My meditations on this began out of a repugnance for getting older. I had tickets to see Washed Out with openers Blood Orange and Grimes, but the night of the show, a Monday, everyone bowed out, citing the old “have to be up early for work” excuse. It dawned on me that while I was still serving tacos in a tiny Mexican restaurant, these people, my friends, had careers, and that these careers were so important that they could not waste hours of sleep to see a once-in-a-lifetime lineup play to a packed house, everyone with dancing shoes on. I wrangled a friend who, like myself, had few daytime responsibilities, or at the very least could handle being a bit sleepy the next day. We had a phenomenal time, but even so I was bummed. Was I somehow immature or unaccomplished because I enjoyed this sort of thing? On Thursday, a heart-to-heart with a friend who had bailed resulted in the following conclusion: the two of us were at different places in our lives, and apparently I was not the adult.
The thing is, it didn't really matter to me. If being an adult meant forgoing unexpected Bastille Day fireworks over the Hudson after a free tUnE-yArDs performance so that I could efficiently alphabetize files in a cubicle for a steady paycheck, then I was content to sling salsa for at least a few more years. I wouldn't trade losing my shit over those first haunting strains of Dirty Beaches' “Lord Knows Best” billowing through Glassland's papery clouds to change a dirty diaper, because Alex Zhang Hungtai is the coolest dude who ever lived, and that night he vowed to “croon the fuck out” which is exactly what happened.
I wouldn't want to miss the chance to jump on the Music Hall of Williamsburg stage for Star Slinger's closing cut “Punch Drunk Love” or to witness Phil Elvurum on the altar of the gorgeous St. Cecilia's church, his soft voice reverberating angelically around the cathedral. Or to have folk hero Michael Gira kiss my hand after the Swans show, which was the loudest, sweatiest, and single most transcendent rock-n-roll experience I'd ever had. Nor would I miss the incredible stage set-up as it virtually came alive to Animal Collective's Prospect Park set, even as the heat and hallucinogens caused teenagers all around me to pass out. Had I not decided on a whim just a day before the show, I would never have seen Dam-Funk shred a key-tar as we sailed around Manhattan on a ferry, the sun setting against the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty waving her torch over the deck. I braved the pollution of the Gowanus Canal to see a Four Tet DJ in a garden that managed to be verdant despite all the toxins pulsing through the ground.
This was my fourth year at CMJ, and it stands as one of my favorite events because in that moment, you're right with those fledgling acts, waiting to see a performance that will build their buzz or totally break them. This year, at a Trash Talk performance replete with band members flinging themselves from balconies, a friend of mine well into her twenties found herself in a circle pit for the very first time. Later that week, I watched Pat Grossi of Active Child strum a person-sized harp, its strings practically glowing as they vibrated against his fingertips.
Fiercely loving music is one thing that doesn't get boring for me. As I age, it doesn't get old. Seeing a Party of Helicopters reunion performance at Death By Audio in February proved that. I used to see them religiously when I lived in Ohio. In my veins was the same blood that was present when I was twenty, and every muscle, every cell, remembered what to do – I damn near gave myself whiplash, working myself into a frenzy.
And despite spending hours researching obscure bands for music supervision projects I freelance, I still discover bands just by attending shows. While dancing my ass off at the 100% Silk Showcase at Shea Stadium, I discovered a whole label's worth of material harkening back to club jams of the nineties, and the Amanda Brown vs. Bethany Cosentino debate was forever settled in my mind in favor of the LA Vampires frontwoman; Brown is a visionary while Cosentino is just cute.
In roughly fifteen years of attending rock concerts, I'd say I had the best one yet. I've decided that since growing up is not worth the trade-off of giving up live music, or changing the way I experience the music that I love, that I will have to marry the two. While this trajectory began years ago, this is the first time I've felt any sort of mission behind the fandom. I am the person people call and ask “are there any good shows going on tonight?”, the person with extra tickets who drags friends along to see bands they haven't heard of, the person who brings a huge group of old friends together for a show, the person who barring all that will go to a show alone and still have a blast. I am one of the thousands of people who log on to Ticketmaster at 9:55am for Radiohead tickets and still won't get any. I'm the person at the front of the crowd, snapping a few quick pictures for those who couldn't make it, and then dancing like a thing possessed for the rest of the set. For me, it's dedication. It's all part of being someone who was there.