After the big win with my kid depicted in yesterday’s slice the rollercoaster promptly dove and, once again, took my stomach (and heart) with it. School stuff. Trust stuff. And he’s starting a 3 day weekend with his mom and nice weather so that means nothing will get done to catch him up and it would make me somehow even more of a bad guy to bully my way into the weekend, even though I know I should, for him. But that’s not a battle I can wage for myriad reasons, unfortunately. So last night, after my dad taxi came back with him from practice with the directions to do missed assignments, “until 3 AM if need be” and to hand over the phone for the night, rather than keep with the plan to watch a Bulls game together (one of our favorite pastimes), I watched Stranger Things (again) with my daughter. She was tired after one episode and by 10:30 when he popped his head into my room to say he was going to bed all I could muster was a whispered, “g’night”. Take the L and move on. One of my favorite musicians had just been given an award and performed at the ceremony, so instead of scrolling Netflix I found a Youtube of her performance and that led to a rabbit hole of live music.
As much as I love going to sporting events, my thing is concerts. I miss them. I’ve forgotten more entire shows I’ve attended than many people have even been to. Lucky. Last night’s rabbit hole unleashed a deluged flood of memory and reflection.
My first Dead show, and only the one I got to go to with Jerry alive. My parents wouldn’t let me go in high school. One drawback of having young enough parents to know what was up. Tampa stadium in the heat. Then, taking my eldest to his first show outside of the womb after becoming a pro whilst inside of it. At about 8 months his mom needed a night out, finally, and the reformed Dead were playing at some speedway with Bob Dylan. My first night solo with my first kid and I called a couple buddies minutes after she left and offered to be DD for a last minute show and off we went. All I kept thinking was – this kid’s first concert is going to be Dylan and the Dead forever – that’s huge. Somehow my former brother and sister in law, coming from a completely different direction completely unbeknownst to me, pulled in and parked in that massive parking lot right next to us! At first I figured I was busted but it was one of those magic live music things and led to some of my very favorite pictures, documents of his first show. (For the record I didn’t bring an 8 month old kid, as a first time parent, into a loud concert – we heard the music just fine from “Shakedown” outside of the venue and left after the first set)
The time I flew back home for the weekend to see The Smashing Pumpkins for the first time (I’ve since seen them in various incarnations upwards of 50 times now) with my closest buddies. They were ours, and at the peak of their 90’s grunge powers, in theirs, and our, hometown. After their breakthrough 2nd album and just weeks after releasing their epic double 3rd album that propelled them into the stratosphere. This was before we were expert concert people so my friends had secured us last row center seats. 6 of us. Midway through, with our backs against the concrete landing pad for the sonic onslaught back wall, Billy Corgan said that he often tells fans to realize that he once sat “right there” in the cheap seats as a kid and is now a certified rock star, so if he could do that, so could we. Only, he added, in this building he meant it literally. A couple songs later they launched into Muzzle, a song we didn’t really know because it wasn’t on the radio and the album was just dropped, but halfway through Brian and I made eye contact in a moment I still remember vividly, and without words agreed that we were in the midst of a moment I might slice about as a grown adult a zillion years later. On the way out, with emo eye blacked eyes and bleached white spiky hair I was approached by a Chicago cop right out of central casting and for a second was terrified because at that age I was definitely at fault for something in adult eyes. In front of all my friends after the spectacle that still had us breathless he grabbed my shoulder, I still recall his white mustache and cop haircut, and with complete sincerity said, “son, your hair is awesome, I hope you guys had a great night.”
A few years later on a rainy summer day at one of those radio station single day fests where I got to see No Doubt and Hole and Garbage – the thing that really made it an experience was a band called Korn (which I kind of knew because FM radio was still a thing in my life then) hit the stage and suddenly the lawn was an absolute war of mud and smiles and happy aggression. We were youthfully out of our minds that day and this scene blasted us somehow even further into exuberant oblivion.
The Radiohead show on that dusty patch of land that, I believe, was the only concert Chicago allowed there. The best live musical experience in my historied history. Every second I knew it couldn’t get better, it did. When Thom York came out for the last song, and it was just him, acoustic, and concluded the show with a non-album song being played live for only the second time ever and thus, had never been heard? For such an intricate and bombastic group to strip it down at the end? That would ruin most shows. But the song was True Love Waits and, instead, the finale encapsulated the show as my all time gold standard.
And then the singularity of seeing someone you basically discovered, before even an actual album had been released. The chanteuse that started my rabbit hole last night after winning a national award for being a trailblazer. At a venue too small for her to ever play again. April snow. Alcoholic lemonade on a school night. Blankets of peace and blossoms of hope through cracks in the blacktop outside. And on the inside? Once the first chord hit the already intimate concert space shrink wrapped to just you, the girl who never left your arms (that night) and the girl on stage. A tunnel of pillow and warmth and 100% absolute live music magic.
I miss shows. I miss lots. And I’m slicing about positivity. I am lucky to have people and things I love so much that I feel, viscerally, their absence. And that I have rabbit hole memories to escape into, if only for a bit, when the rollercoaster I can’t get off, gets a little too scary.
“I didn’t wanna be this guy
I cried at your show with the teenagers
Tell your friend I’ll be alright
In the morning it won’t matter”