This is my love letter to Bonnie Raitt – the other woman in my life.
I am here in Santa Barbara with Deb, celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary, having driven up the coast 100 miles from our home in Redondo Beach to see Bonnie play at the Santa Barbara Bowl.
Bonnie doesn’t know I’m here. I didn’t let her know I was coming. Didn’t even send her a text or leave a voicemail.
Even if I had it wouldn’t have made any difference. She wouldn’t care, believe me. How could she? Bonnie Raitt doesn’t know me. She doesn’t know I’m here to celebrate our 35th anniversary.
She doesn’t know that on my birthday next month it will be the 36th anniversary of the day in 1980 I proposed to Debra at a Bonnie Raitt concert at the Universal Ampitheatre. Not just any Bonnie concert – the one with Sippie Wallace!
Bonnie doesn’t know that six years earlier, Deb helped produce a performance Bonnie did at the Kiva while Deb was a college student at Michigan State in 1974. Or that the poster from that gig at the MSU Kiva hung proudly in Deb’s Seal Beach apartment when I first met her.
Bonnie has no way of knowing she was the indelible and non-stop soundtrack for my earliest years in California, as a 20-year-old seeking movie screenwriting fame and fortune in Hollywood.
It was 1977 and I was living on Romaine Avenue off of Vine, between Melrose and Santa Monica, in the gritty low income side of Tinseltown. I roomed with my screenwriting partner who had 4 cassette tapes and a stereo tape deck.
Two of those cassettes were Bonnie’s first two albums and songs like “Women Be Wise” “Finest Loving Man” “Big Road” “Give It Up Or Let Me Go” “I Know” “Love Me Like A Man“ and “You Got To Really Know How“ were not only giving me a lesson in the blues, but were also preparing me to appreciate and cherish strong, talented, independent women, who can and will give as good as they get. Just like the one I fell in love with and married 35 years ago.
So maybe it’s no surprise that I have spent the last 39 years choosing to work with and befriend exactly those kind of women – in every area of my life. Or that today at 58, the vast majority of my closest friends and colleagues are almost exclusively women I admire, respect and want to spend my time with.
I know Bonnie wouldn’t take the credit for any of that. How could she? We’ve never talked about it.
Just as we’ve never discussed how much I always loved watching Bonnie sing with her father, Broadway legend, John Raitt. They sang duets at almost every Los Angeles area concert she played for years. The joy they shared filled the hearts of all who heard them. And they meant something uniquely special to me.
My own father was a professional singer and actor, an operatic tenor who sang beautiful arias on stage and in our small Brooklyn apartment. He also sang in off-Broadway shows like “Pajama Game,” “Kiss Me Kate” and “Guys and Dolls” in addition to singing in night clubs. So I felt a wistful kinship watching Bonnie and her father share their love for music – and each other – on stage.
It was only two months after proposing to Deb at Bonnie’s September 18, 1980 concert that I moved into her tiny Seal Beach apartment. That meant, among the other wonders and delights that came with living with Debra, getting to hear ALL of Bonnie’s albums after those first two.
So when we got married in the Seal Beach Garden Shop on Main Street, on that beautiful day in 1981, we had seven albums to choose from in making our wedding mix tape. A wedding mix that was filled with Bonnie and Basie, as in Count Basie and his swinging big band (Did I mention that Deb was dating a trombonist in the Basie Orchestra when I met her? No? Well that’s another story).
And now here we are 35 years later and I don’t think we’ve ever missed seeing Bonnie perform when she’s been in the LA area. Venues as big as the Hollywood Bowl, the Greek Theater, and the Rose Bowl for Peace Sunday. And venues as intimate as the tiny auditorium at the Hermosa Beach Community Center. We’ve gone up North to see Bonnie and friends at the No Nukes 2 concert and to Avila Beach to see her play the Blues Festival.
Our favorite Bonnie concerts have always been those produced by Tom Campbell and the Guacamole Fund, the ones that support and donate to the causes, organizations and people we believe in and are in solidarity with. Bonnie doesn’t know how big an inspiration she and Tom Campbell (and Jackson Browne), have been in my own activism – on stopping nuclear weapons and power, protecting public lands, justice and civil rights – and for the past decade, my work on environmental, and specifically climate action, issues.
In 1983 I was doing political and social commentaries on NPR affiliate KLON – FM 88 in Long Beach. Before I knew it I was working with the Alliance for Survival and became the Chair of the Coalition for a Nuclear Free Harbor in Long Beach. And all of a sudden I wasn’t just talking about nuclear weapons, I was organizing in the community, holding actions, and testifying at city Council meetings to get rid of them.
I’ve been organizing ever since.
And Bonnie has been providing the steady, never-disappointing, always moving, always satisfying soundtrack, delivering the blues I need – like the legends she not only revered, but introduced to all of us who didn’t know their original stories or histories till Bonnie took us to Blues School.
And along the way as the 1980s became the 1990s, bringing well deserved commercial success and rewards to Bonnie, the student turned into the master, and the woman who introduced us to the legends and played with so many of them, became a legend herself.
Steady as a rock, her values, lifestyle and generosity never changed. Neither did her ego in the face of popularity. Humble, appreciative, authentic and genuine – just a few more of the lessons I’ve tried to learn from Bonnie and more reasons why I love her.
Bonnie doesn’t know that about 3 years ago I had her recording of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon” in my head when I walked away from my high-paying job at CBS to work full time on climate action for 350.org. Or that I’ve spent the last 2 1/2 of those years doing the best work of my career, leading the way to make Los Angeles County and then all of California 100% renewably powered as I do my private little victory dances to her Zimbabwe infused, “Hear Me Lord” whose lyrics I rewrite to “Help me Lord I’m feeling Joe”
I didn’t think Bonnie could get any better as a live performer, but DAMN if she didn’t when she added the magnificent, Mike Finnigan, legendary keyboard player and one of my favorite Hammond B3 blues artists, as her Musical Director.
Bonnie doesn’t know that I’m friends with Sean Finnigan, Mike’s talented brother, who several years ago turned me onto the Phantom Blues Band and Mike’s work with Taj Mahal, Etta James and Hendrix – to name just a few.
Mike doesn’t know me either, or how much I look forward to his solo B3 and singing moments at Bonnie’s concerts. It looks to me like Bonnie loves those moments as much as I do and I wonder if she’s ever thought, as I have been thinking, of having Mike Finnigan as the opening act on a tour. How sweet would that be?
Not that I didn’t dig Richard Thompson here in Santa Barbara, at the Bowl, about as idyllic a setting in which you could ever hope to hear the guitar virtuoso.
But I am a blues man and I came to see and hear Bonnie and she delivered everything I hoped for to celebrate with the woman I’ve been loving Bonnie with for 35 years together. The woman who has been my best friend and the best partner I could ever have dreamed of having.
And even though I don’t know Bonnie and she doesn’t know Deb or me, she still did a very special personal favor for us, without us even having to ask. Just another reason to write this love letter to Bonnie.
Bonnie doesn’t know that Debra’s 62nd birthday is just a week after our anniversary, or that our special birthday song is Bonnie’s “Sweet and Shiny Eyes.” Deb asked me to play it the morning of the concert while we were eating breakfast. I choked up as I always do listening to it. It touches something deep inside me that I cannot explain. Maybe it’s Tom Waits’ voice singing along with Bonnie.
I said to Deb that I didn’t think we had heard Bonnie play that one too often live, and “Wouldn’t it be perfect if she played it tonight…?”
And then she did.
And it was.
“Your sweet and shiny eyes
are like the stars above Laredo
like meat and potatoes
In my sweet dreams
in a bar
and it’s my birthday
drinking salty margaritas
A magical moment with Freebo coming up on stage to make it even more amazing and ecstatic!
Thank you Bonnie Raitt.
I love the woman you are, the work that you do, and the values you live and inspire.
But mostly I love your music and way it’s been there for me my entire adult life, providing the mojo hand that feeds my soul and keeps me relentlessly kicking ass.
I love you, Bonnie Raitt. It was beautiful seeing you again.
Till next time,