Saturday, March 12, 2011

Feeling Gravitys Pull

I had this poster size on my bedroom wall

On September 29th 1995 my parents, my sister and I and a few of our school friends loaded into our family van-- bound for Buffalo. 

The hour plus drive had been a serendipitous biproduct of begging, bargaining and outright pleading from this teenage girl whose whole continued existence seemed to be (at least then) dependent on one thing-----
seeing on stage.

Though there have been many concerts since it, and oh-so-many adventures after, this night is forever a source of family storytelling.

A tale of teenage angst and my Dad's earplugs.

My family circa 1995

I will never forget the mixed emotion. 
Namely because of the tug of war between love of band...and fighting the "uncool factor". 

Let me explain. 

The one condition of me going at all to this concert, at 17 years old, was that one of my parents had to take me to it. 
That condition was agreed however in desperation.

In the rush of learning about the concert we had to act fast. It was assured to be a sell-out at lightning speed! My sister had decided she wanted to go.* .My sister quickly said she wanted to bring friends. I too had to bring along a friend. The lucky parent would have two of our friends to chaperone.
*Though not previously a fan of R.E.M., the Monster album was making enough waves to pull her interest.

It was going to be not the jaunt I had imagined--but a family adventure all packed into our grey Astrovan. We were quickly assembling a van-load second only to the Partridges.

The rarity of this musi-trological event was not lost on me. Since I had fallen for the band hard core (in junior high) they had been in virtual shut-in studio mode- having taken an almost unheard of lapse in the pre-requisite world tour. 

This concert might have been my only opportunity... and believe me, I knew it.

Mary and I both blinked pleading eyes. Mom cracked open the phonebook to the T's. Ticketmaster. She took a breath and fired up our new cordless phone. She had that look--the parental sacrifice look.

As she waited on phone queue she looked uncertain.
I couldn't let her give up.  I reminded her of her own youthShe had seen Diana Ross, the Turtles and Simon and Garfunkel in concert. It was time she gave me "my spot in the sun". As timeless as those artists are and as much as I liked them myself--irony holds that she was listening to those artists while being placed on hold.*
Retrospective- defined by when the 'then cutting edge' makes its way to easy listening fare

She grimaced, probably thinking of the credit card statement. The minutes ticked off.I was using everything I HAD. My sister also paced curiously nearby- though not with my level of anxiety. 
For those of you born after 1995: Before internet there was the silent and deadly fear that accompanied concert purchases via phone.

Mom riggled through almost an hour of 'on hold'...she intermittently grumbled about Ticketmaster and their surcharges (however justified).Finally she got through and purchased six tickets!  We had our seats for the Monster Tour!

Second-guessing the impending experience she asked,
 "What kind of crowd is this going to draw?" 
Parents have a natural hesitancy about concerts and teenagers. My mom had her reaasons.

Just the summer before I had primed and prepared my mom for my entrance into concert going by getting her to take me to John Mellencamp. I had led her to believe John (formerly Cougar) Mellencamp was a "Christian" artist. That was my thought...convince her that he was going to positively "influence me." She had believed me until we arrived at the concert venue emblazoned with the name of the tour, "Dance Naked". 

The things we'll do to let our parents allow us to be participating members of the world of concert going.

At last she got through! Tickets purchased! R.E.M. was going to happen.

As September approached one of our friends dropped out. We were in a bind. We had one unclaimed ticket. Cost analysis enough was reason to blow a gasket in my parents mind. 

My mom asked to take a friend of hers---for parental back-up, I suppose. Uh oh.The balance of power was shifting. Then that friend of hers ...became my Dad.

Here I am- going to the concert of my dreams and now this!

A chance to be cool. 
A chance to experience...But I imagined the cinematic level of stigma, pictured myself sitting in between BOTH my parents, my sister? OH the humanity. 

I imagined the possibilities for utter embarrassment. There goes the cool factor.  However, I HAD to get to this concert- I swallowed my pride. It was this way or no way.

Concert Day.
There were two things going through my head.  

One: above all the excitement.
Two: the utter fear that my parents would embarrass the holy hairclip out of me for an unforgivable sin:  

being parents at a rock concert.

*please note this is my teenage mind recounting.

Highlights of the evening
  • My father asking the parking garage attendant where an extra set of ear plugs might be purchased.
  • Dad referring to Radiohead (the opening act) as Stereoface throughout the night.
  • Mom unintentionally interrupting a flirtatious moment with a high school crush of mine at the t-shirt table. 
  • Two ticket holders showed up at our row pointing to my parents seats and the duplicate seat assignment on their tickets. My sister and I thought God himself had sent this couple. Unfortunately, the usher "corrected" the seating issue (keeping our uncool intact). 
  • Michael Stipe circa 1995
  • Dad loudly commenting about the colorfully illustrated face of a young man behind us--a young man-- who clearly had a "crush with eyeliner".                                                         *Clearly Dad has the memorable gaff category in the bag.
As much as I tell of the teenage suffering at that concert- when R.E.M. took the stage I tuned all else out. It was fantastic. The rich sound of my favorite rock voice was swimming in my ears, for the first time without a radio or cassette player.
* Yes folks, I said cassette player

It was perhaps the quintessential experience of any kid who sits anonymously in Row ZZZ appreciating their favorite band. The kid whose parents don't have "connections" to get them better seats, but who is in seventh heaven just to be there. The kid who sits hovering above the top of a large stadium but not lacking rock glory. An "Almost Famous" level of wonder...from far away. 
Too distant for up-close encounters, yet feeling the reverberation of energy trickling up. 

I had to wait three or four songs before any of my old favorites were played. The Monster songs weren't the like the earthy jangly sound I loved.
I'm convinced had I had a past life...there must have been a lot of mandolin.

It became obvious that that from our nosebleed perch I was going to have to work hard to have a memory that was more than squinting and singing my heart out.
*Though the memory of my Dad readilly showing another parent his state of the art earplugs is stellar. I believe they exchanged notes and said other parent asked Dad if he had bought the pair there.
Parents find each other at rock concerts, trust me.

I needed that lasting memory. I came up with an idea! 

At the time the "Be like Mike" ad campaign for Michael Jordan was all the rage. 
I devised a catchy chant. By the time there was a lull in between songs my sister and our friends joined me in chanting "We Like Mike". 

Though our parents didn't exactly join in...the guy in the blue eyeliner did!
And his friends did. 
And then the next row. 
And so on.
And so on.
Our chant began to become louder.

It travelled a little farther...and just a little farther.... We were near the top section of the War Memorial...not to be seen by my favorite band...but I had to wonder if the message would travel to the stage.  

You can imagine the squeals of a 17 year old Stipe obsessed kid when, after singing an entire song with his back to the audience---the enigmatic man in question walked slowly to center stage---and simply said "I like you too".

Sixteen years later, I still like Mike. 

And P.S. I love my parents even more now for enduring a rock concert--because they loved us.


Michelle said...

Freaking. Awesome. Post.

My mom took me (and a bunch of screaming friends) to my first "cool" concert - New Kids on the Block. I was (I think) 11 or 12. Being one of thousands of screaming girls didn't mire the fact that Joey was there FOR ME. *sigh* Memories.

Michelle said...

Freaking. Awesome. Post.

My mom took me (and a bunch of screaming friends) to my first "cool" concert - New Kids on the Block. I was (I think) 11 or 12. Being one of thousands of screaming girls didn't mire the fact that Joey was there FOR ME. *sigh* Memories.