Young people are always asking me if I ever saw the Beatles, or the Doors, or the Glenn Miller orchestra. And whether calculators had been invented by the time I was in grade school. What about toilet paper?
Soon I’m rubbing my temples, irritated as hell. I inform them that I was born in “the sixties,” which means Glenn Miller had been dead some 20 years and Jim Morrison was already three-quarters of the way through his short life, which would be over before I was 8. Not to mention that toilet paper had been clogging up toilets for centuries prior to that.
And believe me, no one saw The Beatles.
A more apt question is “Did you ever see Rush?” In fact, I didn’t. And no, I don’t have a good excuse. Among my earliest LP record purchases, probably via the ubiquitously advertised “Columbia House 11 LPs for a Penny” deal, was the Rush album 2112, which I quickly wore out, playing songs from it like Passage to Bangkok over and over while I pretended to keep up with the drumming of Neal Peart.
Suddenly it was 2020 and Neal Peart was no longer with us, as they say, and my chance to see these rockers and all their odd Canadianisms had vanished like moose into the woods of Ontario.
So heap your derision on me, for this was indeed among the great failures of my rock life.
Of the thousands of things that this godforsaken coronavirus headache has made me appreciate about those days, not so long ago, when I could walk down the street, breathe the air in deeply, and exhale it upon just about whomever I pleased, none seem quite so unlikely to return any time soon as the live rock show.
Cut to this current moment in time: it is late May of 2020 and my best rock show opportunities are happening via YouTube. And that’s not going change any time soon. You can’t even go to church right now, let alone a rock concert. As God has lobbyists aplenty, I’m pretty sure churches will get the green light to change water to wine in front of a live audience well before a bunch of aged punks like X will be allowed to play the song White Girl while people scream and applaud wildly.
The fake news media is bound to claim that wild applause is not only a symptom of Covid-19, but is also a means of spreading the virus, alleging that when people smack their palms together, as they do when they see a good rock show, the dried-on virus particulates that are hidden in the creases of their palms are dispersed like sound waves into the atmosphere, where the virus particulates then deploy wings and make a bee line for random strangers’ nostrils and open mouths.
Don’t believe the hype. The germs known to be dispersed by enthusiastic applause are thought to prefer clogging up pores rather than sinus cavities, which is considered not a very effective means of infecting the host. Ergo, fear not wild applause.
Once my message gets out I suspect a goodly number of people will applaud my efforts to get rock going again. But please don’t applaud too loudly. I don’t want my pores getting any more clogged up than the already are.
I have always considered myself essential in the sense that I’m game to stay open when people like you are shutting it down. In a sense, I’m essential because I believe I’m essential. And once a person believes he’s essential, that person has no choice but to stay open.
Meanwhile, you’re closed. The American public comes to you with their problems but finds an outstretched palm in their collective face. Not only is that not helpful when maybe the American public needs drapes during a major pandemic, but it’s also not particularly sanitary! Put your (maybe; who knows?) coronavirus-infused hand six feet back, pal.
My main concern: several businesses and rock people I frequent and/or watch onstage are guaranteed not to survive the Democrat(ic) Pandemic Plot. For example, what becomes of The Harvard Bookstore? How about The Modern Homebrew Emporium? Matt Murphy’s Pub? Busted Knuckle? Adi’s Bike World? Jack at Phil’s Barber Shop? George and his people at La Flamme? Eco Builders? Brookline Booksmith? China Fair? Rockler? Abodeon? Leavitt and Pearce? Grant Lee? Mike Doughty? Peter Parcek? Audio Lab? As you can imagine, I could easily go on.
I predict a wholesale slaughter. (But don’t quote me).
At least we know we’ll get a new president sometime in the next five years.
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.
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