I’m Confessing To The Greatest Of Gen-X Taboos
Maybe you'd make the same confession?
If you lived in San Diego in 1991, you could have traveled to the Del Mar Fairgrounds and seen any one of several concerts, including but not limited to Englebert Humperdinck or Tony! Toni! Toné! Or, as part of a five-stop tour, you could have gone with me to see the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Pearl Jam and Nirvana.
If we had gone together, it’s likely you would have memories of Eddie Vedder hanging from the rafters, or an explanation of why and how Kurt Cobain could have sweated his way through an entire set in a mohair sweater. I, however, have only a single memory of this night and it is this: staring at my shoes, wet, because I was standing in a puddle thanks to a burst pipe, which no one bothered to stop from pouring water throughout the entire concert. Through some stroke of luck or fate, I have been to some of the most important concerts of our generation, and yet I can’t conjure a memory of the actual legendary quality of these shows.
A memory of the first Lollapalooza is not having tissues and spending the entire day and night wiping my nose on the hem of my shirt. As for the second Lollapalooza, it is sitting happily in the silence between bands, alone in the sun. I have no significant memories of these generation-defining shows because for the past three decades plus a few years, I’ve gone to live music because that’s where my friends were going. And while I was there, I stood perfectly still, arms tucked into my sides to avoid being touched, or worse, jostled by strangers. At each show, I was both hot and cold because it is impossible to dress for outside weather and the temperature of a small club.
When I think of going to a show, the only pleasure I can conjure is the joy of leaving and breathing fresh air, despite my ringing ears. This is not to say that live music hasn’t affected me deeply. After seeing No Doubt in 1994, I spent 100 percent of my hard-earned, minimum-wage money on pin-striped trousers, suspenders and white ribbed tank tops. I can still conjure the rare, pure joy I felt when my best friend and I climbed onto the stage with Lucious Jackson and danced with them at their invitation.
Perhaps live music affected me most deeply after my best friends and I drove three hours to see Wilco to celebrate our 40th birthdays. (We’ve known each other since we were 13, and our first concert together was The Cult.) I cried the entire three hours of the drive, and then sat on a blanket on the lumpy grass and ate a cold tamale out of a paper boat. I sat still through the entire show, which started during the day — for which I was dressed appropriately — and then continued into the evening and I was cold. That single show seemed to last centuries, but I’m sure it was just six to seven hours. I was changed after those long hours listening to music that seemed to go exactly nowhere.
Thanks to that show, that lumpy grass and that unsatisfying tamale, I promised myself that I would no longer say yes to activities that I didn’t want to do. I copped to my friends that I would not go to see live music anymore, and then I doubled down on my commitment — I also told them spa days were out, too. (Spa days, like concerts, require enduring being touched by strangers and the crushing boredom of being very still.) They’ve adjusted to my needs and stopped inviting me to concerts and spas, as well as to restaurants where we might need to wait in line for a table.
Instead we spend time together comfortably and happily. Sometimes we talk about the shows we’ve seen together in these 30-plus years. They had so many good times, and because I have so few memories of those shows, I can take their memories as my own. They tell me that we had fun. We had a blast. We had the time of our lives. I guess I'll just have to take their word for it.
Melissa Lion is the author of two novels, Swollen and Upstream. She is also a director of marketing at a tech company, where she makes PowerPoint slides for meetings.