The lights went down. The crowd roared. And I felt the same rush I'd experienced nearly 17 years ago, when I first saw legendary rockers The Blasters --- a band that was instrumental in my career choice (music) and my demise.
The Blasters' original lineup is back on tour --- Phil and Dave Alvin, Gene Taylor, John Bazz, and Bill "Buster" Bateman. Seeing them in Philly earlier this month, I realized that, for the first time in many years of going to shows, I wasn't concerned how slick my hair looked, how cool I was or wasn't behaving, or who saw me or not. I wasn't there to study the guitar player's technique. I wasn't there to chat up girls. I was there to see the band, solomente.
Unless you count drumming on the walls of your mama's womb as a performance, we all entered this world as fans. After hearing the sadistic strains of "Three Blind Mice" or the gut-wrenching blues of "My Darling Clementine" serenaded crib-side, most of us decided to remain fans. Others, like me, became both fans and musicians.
Flash forward: pimples, awkward angst, homework, masturbation, and rock 'n' roll; countless hours in front of the bathroom mirror playing air-guitar and dreaming; the first glimmer of desire for expression, a ticket out, to rock out.
Then, lo and behold, it works... sorta. You start a band with pals of equal desperation and talent, and you never look back. You drown in rock 'n' roll's palpable, visceral eroticism. Mom and dad are sohappy.
Meanwhile, those of you who were too smart to take the musician route, lived out your own rock 'n' roll fantasies on the sidelines. The concert jersey you wore the day after the show said something about you. You cut your hair like your favorite rock star. You played your headphones so loud your nose bled. You went to shows in clothes you'd meticulously laid out the night before. Rock 'n' roll defined you.
Then one day you wake up, rub your eyes, wipe the drool off your puss, and you're almost 40. Holy shit. Music still surrounds you, blaring alarmingly from your clock radio, your car stereo, your headphones. You buy CDs now, seeking out those artists who can come even remotely close to getting your rocks off like when you were a kid.
Being a musician, it's even easier to lose the spark, because it's a job.
But The Blasters redeemed me.
Being a rock 'n' roll fan in the extreme, the seven-hour drive to Philly was no big deal. As a young musician, I considered The Blasters the definitive band. Their sound encompassed all the great tines in American music's fork in the road. Blues, r&b, boogie-woogie, rockabilly, soul --- you name it, the Blasters did it all.
When I saw them nearly 17 years ago at Rumors (now Lux Lounge) on South Avenue, it was a defining moment. The sweaty crowd spilled out onto the sidewalk and into the street. Girls danced barefoot on the bar. I jumped up and down like an idiot to "Shakin,'" "Marie Marie," and "Border Radio." The cops shut the show down, but not before I was hooked.
So when the lights dimmed at the Philly show last week, and the band casually took the stage, I was transformed back into the 17-year-old kid who chose the fate that is now my life. The band was on fire, burning with veteran know-how and seasoned talent.
At one point or another, we become aware how goofy we look while dancing. This self-conscious self-realization is the first step down the ladder of complacency. But in that Philly club, I pogoed with giddy delight. I whooped and yelled. I danced with anyone within reach. I kissed strangers.
I didn't care --- I was a fan again, bathing in a blood, sweat, and Pabst Blue Ribbon fountain of youth.
After the show, the fellas in my band and I hob-nobbed with our heroes backstage, tossing lit joints through the air and snapping pics. I told frontman Phil Alvin what a huge fan I had always been, after he finished telling us what a huge fan of Lee Allen (the late Little Richard and Blasters saxophonist) he was. He was treating Allen with the same veneration we were showing him. Here was a star with fans of his own, who is still a fan himself.
As my bandmates and I stumbled out into the night --- just three satisfied fans --- a kid in a t-shirt with our logo on it approached.
"When you playin' again, man?" he asked me. "I'm a big fan."