Aging Rock Star

Head-banging-Brain-Injury

The line to the bathroom is out of control. It was only a four mile drive to the local amphitheater, where my best friend Cole had scored free tickets to the Def Leppard concert, and, always one for a spontaneous adventure, of course I had said yes. I had significantly underestimated the traffic, however, so instead of taking ten minutes to arrive, it had taken over an hour, then another twenty minute walk from the parking lot to the venue. I am feeling like a ten year old child who should have used the facilities before the family road trip. My eyeballs are beginning to swim as the line moved forward one person at a time.

Finally I am able to stand in the restroom itself, though there are still six men in front of me. There must be 20 separate stalls in the room and I’m beginning to dance while I wait for my turn. Suddenly I feel an elbow in my back.

“Excuse me! You all don’t mind if I sneak in do you?”

I turn to see a woman of about 20 rushing into the men’s room. She is easily six inches shorter than me, her black hair cut in a bob. She has red lipstick, blue eye shadow, and glitter that sparkles on her cheeks. She’s in a black half shirt that exposes her slim stomach and a thigh-length skirt with tennis shoes.

“The girl’s line is just so long! So, I mean, eff it! I don’t care if I use the boys, and you guys don’t mind since I’m hot! Thanks!” She pushes her way into the stall that just opened up and keeps talking from behind the closed door. “You all are so nice, thank you, I’ll be quick!”

Several minutes later, finally free of the oppressive control of my bladder, I rejoin Cole outside and we make our way through the crowd to a hilltop, where there is open seating. There is a haze of smoke floating over the entire crowd, an obnoxious combination of tarmac, tobacco, and marijuana; it sticks to the insides of my eyelids, the roof of my mouth, and inside my ears and I realize I’m in a literal fog. It doesn’t take long for my head to start aching.

My attention is pulled in every direction by the people. Aged men in tie dye, sleeveless shirts, tight tank tops, and jeans with holes cut through the knees by a pair of scissors. Long jagged Mick Jagger and Axl Rose wigs in blonde, brown, rainbow, and red over thick sunglasses, even though it is night. Women in tight jeans or skirts, frilly tops that expose cleavage and navels and shoulders, crimped hair. Plastic cups of beer in every hand, plates heaping with nachos or fries, joints or cigarettes in many hands. A sea of lights shines across the hilltop as every third person clicks messages on their phones instead of watching the live music happening right in front of them. There is nothing quite so intolerable as being the sober one in a crowd full of drunk people, especially on a Monday night.

Cole and I find a spot to lay out the blanket and for the next two hours we listen to the classic songs of the aging rock stars. The crowd around us dances, flips their hair back and forth, grinds their pelvises together. The men’s eyes wander while the women dance in place like the characters from Peanuts, as if Schroeder was up their rocking out instead of a classic band.

Def Leppard sounds fantastic given their age. First formed in 1977 in the United Kingdom, the band had multiple chart toppers in the 1980s and early 1990s. Their lyrics and guitar riffs bring back nostalgic memories from my childhood.

Love bites, love bleeds, it’s bringing me to my knees.

Blue jean, baby queen. Prettiest girl I’ve ever seen.

Hey kids, rock’n’roll, rock on, lose control.

And the seminal Pour some sugar on me!… I’m hot, sticky sweet, from my head to my feet.

Despite the haze in my brain, I’m having a genuinely good time. After a while, I let myself sink back on the blanket and think about the band for a few minutes. These men must be in their late fifties at least, and more likely in their late sixties. They hit their hey-day literally decades ago, before the Internet, before cell phones, before Desert Storm even. Now here there are performing the same ballads for crowds of enthusiasts, ticket sales for this one venue likely well above 75,000 dollars total. I picture the lead singer kissing his wife goodbye, stopping off to visit his grown children and his teenage grandchildren, picking up his arthritis medicine, then heading to the airport to board a flight for the United States, where he has a pending concert in Utah of all places. He turns down the in-flight meal because his doctor has told him to watch his cholesterol. He naps against the window, snoring loudly. Upon arrival, he stretches, feeling his bones crack and pop and he thinks about how he isn’t what he used to be. At show time, he uses elastic bands to pull back the hard lines on his face, covers his face in foundation, dons an 80s rock wig and a set of clothing just like what he wore back on the Pyromaniatour back in 1985. He does some vocal warm-ups and worries he won’t be able to hit those high notes like he used to. He stretches a bit, warms up with the band, pumps himself up, then performs for a packed crowd who sings along to every word he has sang ten thousand times before, all while he gyrates his hips in ways that will leave him aching for days. After the show, he winds down with a glass of Ovaltine, calls his wife overseas, and heads back to the hotel where he hopes his aching knee will let him rest.

Cole and I leave a bit before the encore, and as we fight the line of cars out of the parking lot, I think about the status of American celebrity, where we will still pay money to see Chubby Checker twist, Cyndi Lauper just have fun, and Madonna pretend to be a virgin. And then I think how, even though Def Leppard makes it sound sexy, if I were really hot and sticky sweet from my head down to my feet, I would really just want a shower, and I realize that maybe I’m the one getting too old for this even if the band isn’t.

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