This week, photos of myself, some friends, and the lead singer of Rustic Overtones, Dave Gutter, popped up as a flashback on my phone. My heart both sped up and sank at the same time. So much has changed since last year, so friggin’ much. I was thinking about all the things my husband and I did in January, February, and the first half of March 2020. At this moment, those two and a half months feel like a years’ worth of activities. On Monday mornings, my students, who are inmates, used to ply me for information about my weekend adventures. I still try to come up with something to share, but it’s way harder than it used to be.
Live music may be one of the toughest things to forgo in the face of a pandemic. Music was always a go-to for my husband and me for any celebration. We traveled between states and up to Canada just for music. Even as I write this, I’m listening to Rustic Overtones playing Combustible. My foot is bouncing up and down, not to the rhythm, but in that maniacal way of a pipe about to burst.
The tradition of live music is more about me than my husband. He enjoys it too, but I’m the one who pushes us to go. It’s what I do. He’s happy to be along for the ride. To quote my stepfather, he’s “the driver on the bus of life.” It’s me who seeks out concert dates, locations, makes hotel or Airbnb reservations, uses my sharp elbows to push other people out of the way for tickets (now it’s electronic, but still). Even if we’re going to Montreal for the weekend, I look to see who’s playing and am thrilled to get tickets for Jack White.
I measure my life in beats. Fado in Lisbon, Eros Ramazzotti in Rome, Guster in Quebec, Maine, New York, and Massachusetts, NIN over about 5 states totaling about 100 shows, Korn in Newport, and about 15 other places, Rustic Overtones back and forth between Maine and New York. David getting punched in the face at the Paradise in Boston with God Lives Underwater and Space Hog. Green Jelly at a converted barn in Amherst. The list could go on and on and on. Green Day, Alice in Chains (with Layne Staley and with William Bradley DuVall), Rob Zombie, Snake River Conspiracy, Tori Amos, Cake, Disturbed, The Chieftains, Mighty Might Bosstones, Beck, Corrosion of Conformity, Toadies, Queens of the Stone Age, Garbage (oh Garbage), Nirvana, Foo Fighters, Alisha Keys, Cage the Elephant, Sponge, Chevelle, Sound Garden, Head PE, Folk Implosion, In Living Color, to mention a few.
But it all started with the one and only Salt N Pepa at the Riverside Park Raceway when I was in middle school. My mom took us to symphonies and operas when we were kids to instill music appreciation (I’d say it worked). At church, we sang. At school, we sang. I was in band. But my first concert on my own with my friends was in 8th grade with girls from my class, and we went to see Salt N Pepa push it real good. I was so short. I grabbed my friends’ hand and pushed our way to the front of the crowd. I learned the value of my sharp elbows. It was magic to see them perform in the flesh as music is meant to be felt.
Feeling the pressure and pulse of the speakers and the people around you. The smell of stale beer on a sticky floor, clouds of pot, body odor mixed with perfume, sometimes the faint whiff of vomit. I won’t lie, I’m okay with not going home at the end of the night smelling like cigarettes. Cloves, ok, but not cigarettes. Screaming lyrics and jumping up and down. C’mon. Having no voice on the ride home as you play the music of the band you just saw, yelling to the person next to you as you order midnight eggs. Ugh. I miss it.
Even during the years, I was sick, I went to concerts. It was the first time I sat down through shows, but I went. I finally understood the people who stayed seated and looked dazed. Music is a primal valve release that’s hard to reach in everyday life. A freedom that is especially hard to find when you must stay calm and carry on in the face of COVID. I want to scream and put my hands in the air and wave them like I just don’t care. I want to jump jump around.
I will say my decades of concert buying skills came in handy scheduling my vaccine appointment. I felt my elbow throwing skills at the ready to grab the earliest opening I could. I kept reminding myself that getting the vaccine may make live music a reality someday. The sooner, the better. Please, for the love of all that’s holy, let me get my face melted in front of a person on stage shooting spittle all over a mic as my throat goes raw while everyone around me screams. Pretty please with sugar on top. A pandemic nightmare situation for sure. But something I dream about.
For now, I’ll try keeping myself contained with kitchen concerts as I blast music and sing to my kitties. And by watching TwinsthenewTrend’s reactions to music on Youtube. There’s something about how much they enjoy experiencing new music that lifts me up just enough to get by day to day. I mean just enough.