Tahlequah Daily Press

Columns

March 8, 2012

Rock concerts, and when it's time to pay the piper

I’ve probably been to 70 or so rock concerts over the past 36 years, plus a number of symphony orchestra performances and festivals featuring genres ranging from jazz and blues to hip-hop.

Like many people of my age, my musical preferences are stuck in a holding pattern from my younger days. I couldn’t tell you who the current favorite bands are, and I’m not about to tune into a Clear Channel station to glean that information. But I can wax plenty philosophical about Led Zepplin, The Eagles, U2, Boston, The Who, Rolling Stones, Styx, Van Halen, Foreigner, Huey Lewis, Kiss and others from the ‘70s and early ‘80s. The cool thing about being stuck in the musical stone ages is that all these grizzled, long-of-tooth bands have either run out of money or are enjoying a revival, and they’re now showing up at accessible venues like The Joint in Tulsa or the New Orleans Jazz Fest. Even though David Lee Roth with hair buzzed above the ears does take some getting-used-to.

Last year, I was discussing past concerts with a few friends on Facebook. I remembered that my first boyfriend, John, took me to my first concert when I was 16, and it was Leon Russell. What I did not recall (but was reminded by others) was that Leon had a bit much to drink that evening. I probably didn’t even realize he was inebriated; at that point in my life, I’d never even been close to alcohol, much less tasted it. If I’d noticed anything, I probably would have thought the old fellow had suffered a stroke.

My next concert was Kiss, with Mark, a high school classmate. This was back in the days before they were unmasked – when they spit fake blood, wore 8-inch platform shoes, and Gene Simmons had a tongue as long as the platforms were tall, giving rise to speculation that he had a prosthetic. Kiss in itself was a startling enough experience for a naive small-town girl; anything happening off-stage would have been lost on me, and so would the "Plaster Caster" references.

When I started attending concerts in college, I began noticing the really weird behavior from folks in the audience. People seemed to throw up at concerts more often than anywhere else, except perhaps at state fairs. And the air inside concert arenas was always hazy with cigarette smoke, but there was a peculiar smell – pungent-sweet – that I couldn’t quite identify. And it wasn’t necessarily the purged contents of countless stomachs.

Although sometimes the latter odor was strong enough to overcome the former, depending on the purger’s proximity. Just about everyone I know has either watched someone else heave at a concert, or has been a participant in that activity. My husband used to joke about how he was physically at three separate Ted Nugent concerts in his youth, but has no memory of any performance. He does have a vague recollection of a girl seated in front of him, wearing a hoodie. Unfortunately for the girl, her hood turned out to be a convenient receptacle when he got sick.

When I was 19 and home from college for the summer, one of the Clinkenbeard boys took me to a Little River Band concert at the Tulsa Fairgrounds Pavilion. My date’s sister and I were waiting in line in the bathroom, where a girl about my age had literally filled a sink, and then passed out with her face partially in the contents. If that happened now, I’d try to help. Back then, I tended to neglect my Christian duties.

Sometimes you really want to help in these cases, but are prevented from doing so. A couple of college friends of mine, and fellow Sigma Tau Gamma little sisters, Judy and Terri, came back to Tahlequah from a Cars concert in Oklahoma City, and were still laughing a day later. Some people behind them were in a hurry to leave after the show, and started crawling over the rows of seats. Suddenly a girl plummeted forward, landing with her head under the folding seat and her legs jutting into the air. Her date tried to extract her, but he had his foot on the seat, effectively pressing it down against her head. Judy and Terri conveyed an image of this guy haplessly yanking the girl’s legs while her head was trapped beneath the seat. They really did want to help, they said; they were just laughing too hard to do so.

I made a spectacle of myself one time when another Sig Tau lil' sis and I, both 21, split a bottle of 151 Bacardi en route to, of all things, a Toto/Huey Lewis concert. Here I was, sitting in the nosebleed session and wearing a little black-and-white mini-skirt set with all the cute accouterments, when that woozy feeling hit. Some of the fraternity brothers, who were seated elsewhere, came up to talk to us between bands. I remember the humiliation I felt as I tried to maintain, mumbling, “GO AWAY. I don’t want you to see me like this!” I was grateful that they did leave, right before I regurgitated between my knees in what I desperately hoped was a dainty fashion.

Many incidents I observed at concerts were precipitated by the consumption of something other than alcohol. At Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” tour concert when I was a freshman at OU, we were again near the rafters, and there was a girl sitting on the risers not far away. When the lights on stage would suddenly become brighter, she would try to pluck things out of the air. I watched with fascination for some time before I finally asked my boyfriend what she was doing. Mark, an older and wiser “senior” of 22, looked at the girl, then said, “acid,” in a tone of disgust. I suppose she was intent on grabbing those “pink elephants” we’ve all heard about.

“Acid” might have also been to blame for the horizontal jitterbug performed by a guy at a Brian Adams concert a few years later in Tulsa. I was there with my boyfriend at the time and two friends, Kim and Keith. We were standing on our chairs near the front when we heard a commotion behind us that overrode the music, and turned to see the off-stage show. The crowd parted briefly to reveal the fellow on the floor, who was eventually body-surfed over the crowd to waiting EMTs. This, by the way, was before mosh pits and raves became the rage.

I was with these same friends at a Night Ranger concert at the Brady Theater when a platinum blonde in the row ahead of us would not sit down, ever – not even between sets. Our offers to “take it outside” for a healthy Cherokee County chickfight were ignored. I finally dumped my soda on her head, which got the message across. I’m amazed the guys with her didn’t react violently. Perhaps they had smoked something that made them mellow.

The Brady was the venue for a memorable Neil Young concert. It was early 1989, right after the birth of my son, and we were there with one of my husband’s best friends, Rick Ketcher, and his girlfriend at that time. While waiting in line outside, we noticed an ordinary bum, staggering around and panhandling. We kept hearing intermittent female screams, and soon figured out why: The man had committed the crime of urinating in public but had neglected to zip his fly, and the lone cow had escaped the pasture, thus elevating the crime to public exposure. Once inside and with the music under way, we were annoyed by a dude a few rows back who repeatedly hollered “CORTEZ!” at the top of his lungs. Since we were fairly close to the stage, there’s no doubt Mr. Young was merely ignoring the request.

I’ve never understood why audience members presume performers will respond to their obnoxious squeals and demands for attention. I’ve been at more than a few concerts where girls have taken off their tops and thrown them onstage, usually eliciting little more than a half-hearted thumbs-up from the guitar player with the bra hanging from his ear by a strap. At a woefully short BeeGees concert in spring 1980 (20 bucks for 50 minutes!), my friend Diane Stotts and I and another friend sat next to a girl who continually shrieked “MAURICE!” and clawed her own cheeks ragged. We were pretty far back; the object of her affection was oblivious.

If it makes any of you old-timers feel better, at least a few of today’s youth aren’t making such fools of themselves. Nearly five years ago, we took our son to his first rock concert, on the Chicago lakefront: Huey Lewis and the News was the warmup, and Chicago – the band – was the main act. We arrived late, and the crowd consisted mostly of people in their late 40s and early 50s. My son, 18 at the time, took a look around at all the folks dancing in the stands, and said with barely veiled contempt: “These people are all DRUNK!” I said, “What makes you think they’re drunk? They’re just having a good time.” His look turned to something like horror: “Dancing?! But they’re YOUR age!”

Well, what can I tell you.

Kim Poindexter is managing editor of the Tahlequah Daily Press.

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