Last summer my friend Nandini and I met up at Madison Square Park to see Loudon Wainwright III at their free summer concert series. I think this is my favorite memory from last summer, my first and only (so far) summer in the city. It was a rough time for me, and I think this concert was one of the only nights I felt something different than the generic malaise that cast a shadow on everything I saw, did, and heard.
For my whole life I never ate Chinese food. Then one day I decided that I would most certainly like it, and so I started to get Chicken lo mein everywhere it was available. This was one of those nights. Nandini and I got Chinese food and ginger ales and sat in the dewy grass of the park before the concert started. We were early enough where we got to sit as close to the stage as we wanted. I used to always want to sit so close to the stage where I could feel the speakers' vibrations in my chest, but it was around that time that I realized I like a little distance between me and the performers. If I don't have a chance of taking them home after the show, then why sit or stand so close as to tease myself into thinking I made eye contact, right? (Not that I wanted to take Loudon home...maybe in the 70s when he was all facial-hared and un-fatherly). I try to find any way I can to cut down on the unnecessary romantic masochism. So, we sat a little farther back and ate our various Asian chicken combinations amongst all the couples - it seemed like that's all there was in the audience. For once, that didn't bother me.
Do you know who you are or how you'll know?
Have you ever known that something you were about to witness was going to affect you? I mean, really hit you hard? I felt that way about this concert for some reason. It was a weird queasy, anxious, happy feeling that doesn't come often. As soon as Lucy Wainwright Roche took the stage, I knew my throbbing organs were right. If I were going to be a musician, I'd probably be a Loudon or Lucy. Lucy is Loudon's daughter. She's funny, but really perceptive. Just like her father, she can capture the little moments of suburban every day life that are hyper-meaningful opportunities for a greater argument in disguise. One song of hers particularly caught me off-guard. It's called "Snare Drum." It's about a teenage boy who knows that despite his parents fighting and the falling snow and world being at war and his town on the skids, he's going to do something great in the future. But for now, he's going to "play a snare drum solo in the Friday football lights." The image of a Friday night (for some reason I think of Texas high school football culture) game, and all the middle-school teenage weirdness and competition and importance and poignance of such a weird event in relation to the rest of the world is really alarming.
I remember being in junior high and trying to fit in by going to the local high school football games at the all-boys military schools. I lived across the river from the rest of the kids and it was always a hassle for my parents to get me there. Not to mention my parents also put the fear of God in me to be careful while I was there and to make sure I was in a certain spot at a certain time to be picked up. With what exactly they wanted me to be careful, I'm not really sure. But I know being anxious about getting yelled at during the time of my pick-up and never being secure enough in my safety really inhibited my ability to enjoy the game. Maybe they were afraid I wouldn't pay attention and someone would put 'ludes in my snack bar soda, or that I would trip behind the bleachers and get taken advantage of.
I have these weird memories of my jeans always fitting just a little wrong. Or that awful feeling where you know you tried to look better than you usually do, but something goes wrong like your shirt ends up too tight or a bird poops on you or your shoes give you blisters and you bleed awkwardly from the heels (the stigmata of the stupidly try-too-hards). It's silently embarrassing and can take the wind out of the sails of any almost-formed-ego. It probably didn't help that I was 1-2 years younger than all my friends, and at that time in your life, those years (and even months) count. A lot. All I remember are the cool people walking around and around the field, passing the cheerleading teams on the sidelines, saying hi to who they knew and pretending to be interested in the conversations they had with various parents they encountered. I'm positive that as I tried to walk around the field with the other kids, not watching the game, I hoped I would meet some fellow junior high (or high school!) boy who would stand out and approach me because he felt the same way I did and he could just tell we had a connection. I hoped we would talk about something we saw on Comedy Central and that by meeting each other we'd both rise above the regular 12-15 year old bullshit - it never happened, as you might've guessed. After a few of these games I set my gazes higher, admiring all of the cute dads and coaches and teachers in the stands. There sure were a lot more cute dads to look at than there ever were non-jerky boys interested in a hyper aware youngin' who worried about the sun exploding and end of the universe.
Sports are weird. Suburbia is weird. People getting all hopped up and excited about moving a ball arbitrarily up and down a field or court. Fans are even odder specimens. They react as if they're the actual athletes, as if they are the ones putting in all the work. It's not that I don't like sports - I really like playing football and baseball and soccer and what-have-you - I just never got into the fan culture. For some reason basketball is the only sport I can happily watch on television. For anything else, it has to be live and right in front of me. I want to hear the cracking of bones with helmets and smell the kicked-up dirt.
Okay, I got sidetracked there. What I should just say is that the girl really knows how to strike a chord with the subconscious, communal feelings of American life. Feelings I never knew I shared with anyone else. And she's really humble and down-to-earth. And her father's Loudon Wainwright III.
After Lucy came Martha. How are there so many talented people in one family?
It's late. To be continued.