IMG_1139The entryway to our apartment in Helsinki has a plaque to the left of the door, which reads:

Blueslengenda Eddie Boyd

asui ässä talossa

vuosina 1971-1994

(Blues legend Eddie Boyd lived in this house from 1971-1994)

At first I confused Boyd in my head with Eddie Floyd, who sang one of my favorite soul tunes from the sixties, “Big Bird,” but Eddie Boyd was a Mississippi bluesman signed with the famous Chicago Chess Records who played with Chess greats Muddy Waters and Sonny Boy Williamson, and who later toured with Waters, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, and the early, more bluesy, incarnation of Fleetwood Mac (thanks YouTube and Wiki).

downloadWhy move to Finland? Any American who reveres the blues knows that however dedicated we are to this music, Europeans have proven more dedicated, particularly with their wallets, and particularly when it comes to African-American blues artists. Boyd’s move to Finland in 1971 was in part financial—he could make a living as an artist—but he also said he moved to escape the racism of America. A shameful truth. And while there is audio of Boyd playing his hit, most YouTube versions are from Eric Clapton, John Mayer, et al.

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I admit to feeling a collective guilt that Boyd had to move to Finland for respect and income, but I also feel staying where he lived was an auspicious beginning to the trip, reinforced by the fun and fantastic music I’ve heard from the apartment window since we arrived. There are two charming and different bars within earshot, and they both represent just some of the musical delights Finland has to offer.

The first is Tenho, a low-key and classy club, and second is Tennka, a dive karaoke bar. Both are directly across the street from the apartment, separated only by an Alko shop, the state-owned liquor store. This means there’s almost always activity inside and also outside, with people openly drinking from pints of vodka or very large cans of beer (here they’re called long drinks instead of tall boys).

The first night, I heard the most amazing music coming from Tenho. I’d seen the band unloading their gear from a taxi the afternoon we arrived and I was intrigued. Keyboard, drums, trumpet, gargantuan bass. What were they up to? Unable to sleep, I was transfixed by the Chet Baker infused jazz that came through my window later that night. The horn was so amazing, I looked them up the next day. Kudos to trumpeter Mikko Karjalainen and the Gunu Jazz Quartet.

IMG_1121The next night? Classic rock karaoke from Tennka, where I listened from my window and played name that tune to a group of guys singing at the top of their lungs. Karaoke is super popular in Finland, not just in bars throughout the country, but even some libraries as well.  From across the street I could easily make out an eclectic set list: “Born To Be Wild,” “Let The Sun Shine In,” and Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game.” The Finns have a reputation for being even more reserved than us folks from New Hampshire, and that’s definitely been my experience thus far, but just like the Northeast, you give us a beer or three and some good tunes and we can let loose.

But it’s not just the sing-a-long that’s huge here–Helsinki really takes music to the next level. Just within a few blocks of the apartment I’ve come across no less than five used record and CD shops, two large shops selling instruments and sheet music, and one shop that specializes in custom-built amplifiers.

However, the most terrific music discovery I made came from TV; the apartment has the Finnish version of basic cable, which basically means there’s a lot of American and British and Finnish reality TV, Scandinavian crime shows, and then a weird hodgepodge of old movies, music, and documentaries. After a show that I’m pretty sure was about Finnish furniture design, then a documentary on British band The Jam, I came across an open-air concert of the Ricky-Tick Big Band, a Finnish group that plays a crazy wonderful mix of hip-hop jazz that completely took me by storm. Holy Moly these guys are fun. I think Eddie Boyd (and for that matter Eddie Floyd) would approve.

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Okay, no one was naked, but I’ve had this title in my cache since my friend Reynard used it as the subject line for a post-Mardi Gras email he sent me years ago and I just had to use it if only so now it’s copyrighted under my name. (Reynard’s a painter not a writer, so I feel no qualms about stealing it). Plus, it works in so many ways: All the Wrong People Were Drunk, All the Wrong People Were Dancing, All the Wrong People Were Swindled. Try it, you’ll see!

Anyhow, here I am with the post-reunion blog. . . I came away from the night feeling that curious mix of fulfillment and frustration—glad I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, sad that time ran out too soon or was spent in idle group banter about bad haircuts, growing midriffs, and the unfortunate effects of too many Jell-O shots. I wanted to pull one friend after another aside so I could get down to the truer business of how their lives really were, as if I were working on a ninth grade biology project and could (theoretically!) slice down their middles with a scalpel. I wanted to see their inner workings as if, through looking at their lives outside and in, I could understand my own life—the choices I’ve made, the mistakes I’ve made, the triumphs I’ve had that now seem too distant and unremarkable.

But I’m a writer—I assume everyone understands their own lives by explicating the lives and stories of others—perhaps I expected too much from this one event. And while I did file away some terrific anecdotes I heard that I’ll be able cannibalize for future fiction, ultimately the reunion was just another slightly awkward social event that everyone experienced with different degrees of anxiety and delight. I spent part of the night assigning updated senior superlatives to various attendees: Most Likely to Have A Diamond Studded Pinkie Ring, Most Likely To Still Know Every Word to Back In Black, Most Likely to Maintain the Same ‘80s Hairdo Until Death (and no, I’m not being snarky—I could easily win every one of these superlatives myself).

I spent the other part of the night wishing the band–as they got tired of playing all the ‘80s tunes they knew and the lead singer began Googling lyrics to ‘80s tunes on his iPhone so they could try out new songs–had begun playing live Karaoke for the crowd. I know for sure they could have gotten each and every one of us behind the mic for blistering versions of “I Love Rock and Roll,” or “Melt With You.” It would have been wonderful and excruciating, yet overall an event to remember.

And here’s where I look back at the yin and yang of this blog: fulfilling and frustrating, mistakes and triumphs, anxiety and delight, wonderful and excruciating. That doesn’t just describe a high school reunion—it also describes high school to a T, no? We all relived that mix of emotions on Saturday night, and just like we were ecstatic to graduate and be gone so many years ago, my guess is that on Saturday night we also were all happy to get out of Gunstock and escape back to our homes. But it doesn’t mean we won’t come back to give this reunion thing another shot ten years from now, straggling in to Gunstock or Pheasant Ridge with our anticipation and reservations equally intact.

And while many were missed this year because they didn’t attend or, sadly, couldn’t attend, as they’ve left us way too soon—Mark Merlini, Gar Green, Dave Musacchio, Brian Bean, and Tom Fabian—we all were together in spirit. So I’ll end by saying with firm conviction: All the Right People Were With Us.