I attended college twice. The first time was at the University of Michigan. The second time was also at the University of Michigan–when my son Jack went there.
I got better value the second time, I think. I was in Ann Arbor almost every other month, watching my son perform in shows or gigs. He was in the music school. I really enjoyed Jack’s shows, and I didn’t have to write any term papers.
At Jack’s commencement in 2010, his rock band played for 85,000, including President Obama, at Michigan Stadium.
After graduating, Jack stayed in Ann Arbor, teaching music at the Rock Band School and playing in bands. This past fall, I came to town and took Jack and his bandmate to Mani Osteria. That was the deal. Dad’s visit = fancy dinner.
Jack’s guitar player, Theo Katzman, asked, “Why don’t we stay here in Ann Arbor and make our own scene? Why is everybody heading off in different directions?”
Other recent grads were going to Chicago, New York, or California. Theo turned to me and said, “Can you give me some leaving-the-nest advice?”
What? Why ask me? I’m not your father. What if I said, “Go to Brazil?” But Theo had already tapped his dad, a retired Tonight Show trumpeter. His father had gone generic. “Do whatever you want,” Theo’s dad had supposedly said, “whatever makes you happy.”
I’d bailed from Ann Arbor after graduation and swore I’d never come back. Back in the 1970s, I even wrote the alumni association, “Don’t send me any more literature.” I was not a college kid anymore! I was working in my family’s real estate business in Cleveland. It’s my business now, and I have a klezmer band on the side.
But it turned out that I swore incorrectly. I’ve been back to Ann Arbor many times. My band plays at the Ark every year. I know a lot of people here. Some go to the football games, some don’t. They’re all blue and interesting.
That’s not what I told the boys, though.
I said, “If you stay here and are thirty-five–and you’re still in Ann Arbor–you’ll probably wonder why you didn’t leave. Try someplace else, and if you fail, so be it. You can always come back. You’ll regret not taking the chance more than any possible failure. In fact, when you’re forty or fifty, you might think your failure was not a failure.”
I was hitting “failure” too hard.
I thought of telling them: “Stay in Ann Arbor. There are plenty of adults here. This town is cool; it’s one big brain trust. Even the store clerks are funny and clever. Stay here.”
I couldn’t say it.
Theo went to New York; Jack, to San Francisco.
Update to follow–c. 2025.
Stratton’s band, Yiddishe Cup, plays the Ark on Saturday, February 4.