In lonely moments, when I’m by myself late at night and there are no mirrors or other people around, I like to imagine, if only briefly, that I’m not a nerd. It’s a nice reprieve—I just sit there, staring at a faint reflection in the window, imagining heroic things I’ve never done. I start to talk to myself. I conduct interviews with famous talk show hosts about projects I’ve finished only in my imagination. The crowd thinks I’m cool. I go to YouTube, find a beautiful song, turn the volume low, and sing the vocals in front of a nonexistent audience of every enemy I’ve ever had. And believe me, they are chastened, those enemies, while they listen to my off-key rendition of a melody I didn’t write. They recognize my genius. But I just carry on, with no motive of vengeance in my heart, concerned only with the celebration of beauty. Occasionally, I’ll dance, and the spasms and gyrations are unrestrained. Inside my head, this is an energetic catharsis.
Outside my head, though, it’s one hell of an ugly scene. The idea of myself as something other than a nerd can only survive so long in the real world. Finally, I always come face-to-face with one crucial, immutable fact: I keep a concert spreadsheet. And I’ll never escape from it. It’s right there, on my desktop, glaring at me from a green Microsoft Excel icon, metaphorically hanging around my neck like a socially inept albatross. Its existence is more than enough to guarantee that I’ll never be a casual paragon of popularity. You don’t even need to open it; I’m already condemned by the presence.
But the sad part is, the specifics are worse. When you start really delving into the details—I have columns for date, venue, city, state, artist, companion, and the dreaded “notes”—the whole thing gets much worse. If I were a Kennedy, this would be a dark family secret. They’d never let me run for office. Hell, I shouldn’t be telling you any of this. It can only ruin my life.
So why am I? Maybe I have a weird compulsion to divulge my most embarrassing secrets. Maybe I think Paste readers can relate to a chronicle of music fandom floating in a pathetic ambience. Or maybe I’m just an idiot.
In any case, I’ve already written four paragraphs and it’s too late to go back. Here, then, for your amusement and my embarrassment, are the lowlights of a concert-going career. Please keep in mind that most of these memories come from the first two years of college. If you must judge, judge my age, not my soul.
• The first concert I ever attended was with my mother. Sure, I was nine, and it was the Beach Boys. But I still went with my mother. That’s going to be my legacy.
• The second concert I ever attended was the summer after I graduated from high school. And believe me, that wasn’t because I was turning down a lot of invitations. Can you tell I wasn’t one of the cool kids from grades 9-12?
• Of the 101 concerts on the spreadsheet, I attended 28 alone. I attended six with someone I’d describe as a romantic interest. If you’re into a math, that’s a 4.6:1 loneliness-to-fulfillment ratio, which must be some kind of record.
• At a Guster concert at Dartmouth during my freshman year, I watched about five minutes of actual music before stumbling into the hallway and encountering a nice policewoman who escorted me to the campus jail, where I spent a few hours in protective custody before my friend picked me up. Later that night, trying to call my girlfriend from his room (using a prepaid calling card—remember those?), I accidentally missed several numbers and managed to dial 9-1-1. I tried to explain the situation to the operator, but they were required to send a campus policeman to his door. When I opened up, I told them what had happened. I had sobered up, and everything was fine. Then, just as he left, he spotted a bottle of vodka on my friend’s desk. My friend was a freshman. He got written up. The next morning, I stumbled out of bed and broke his futon. Oddly enough, I haven’t seen that friend in years.
• At a Dispatch concert a few months later, I was left alone after two of my friends were kicked out of the venue for urinating behind a bush.
• At a Weezer show, a mysterious man standing behind my friend and I in the pit made a game of grabbing our asses. We desperately tried to catch him and possibly kill him, but he must have been a savvy veteran of the groping scene, because we couldn’t even lay eyes on him. He was the ultimate hit-and-run artist. He always struck at the perfect moment. Who knows how many victims he left in his wake? For that night and that night alone, I understood what it must be like to be an attractive female.
• At an Incubus show in 2002 (my friend liked them), an angry fat kid behind us threw popcorn at my friend and mocked the way I danced.
• One of my notes for a 2003 Radiohead concert in Dublin, Ireland was, “Mosh pit, somehow.” I remember being incredibly thrilled to get a spot in the first couple rows before the concert. Then Radiohead took the stage, and huge Irish kids began banging into one another. It was so ridiculous and violent, and so disconnected from the tone and pace of the music, that I had to move back. All I could think was, “you’ve got to be kidding me. Radiohead?”
• Speaking of that, 21 of the 101 concerts I’ve attended involved Dave Matthews. I’m not ashamed by that, because I’ll defend his output in the ’90s to the death. But I do think it’s telling that I went to so many shows by one artist. It’s probably easier to get obsessed with a band when your romantic life consists of checking away messages on AIM. (By the way, remember AIM alerts? It was basically an alarm feature that would notify you when one of your friends came online. One winter vacation, I set an alert for a girl I was in love with. For whatever reason, the noise I chose from AIM’s options was the mooing of a cow. So I’d be sitting downstairs, reading or watching TV, when all the sudden I’d hear a bovine grunt and frantically rush up to my computer. Sad times.)
• On the notes section of two 2003 Dave Matthews Band shows, I wrote “foggy memory.” This is what happens when you see a band 21 times.
• At a 2006 Under Byen show, I was so bored that I left early and neglected to do a band interview I’d been assigned. It’s safe to call this the “pre-ambition era” of my life.
• And now, the jewel in the crown of my humiliations. I hesitate to even bring this up. I’m probably making a huge mistake that will eventually cost me my livelihood and my future, but I hope that in your heart of hearts you’ll appreciate my honesty. The date was July 28, 2002—the summer after my freshman year. The venue was the Saratoga Performing Arts Center. The artist was the Dave Matthews Band. Beyond alcohol, I’m not a person who dabbles in many substances. That night, though, I had. In fact, this was the life-changing show that convinced me never to attend a concert under the influence ever again.
I don’t remember much about the evening beyond one awful, glaring incident. My friends and I were near the bottom of the lawn, and it was raining. Within 10 minutes of the skies opening, which happened during the opening set, everybody was soaking wet. Darkness came, and the show went on. We were in a stupor, swaying and shouting. Despite the weather, the lawn was jammed with bodies, and it was hard to move. At one point, nature called and I made my way to the bathrooms at the top of the hill.
It took me about 20 minutes to move 40 yards. As I went up, I was shoved, yelled at, and otherwise impeded. The return trip was worse; people assumed I was trying to trick my way into a better position. When I finally reached my friends, rain-soaked and exhausted, I was a battered human being. The problem was, too much alcohol had already flowed. Within 45 minutes, the problem returned. I remembered the last experience—the struggle to push through the humanity, the bumps and the claustrophobia—and felt like crying.
Then an alternative occurred to me. Let me assure you that this alternative would have been quickly dismissed in a state of sobriety. But that was a foreign state at the time. Reason and dignity had taken a holiday. And frankly, the evidence was in my favor. It was pouring harder than ever. It was loud. There wasn’t a dry spot of clothing to be found on the entire lawn. It was dark. All eyes were focused on the stage. If I took this daring alternative approach, which I hope I don’t have to spell out for you, I reasoned that nobody else would ever know.
And nobody else ever did. Until now, I guess. Is there a statute of limitations on shame? Is a decade sufficient penance to absolve myself of the humiliation? Or am I still a corrupted human being?
The answer to those questions is tricky. But then, concert-going is tricky. Music absorbed alone is a pure and individual experience, but when a group dynamic is introduced, things happen. Surely my memories aren’t the worst. And in fact, the incidents detailed above are just a small shadow on my total concert history. For the most part, live music has been an incredible and even redeeming part of my life. But what fun is redemption? Does it have the same vivid color as the struggles, the sweat, the social anxiety, the disappointments and the shame? Those are the humbling elements I’ll never forget.
And now that I’ve revealed them, do me one last favor—forget everything you’ve just read.