Listen Up: Scorn on the Fifth of July
It was just after dark on July 5, 1998 and I was not where I wanted to be.
Where I was: out in a field somewhere in Middle Tennessee with my parents and my sister and my grandmother and a whole lot of other people I didn't know, all of us watching someone shoot fireworks off from somewhere behind a stand of trees. Where I wanted to be: approximately 219 miles south at Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, Ga., at the first Hanson concert to take place within any reasonable distance from me in the year since I had decided that they were the greatest band on the face of the planet.
I was thirteen years old and not being at that show was the most horrible thing that had ever happened to me in my whole entire life. And I am pretty sure that no one else knew it but me.
I'd tried and failed once before to see Hanson live. Some months before, I'd heard that they going to be playing a set at a mall somewhere in Memphis—fully across the state from my hometown, but it seemed worth a shot. (This might have been in 1997 or in 1998, I don't remember; somehow the band managed to not do a real proper tour until a year after their big breakout, even though I'm sure they could have sold out venues more steadily within three months of the world's introduction to “MMMBop” than they did the summer after. Fortunately, my devotion—and that of many others—was steadfast in a particularly late-90s way.)One day, after much internal hemming and hawing, I finally broached the subject with my mom thusly: “Hey, so, how far is it to Memphis?”
The rest of our conversation involved the words “about six or seven hours” and “mall” and “Hanson,” and needless to say I have still never been to Memphis.
When we had the conversation she was driving us somewhere in our family's minivan, the 1994 Plymouth Grand Voyager that I would inherit several years later and that would bouy me, like a giant burgundy-colored bouy, through high school and part of college. Eventually I would earn the privilege to drive from my hometown down to Atlanta or up to Nashville for concerts with my cousin Marie if we wanted to go badly enough. But there were a few years there, between the time that I started caring about music and the time that I actually had the skills and resources and legal ability to shuttle myself to concerts, that were just bleak.
And of course it was made worse by the fact that my interest in music was not just some general, casual one with attendant desires that would have been easily sated by any old all-ages show in my own town, but was indeed kicked off pretty immediately with a fiery adolescent passion for one of the biggest pop groups in the world, who most certainly were never going to play in Chattanooga, Tenn.
So there I was on the 5th of July in the summer before I started the eighth grade, likely leaning against that selfsame minivan, unspoken fury and sadness and skittering hormones boiling in my veins as strangers set small beautiful bombs off across the field. I tried not to think too much about what I was missing but it was hard not to indulge in some self-pitying fantasizing; that was tricky in its own right, of course, as I'd never been to any concert of that size before, and had literally no idea what I was missing. But I knew it would have been exhilarating and transcendent and wonderful and awesome and amazing and so so so cool and would have possibly resulted in me meeting Taylor Hanson and him falling in love with me and being like, “Wow, Rachael, I am so glad your mom drove you down here from Chattanooga in her 1994 Plymouth Grand Voyager to see me and my brothers play this concert,” and then we'd talk about not having drivers' licenses and how we both use Flex shampoo. (I would not, of course, tell him that I used Flex shampoo only because I'd read in some magazine that he used it.)
It was the day after Independence Day but I felt moored as tightly as I ever had to—to what? To my parents? To my childhood? To the ridiculous laws that wouldn't let thirteen year olds learn to drive just so they could zip out of town to go see their favorite bands at massive corporation-sponsored arenas? I'm sure my overwrought adolescent poet-brain was in the perfect state to equate the sulfurous, pinkish smoke drifting across the weedy pasture to the entirety of my life, which I was sure I'd watch float by in a depressingly similar fashion.
Truth is, I don't remember if I ever even asked if I could go to that concert. I probably dropped some awkwardly obvious hints but never actively pursued it with any of the adults in my life with credit cards and vehicles that could've made it happen; maybe I was hoping that my parents would just somehow psychically detect my burning desire to go, or maybe I was waiting for Taylor Hanson to swoop down on my front stoop with a fistful of tickets and invite me himself. Either way, I wound up going the opposite direction—out of town and a hundred miles north to visit my grandmother for the weekend—and that night as I watched the fireworks that I didn't want to be watching in the field where I did not want to be in the middle of the state that I did not want to be in, I slowly came to the realization that one day I would finally move on from this heartbreak, that I would forget all about it, that I would forgive the universe for its myriad cruelties.
That day came sooner than I'd expected. Sometime later that month, I realized that Hanson was playing at Starwood Ampitheater in Nashville in early August and that there were still some general admission tickets available, and so as my mom and little sister and I piled into a Suburban with my aunt and three cousins and chugged up I-24 to Music City, all the sadness and fears of the July 5th began to get slowly rubbed out. Our lawn seats were miles and miles and miles from the stage but we were there, and it was everything I knew it would be—exhilarating and transcendent and wonderful and awesome and amazing and so so so cool.
And while the night did not end in any sort of meet-and-greet or love-profession with my young blonde love, my family horde did stick around and pick up a little bit of trash on the lawn as we waited for the crowd to exit en masse, and as we stuffed strangers' discarded nacho trays and coke bottles in an already-overfull trash can, a security guard spotted us, ambled over and handed us a disposable camera she'd confiscated from a girl up in the ticketed seats. We snapped the remainder of the roll in the parking lot, the five of us little girls passing it around in our sweat-sticky hands, and got it developed a few days later. All the pictures of the concert are just grainy smudges; the girl was sitting too far back, the camera too dinky, for the tiny figures onstage to register as anything special. But the ones from the parking lot are alright. In every shot, I'm beaming.
Rachael Maddux is Paste’s associate editor. Her column appears at PasteMagazine.com every Monday.