I’m feeling my age today. Maybe it’s because my baby girl turned 13. Maybe it’s because I took her to her first concert last night, and we had to be there two hours early so she and a friend could reserve their spot against the stage, front and center, as I looked on from the far less crowded parent’s section off to the side. Maybe it’s because I thought her cut-up shirt that showed her belly button was too short, or maybe it’s because I thought she was wearing too much make-up. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t in bed by my normal 9:00 PM, but instead hung out by the guarded tour bus parking lot, waiting in vain for the band to shake hands and take pictures with their fans, waiting until midnight when I finally convinced the girls that they’re just not coming. Or, maybe it’s because the music just wasn’t as good, the energy and the poetry weren’t quite as strong as they were when I was her age.
It doesn’t help that I’m slipping into live music-induced nostalgia, to a time when my life’s meaning depended on the next thing that came out of Kurt Cobain’s mouth. I remember showing up to the show two hours early to secure a spot crushed against the stage in a run-down club in Tijuana, seeing this underground band with a headache-inducing superfuzz sound and a promising name, Nirvana. This was before they were polished, this was when the Marshal stacks blared, the guitars wailed, and Cobain, screaming himself hoarse into the microphone, spoke to us with pure, raw emotion. We climbed onto the stage and dove into the pimply and angst-ridden crowd, riding the manic energy of our tribe.
I walked into the restroom last night and there were a couple of security guards briefing a paramedic who was about my age on the status of the 19-year-old in the stall. All I could see were khaki pants and blue vans kneeling on the piss-covered tile floor. I couldn’t see him draped over the toilet, but judging from the stench, I could only imagine that it wasn’t a pretty sight. “Stay with me, don’t pass out, we’re getting you a wheelchair, and we’re going to get you to an ambulance.” It sounded bad, and I wasn’t in the mood to see some 19-year-old kid have a heart attack and die because of the latest new lavender bath salts that kids are bathing in, or eating, or snorting, or whatever they do with spa products these days. The security guards looked alarmed as they told the paramedic that the boy had half a cup of vodka and some marijuana in his system, and that he was in bad shape. The paramedic looked at me and said “half a cup of vodka and some weed? They sure don’t make them like they used to.”
I occasionally caught glimpses of my daughter, hands raised, watery eyes with too much makeup fixed on Danny, or Billy, or Kevin as they looked into the audience, into the bright lights. In her mind, they were singing to her, and after the show she told me about all the times she made eye contact with Kevin, I think it was Kevin, and how it was the greatest night of her life, and how it touched her, and that I just wouldn’t understand how deep the connection was, I mean, eye contact, EYE CONTACT.
I stood with the other parents for most of the night, necks straining, trying to watch over our kids, to make sure they weren’t crushed, and to walk that fine line between hovering just enough to keep them safe, but still let them feel the independence. Not that I’m ready to let her drive to Tijuana with a friend, walk over the border, take an unmarked taxi to a smoke-filled club to see a couple of punk bands, but there are only so many first concerts, and I wanted her to remember this one, and not remember me standing behind her, glaring at the college boys who were walking around, trying to find a free spot next to a cute girl, and me whispering in the boy’s ear, “she’s 13, and I can break you.”
I moved towards the crowd for the encore, nodding my head to the one song that I knew, mouthing the profound chorus, “eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh, eh eh, oh, eh, oh, eh, eh, oh, eh, oh,” and jumping with the crowd’s energy, singing along as Kenny or Dan or Kevin held the mic to the audience and sang “If you close your eyes, does it almost feel like nothing changed at all? And if you close your eyes, does it almost feel like you've been here before?” And I could have sworn, at that moment, he was singing it only to me.