Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Show a little faith, there's magic in the night

I burbled ineffectually the last couple of posts about my rock n roll heroes, and I'm dissatisfied. In the last 6 days I saw bands I've loved my whole music-loving life, bands I never thought I'd see, bands I never thought'd even play again. And either side of that week, I'm listening to their music (mainly Springsteen and Simon). Those songs - particularly Springsteen - are words fleshed onto bone, the simplest elements brought alchemically to life like the tin man with a heart; four chord rock turned into hymns, words you've heard a thousand times before that still jerk your neck and make it prickle. There's electricity in those songs. And I'm no songwriter, I'll never be able to do what he does; but I know what I can do, and that's to write something complete and honest about last week.

What I'm trying to understand and express is the effect he and his band had that day - and before it. At 6am on Saturday morning, I sat across a McDonalds table faced with a cardboard breakfast. Two women from Birmingham sat opposite me. One of them was raw with irritation; she spent the night under a tree, she was cold, the tinny chart r'n'b leaking through McDonalds' speakers was scratching at her nerves, and she had hours to go before she was where she wanted to be; front row, looking up at her hero. Why would you put yourself through that? Why did I race round the park in the rain the night before, trying to find a lurking group of strangers who'd write a number on my hand, and then turn up for a register at dawn the next day? Why'd I sit and stand in the rain for hours before the show? I hate the rain. Why'd I do that?

I remember being 19, and there was a band I loved. Every foolhardy music fan has that band they'll abandon judgment and sense for, and this young band, with their egos and their hair and their churning, growling, squealing heartbreak songs, were mine. I saw them up and down the country from back room to festival field and back again. I bought everything on every format, I painted and drew them relentlessly, seeking the perfect representation (oh, glory - seeing one of my paintings used on their record artwork later on!), I talked to them every chance I got, I interviewed them just because I could, sitting in a bar listening to my hero talk and then writing pages of rapture about his band. One time I ended up in a hotel room with him after a festival and a bottle of vodka. Then, I was too nervous and naïve to let things go where he wanted, so we just slept, and now I'm glad of how uneventful it was. But the thrill of being in that room with him, just me and my hero, asleep next to me, the feeling that anything could happen; that teenage feeling was the core of it.

Then I grew up, got jobs, worked 'properly' in music, understood about licensing and tech specs and financial breakdowns and riders and how to wreck an XLR cable by coiling it badly, and the grey exasperation of haggling with the door girl over guestlist entry for a band you've only come to see because you've been told to review it. That teenage intoxication that made other cities seem so much closer when your heroes were touring, that made possibilities trump logistics every time... that seemed a long time ago.

And my whole life, Bruce Springsteen was a remote figure, a titan in my dad's record collection and a staple in mine, someone I'd always defend to anyone who dared slate him. Hungry Heart made every bad day better, those opening chords bumping hips together and my hands flying up and scraping the ceiling at his opening 'YEA-HAAHH!'. But this month I rediscovered him completely, went back and listened to all the songs I knew and more that I didn't, and absorbed them like it was the first time. Devoured live videos, bootleg clips; it was the only thing I wanted to listen to. I didn't want to hear new bands; like a kid behind a library shelf after midnight I wanted to hunker down in the dark, warm, dusty comfort of that back catalogue, aided by the others I love that surround it (Allman Brothers, Roy Orbison, Aerosmith, Eddie Cochran, the Supremes; the songs I loved that never sold me out by going stale).

Something about that music; it had, and has, the compelling power that you imagine religion has over other people. I think about centuries past, when God was solid and terrifying and you grew up believing or else, or about the evangelical African churches in railway arches behind my house, where normal people go to shriek and clutch each other, unified by conviction and release. And something in Springsteen's lyrics, the same motifs repeated, mutated, repeated again, something in his authoritative, roaming, jovial stage presence, whether an archaic 1970s performance or recent show; it was like watching a veteran priest order his flock, there was a determination and a purity about it. (Recall Bruce yelling up the hype for Clarence - "Do ah have to say his name??? Do ah have to speak - his - name???") I'm not religious, I left behind a Catholic upbringing years ago, but I remember church every Sunday, and I never felt this fervour there. That fervour, that's what I was running towards when I was 19, and now.

I'm 29 years old. I work a shitty day job. I make £20 grand a year shuffling paper. I have to be somewhere at 9am every day, and I can't afford to throw caution to the wind any more. Yet something sparked into life and set a motor running; 7 days before the show, it became the most vital thing in the world to get Springsteen tickets. It became a matter of survival. I chased down every lead I saw, called every number, and walked home in the rain last Tuesday with a precious orange ticket in my pocket, checking every few minutes to make sure it was still there. And that weekend, I HAD to be in the front row. I sat for 3 hours in the rain, and stood for ten hours after that - my feet stopped hurting after five. Those two women from Birmingham were opposite me on the front row of the catwalk, and behind them, thousands of people knew every word. All I wanted was to touch the arm of my hero, and the next day I went back and spent another £60 I don't have, really really don't have, on a Paul Simon ticket because I couldn't bear for the weekend to end, for that dizzy feeling to slip away. And of course how delicious - seeing my two childhood heroes in the same weekend. And then I got itchy thoughts about Springsteen's next shows; was Dublin really so far away? How much were flights to Oslo?

Reality caught me by the scruff of the neck and yanked me back, and so Bruce is playing in Dublin tonight and I'm sitting at my desk in London, writing this instead. But that teenage feeling... it's still tweaking my ear, sitting on my shoulder and reminding me that maybe he'll be back next year, and I'll be in the same room, or park, or field, as my hero again.


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taylora98 said...

Lovely post and a great show!

Charponnaise said...

Thanks! I feel sad that I've come to his live experience so late in his life but it matched up to my hopes on so many levels. Desperately hope I get to see him again.