My first ever concert was when I was seven; I didn’t pick the artist. My older sister had a mad crush on David Cassidy—a crush of the his-poster-over-the-bed, his-face-on-all-her-Tiger-Beat-magazines, his-music-on-her-45s variety. So for her birthday, my parents indulged her and bought tickets to see him at the Springfield Civic Center.
I don’t remember much about the concert—mostly screaming girls. My sister enjoyed every minute of it. The rest of us were clearly not in the target demographic. My mother, for years after, would wonder why they had paid good money for David Cassidy to shake his white-fringed-jumpsuit-wearing heinie at the audience for 90 minutes. I naively (but breathlessly) waited for the rest of the Partridge Family to come out. I was doomed to disappointment. Did the abstract-painted-modern-art school bus break down? Did Chris and Tracy have school the next day? It was years before the Milli-Vanilli scandal, so someone eventually had to explain to me that just because their faces were on the album cover did not mean they were either (a) a real family or (b) actually sang on the records. My dreams of hitting the road for a world tour with my family before third grade were crushed.
Flash forward a decade and a half, and I finally bought my first concert tickets on my own: Huey Lewis and the News. I didn’t have a crush on him—if he had posters and magazine covers, I never knew it—but I liked his everyman anthems, his explorations of acapella, his catchy horn section, and even his harmonica solos. My husband and I were young, newly married, and in grad school, but we squeezed the household budget and bought the tickets.
Held at Broome County Arena, it is still the concert to which we compare all others. I don’t remember screaming girls, but I do remember people dancing in the aisles, singing along, and begging for more than one encore. Huey had great stage presence, and everyone in the hall was happily along for the ride. We saw lots of bigger names later, but it turns out that the Beach Boys were fun, but so old they had to bring cheerleader-types to keep the crowd entertained; Paul McCartney looked tiny from our nosebleed seats at the Vet in Philadelphia; Chicago were lifeless and out of tune on stage; and Paul Simon was too loud (my ears literally rang for three days afterward, despite holding my hands over my ears for the entire concert).
We saw a lot of the greats that made up the soundtrack of the 80s and 90s, but I think one of the reasons I still have so much affection for Huey Lewis and the News is that I chose the concert myself, and I went with someone who also wanted to be there. Going was a rite of passage and I still look back on it fondly.
My sister, I have to think, finally realized she had terrible taste in first crushes, not to mention music; her later concerts were much more mainstream. Although, I admit to rolling my eyes when she confessed that she had gone to see Barry Williams—Greg Brady!—in Branson a couple of years ago. Maybe her taste hasn’t improved that much.
After we had kids, we took them to some of the concerts they wanted to see, starting with a parade of Disney Channel stars: Cheetah Girls, Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers. We learned to bring earplugs and, as the kids got older, we introduced them to more mainstream stuff—yes, even Huey. When they were teens, they had their own rites of passage. I happily dropped them at the Warped Tour—an all day concert featuring screamo and emo and latter-day punk. It was so not my thing, but they loved it.
And that is what the concert-going experience is supposed to be: a shared moment, a rite of passage, a fondly remembered first—whether it’s your technical first with David Cassidy’s jumpsuit or a real first with Huey Lewis’ cry for a Couple Days Off. But this week, thousands of kids, some on their own and some with their parents, attended a concert in Manchester, England. For a lot of them, it was probably their first concert. For twenty-two it was also their last concert. One man, and a handful of his associates, made sure that those in attendance would always remember it—but not because the singer had no stage presence, or was too loud, or because they had sung along and danced in the aisles for two hours. And that makes my heart hurt for those who were there.
I’m angry that something that should be remembered with joy or humor or fondness (or even irony years later if your taste in music changes) or any of a thousand other positive emotions can now only be remembered as a tragedy. I’m angry that those kids were not allowed to hold that elation for even a moment. Music should bring us together—a time to laugh, a time to dance. But this week it is a time to mourn: the senseless loss of life, the loss of childhood innocence, and the muting of the music.
But this last is temporary because music expresses all our emotions, from deepest sorrow to highest delight, so we’ll return to see the horn sections, to listen to the harmonies, and to wonder if the rest of the Partridge Family will show up. Because the music, and our need to share it, is greater than those who would silence it. The beat will go on.
Text: © Rebecca Bigelow
Quarter Rest Image: free clipart