He sat down on a chair off to the left side of the room, hoping not too many people would stand in front of his view of the stage. He could no longer stand for hours on end at concerts, now that he was older - probably the oldest person in the room. He was getting used to that fact, but it didn’t really bother him. It was simply an observation, though sometimes it did make him feel old. He always found it fascinating to overhear some of the conversations in the small club. His favorites were when an old song from the 80s or 90s would be played pre-show, listening to some young guy explain the history of that song or the artist to his bored date. Sadly, he knew the history, because he was that kind of music nerd and had lived it. He sometimes had to resist the urge to bore both of these youngsters with the actual facts. This was getting increasingly rarer. He didn’t care anymore about that stuff and isn’t sure why he ever did. He could hear his droning voice sometimes spouting statistics about such and such and it was hard to believe how fatiguing it made him feel.
When he was coming of age in the early 90s, he always wanted to belong to something. He always felt he lacked conviction. He would read Maximum Rock-N-Roll and a ton of punk ‘zines. He learned all about straight edge, and how pretty much everyone is a “sellout.” In a way, he wanted to believe all of the punk dogma, or ethos that was in vogue at the time, so he could lose himself in the scene. He desired a cause. He was outraged by a lot of things, but saw too many things in greys as opposed to blacks and whites. Instead, all of the rules and regulations bemused him. It all felt like the same kind of thoughts that they were supposedly rebelling against.
In the 80s and 90s, selling out was a massive betrayal. The thing about lesser known music, is that the early consumers become very attached to their music. If said artist achieved any notoriety outside of their original small scene, it was considered a money grab and a complete betrayal. It never made sense to him. He would try to muster up outrage when a Husker Du signed with a major label, but their music was still essentially the same and most people still didn’t know who they were. The rules seemed random to him and counterproductive. Did these people (or scenesters) really not want their beloved bands to succeed or earn money? Did they really want them to live in poverty eternally? As we know now, signing to a major label or licensing a song to an ad campaign does not ensure a financial windfall, or even a reason to quit a day job, and with the evening of the playing field due to technology, almost no one can actually earn money selling music. Sellout is no longer a thing. Younger people now consider all past music the same, while some of us older folks still hold grudges against Top 40 bands versus our underground favorites. To a 25 year old, there’s no difference in streaming a song by Florida punk band Spoke, or Glenn Fry’s “You Belong to the City.”
He was always regular. Though he was fluent with all things goth, punk, industrial, noise, post-punk, and college rock growing up, he never gravitated to a particular scene. He never adopted the regulation costume, or changed out his friends based on their music tastes. Probably the closest he came to a look, was by being his record nerd self and wearing old Levi’s and cheaply made concert T-shirts almost exclusively. His hair was a wreck – stringy and in the way of his face – a little like Thurston Moore from Sonic Youth, but he was built more like Black Francis from the Pixies. However, neither of these things were conscious choices – it just happened, because all of his time and money went into finding new music, working to earn money to buy music. He never had the drive to try to become a full on punk rocker or anything else, because he liked too much of the other stuff and the punk culture at that time (late 80s – early 90s) didn’t allow for outside interests. You needed to look and live like a punk, not just listen to punk. He wasn’t aware of a music nerd scene, until he reached his mid-twenties, but soon discovered that that scene horrified him most of all! There was just as much a feeling of superiority within. A lot of these people reminded him of Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons. They were the type who would look down their noses at others who were unaware that Australian band, The Church, had had five albums before having a hit single in the US in 1988, for example. It was a club of one-upmanship, and often times about collecting and not about the actual enjoyment of the music.
By the late 90s, not much had changed. He lived in a shitty apartment and paycheck to paycheck, but his costume had not changed. Some of the old T-Shirts were still in circulation - holes and all! His supervisor had taken him aside one time to urge him to start dressing in more appropriate office attire. He struggled to do that too. He didn’t fit in anywhere! He was himself, but was looked down upon when he went to see most of the bands he liked, as well as at his job, or at places like golf courses. He nearly always felt like a walking contradiction. When he was in his 40s, he went to see The Jesus and Mary Chain perform a best of set, and was wearing a brightly colored golf shirt, while everyone else had teased hair, creepers, and black clothing. He felt awkward, and judged, but he imagined that he was one of the only ones there who knew and owned the Mary Chain’s entire catalogue and had been a fan since before they were included on the Some Kind of Wonderful soundtrack.
His inability to commit to anything extended into every aspect of his life. He wanted to feel faithful to something spiritual, or to a cause, and especially to a significant other, but was never able to genuinely do it. It wasn’t in him. He felt that he was incapable of change. He had seen his friends change completely when falling for someone romantically, when they were all young, and it never felt right to him. Although most of his closest friends did find fantastic partners eventually. When someone would commit to a band or genre in his teen years, all others would become off limits. Back in the 80s, for whatever reason, no one was allowed to cross music allegiances. This is not really true, but there was always the risk of being labelled a sellout or be outcasted by your friend group, if you were a Christian Death fan and then started listening to Metallica, and wearing their gear.
He was often mystified by his attractions. He encountered beautiful girls/women every day, but he could only conjure up a few in his memory that made him especially attracted, conflicted, nervous, itchy, and bonkers. He could never quite figure out that rare allure. It had to be something more than lust, but what else could it be, he wondered? He remembered early crushes going back to his first memories. He used to have dreams about his first grade teacher, and he remembered watching West Side Story with his Mom on TV as a toddler, and making fun of the movie, but going silent every time Natalie Wood was on screen.
During the late 90s, his favorite record store, Ozone, where he spent hours on end, over five or so years, nerding out over their inventory. This was the place that he would pick up all of those essential early 90s UK shoegaze EP releases. He would load up on US indie 7” singles from labels like Slumberland and Pop Narcotic, as well as punk singles and compilations – looking for the next Husker Du or Jawbreaker to fill that void in his life, or the latest Sarah Records releases. They had it all! And by 1998, they had an employee who reminded him of a little of Natalie Wood. He could never forget walking into Ozone Records on a Saturday and seeing the newest single at the time from long-time favorite Buffalo Tom, “Wiser,” which she was playing loudly in the store and dancing and singing along behind the counter. He nearly fainted on the spot. Could there possibly be a woman for him? Someone he wouldn’t have to give up his identity for? Someone who he could play records with and have it be meaningful for both? He felt his knees buckle.
“Shoegaze” was a derogatory term created by the British music press, indicating that the bands lacked any kind of stage presence. However, these bands were varied and exciting to him! These bands all seemed to be music fans. Their music elicited all kinds of differing greats from the past and were infused with an energy unlike anything he had ever heard. He appreciated that they seemingly weren’t bands made up of cocky bastards. What the press disparaged them for, he felt was a strength. A lot of these bands excited his imagination as they somehow merged all of the things he loved about music into affordable and frequent four song EPs.
The first band had finished their set. He decided that they had been pretty good, and reminded him of the Lo-Fi indie singles he started buying in the mid-90s. They were apparently local. He briefly thought back to the old Portland music scene, which he rarely found inspiring, but commonly offensive. His favorites were generally brought to his attention via indie labels from elsewhere. This band had brought a devoted following of friends and family. He was happy for them, despite being a five-piece stuffed to a small portion at the front of the stage. The other two bands’ equipment was ready to go behind them. He considered standing up to buy something from the merch table or a beer at the bar, but instead chose to stay in his chair. The danger of losing it was too great. This was his first post Covid show. Everything felt strange, but it was great to see live music again. There’s an anger to live rock-n-roll that always fed him in a way he didn’t understand.
The floor in front of the stage opened up. In his younger years, pre-Covid, he would’ve made his move to be close to the stage, but now, despite his back and butt hurting from the terrible chair, he stayed there. He knew that standing would likely lead to him collapsing. He was already embarrassed enough by his appearance or existence, and he was there by himself.
There she was, he thought, as a chill rushed through his entire body. Across the room. He would never forget her, even after all of these years. In a black dress that draped down to her knees. She had dark hair that still didn’t quite reach her shoulders. Seemingly only a few years older, while the past 25 had been rough on him. He looked like a grizzled world war veteran and grandfather, who ate all of the leftovers, all of the time. She still looked like a young woman who could be in a new band or working in a hip record store. She was swaying back and forth to a song, over the PA, he didn’t recognize, but that reminded him of an eighties synth duo. A younger version of her stood in front of her sipping from a pint of beer. Her daughter looked like a teenager, but must’ve been over twenty-one. He remembered how he used to sneak glances at her over the top of the records he was holding up for further inspection, while trying to drum up the nerve to talk to her. He always hoped that one of his amazing purchases would spark a connection. He began to wonder what her life had been like over the last lifetime. He assumed that it had been much better without him in it.