by Hugh Gilmore
First, I’ll tell you about hell for seniors. Our son Andrew is 29, smart and sweet, but doesn’t drive because he has limited vision. He doesn’t have “street smarts” either, at least not enough to go alone to Delaware and Frankford Avenues to attend an end-at-midnight rock concert. Thus his mom, Janet, and I became the first among our peers to ever attend a dialed-up rock concert at Philadelphia’s newest concert venue, the Fillmore, last week.
The occasion was the farewell tour of the Go-Go’s. If you’ve been asleep for the past 37 years, the Go-Go’s are, as Wikipedia puts it, “the first and only all-female band that both wrote their own songs and played their own instruments to top the Billboard album charts.”
Playing highly amplified guitar, bass, drums and vocals, they started as punk rockers, switched to pop, and are now regarded as as among the first of the “new wave” groups. Okay, I thought, I’d just as soon be home reading in bed, but at least it will be a novelty for me to see female hard rockers in person for the first time.
For you readers with gray hair, I’ll tell you what it’s like to go to a modern rock concert in a concert venue that is not an auditorium with assigned seats).
First: They do not hide the security guards. They are everywhere. Event venues for young people need to let them know the school principal is on site. At some places, the sight of them is oppressive, like entering a third world prison. At others, like the Fillmore, they are friendly and helpful, and the sight of them makes you feel safer (especially after the Tampa massacre). You must empty your pockets and pass through a metal detector to get in.
Second, since I am older and “my word is my bond,” and I am a responsible adult who puts out the trash weekly and pays his taxes and would never “sneak-in” anywhere, it felt rather intrusive to have a stranger take my hand and stamp a green ink design on it. Before I could react, someone else had taken my left wrist and put a green paper band around it. I was also told I could not reenter if I left the building. (I know they have good reasons for their policy, but I sure felt trapped when they told me that.)
Andrew wanted a ride and a guide, but did not want to be seen at the concert with his parents hovering about. Jan and I would be on our own once we helped Andrew get oriented to the building and the lavatories. So, you might wonder, why didn’t we just go to our seats and wait for the concert to end? The answer: There are no seats (!) at these rock shows. For $46 each, Jan and I had purchased the right to stand on the floor before the stage. Andrew wanted to be on the floor so he could really feel the crowd’s energy. (To be entirely correct, there are usually a few side tables and chairs at these places, usually. First come first served.)
We weren’t about to stand for three hours in the stage area so we decided to seek the lee side so we could ride out the storm we’d cruised into. By which I mean the WALL OF SOUND – a tape mix of pounding music blasting the lobby, so powerfully and unrelentingly as to immediately hurt, literally hurt, our ears. Jan and I could communicate only by screaming, mouth an inch away from ear. And this was not the show! It was merely the ambient music, setting the mood. In contrast to us, all the younger people (25 to 50?) smiled and started bouncing to this beat the moment they heard it. Jan and I held our ears and renewed our hunt for a niche to escape to.
A balcony, maybe. We tried the staircase, but were stopped by a security guard. Downstairs only tonight. We hurried over to another crowded lobby. The loud noise, huge space and dim lighting, plus the sight of everyone else having fun, made us feel even odder and more confused.
We left and went back to the first lobby, which had two long, horseshoe-shaped bars. We ran into a young couple we knew. Their expressions of delight and surprise at seeing us seemed to say, “Wow, how cool are are the Gilmore’s? Gray hair and all, they know a good time when they see it.” Unable to talk to them in lobby-scream, we excused ourselves by smiling (wincing, actually) and waving bye-bye.
We sought refuge in a high-ceiling, very cool-looking room, your dream nightclub look, which was wasted on us because of the noise. A very long bar ran across the room. I got a beer (plastic cup) and Jan ordered a light meal that came on a cardboard plate with a plastic spoon. We endured the noise as long as it took Janet to eat, then went out through the lobby again, and luckily found a plastic sofa near the entrance where we could at least sit while we waited out the ordeal.
The ear pain (despite ear plugs we’d brought) was still awful, but we couldn’t leave. Such love parents have for their children. Jan tried to nap. I kept remembering a recent New Yorker article by Alex Ross, the music critic. It described all the ways in which various governments, including our own, used music (literally) as a means of torture.
So there we were: two tired seniors, huddled on a sofa, pounded by noise. Though the show was slated for 8 p.m. and we’d been there since 7, the Go-Go’s did not come on until 10. The minute they started, the lobby emptied. Of all but us and the EMTs, emphasizing our weirdness – like the tide gone out on a pair of stranded sea turtles.
And then, as we sat balled up on the sofa, there appeared – strange and wondrous to behold – a young man wearing a beautiful suit. Like Aladdin’s genie, he bade us to come along. We did. And suddenly our evening became magical.
— Continued next week
Hugh Gilmore is the author of numerous fiction and nonfiction books, including the Amazon Kindle Best-Seller, “My Three Suicides: A Success Story,” a touching, honest, and humorous memoir of how a strange childhood produces a strange adult.