Wednesday, October 03, 2012

A Few Brief Notes on Rock Concerts

Rock concerts were a big deal among my age-peers when I was younger, but I hardly took part in this area of the culture. I can only remember going to two events that might have qualified--that is, that involved somewhat famous performers and cost what would have been more than a nominal fee at the time (probably $12-20--I cannot imagine I would, or could, ever have spent anything more than that at the time)--and I had an awful time at both of them. I was invited by a group of my high school friends to tag along with them to see George Thoroughgood at the Portland Civic Center in 1987 or '88. The main things I recall about this show was that all the songs sounded exactly the same in the concert as they did on record, that every single song had a guitar solo and a saxophone solo at exactly the same juncture as all the other sounds, and that of the entire crowd, which looked to me to be close to the arena's capacity, which is listed as 6,733, I counted exactly three women, and they were very far away from us. It was this last circumstance of being packed in a hot space with thousands of exclusively and mostly adult men that made the evening so unpleasant. The music I could have handled in a different setting, such as a bar, but as it was it was more like being in prison, or the navy. Some of us moderns are not as accustomed to such extreme segregation from the opposite sex as our forbears were, and thus the effects of its unpleasantness are perhaps more immediately jolting.

The second concert was during spring break of my freshman year of college in March, 1991, at some club in New York City, the name of which is lost to my memory. The group was Fugazi, about whom I knew essentially nothing--indeed, I kept referring to them in conversation as Fuzzaboo before I could keep the name straight in my head--but I was vaguely aware that they were well-known and well-regarded among people whose lives revolved around music and bands, of which there were a fair number in the circles about the edge of which I  hovered at the time. But I would never have thought it was my place to go to one of their shows except that I happened to be on a road trip with my closest friend who also happened to be cool and attractive, and he thought that was what we should do, so that's what we planned to do. I cannot recall whether it was when we were on our way to buy the tickets, or just after, that my cool friend ran into one of his old girlfriends on the street. After a few minutes' desultory conversation he announced that he was going to go off with his friend for a few hours but would meet up with us at the show that evening. Needless to say we did not see him again until we were all back at school the next week. His departure left the company attending the concert as me and a second guy who was also totally inept at dealing with women and assertive men, and a third friend who could manage for himself well enough in these areas but was not so able as to cover for and elevate the rest of us to the necessary social plane at which the concert would have been enjoyable, which our missing friend could have done. The evening proceeded predictably dismally. The concert was another sausagefest, if not quite as extreme as the 5,000 to 3 ratio at the George Thoroughgood event. I would put the male portion of the crowd at about 92%, and I don't remember the few women who were there being of the type to cause me much excitement, which took some doing, or perhaps un-doing would be the more appropriate word, in those days. The opening act was the Deviators from Brooklyn--this was long before Brooklyn became the East Coast's 'it' destination for liberal arts graduates that we know it as today. As far as I could tell, they were as good as Fugazi, though that didn't seem to me to be saying much--more manic and paying more lip service to traditional pop tunefulness anyway. During the main concert a fight broke out near the stage, which prompted the lead singer to rebuke the combatants with "Why don't you use some of that energy to escape from the f**king system?" You can imagine the disappointment with which this day, which at one point, with the prospect of going to a hardcore music show in New York City in the evening, had seemed to promise a multitude of hopes I had long been living for coming to some degree of fruition, closed upon me.

I am not going to count the time John Cafferty and the Beaver Brown Band, of mid-80s Eddie and the Cruisers fame, turned out to be the entertainment at the Concord, N.H. Summer Market Days Festival.

The potentially great lost concerts of my youth? There weren't many. In the summers of '87 and '88, or maybe it was '88 and '89, The Who and the Rolling Stones came to Foxboro (Mass, near Boston, for our overseas audience) as part of their football stadium world mega-tours, and both times groups of my friends, or at least people I knew, went down to the concerts, but they didn't invite me to go. It's not like I was heartbroken--since I never had any great concert memories, I would just as soon go to a bar and hear the records on the jukebox--but I regret missing any opportunity to bond over shared fun, which other people often have. One thing that strikes me as funny about these concerts now is how both of these groups were considered by many serious music fans at the time as absolute dinosaur acts that were abandoning whatever dignity they had left by taking the stage. Of course most of the primary actors weren't much older than their mid-40s at the time, the members of the Who especially in 1987 would have only been 42-43 years old on average, yet their famous 'Hope I die before I get old' lyric was already being used as a punchline. Nowadays there are guys that age who still think they're going to break into the business. I remember Tina Turner was 50 (which would make her about 75 now--jeez) and at least the way the music press presented it, there had never been anyone so aged performing rock music up to that point in history. Today of course the average age of the typical regional rock festival musician is about 63...this is one of those underlying characteristics of different time periods that can slip by unnoticed but is probably more important than is acknowledged.

When I was 19 or 20, this would have been around '89 or '90--it was before I had even started college--I accompanied my grandmother to visit some friends of hers who had a house near the beach at Wildwood, New Jersey. I wandered down to the boardwalk by myself after dinner and I don't even remember how it happened, but lo and behold somehow I ended up sitting on a park bench talking to a couple of pretty attractive (and probably, now that I think of it, Catholic) girls from Cinnaminson, Jennifer and Mary Ann. No, we did not repair to the nearest hotel for a threesome or anything like that, though who knows, maybe we could have, since they, or rather Jennifer, for Mary Ann was more of the quiet and accommodating type, sat there and talked to me about must have been a lot of nonsense--where they were going to college, what they liked to do in Philadelphia, that sort of thing--for the better part of an hour, as though they had nothing better to do. I remember that the Cure was coming to Philadelphia sometime in the autumn and they were excited about that and planning on going and they told me I should go too. I was too stupid to remember to ask them to clarify if they meant I should come with them or if I should just go by myself and watch the concert unmolested by any kind of company or other social interaction because the Cure was just that awesome. I think I said something along the lines of  "Oh yes, I'll have to look into it" or similar rubbish. Eventually they obviously had to get up and leave and go home or find a party or whatever. A blown opportunity? I think so. Any missed opportunity with a New Jersey girl is one you're going to wish you had back. One funny thing was when I went to St John's there was a guy from Cinnaminson who knew exactly who they were, had gone to high school with them, and even claimed to be best friends with them, so I had some hope that maybe we'd all party together or something over Christmas vacation, but none of that ever came to fruition.

Oh, and I didn't make it to the Cure concert either.

Based on very limited testimony from my very limited personal acquaintance, my impression is that the best show in that era centering around 1990 to go to both for male/female ratio and general opportunity for interacting with women was Depeche Mode. Women around my age apparently loved them. Yes, of course they loved the guys in the group more than they would love you, but it's not like there weren't plenty of girls left over after the band took its pick for the evening, and such disappointment is more easily overcome in an atmosphere of overall high spirits, which my sources say prevailed at this concert.

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