Tuesday, March 10, 2009

So this will be MOAR HISTORY OF ROCK BABBLING, but whatever.

We talked about early heavy metal today, and in the context of watching footage from Altamont, which I found really fascinating - I'd heard all about the concert and the tragedies and how it signified the end of the 1960s (both literally and symbolically) but I'd never actually seen the footage before. It was pretty amazing to watch the whole thing unraveling before your eyes. Anyway we talked about how both heavy metal and punk sort of arose from the concerns in the wake of the ending of the idealism and optimism that surrounded rock in the 1960s, and in conjunction with that, the rise of arena rock and the differences in concert experiences and the sense of community (I'll get back to that later.)

Listened to some music as per always - first "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin, which simply served to remind me just how much I fucking love Led Zeppelin (if that song doesn't move you, and my "move you" I mean make you need to get the fuck out of your seat and MOVE, then there's something wrong with you), and Black Sabbath, which served to remind me why I can't stand Black Sabbath. (If, by any chance, there is a Black Sabbath devotee in the blogosphere reading this, I apologize. I find Ozzy Osbourne's voice infuriatingly grating.) Also, Steve imitated the death metal voice (which was pretty funny, since imitations, along with the real thing, usually sounds like an unusually low-pitched cow being gored to death) and I contributed with an affirmation that that is, indeed, what death metal vocals sound like. I mention this because of the hilarity of virtually the entire classroom turning to look at me with an O RLY?? look on their faces. It was pretty funny.

The point of all of this is that it lead me to ruminate on rock concerts and their connective spirits in general. I've been to a lot of concerts (not as many lately, but I went to a lot in middle school and high school), with my first attendance being the Lilith Fair when I was about eight. (Well, I guess technically my first concert was in the womb - my mom went to see 10,000 Maniacs while she was about 8 months pregnant with me. Incidentally, Natalie Merchant played at the Lilith Fair I attended.) Maybe I didn't feel it at that concert because I was too young - I can't remember it very well - but at virtually every concert I've ever attended, whether it was Bob Dylan or Hanson or Evanescence (yes, those last two are embarrassing, but suck it), I've always felt an extremely strong sense of community and transcendence.

The strongest I ever felt that was definitely at the Dylan concert which I just mentioned, and when I went to see Fiona Apple. When I went to see Dylan, it was without a doubt the most chill concert I have ever attended. There were always people shoving and yelling at every other concert I'd ever been to and I never minded, because it's exciting and it comes with the territory anyway. But this? It was a GA concert, which usually calls for complete mayhem, but my friends and I walked right up to the second row from the stage without the slightest problem. Maybe it was because virtually everyone there was high, but it was so ridiculously relaxed. Waiting for Dylan got very, very tedious. There were three (THREE) opening bands, and I ended up standing in the same couple of square feet for about six hours. It was an unusually cold day in September, and it was wet and cold and uncomfortable. But finally, finally Dylan came out, and then nothing else mattered.

I'm not going to lie and say he was a perfomer in his prime, or anything close to it. He played behind a keyboard, hunched so that we could barely see him. There were no asides to the audience, no banter. His voice was scratchy and thin, and when we did see him, he looked tired. But when he played "Lay, Lady, Lay" I nearly fucking died.

The best moments, though - without a doubt - came during the encore. First he played "Rainy Day Women" (more popularly known as "Everybody Must Get Stoned") and I could hardly even believe he was playing THAT song - of all the things. Everyone started getting out their joints and bongs (as if they weren't all high enough already) and the security guards were all looking around to check if people were getting high, considering the song, which was pretty funny on its own. And then he played "Like a Rolling Stone."

Which was just...I mean, it just felt so historic, and I think it was then that it occurred to me that I was watching Bob f'ing Dylan. When he played the chorus the lights went up on us, and he gave us this little half smile and shook his head, like we were such silly kids for following him like this. Because it was so obvious he would have played the same song the same way whether we were there or not, and it was like we were just allowed to be there and watch. And that's okay. Because he's Bob fucking Dylan and it was true - WE were the priveleged ones.

And after it was over, he took a bow, and made these bizarre hand gestures, and took off his hat (he was wearing this really weird top hat kind of thing - he looked like some kind of pervy Confederate soldier in his suit and reedy little mustache) and - I shit you not - sprinked out glittering dust at us. Dylan dust.

And then, just a couple of minutes later, as we were leaving the field, it started raining.

Fiona Apple was even more communal. Let me start this by saying that I have loved Fiona Apple just about since I turned double digits. There is no musician - nor do I think there ever will be - that has affected me on the personal level the way that she has. If I have a passion for music, it is because of her. I remember one day back in 8th grade (my lowest year, and one of my lowest day) when I came home early from school feeling ill and desolate, and turned on Tidal and closed my eyes. Sometimes that album soothes me in a way nothing else can. I knew every in-and-out of her voice on that album, when every instrument comes in, every word she sings. It's weird to think that I am now the age she was when the album came out.

I went to see her in my junior year of high school. It was a weekday and I didn't go to school. Some people were astonished that my parents let me not go to school to go to a concert, and I told them that if they didn't let me, I would have found a way to hitchhike.

When I went to see her I expected to cry when she was onstage, I expected to sing along to the songs or mouth the words at the very least - but I did none of that. I was too hypnotized. When she was onstage she was so jittery and tiny and mercurial, with her tiny skinny body and her giant eyes. She never sat or stood still, she was always kicking her feet and wiggling her arms and jutting herself out in a strange, nonrhythmic dance. She has absolutely terrible posture. And she had more stage presence than anyone I had ever seen, because there was the knowledge that at any time, she would go from mercurial to catastrophe. When she sang she went so deep that it was almost frightening - and heartbreaking - to watch. I knew that the last time she had toured, she'd had a nervous breakdown, retreated, and ended up holing up in an apartment for a couple of years with no furniture in her house.

There was a moment, midway through the show, when her face started contorting - at first, I thought she was going to have a seizure, and then there was this deathly, deathly angry look in her face. It turned out that the crew was screwing up the mike and let me tell you, Fiona was freaking out. She looked like she could hardly bear it. She looked like she was going to start tearing out her hair, she was storming around the stage - and the band hardly looked even surprised, which made me figure that this was probably a fairly regular occurrence.

And then an amazing thing happened - the audience, myself included, started to sing the song for her. There was this outpouring of love, of compassion - all I wanted was to hug her and tell her that she didn't have to finish the set. She didn't have to try so hard, she didn't have to dig this deep for us, she didn't have to torture herself beyond the point of losing self-control with the depth of these emotions for our sake.

I knew that she'd had no intention of releasing her album until she heard about the uproar her fans were making - they'd thought the record label was holding off on releasing it and they (we) were campaigning to get it released. It turned out that Fiona had recorded an earlier version, scrapped it, and had no intention of returning in the forseeable future. She realized how much people actually wanted her back. And she re-recorded it, released it, and went in tour.

She finished the song, and finished the set, but for awhile, it felt like we were holding her up, giving her our strength when she was searching to give us what she felt our devotion had warranted from her. And for the love of the music, which so clearly is her passion.

It was definitely the most communal, the most transcendent, the most extraordinary concert experience I had ever had.


  1. Have you seen Bob Dylan recently? I saw him last year (or the year before?) in Pittsburgh, in front of a relatively small crowd (300 or so people) and he was definitely at his prime. Plenty of energy. Very lucid. And his voice was great. He was also wearing a stetson, which amused me. I seem to remember him pulling some kind of weird Willy Wonka-esque stunt at the end of it too but I forget the details. And there were incense machines.

    He only had one opening act- Elvis Costello. I feel like the only person in the world who isn't crazy about that guy. His music fills me with a whole lot of blah.

    My first concert was in utero too-- Prince and the Revolution.

  2. Yeah, it was a few years ago. That's awesome...I think it really depends on the particular night he's performing. And LOL incense machines.

    What a fantastic in utero concert! :D I like to think of the musical experiences I had in my extreme youth shaping me later on...while I was a toddler, my mom listened to a lot of Depeche Mode and Red Hot Chili Peppers, which frankly may explain some things. :P