I grew up listening to classical. There was no “pop” music aside from three or four Beatles albums stuck at the end of a row of records, and an assortment of Peter, Paul, Mary, Arlo, Woody and Pete. I heard Top 40 radio in the car with my babysitter from time to time, but learned early that music of that kind was what my parents referred to scathingly as “baby, baby, baby, wah, wah, wah.” My brother and I were raised attending classical concerts, and we understood the prohibition on fidgeting and the horror of clapping between movements. It was not torture. We were not unwitting pawns in a “Baby Mozart” kind of scenario; we were doing a thing our family did together. When we did not love it, we knew to scan the program for the length of each piece, watch our watches, and buck up.
In middle and high school I became a classical musician, and although I knew my Cars from my Eagles, I lived and breathed Brahms and Ives. I attended one “rock concert” in high school, a performance by Don Mclean. In my 49 years of life, that was my rock concert: a quiet, orderly group of people in a lecture hall listening to a mellow singer-songwriter with an acoustic guitar. When people say things like “I heard Aerosmith at Cobo in ‘78 – were you there, too!?” I know I wasn’t. I was at Don Mclean in the Erickson Kiva without a raised lighter, a dismembered chicken, a banging head, a mosh pit or groupies. No one peed at The Alamo.
My husband is one of those people who went to rock concerts, and can sling around names and dates with great panache. Last year he read a book by Dave Mustaine, lead singer of Megadeth, and became a true fan. Because I was not vigilant, because I did not heed the warning signs, this fandom means that for his birthday this Saturday we are driving to a big concert venue about an hour from here to attend an event called Mayhem Festival. Megadeth is the headliner, but there will be stages and stages of growling, hair-flinging speed metal bands. Godsmack! Disturbd! All my favorites! (She said with a sarcasm that was heavy, and possibly unattractive). The crowd will be heavily pierced and tattooed. They bang their heads, they know the songs, they raise their hands to make that sign that looks like the Texas Longhorn thing but isn’t. They have costumes for these things, particularly if they are women. I could not be more out of my element were I dropped from a plane into sub-Saharan Africa with nothing but a toothbrush and The Portable Walt Whitman.
So I am trying to prepare. I am listening to music we might hear there, a little Megadeth here, a little Straight Line Stitch there, as much as I can take at one time. I kind of like Megadeth, but I’m struggling with most of the rest of it which seems, honestly, to be the same piece of really loud, fast music with lyrics growled unintelligibly by someone livid and terrifying. I can’t understand any of the lyrics, and lyrics matter to me, so I make them up: “you took my peanut butter/you fucking S.O.B./if you weren’t my son’s father/I’d cut your tiny wee.” Stuff like that.
I am also troubled by the costume issue; it will be hot, and the things I wear when it’s hot tend to be cute A-line skirts with floral patterns. I have lots of black clothes, but little in the way of studs, leather, the shredded or the midriff-baring. I don’t think my hair is dred-able, I am still tattoo-less (despite my best efforts), and there is nary a silver barbell through my cartilage. I look very much like what I am: someone who belongs at a Sufjan Stevens concert. I worry about this almost as much as the debt ceiling. I think about my clothes, and I think I will probably just end up wearing jeans, comfortable black footwear and a t-shirt. I will not be Cool, but I’ll be cool.
Finally, and this is a big deal for a self-conscious person such as myself, there is the question of what to do with myself while the bands are playing for hours, and hours and hours. In documentaries and still pictures from other Mayhem dates around the country I see arms raised, hair whipping, and moshing.( I am hyperventilating typing that word, “moshing”). I do not know this music, I don’t really “get” this music, and I am not likely to roar when they play the intro to my favorite song. I want, as always, to be in-the-know, in-the-right, and one of the in-crowd, but it’s just not going to happen. I imagine myself flailing impotently for hours like the dancer who goes the wrong way and topples all the other swans. My plan at the moment is to do what I did when I was little and my grandmother took me to Catholic mass: watch someone who knows what they’re doing out of the corner of my eye and try to follow so fast that it looks like I know what I’m doing.
It will be an adventure. I will love watching the people as if I were visiting a new country, and I will strive oxymoronically to relax, get over myself and go with the flow of the day. I might bang my head, I might buy a tight, black Godsmack T-shirt and change in the bathroom, and I will undoubtedly ask 20 people about their tattoos. I might melt in the heat, it might rain, I might develop nerve deafness, and I might be involuntarily moshed. I will take lots of pictures, and if I survive, I’ll write another post about what actually happened. Right now, I’m going to find my Portable Walt Whitman and buy one of those foldy toothbrushes.
Photo Credit: http://www.metalinjection.net/