They come in cosplay as evil and sometimes sultry clergy and nuns. And even if it’s not cosplay of that sort, it’s mostly of a more subtle sort like a black t-shirt declaring one of your favorite bands. It’s a uniform identifying at least part of what you are.
The Indy show is assigned seating, which has its advantages and disadvantages. There’s room enough to not get elbowed by those who want to emote. But then you’re stuck in position, which sucks if you’d like to get closer.
An usher shows me to my seat. A pleasant surprise, this one’s in the lower orchestra, not like the balcony the night before. I squeeze into my row, then into my seat, next to a chubby goth chick. I sit there for a few minutes, confident in where I need to be. So before the rest of the row fills up, I go to take a piss and get a beer. When I come back, the bigger goth girl has switched seats with a younger one. I calculate whether or not I stink and decide I shouldn’t. I spent the night before in Louisville in the shittiest hotel I’ve ever stayed. When I pulled up to my room, there was a dude standing at the door next to mine, smoking a joint. He had one of those summer pole chairs between our doors. There was a blue or purple can in the armrest that I thought might be Four Loko but upon closer inspection later, it was some kinda hard cider. I approached my door and tried to calculate the appropriate instance to make eye contact. So I did but the contact wasn’t returned. I mumbled an awkward “hey” that wasn’t returned either. I’d noticed grocery outside a few of the rooms. When I went in and opened the shades, a cop car was combing the lot. The place turned out to be a shithole, even though it got 3/5 stars where I booked it. I still can’t figure what constitutes 1 or 2 stars then. One outlet didn’t work. There was brown grime on top of the landline outlet and an unidentifiable brown streak on the wallpaper next to the bed. The linoleum squares in the bathroom were busted at the corners with chips, like missing puzzle pieces, exposing the wood beneath. A vent hung in it’s hole cockeyed and unattached. I’m not a prude. I’ve lived in places where a rat crawled on me and the roof leaked in close to a dozen places. I lived in a neighborhood where my car got burned. I just question, with 3/5 stars, this rating constitutes better than average and if this is average, what the fuck constitutes less? But the water was hot. I took a sweetly hot bath when I arrived, noticing the black mold and mildew beneath the fitted pieces of the shower enclosure. So the next morning I took a shower with the free gritty soap so I shouldn’t have smelled bad. And I took it as a decent sign that she’d give up her seat to put this younger girl next to me. Maybe I don’t come off as such a creep that she needed to run bodily interference.
Strangely, with just a few minutes before start of the sold out show, four seats in front of me are empty. But, in the two seats front left, is what I assume are father and son. Father, roughly my age (mid-forties), bucking the “metal” trend – both father and progeny clean cut, the epitome of upper-middle class awash in the theater’s working class beards and bad haircuts and sleeveless denim jackets and styles of dress inappropriate of people their age (including me). But Dad looks completely respectable, like he might have just come from church (the informal type) or the driving range or the gym. He could be a wrestling coach. Or better yet, a kiddie league soccer coach. Each are in track jackets, not the typical evil-themed shirts or denim vests or hoodies or leather. Judas Priest pumps through the PA to prime the crowd. Dad plays a little air guitar against his leg (is that technically leg guitar then?) while the boy plays kiddy games on his phone. Dad looks at the phone while strumming cords against his jeans but doesn’t seem upset by the child’s non-presence. Is father wishing the boy would be more “in the moment” along with him? Or is this all about that boy, maybe 8 years old? Is he the fan of Ghost (if so, kudos to that boy’s cool quotient) and Dad’s just along for the ride – playing along – trying to make it a decent experience for his son? And the boy, in need of constant stimulation, just playing games until the real entertainment begins? Either way, this experience has potential – either for Dad to show his son what’s awesome about metal or for son to experience something awesome that he’ll appreciate Dad for providing years down the road. Maybe the boy will catch on to the music and experience and from then on there’ll be that bond, like how some fathers and sons bond over a sports team or hunting. I see these things and imagine what’s going on and my hope for them builds. But, like that boy, I’m barely in the moment either. I’m observing it but not totally living it. But neither is much of anybody else, on phones scrolling through Facebook or whatever the fuck else.
Another couple squeezes through the row in front and claim their seats to the right. This boy is tall and thin and effeminate with dark hair dyed purple at the ends and features like cheeks and forehead that are puffy and round, contrary to his boney frame. I can only see the purple at the ends of his shoulder length locks, combed back over one ear and, as if to protest, the rest combed from the temple over to the opposing side, wanting nothing to do with that slicked-back other side. I don’t know anymore what’s irony and what’s not – like this adolescent version of an old man’s combover that we thought we obliterated when we balding gents decided to just shave that shit off rather than hold on to the scraps. Or the lone wolf mustache seems to be making a comeback or young girls coloring their hair old-lady grey/platinum/purple. Or how it’s sorta trendy for these swishy urban males to be wearing Carhartt clothes. These beta-males whose haircuts cost double the hourly wage of the guy who wears Carhartt for function, not fashion. Yeah, I don’t know the difference between real and irony anymore. I’m almost 50.
This effeminate kid reminds me of a brony, though, truth be told, I’ve never met or known a bony, so I guess that’s sorta bigoted or something. Anyway, I’d guess him to be 17 (another bigoted observation?). He’s got the concert shirt which, at forty bucks, means he must really like the band. The man he’s with must be in his forties, with hair buzzed down to stubble all the way around, leaving a bit on top for combing it forward. From my vantage point, which isn’t great, I’m guessing that forward hair swoop is more about style than concealment. The swoop is platinum blonde with dark roots, suggesting it’s dyed too. With that frosty wave, sitting atop the buzzed scalp like a toilet lid, it’s kinda like a trendy military cut. The man is thick, like most of us in middle age, but more athletically thick than slovenly thick. There’s a heavy chain around his neck. Silver or platinum or, who knows, stainless steel giving the appearance of the former. Who the fuck knows, it’s just what I remember! But no concert shirt so I start to put together this picture of another father and son. The boy’s got the shirt and Dad’s just come along for the ride – to share in the experience with his brony-ish son. Cool, I think as the boy pulls out his phone to take a selfie with Dad. I never had a lot of that shit growing up – that kinda bonding over what I was passionate for – so good for them. Warms the heart. The boy pulls out his phone to capture the memory to flash card or internal memory or The Cloud . Nice, something to remember the occasion by, forever. I smile for them as they smile and squeeze into the frame. Flash. One shot – perfect. The boy puts the phone away and they kiss to celebrate the occasion or the photo or both. They kiss on the lips. I go from thinking cool to thinking creepy. What a fucking letdown the real world outside my imaginations can be. Creepy not cause they’re most likely gay. Creepy cause this is a kid and the other one’s a man. Again, let’s just blame it on being 50.
To my left are girls, maybe sisters. One I’d guess 12 or 13, the other 17 or 18. The older is very fat. Both are gothed out from what I can tell. Don’t wanna stare but from the corner of my eye there’s a lot of black and heavy makeup on pale skin. And a lot of dark clothes. Makeup and hair designed to contrast, extremely. Maybe that’s part of the point, aesthetic contrast as indicator of contrast to prevailing trends (i.e. bourgeois culture). But it’s usually just conformity to an established subset of non-conformity.
Experiences aren’t necessarily meant to bring us together but sometimes do anyway. Other times, we hope they will, but they don’t (like Christmas at Aunt Mary Beth’s is just a bunch of play-nice bullshit which, except for the kids getting presents, the parents woulda rather been home watching Netflix or college or NFL football rather than out buying that shit).
But these girls – these witchy looking sisters – what will they be left with after tonight? What impressions? In 10 or 20 or 30 years I want them to be happy and healthy and be able to look back on that very moment – right there – as something awesome that they shared and never forgot.
In ten years, will it be mixed emotions as the brony’s are likely to be? He’s obviously into the event, but will he look back with regret for being exploited by a man twice his age? Or will he be grateful for a $40 concert shirt and an orchestra seat in exchange for……..? I don’t wanna imagine what for but I can imagine the difference in the way he could reflect on it now versus then.
With the real son, the little one playing video games, will he see what Dad was trying to do? Grasping for a way for them to connect beyond video games. Had Dad imaged them still rocking out to Ghost in 15 years if the band’s still together in 2033? Will the son understand that it might have been a rare event for his father, one of real pleasure and entertainment and connection to something in a life that is mostly utter bullshit otherwise? A life of utter disconnection from a wife of many years and all the family and work bullshit? Will the son ever regret taking part of that moment away from his father by fucking around on his phone instead of spending time with Dad out in the real world? Hopefully his father won’t be resentful. Hopefully he’ll understand that’s just the way it goes. People are people, whatever the relation. They grow into their own and it seems like one of the greatest gifts from a parent is to allow that. To allow them to become what they are rather than what some miserable forty-something wants them to be or do, which is usually to follow the same playbook that led to their own misery. Going down this line of thinking/analysis piques the interest of my inner cynic. Dad’s lesson is, accept a life of understated misery. Accept it stoicily with the concessional blow-off at a metal concert. Accept the bullshit, tempered by the concessional romp in nostalgia. The nostalgia or pretending or playing at what you were a long time ago.
The band plays. The girls on my left utterly loved it, the twelve year old squealing and filming and crying “I love you” to the singer. What if she were with the wrestling coach’s child? What if they switched seat, her literally just one seat behind the real son. What a different experience for the coach. But all gothed out at twelve, who knows….trouble might be ahead. Sometimes we trying escaping into different identities when the real one we got sucks. And that could be the part Dad wouldn’t like – rebellion. Worse than having a son that plays video games rather than appreciating heavy metal. But he has to know that his boy’s young and impressionable and could easily be turned into a studded metalhead by all this. So, unless he’s an asshole, Dad shouldn’t be too bothered by that consequence. Sorta like if you encourage your teenage son to drink a lot of beer with you, then get upset when he becomes an alcoholic.
To my right, she’s maybe 25 – squeezed into the empty seat minutes before the show began. She’s attractive and cool with a full sleeve of tats on the left arm, at least. Like video game boy, she’s engrossed in her phone before the show and between songs and during intermission. I don’t know if it’s right or wrong. I’m nobody to judge. What works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. As the show goes on, I realize she’s there alone, unless she’s messaging somebody who got into the sold out show and they’re sitting elsewhere. But I don’t think so. Of course, I can’t help but imagine what might have come between me and a girl like that if she was twenty years older or if I was twenty years younger. Her – alone, you see – much like I’ve been alone. And liking some outside the mainstream things enough to want to experience it by herself. Saying “fuck it” to the convention of needing accompaniment. But she pisses and moans during intermission about the couple beside her who wouldn’t shut up and kept making out and I suppose that’s a legitimate enough complaint. I don’t want to stare but I’m curious what she really looks like, not the vague impressions from quick, directed or longer but vague sideways glances. After all, I might want to write about all this, including her, and I need details. That’s how I excuse the creepiness of it. So I give a glance, trying to be subtle so as not to weird her out. She’s attractive and slim, but with some weight that suggests an approach toward the thirties. And maybe it’s just the unnatural light coming from the stage that enhances the angles of the face, accentuating the curves of bone structure rather than the supple slopes of youth – youthful cherub like chin and cheekbones that turn all pointy and sharp. She’s still young but sometimes you catch instances in the right light of what it’s gonna be like – not all that far off. If I was twenty years younger I’d have wanted to fuck her and wanted her to understand and respect and want to care for me. And I’d want to do all the same for her, feeling that in that reciprocal arrangement things would be really nice. And I might have tolerated the complaints and judgments in exchange for all that. But thankfully, now, most of that desire for fucking and emotional intimacy is gone. It’s an illusion I’m glad to let go of. It hasn’t been easy. Sometimes I see a woman at a concert or coffee shop or on a train and still think what could it be like with her? I can still feel something in the heart. Like the bass and the lyrics from the stage that beckon Mr Hyde to sing and dance and throw devil horns along with the rest. But I override it. I keep the spark just that. I contain and suppress it. The music can arouse it and sometimes it gets roused by the prospect of what a woman I don’t even know might be. I’m not that dead yet. But then I realize it’d be the same old shit for her and the same old shit for me too. Nothing to get too down about. So I sit at the coffee shop and just type like I stand there at the concert cross-armed and non-emotive, pretending that what exists inside doesn’t, though sometimes I tap a foot or barely mouth the words just to let Mr. Hyde know that I know he’s in there.
At intermission she’s complaining to a couple behind about the other couple’s making out. But hell, we’re there to have a good time, not complain. And I notice that throughout the show, she seems to be emotional connected or invested in the performance, while I’m not. I feel something, but it doesn’t inhabit or possess me. It doesn’t take control. I think that’s what entertainers like these want to do, control the audience. They seek an emotional connection. I wonder if that’s not what a successful politician does too. Or a tyrant or dictator, like Hitler. Or a successful preacher. Cult of Personality type-shit, you know. I don’t wanna give in. I want to maintain my autonomy, even in this. Losing it seems scary. So I think about that instead of giving into it.
Three quarters through the show and the 8 year-old seems fidgety. He half-heartedly tries rocking out like his father but it seems forced. At least he’s trying through. It’s the parents that usually need some medication to get through something like this for the sake of their kids. But the boy doesn’t seem to have much steam. They leave. Bathroom or drink break? Probably not. They never come back. Their seats, like the two already beside them, remain empty for the rest of the show and I feel disappointed at the prospect of their missed opportunity.
But it’s a pretty unique experience for most of us in that theater. And it’s not just the performance, it’s everything. The people. What’s going around you. It’s the real life of us that surrounds the band’s performance. It’s sisters sharing a lifelong remembered and felt experience. It’s father’s hoping for connection and missing it. It’s a brony getting what he wants through an older lover who may be getting exactly what he wants out of it too. And even though the needs and desires are different, they aren’t exclusive. And it’s the girl, alone, finding connection with the band and hopefully finding it elsewhere, with someone, if that’s what she wants.