Back in the day, I had a strong belief that if you worked hard, paid your dues, and attended rock concerts in large venues, you’d experience the very best that life has to offer. I grew up in a small and declining city, where we braced for the icy grip of winter by drinking a lot of beer and urinating wherever the hell we wanted. That was the way it was back then: hard work, dues paid, large rock venues, and urinating regularly.
A bit of fiction, perhaps, although I did witness certain unnamed jerks peeing all over creation back then, into the pool, into the fire pit, and so forth. And the large venue rock concerts were a real thing, with people blowing huge plumes of pot smoke into the air, poisoning themselves and everyone around them.
It was awesome! I saw bands like The Who, Pink Floyd, and The Rolling Stones while packed in with drunk young people who threw up all over themselves. And then, I saw that some formerly hugely famous bands suddenly couldn’t fill those large rock venues and would instead play in bars. Bars! The very thought!
Now I can’t seem to bring myself to see the large rock show, unless it’s Radiohead. Instead, I prize the small venue.
Enter Billy Bragg, your favorite folk-punk love troubadour of yesteryear. Turns out Billy and his East London-esque accent were in town to play the tiny Sinclair in Cambridge, MA, easily the best small venue in the area, with great sight lines, reasonable crowd sizes, and actual urinals for us to use. Tickets went on sale in late 2018 for a late 2019 show, so the nation’s most acerbic high school principal had to clue me into tickets and encourage me to buy two pair, which I did while drinking beer and then going off to urinate.
I’ll admit I was a little worried about this show, as I was bringing my lovely bride of 16 years, who attends stand-up rock shows about as often as Jesus did, but seemed game enough if we could stand in the back. We did better, standing some 20 yards away on a secure balcony, with a clear view to Billy and his lefty anti-Trump, anti-Boris Johnson message.
I won’t go through all the songs, as you can always find those by going to setlist.fm, but I will tell you that for about half the show he was talking activitism, and in this bitterly divided world we currently live in, his message was enormously well-received in one of the most left-leaning cities in the US.
A few decades from now, when I’m officially retired, I’m going to use my newly-freed-up time to produce and star in a TV show called “Ninety Something.” My ninety-something friends and I will get involved in all kinds of crazy schemes and hi-jinx – old person style. We’ll rob banks in wheelchairs and the security guards will laugh at us as we use a little joystick to roll away. Yeah, right, like they can’t catch us.
But they can’t. Because once these lazy-ass security guards finally stop weeping from all the laughter, we ninety somethings are long gone, picked up in wheelchair vans and spirited away, rolling down our windows to flip the bird to those dumb-ass boneheads now running after us with a beltful of zipties. (“Stop! Stop, I say!”)
Then we’ll hang in our high-end assisted-living pads, which we can afford because we’re robbing banks. To celebrate our late-in-life financial success, we’ll order cannabis to be delivered, and then us nonagenarians we’ll get all baked like we did back in the 1970s and ‘80s, using the same carcinogenic methods we used back then. The assisted-living staff will freak out, but we’ll be like, “Yo. Chill. What’s the worst that can happen? Like, what, we might die?”
And then everyone has a good laugh!
Note that the security guards (above) are Brits. (Know idea why).
Like any sane northeasterner, I look forward to the coming of fall each year, because I like everything about fall: the fresh pancakes and maple syrup with fruit shipped up from Chile; the air conditioners I get to pull out of windows and return to their homes two floors down via tight stairways, testing my back (fun!); the rains that cause riverbanks to flood and replenish the moisture and nutrients in our basements.
Bring it on, all of it! I love the way my bicycle brakes work intermittently in the rain, because that adds excitement to my otherwise boring commute. I love the increasing darkness! Pumpkin bread and pumpkin beer!
Okay, I don’t like pumpkin beer, actually. That’s where I draw the line with fall. Rain, fine, but pumpkin beer? No, I’m sorry.
Back when I was almost still Catholic, I met a man who, I was told, would be the music leader for the kids in the parish CCD program I somehow found myself teaching in. This man came with his wife from Mexico – they were a lovely couple – and he was studying at Berklee College of Music.
It sounded perfect.
My then-wife was Costa Rican and she and I struck up a friendship with the couple, inviting them over for dinner one night. I had just finished working on a radio play and was using a new sound tool that was software-based, and I really couldn’t sort out how to use it. I showed it to my Mexican friend and asked him to explain what the tool was doing to the sound. All I knew how to do was use the mouse and keyboard to bend the sounds and make funny noises and so forth, but not what each effect tool was actually doing.
My new musical friend, who was going to Berklee because he was a highly skilled musician, played around with the software too, but his silence and bemusement indicated he didn’t know much more about the tools than I did.
One Sunday, the couple stayed after mass and came into the parish hall, where this new musical genius from Mexico would play songs for the kids – Catholic singalongs – while his lovely wife sat beside him or next to my wife and me (can't recall those exact details). He had a guitar on a strap and a pony tail, as you might imagine a Mexican Catholic troubadour would have, so we were all waiting in anticipation for him to sing Jesus-themed songs of freedom to us. He strummed a little, started, stopped, strummed again. We all waited for him to stop strumming aimlessly and start playing songs we could all sing to.
It never happened.
If he actually was a musician, he was under some kind of temporary spell that rendered him incapable of playing music, but I began to think that he was not a real musician after all, just a guy who had gotten into Berklee.
You might imagine that I often think back to those days and reminisce, as I just did here in a publicly available and highly-read blog, but the truth is that if I hadn’t just now remembered this series of events , I perhps would never have recalled that memory , and it would have been lost to history.