My unfolding as a being has undergone a few prompt jumps in self-expression. In the 1990 time frame I went from viewing rock music as one of the influences most likely to lead to my destruction– in the same category as cigarettes, underage drinking, and not doing your homework– to buying Nirvana’s record Nevermind. And feeling somehow holy about it. It was auspicious. The lightning I had anticipated failed to strike. It takes all of thirty seconds to change everything, do an about face, become one of them. One week later I was playing Nirvana’s prior album Bleach in the cassette player, and a good friend at the time asked if we could go back to Brown-Eyed Girl on the radio.
He was disturbed by my life choices. Who are you???
My first concert, aside from being on the business end of a few My Country Tis of Thee’s at St. Richard’s Parish Elementary School, was a Dinosaur Jr. show. They were on tour for the album Green Mind. I was a shy and introverted freshman in high school, and this was one of my secrets still below ground. I had devoted the better part of my free time during the preceding four years to learning how to kick a soccer ball with either foot, and making it go where I told it. I had a goal in the back yard I had built out of downed pine trees dragged out of the woods, and some rope. My altar.
These devotions resulted in my making the varsity soccer team, which meant I would be playing ball for Grady Cain. He had coached the arch-rival club team from the other side of town that had always whooped our ass in the State Tournament during the developmental years so discussed, so this was going to be interesting. He knew what I was made of, though, so that worked in my favor. He was a plumber with a Trans Am that he required to be sand-blasted and repainted every year: two coats of tar black beneath two clear coats of pure shine. He wore mirror sunglasses and listened to Suzy Q and smoked long brown cigarillos on the sideline while coaching up young men to be all they could be.
Grady was an unbelievable man, and I wish I’d had the perspective a few of the seniors had possessed– to just enjoy him. But I was just trying to find a way through. He was a fan of deep honesty at halftime, and calling it like it was while we chugged down our electrolytes.
“Michael– you suckin’ out there today, baby. You look like a three day old wind. You wanna’ tell me somethin’???”
“Pick your head up. They eatin’ your lunch.”
Then he’d turn to the next person. “Brandon.” Long pause. A trail of smoke from the cigarillo. “You playin’ good ball, son.”
“You stick with that number twenty-seven. He ain’t got nothin’ you don’t got two or three of.”
One night at the end of practice we were all sitting around, and one of the seniors intimated to his friends through a sudden flurry of high five’s that he would be attending a rock concert the subsequent evening. A school night. Well, guess what– so was I. Maybe time to speak up, here. Make some new friends. Isn’t that what pre-season was for?
Me, too. (kind of a croak)
“What? …get outta’ town. Who you goin’ to see???”
Well, now I’d stepped in it. I bought the album, but that didn’t mean I was ready for anyone else to know about it. I understood these guys drew the lines a little differently than I did, that this conversation could lead me rapidly to my demise. They probably liked the kind of bands other people actually liked– not the ones esteemed by slackers and punks. But there was no way out but through. You sense that. In every moment of difficulty, you know this.
“What the– Holy shit! Right on, man.” High five. I think he wanted to make me his little brother.
Brown-Eyed Girl is just lookin’ at me. What the hell, man… What in the world…
The thing about rock concerts, if you can get to the right ones, is you realize that what you’re accustomed to experiencing in the mini-van sound system is second hand. There’s a raw power to a live performance– if you catch the band on the right night, and it’s the right crowd, and you engage with the entire auditorium. You become the leaf in the hot water.
Smashing Pumpkins twenty years ago, on the right night, on tour for Siamese Dream, suggested a thing or two about the nature of all existence. There was something holy about it. Not something about cheating a school night, or getting high, or doing something just because you could, but something about feeling like a completely still stone in the midst of a reverberating ocean. A quiet that could carry all the waves.
Later I’ve come to realize, I can hear the concert inside of the song while the radio is playing. I can hear the concert through my headphones. Anywhere. Any genre. You can hear what it would sound like live. You can taste it. The concerts themselves hardly cut it anymore, in some ways. I’m already hearing too deeply on my own. We have this part of ourselves that’s always in high fidelity mode, and once we awaken it, we can add depth and color to every experience. Buying granola can be a peak experience. We can hear the audacity inside of it, the way putting a bag of grain on the rubber belt and looking the cashier in the eye can be a way of blowing holes into a second hand world.
That feeling of watching Kurt Cobain’s hair being blown around from the fan he kept by the pedals, while he chord-shifted without looking and dispatched a rare, gravelly form of authenticity– that got me flowing in a direction. Nudged me off of top dead center. That was just a taste of this reality called holiness. This high fidelity experience. You learn to hear the concert inside of the moment. To realize each encounter portends something raw and powerful.
This is what Love is. A purity of knowing. One hundred percent experience, maximum fidelity, but no objects. Being a leaf in the water. Being a stone in the ocean during a hurricane. Being at peace while the world rages. Being a whisper that can change everything.
* * * * *