First Concerts: Mine was The Rolling Stones; What Was Yours?

Alternate Title: "Do you remember the first time?" (I never did see Pulp live, which is for the best, as I imagine Jarvis Cocker would not have survived the force of my lust.)

Aug 18, 2011 at 11:02am | Leave a comment

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My first concert was The Rolling Stones. I went with my dad, who had an unoccupied second ticket. I believe he was supposed to go with a girlfriend of whose company he had divested himself sometime between the purchasing of the ticket and the concert date itself. He will probably read this and remind me.

It was 1989, and I was 12, easily the youngest person within visual range of our seats, and in my head, certainly the youngest person in the whole of Miami’s late lamented Orange Bowl. Truth be told, I was far more excited about the opening act, Living Colour (“Cult of Personality”?) than I was for the main event, but that soon changed when the headliners took the stage and I realized just how much of my childhood was set to the Rolling Stones backcatalog. 

It was all so familiar, and not only because of my dad’s penchant for placidly singing “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” to me when I whined, a habit I found embarrassing and annoying as a kid but which holds a certain degree of fatherly wisdom for me today --

You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometime, you just might find
You get what you need.

Of particular note was the concert version of “Honky Tonk Women,” which featured two enormous inflatable women -- like Macys-Thanksgiving-Day-Parade size, with giant lipsticked lips and busty figures and legs ending in bulbous high heels -- on either side of the stage. I also remember my dad and I getting really into “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” like you do; luckily that song came toward the end of the set, when I’d fully dropped my stubborn adolescent trying-not-to-enjoy-myself attitude. 

Though I had a good time at the old people’s concert with my dad (who, for the record, was only a few years older at the time than I am now, and how shocking is THAT) I was conflicted about my first concert for many years following; the Stones were so OLD-FASHIONED, you know? Nobody my own age was impressed by it. We all wanted to see Debbie Gibson or Milli Vanilli. Who the heck cares about the Rolling Stones? OLD DUDES, that’s all.

It’s fun to be young and clueless, isn’t it?

My second concert was more in the vein of what I’d envisioned for my first. A friend got stuck with an extra ticket to see New Kids on the Block’s 1990 “Magic Summer” tour, when another friend backed out at the last minute. At the time, this was the second highest grossing tour ever in the US, right behind -- no kidding -- the Rolling Stones tour I had been witness to the year before.

By 1990 I had discovered Depeche Mode and was rapidly sliding down the anti-pop rabbit hole, but a New Kids on the Block concert seemed like it might be an interesting experience. Plus, if I didn’t go, my friend would have to go with her mom, which would totally harsh the hot R-droppin’ Boston-boy crushing she was fixin’ to get on. So I agreed to go and save her from an evening of parental oversight.

Everything seemed normal at first, as much as it is possible for a gathering of thousands of preteen girls to be normal. But from the moment the titular Kids took the stage, girls began dropping like stones on all sides. There was weeping, wailing, gnashing of teeth and rending of garments. Young women threw themselves on the concrete steps in the aisles, and trembled and collapsed against the unyielding stadium seats in fits of emotion. 

I felt as though I’d wandered into some kind of undergound religious revival. Would there be serpent-handling next? Speaking in tongues?

And did I mention we were in the opposite end zone? Pretty much as far as possible from the stage? And that the Kids in question were mostly seen via Jumbotron, or else as tiny bouncing dots in the distance?

One girl in front of us wailed, “DOOOONNNNIEEEEEE!!!! DOOONNNNNIIIEEEEEE!!!!” unendingly for the better part of an hour, as though her very life depended on his unlikely response. There was so much crying -- so much unabashed sobbing all around -- that at one point I had to sit down and rest my 13-year-old head in my hands to tune it all out. My tear-streaked friend shook me by the shoulder and asked if I was OK. I realized she assumed I was crying like the rest of them. 

I put on my very best frown and tried to look overcome. If my true feelings came out, there was a chance the girls would turn on me like bloodthirsty wolverines, albeit ones wearing handmade I [HEART] LITTLE JOE T-shirts. 

All I remember of that concert was my horror, and my desperate wish for it all to be over so I could go home and listen to “Enjoy the Silence” a hundred times to scrub “Step by Step” from my wounded and shivering brain. It turned out that the first concert I got was much better than the one I thought I wanted.

As an adult (more or less), I appreciate that my first concert happened in a counterculture haze (um, literally) of blues-tinged rock, escorted by my dad. I’m even proud of it. It set me up for a lifetime of amazing concert experiences and fostered my love of music in general, something my dad and I share to this day. Would I have gotten so much out of a first experience spent seeing Debbie Gibson? Maybe. But I doubt it.

And as my dad would remind me, you can't always get what you want -- but sometimes, you get what you need.