Born to be a groupie

A couple weeks ago, I wearily trudged into Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids to attend my first Kid Rock show. While I like Kid Rock well enough, when I went online to buy tickets, I was feeling a little pissy about the fact that he campaigned for Mitt Romney during the last presidential election. However, I bought his reasonably priced ticket because my sister wanted to go, and I wanted to go with her. And, I’d heard he puts on a great show.

Kid Rock puts on a big show. Three guitarists, three back-up singers with huge voices so beautiful I found myself a little weepy, a DJ, a sax player, a drummer, pyrotechnics, confetti and balloons, gold-sequined jackets, Jim Beam and weed, Bad Ass Beer marketing genius, and the man himself. Who knew Kid Rock not only sings, but also has moves and does crazy jumps that make David Lee Roth look like an amateur.

The thing is, as tired as I was when we landed at the venue, when the countdown for Kid to take the stage began and the house lights went down, the hair on the back of my neck stood up and a chill went down my spine. Kid Rock erupted onto the stage so quickly I’m not even sure where he came from.

From the first note, I was gone. Lost to the performance, the lyrics, the guitars, the entire experience that is a Kid Rock show.

About the music

I haven’t written that many posts for this blog, but if you’ve regularly read what I’m putting out there, you’ve probably figured out I generally prefer music to play where ever I am. Music has laced itself through my life in ways I never expected, especially in the here and now.

I’m not musically inclined, nor was I raised in a family of musicians. My sister played a mean trombone for the high school marching and jazz bands, and I had a brief stint in middle school band playing the very uncool coronet. Growing up, my mom kept a steady stream of 45’s spinning on the console’s turntable. Barry Manilow and Barbra Streisand mixed in with Meatloaf and Bob Dylan. To this day, my mom, at the young age of 70 still listens to a lot of music, blasting it into the kitchen on her awesome Bose SoundDock. In addition to all the music my teenage son has turned her on to, Mom regularly buys Sheryl Crow and Bruce Springsteen CDs, which she rips to the PC and loads onto her iPod.

When I was spitting and blowing into that coronet, my new best friend, Julie, was in the next section over taking on the sax. Neither of us lasted with the instruments, preferring to be flag girls instead. But, our friendship endured and I had found my music soul mate. It was Julie’s mom who took us to our first concerts (bless her). We started out with Rick Springfield at the Ionia Country Free Fair, but our tastes evolved quickly. It was the 80’s, after all. Rick Springfield’s Don’t Talk to Strangers gave way to Pyromania, and Julie’s mom packed Julie and I, and our other groupie friend, Rene, into her red Chevy Citation and took us to Detroit to see Krokus (Ballroom Blitz, anyone?) and Def Leppard. As you can imagine, for us almost high school freshmen, it was a life-changing event.

In our parachute pants and bandanas, Julie (with rat tail) and I (with mullet) traded albums and cassettes and camped out in her basement to watch MTV. In addition to Bon Jovi, Skid Row, KISS, and The Clash, we discovered older music. Julie loved The Who, and I The Doors. When not with Julie, I shut the door to my room and for hours listened to the Beatles, then Pink Floyd and David Bowie. Madonna hit MTV about the time I was ready to start high school, and I obsessed over her from the second I saw her Lucky Star video.

Julie and I went to all the concerts we could talk Julie’s mom into taking us to, and when we got our licenses, all the shows our parents would let us drive to in Detroit and in Saginaw. Even when Julie and I were at different colleges, we hit shows together. And, our first summer home from college, Julie and I worked together cleaning rooms at a hotel in the next town over. We’d key our way into those anonymous rooms, turn the television to MTV upon entry, and be ecstatic when we could clean to the sounds of Def Leppard’s Animal or Guns-N-Roses’ Sweet Child of Mine.

Julie and I often talked about ditching college to follow favorite bands around the country. We dated musicians whenever possible, and schemed our way into bars with names like The Brewery, The Foolery, and Silver Dollar Saloon to listen to metal, hard rock, and punk. There was a time in college when I once arrived at my salon with a Rolling Stone magazine with Jon Bon Jovi on the cover and requested that my stylist give me Jon Bon’s gorgeous spiral-permed hair (my new hair was much bigger than Jon Bon’s, but rock-n-roll nonetheless).

My blond groupie friend, Julie, actually married a guy who, on their wedding day, played guitar to the love song he’d written for his new wife. All the women at the reception wept. My new husband didn’t play an instrument, but he could name any song after hearing only the first 3 seconds of it and had boxes and boxes of cassettes and CDs.

The music plays on

After Baby Daddy and I married, we gave birth to our one and only a couple years later. From the beginning, we played Bob Dylan for Kiddo. Toddler Kiddo quickly came to love Bare Naked Ladies. By the third grade, Kiddo was in love with The White Stripes, and when tickets went on sale for a show in Detroit, he attended his first concert. When Kiddo turned 9, he began growing his hair. For his tenth birthday, he received his first guitar with the stipulation he take lessons. So he did.

Five guitars later, not to mention gaining some aptitude with the piano and even the drums, Kiddo has fronted two bands, performed at local bars and festivals, and written and recorded a couple of CDs. Thankful not to have to endure hockey practice or football games, I’ve gladly laid out cash and taken Kiddo and his pals to their share of shows. I’ve driven brutal round trips in the middle of the week that land me back home at 3am. We’ve driven across the state to see Jack White perform with one band or another of his at one of the old theaters in downtown Detroit, or to stand with a small group of fans to listen to The Felice Brothers and Adam Hayworth Stephens at a dive bar in one of Detroit’s suburbs.

Kiddo and his friends are an even better groupies – or in their case, aficionados – than Julie and I. Kiddo’s collection of vinyl and CDs rivals his father’s. And Kiddo has stood front and center stage during many shows and figured out how to meet everyone from Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes; to Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips; to all of the current Red Hot Chili Peppers (thank you to those who made that happen – you know who you are). If he could only meet Jack White and Kurt Cobain, Kiddo’s entire life would be made.

While Baby Daddy and I are no longer married, it’s a heartfelt and shared joy we have watching and listening to our son sing, play guitar, and perform. I’ve always had a particular appreciation for well-written lyrics, but Kiddo’s love of music is much more sophisticated than mine. He’s written notebooks full of lyrics, then puts music to his words, and sings those lyrics in front of small and large groups of people. I couldn’t be prouder or more emotional about it.

In another twist of fate, my soon-to-be second husband, Joe, is also a musician. He plays lead guitar, and sings when pressed. He even sang the night he proposed to me, giving the event an extra bit of shining specialness. When Joe and Kiddo play together out in the living room, I feel warm and content.

I love hanging out at small pubs the nights Joe sits in with a band. Joe’s energy shifts and morphs when he’s performing, becoming somehow lighter and more intense at the same time. It’s ephemeral, to be sure, but truly beautiful while it lasts. I see it with Kiddo, too, but his energy comes more forcefully and with harder edges – certainly a consequence of his youth, anxious tendencies, and determination to make an existence out of his music.

Home is where the music is

Never desiring to learn an instrument or to sing, I’ve contented myself with being a fan, with being part of the scene. I eagerly type the digits of my credit card into websites to pay my for concert tickets. I’m ridiculously happy to be with the audience singing along, enchanted with a band’s exacting brand of voodoo.

My love affair with Adam Duritz’s voice and lyrics deepened the night I stood right in front of the stage for aCounting Crows show. My guy stood tall and with arms crossed behind me not letting anyone impede my view.

At each performance I’m lucky enough to attend – whether it’s at a rundown college bar or a full-on Vegas-style production – I take a couple moments to close my eyes and let the music wash over me, to feel whatever sensations the music has to offer. I want to feel the reverb of the drums in my pulse, to fall in love with a melody, to absorb a lyric so true and painful it guts me, to be riveted by a guitar solo, to be mesmerized by a singer’s voice, to be collectively blissed out with the audience at the wonderment of our good fortune to be part of and to witness such magic. A live performance, I believe, is something of a religious experience.

As a bystander, the origins of a band’s alchemy are mysterious. It may be the one regret I have about not being a musician and performer – I don’t get to understand what it’s like to be at the center of all that … art. I don’t get to experience how it feels to empty myself of everything but the music, and to just give with both hands my human condition to those in the audience. It’s a gift to receive it, but what a life-altering gift it must be to give to those around you. The musicians in my life would likely tell me I’m romanticizing the whole thing. It’s true that Kiddo often walks off stage disappointed with his performance. Joe, too, is his own biggest critic, bashing his guitar playing at the end of the night. But, I gotta believe there are certain gigs that feel positively spiritual to the performers – a place where mindful meets mindless.

As I finish this post, Saturday afternoon is slipping into Saturday night, and I’m glad to be home. The house is loud and energy filled. In the basement, Kiddo has plugged in his Stratocaster and turned up the volume, and he’s singing. Band mate and pal JD is here, too. JD’s foot is heavy on his bass drum pedal and his sticks are crashing the symbols, snare, and toms in a way that winds me up. They’ve been switching between an original song and a Nirvana cover. Over and over. It hardly matters what the music is; it matters that it’s in this place I call home.

I never imagined that I would be so lucky to have music come to me live and in person so often. I love that the music comes to me through the floor boards from my son’s makeshift studio and from my guy who often lays next to me in bed playing guitar while I write. Tonight, the band in the basement will play as long as I can stay awake, or until a girlfriend beckons. Either way, the music will stop too soon, but it is, to me, a perfect way to end any day of the week.