We were young, cooking hot dogs and veggie burgers on the grill in the middle of summer on a beach that would be the setting for subsequent family outings and mushroom-laden experiences. The Pixies would be our soundtrack. And then I would be in my old kitchen, cooking seitan or stir fry with my ex, drinking wine and swinging my hips when Black Francis uttered the words, “hips like Cinderella”. Or I was just 18, wearing a Monkey Gone To Heaven t-shirt waiting in line at the Empire State Building for the first time, humming the tune the whole way up to the top. Or I was rummaging through the vinyl inside a record shop in Athens, Georgia, trying to get my mind off my problems, and picking up a new copy of Surfer Rosa…
Yesterday, I had the privilege of taking my son to his very first concert.
Rather than take him to a closed-in theater where he’d surely get antsy within minutes, we opted to take him to a fairly family-friendly outdoor festival: SunFest. SunFest takes over the streets of Dowtown West Palm Beach every May. In the past, I’ve seen Slightly Stoopid and Bob Dylan among others on the SunFest stage. This year’s main attraction for me, however, was the Pixies.
The Pixies have been one of my very favorite bands for at least a decade. Albums like Doolittle and Death to the Pixies pretty much defined my early twenties. I saw them many years ago live, front row and center and it remains one of the most amazing concert experiences of my life. I knew I couldn’t pass up a moment to share that kind of moment with my son.
Being parents, we weren’t early for the concert and I could already hear the band playing from the parking lot when we got there. I rushed down Clematis past all the debauchery pouring out of the bars and restaurants and made it to the fest just as they were playing Wave of Mutilation.
We found a good spot still far enough not to hurt Willy’s ears but close enough to see the action and get in some dancing when “Isla de Encanta” started playing and the three of us erupted into dancing frenzy. Watching Willy’s bright, little face light up as we went this way and that was the absolute best feeling. It dawned on me quickly that I was spending more time watching his excitement rather than what was happening on stage. “As it should be,” I thought to myself.
See, I never went to a concert with my family. Music wasn’t really a shared interest in our household. While I did begin my musical journey listening to my parents old records (Santana, Madonna, Don Henley, and the Monkees were among the soundtrack of my early childhood), they never appeared to be as enthusiastic about music as I was. And when Nirvana and Guns and Roses became a part of the culture, my mother just wasn’t having it.
As a teenager, I spent my weekends supporting local and traveling punk, ska, and hardcore bands. And whenever a big festival or concert came to town, I made sure to go, oftentimes having to make up elaborate stories as my mother had a rule against leaving the county and Miami back then didn’t attract as many big shows as they do today.
So when I became a parent, I knew I had to be the one to introduce my son to the sounds of the Magnetic Fields, Radiohead, Tori Amos, Sleater-Kinney, the Beastie Boys, Bikini Kill, Joy Division, and so on and so forth.
Frank Black/Black Francis and co. finished up their set with “Hey”, a song that takes me back to a time when I was just 19, smoking pot with my then-burnout boyfriend and my former best friend before her schizophrenia set in. I remember it vividly: driving in his red Neon up the Rickenbacker Causeway, the sun shining behind us and the ocean glistening ahead and all around. There’s a photo somewhere in the world of the three of us holding hands and wading in the water–a perfect snapshot of carefree youth that would and could never happen again. But a good song can take you back to a time you might never otherwise return to.
The next time I hear “Hey”, I might still remember that hot and sticky afternoon with friends, stomachs full and minds clouded and worries minimal. But I’ll also remember something greater: the way the soft curls on my son’s head bounced and the softness of his fair skin, smelling sweet with sunblock, and his tiny baby teeth showing as he smiled that smile of pure excitement — his very first concert.