Friday, May 26, 2017

Be Alright

I keep all of my concert tickets in a Sex Pistols lunch box. My friend, Mary, bought it for me years ago when she worked at the Experience Music Project in Seattle. I thought it was a smart place to store my concert tickets. I'm missing a few from my earliest concerts but I have the ones that matter most: my first concert (New Kids on the Block), the first Lilith Fair, and the first show I went to as a teenager that involved one of my friends driving us rather than our parents (R.E.M at Nisson Pavilion). Tori, Patti, the White Stripes, Nick Cave, Run-DMC, Metallica - they're all here in this box. I like to flip through the tickets every now and then and relive a little bit of the magic of each show. I can usually remember who I went with (my brother on many, many occasions) and if the opening act was any good (if it was Whirlwind Heat, the answer is an emphatic "hell no"). I don't obsessively write down set lists so I can't recall all of the songs for each show but I'm sure somewhere out there on the interwebs, someone has done this for me. I could look but I'm good for now.

My first concert was a New Kids on the Block show at the Superdome in 1990. I was eleven years old and my dad went with me. Two years later we had relocated to Northern Virginia and my dad, not learning his lesson the first time, took me to see Def Leppard at the USAir Arena (remember that place?). It would be years before my dad and I would go to a concert together again (Santana and Rod Stewart at the Verizon Center for his 66th birthday). I assume it took him that long to get over the agony of listening to preteen girls scream and sing along with NKOTB. I'm surprised his ears didn't bleed that day. My dad is a great dad.

In 1990, the New Kids on the Block were my favorite band. I think I had a NKOTB themed birthday party the year before; the tickets were definitely a birthday present but I don't think the themed party was the same year. Each ticket cost $20 for seats in the 600 level of the Superdome. I don't think you can buy a bottle of water for $20 at a concert today. Jonathan was my favorite member of the band followed closely by Jordan and Donnie. I thought Joey was annoying and Danny was an afterthought. I knew all the words and the choreography and was probably wearing at least two items of NKOTB clothing at the show. I may also have been wearing my Debbie Gibson hat because I was freaking fearless when it came to fashion back then.

I don't remember the order of the songs they played or what "witty" banter happened but I remember being in love with being at a concert. I've been to a lot of concerts and shows since NKOTB and while they're each special in their own way, none of them will ever be my first concert. First concerts are the only truly pure experience that exist (probably). It was exciting and overwhelming and frenetic. Every teen girl there was so excited to see the band and sing along (and scream a lot). I'm sure I made my dad buy me a t-shirt (which I no longer have and did not need). I know I stayed up way past my bedtime and was exhausted the next day but it was summer so it didn't really matter. I couldn't wait to go to the next concert (I believe it was Huey Lewis & the News with my brother in Detroit). That first show hooked me in and I've never looked back. I have not gone to see NKOTB again even though they've done reunion tours over the years. My dad won't go with me again (yes, I've asked) so what's the point really? I don't think it would be as much fun to see the band today; it would be fun but a more adult, alcohol influenced kind of way rather than the pure fun of going to my first concert.

Going to see live music is one of my favorite things to do. I love going to any type of venue and I'll go see bands or musicians I don't know just to go. The show might not be great but I always enjoy the experience of being surrounded by other music fans enjoying themselves. That's the beauty of concerts; you get to hang out with a few hundred or thousand (or ten) music fans. A concert is a little community of souls, coming together over their shared love of what this person or group has created. How beautiful is that? I happen to like a lot of bands who appeal to multi-generational audiences so the crowd is always fascinating to be part of. My favorite example of this was the Green Day show at the 9:30 Club last October; it's shows like that one that make me happy to be a rock fan.

As I've been reading about the bombing at the Ariana Grande show in Manchester, I can't help but think about all those kids going to see their favorite singer live, possibly for the first time. I know the excitement they must have felt in the lead up to the concert, thinking about what to wear (is it a high ponytail or cat ears kind of night?) and planning with their friends, taking selfies throughout and singing along to each song. To have such a horrible tragedy take place at the end of what was a magical night for those who attended is heartbreaking. The loss of so many young lives is devastating.

For the most part, people have been responding to this tragedy in the way you would hope people would respond to tragedy, with respect and remorse and most importantly, sentiments of community and coming together. However, there are some notable exceptions including journalists who have made disdainful remarks about Grande's music as they cover the bombing. It makes me angry how some have felt the need to cover this story in a way that dismisses the things teen girls like as if it somehow makes them less important and this bombing less of a serious threat. Emma Gray wrote a great piece on this exact topic for Huffington Post; if anything, the fact that a concert audience made up almost entirely of young women, their mothers, and LGBTQ youth was targeted should tell you a lot about the world we live in and what hate looks like.

My hope is that these fans don't stop going to concerts. I want every single one of them to go to another show and another one after that and keep going. I want them to keep being part of the amazing community that is a live music audience. I don't want any of them to ever lose that feeling or be fearful enjoying what they love. I want them all to feel the magic that happens when the lights go down and there's that one second before the show begins where the entire audience takes in a collective breath before losing it when their musical idols walk onstage. That is magic.

I don't know many of Ariana Grande's songs but one of my friends posted this video on Facebook the morning after the bombing; it's fitting in a lot of ways.

Next week: A discussion of my summer music list, "Brandy", and why I need to borrow someone's convertible for a day or two. If you haven't seen the new Guardians of the Galaxy movie, take the time to do so before next week; there will be some discussion of the movie although I will try to refrain from spoilers as much as possible.

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