Monday, August 07, 2006

Goin' out west

Welcome Skippy, Raw Story, and LiberalsOnly readers.
I know you’re visiting to check out the 9/11 mix-thingy but I’d love it if you also hit the archives to get a sense of what really goes on here. Most of all, I hope a few of you decide to stick around and play.

During the weekend Poputonian (over at Digby’s blog) asked an interesting question,
If you could get your hands on any ticket, who would you see? What music defines you?


My answer is over there but I thought I’d elaborate here by reaching deep into the memory sack (carefully – never know what’s lurking within) and whip out a soiled page from my own version of On the Road. It’s scene from the early 80s

In that sordid chapter, I landed in Missoula, Montana and though didn’t raise a crop of dental floss, I ended up helping my uncle move the yield of a much more lucrative (and fun) product. Though my mohawk, studded leather jacket, and multiple piercings identified me as “that punk guy” for several hundred miles around (thus, with necessary discretion lacking, prevented me from making stacks of cash), I was able to make enough to pay rent, shoot pool, and stay drunk most of the time.

The thing about being a penny-ante dealer is that it’s feast or famine and it was an unfortunate twist of fate that I’d hit a long dry spell when word got to me that The Clash would be opening up for The Who in Seattle. Damn, I thought, I’d spent all my cash on rent like some super responsible yuppie shit; stiffing my roommate for rent would have made sense if it meant seeing The Greatest Rock n’ Roll Band in the World opening for the band that had once held that title. If I’d acted more like a punk and less like a pimp I’d have been able to pop for tickets but the cards had been dealt and it looked like I’d be sitting out the hand. By the time I was back in business (half a Hefty Bag full of shrooms), the show was sold out.

Seattle’s a straight shot west on I-90 from Missoula, a six-hour drive (less if you’re really hauling ass) and I figured fuck it, I’d find a way and see if I could score some scalped tickets. Just after dawn on the morning of the show I got my roommate to drive me out to the interstate, my backpack stuffed with extra clothes (mostly to hide an ounce of magic caps) and enough cash in my pocket to pay double-price for a ticket, a tour shirt, and a few beers. I stuck my thumb out as I held out the cardboard sign I’d drawn up the night before in bold block letters, “Seattle – THE CLASH!”

It was holy crap cold out on the road, Canadian wind wet with sleet brutally slashing my face and freezing my fingers. Although I’d dropped my punk gear for clothes more suited for the weather (an army surplus cold weather field jacket I’d picked up for $5) my nads were still tiny, tinkling ice-cubes. Four years in Hawaii hardly prepared me for my first autumn in the Pacific Northwest.

It took about a half hour to finally score a ride (some old guy who took me as far as Couer D’Alene and kind of creeped me out) but as the day turned nicer, my spirits rose. My next ride got me to Spokane and there I hooked up with some hippies who took me all the way to the Kingdome, sharing their dope while we argued about the merits of punk and the Grateful Dead.

I was there almost three hours before showtime, plenty of time to score a ticket. Fishing my second piece of cardboard out of my backpack (“NEED A TICKET!!!”), I stationed myself strategically in the parking lot and waited for that magic spare, waving madly as cars full of fans blazed by, found a space and took their happy asses inside. Car after car passed by with no luck, no extra tickets, no scalpers looking to take my ill-gotten gains.

As showtime neared (T-Bone Burnette opened, I think), I edged closer to the arena doors. Too close to cops for scalpers but the lots were too full of empty cars to hope I’d snag a Lucy and so the steps into the stadium seemed like the obvious place to stand. The older fans (there for The Who) walked past and looked at me like I was pathetic while The Clash fans (younger, many wearing jackets like my own) showed a power-fist or flashed a peace sign, “Hang in there, brother!”

Faint strains of the opening band’s performance rolled across the front steps as I paced furiously, dejected, clenching hard on the cardboard, curling the sign’s edges with my fingers. Drum and bass vibrations prodded me, adding to my annoyance, a soft mist falling from the Seattle night sky and giving my jacket a slight metallic gleam. Steamed and shivering, I lit a cigarette and walked to the bottom of the steps considering what my next move should be before my long trek back to Missoula darkened with dashed hopes.

Not ready to give up, not yet, not after hitching 600 miles, I decided to circumvent the arena thinking maybe I’d find some passed out partier with a ticket conspicuously dangling from his pocket. Scuffing my boots across the wet pavement, hands stuffed hard into my pockets (I’d ditched my sign back at the steps), I made my way past the sides of the arena, service entrances and tour buses, meandering clear and wide of the security contingent (considering I had an ounce of shrooms in my backpack) checking every shadow for any hint that I might get inside.

Shrouded in the mist ahead, black and huddled against the arena walls, appeared to be a crowd of people sheltered against the light rain beneath an egress walkway. As I drew closer I could hear the band inside as clear as if the music had been piped outside. It was a sizable crowd, more than 50 but less than 100, gathered at an air vent that apparently sat just off stage left (and several swore, the best sound to be had inside and out of the notoriously acoustically-deficient Kingdome). A sweet cloud of superior BC bud smoke billowed out into the cold Pacific air, a buffer against the chill and a bond that helped us forget that there was only one place we’d rather be.

Most of the people I met were like myself, dedicated to seeing The Clash but shitty at scoring a ticket, settling for second best but as things settled, not too worried about losing out. A few were just there for the party, no pretense of seeing the show at all but familiar with this little nook and what it could happen as the dedicated gathered. Not surprisingly, the few had brought the beer and were doing well at a buck a bottle.

After a couple bowls, I set my pack down, snatched out my shrooms, crammed a handful into my mouth and then stuffed the rest of the bag into a deep pocket T-Bone (I think) had finished and crowd sounds inside mixed with the sounds of the crowd keeping warm in the concrete cave outside. As I made my way to one of the beer guys, I reached into the bag and cupped a handful delicately, as if I carried a baby bird. The coolers were full of schwag, Miller and Olympia, but there was no shortage of buyers. Yeah, I had cash but I wanted to save it for the trip home, every dollar. Holding out my hand, I offered the beer man a trade. He asked how many beers I wanted for trade.

If they’re any good, I told him, I won’t want many, will I?

I made my way back into the crowd and tilted the beer up, down, into me, the cold draft on my throat mediating the psilocybin sizzling beneath my skin. Eyes blazing, I scoped out my next mark, a chick with blue hair and a nose ring who had earlier packed me a bowl of fat, sticky bud. And another taker. By the time the unmistakable lights-out roar filtered outside, I was down to about an eighth.

Suddenly the opening chords of “London Calling” blasted above and then through, percussively, the shock propelling everyone skyward and back like droplets in a pool pierced by the biggest damn rock ever. At that moment nothing else mattered in the world but being there, that music then, the shared feeling that at that moment, nothing else mattered. Bobbing heads shot into the air sending shockwaves into the atmosphere, neon colored waves that ebbed into themselves and their instantiations of “green” or “yellow” or “orange” or… who knew?

The universe was shifting, becoming something altogether different than what anyone else anywhere else perceived it to be. Some of us stopped jumping during “Should I Stay or Should I Go” to stand still, look around and see each other thinking the same thing then laugh hysterically, laugh until we cried. Laughing in the knowledge that this was love and because of that the ground would not give way into some void, that we would not fall laughing like idiots into the emptiness of space.

The set was too short (an estimate made in retrospect by counting back the songs – it could have been five hours long for all I knew) and we settled back into being just us, talking, tripping, looking into the mist and smiling till it hurt. Bodies rubbed together, a bubbling mass of fun bathed in light and wonder. And though The Who’s (wisely picked) opening - “My Generation” - got everyone going again, we soon settled back into our diffuse and synchronistic groove that had evolved during the break. It’s not that The Who sucked (from what I recall, it was an excellent show) but by that time most of us were enraptured by what was going on around us. I don’t think we were so much apathetic as but just way too stoned to really appreciate everything The Who had to offer. I don’t even remember the encore or the end of the show or even the masses of people making their way to their cars. Eventually the cops came and told us it was time to move on and that was that.

Somehow I managed to finagle a ride all the way back to Missoula, cuddled up with some girl in the back seat, blissfully asleep the entire ride. She kissed me goodbye when I got dropped back at my place and I never saw her again. I went inside and made myself breakfast. I remember thinking, stirring eggs in a pan, I’d just returned from the best time I’d ever had at the best show I never saw.

And what music defines you? What's the best show you never saw?

9 comments:

Kelly said...

That was a GREAT story (wish I could have been there). Personally, I'm hoping that the greatest show I'll be at will happen this Sunday, in of all places, Akron, where Tom Waits will be playing- we'll see. Up until then, the best show I think I ever saw, not based on the band itself, who I didn't have the much interest in, but instead on the combination of the music and the energy of the crowd, was Phish at Evergreen State College in the 90's sometime. Alala is the better storyteller- ask her about it if you get a chance.

Carrie said...

Fantastic! Bravo!

There is no way I would ever miss a show that I truly wanted to see. I love small venues. One of the best shows I saw was Moby and it was so intimate.

If I had to say a show I did miss and regret it would be Black Sabbath reunion.

~d (tilde) said...

Excellent story-I don't have the TIME to elaborate right now. But, I wanted to let you know I got my MixMania Hot CD today-ummm, from the ice palace.
It rocks-and I holla-d at her and said THANK YOU!

LouLou! said...

I remember there was a concert at the old 9:30 in 1986 that I really wanted to see and it was my first official date with my evil ex-husband, now known as "Satan". So, I got off work, got all dressed in various forms of black, pulled on my boots and off I went - of course I didn't have time to eat.

So, I had two beers and my blood sugar crashed and I remember trying to get to the rest room before I passed out......Eyes wide open, crashed on the floor, I heard the manager yelling, "What is she on? What the HELL is she on?" and then....I was hurled out into the alley, where I launched into much kicking, profanity and hiding the fact that I was MORTIFIED.

Who was I there to see?

I just can't remember.

That, kids, is why you should save a few brain cells for later.

astroworf said...

It's too difficult to pick one concert that defines me. It's a combination of Steppenwolf, Donna Summer and Emerson, Lake and Palmer. Steppenwolf (my first) for the renegade in me, Donna for the gaiety, and ELP for my progressive side.
The best concert I never saw was Chicago in the early '70s. They were at the state fair and sold out. I did get to hear the whole thing since it was open-air.
My only bad concert experience was at the Capitol Center in '74 or '75. I made the mistake of being the first in line for a Blue Oyster Cult-Bachmann Turner Overdrive concert and was crushed breathless against the door by the crowd behind me.

PunchBuggyBlues said...

If you'd asked me a year ago, I'd have said the two shows that I'd give anything to see, but probably never would, would be The Pogues (with Shane MacGowan) and Tom Waits. But I saw the first this past March and we'll be seeing Tom Waits this Sunday. As for people I'll never get the chance to see - Johnny Cash and Warren Zevon.

alala said...

Kelly is trying to ruin my bid for Senate with the Phish story. That was an experience all right, though I remember absolutely nothing about the music.

My best-ever concert was Robert Cray and Jimmy Cliff in Eugene (I think it was Eugene), OR. Ummm, 1989? Maybe? Before I got into the devil weed and all that, so I actually remember things about it. Later concerts could have been even better, for all I know, but my memories of all of them are patchy at best.

~d (tilde) said...

ARRGGHH!!!! Kelly is seeing Tom Waits!
(bowing in your mere prescence!)
I think Tom would be the show I would HAVE to see.
Umm, Pigface put on one HELL of a show as did the Impotent Sea Snakes-crap and so did the Genitorturers. Umm. Do I have to choose? Or can I leave those 3 hanging for now?
**I know karate, voodoo, too! I'm going to make myself available (to) you!**

Natsthename said...

OH MAN, great SHOW! *envy*

The best show I never saw was THe Who!! I'd still love to see them, but without Moon, it's just not the same.