing with the wrapper on my water bottle, avoiding eye contact and cursing myself and google for my lack of preparation.

Without anything to say, I listen. I listen to Glen (because now, in my mind at least, we’re on a first name basis) explain why his music idols are Bob Dylan and Van Morrison. I hear the humility in his voice as he describes his musical gift. I learn how his songs combine the inevitably painful moments of our lives with the beauty that might emerge as a result of them. He reveals how nervous he is before a solo concert, and how it feels to be one man up there, alone and vulnerable, before so many eyes.

After about 15 minutes, Handler #1 indicates that it’s time for us to leave, and we stand up. I can’t help myself; I walk over to Glen and ask him if he’s ever heard of the musician Sixto Rodriguez. I don’t know what the heck possesses me to ask him this. Perhaps it was because I’d recently seen the movie Searching for Sugar Man, a documentary based on Rodriguez's life, that I couldn’t help but compare their music and philosophies.

[If you haven't seen the movie and plan to, skip to the brackets below so I don't spoil it for you!]

Rodriguez also saw the beauty and dignity in life’s raw moments. Unlike Glen, though, his career stalled after two records in the late 60s/early 70s. Following his failed attempts at fame, Rodriguez became an unassuming construction worker in Detroit.

But unbeknownst to him or anyone else on this side of the world, Rodriguez’s albums were ubiquitous in apartheid-era South Africa. His music had become an outlet for people's rage against the governing regime. There, among both whites and blacks who were struggling to find a voice, Rodriguez was their hero.

Handler #1 looks at me like I’m absolutely nuts for going up to Glen Hansard and asking him about Sixto Rodriguez. And I probably did look a little wacky, especially as I began gesticulating wildly to describe the screaming and crying crowds of thousands who rejoiced as Rodriguez ascended the stage for his first concert in 30 years.

You see, the story gets even better. Decades ago, the South African government – concerned with how Rodriguez’s music was inspiring the masses – told its people that he had been murdered. It wasn’t until years later, thanks to his daughter stumbling upon a South African website about him, that the truth was finally uncovered. So when Rodriguez took the stage in Cape Town, in 1998, it was as if the one man who had given millions a chance to dream had been resurrected from the dead.

[Start reading here if you had enough self-control to skip the spoiler!]

Now here I am, back at Shedd, very enthusiastically describing all of this to Glen Hansard and totally ruining the movie for him. And then a crazy thing happens. Glen takes out his phone, pushes a button or two, and shows me the cover of Rodriguez’s album. “Is the who you’re talking about?” He asks. “I love him!"

Well, there you have it. Glen Hansard and I are now best friends. Ok, maybe not, but you have to agree with me that this is a super cool, amazing, rock star – and priceless – moment. Even Handler #1 thinks so, because he's looking at me with a bemused smile on his face.

I head back over to where my family is sitting, and we spend the next hour or so listening to Glen play some of the most beautiful music I think I’ve ever heard, while the Belugas dance gently in the waves behind him. In those precious minutes, as my daughter snuggles deep into my lap and hubby’s shoulder rests against mine, I feel so darn lucky.

Lucky for the pain and beauty in life, as well as those moments when I get to see the inherent value of both. Thank you, MasterCard, for showing me that life’s most Priceless lessons can happen when you least expect them. And thank you, Glen Hansard and Sixto Rodriguez, for reminding me to never stop dreaming.

If you've never heard Glen Hansard's music, here's a great place to start.

~ By Wendy Widom, Families in the Loop

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