You might not remember this, but I do. It was our first concert. The concert that changed things. The show that got me hoping I had it in me to finally knock loose of my foundations and start building a new life. It’s funny how music and laughter can mix together, right there in the open air, and start to cement people together. Enough of either tends to smooth the gap quite nicely, despite the weird edges and crumbly corners.
The theater is old-new, a historic building that was just recently refurbished. It has the best shows in town, and I was ecstatic to score those tickets. It was pleasing to know that my other ticket would go to a friend who really loved the band the way that I did. They hurt my heart, but in a good way. I don’t know many people that understand me when I say things like that. At the time, I wasn’t sure you did, either, but since then I’ve gotten used to trusting you to know exactly what I mean.
The house lights hadn’t even gone down yet, but you’d already surprised me. I was so nervous when we walked into that theater space. The black floors and white walls made my eyes play tricks. The hollowness of the floors (I think there are seats underneath, but I still haven’t seen the theater in that formation) always makes me jumpy, too. On top of that, I hate crowds, and I strongly dislike meeting new people. It was set up to be a disaster. Even though we’d known each other informally for years, we’d never had a conversation. Just thinking that I’d be stuck next to you for the next couple of hours nearly set me into panic mode. But we each got a bourbon, and smalltalk turned to genuine conversation. You opened with your views on feminism, transitioned into geeky TV shows, and we were off from there. Everything that came out of your mouth was genuine and interesting. Your laugh reverberated in my lungs. Nervous energy disappeared.
We talked (OK, snarked) our way through the entire opening act. The set was pretty awful, and we were having fun talking about how hard the band sucked. But somewhere in the midst of talking about music we hated, conversation turned to music we loved: what we tended to like, how we first realized we loved sounds.
It’s funny, trying to write it here, but I know people who don’t adore music. For them it’s just a passing interest; they have the same intensity of feeling towards it as they would towards, say, picking up a Reader’s Digest at the check out counter. Sure, it’s OK, but the world is full of OK things. For me, and for you (but maybe more for you), music is essential. It ties our moments together. In hard times, it cradles us. In joyous times, it buoys us up. When we are alone, it offers solace. It is a mirror, a portal, our future and past.
You said that when you were young, you thought you didn’t like music. The music your school friends were into was just so-so. But then you discovered your dad’s records, and as the vinyl spun, it set off a chain reaction in your heart. I knew exactly what you were talking about, though that spark of recognition and that joyful discovery of my parents’ 33s were almost 10 years apart.
You threw out some names of the first bands you discovered; one name caught my ear, and my mind immediately began to wander back in time. It often does – I’m built to daydream, as you well know. I’m not sure if we spoke of it or not, but for a split second, I was 28 years away. And so the memory is tied to you, whether or not you were directly involved. I was four years old, with chubby legs and two scraped knees. (They were always scraped, as I was forever falling down. Did I ever tell you that I was horribly klutzy as a child? By comparison, I’m practically a ballerina now. I once cut myself with a spoon, and fell headfirst down the stairs pretty much daily until I was a teenager.)
I was in the front passenger seat of my mom’s green station wagon, glove compartment in front of me, window crank to the right. If I sat up super straight, I’d be able to see out the window, down the driveway, all the way to the gravel of Old County Road. But I slouched, because it was much more fun to try to melt from the seat, straight into the floorboard, like in a cartoon. It never happened, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t going to try. Mum started up the car, then let it run while she sorted through the little plastic container of cassette tapes that she kept under the driver’s seat. A tape selected, she popped it in and took the car out of park.
“Welcome to your life! There’s no turning back…”
Tears for Fears, “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” from Songs From the Big Chair, released in 1985. There are a lot of songs in my mental collection that mean something. A song to fall in love to. A song to cry to. A song that makes me think of a particular friend, a song that reminds me of a place I love (more of these than others, I suspect, given how often my imagination drifts off on impromptu vacations to places I’ve visited before). Then there are the more expected songs – makeout songs, party songs, dance songs, drinking songs, “I’m really incredibly pissed off right now” songs…
But this was the first of them all. The first time that I listened and understood more. I didn’t have a word for what I was feeling, but now I know that sensation as bittersweet. I knew that Mum was really cool for playing music like this, and that I was small, but I’d get bigger. I knew that I didn’t want to go wherever we were going, but there wasn’t much I could do about anything (at all). The realization made me feel numb; being young was about coming to terms with helplessness, and plotting for the time when I’d finally have the upper hand.
Most of all, though, I heard one particular line: “holding hands while the walls come tumbling down”. I loved holding hands with Mum then (and still do), but I knew somehow that the song was talking about something else. I didn’t understand solidarity, and it would be years before I was so terrified and angry that I’d be able to grasp the importance of having an equal to help me come to terms with bearing my world’s weight. Even so, it filled me with hope. The song told me that things could never be permanent, but maybe I’d be lucky enough to share the grand impermanence with someone who’d understand.
I came back from the memory to share one of the best concerts of my life with you. By the time we left that old-new theater, something of the old-new-ness had worn off on us, I think. After seven long years of barely saying “hi” at social events, we were finally friends. Eventually we were more.
We’re going to see Tears for Fears in a few days. I can’t tell you how happy I am that you’re the one holding my hand.