I guess I’ve reached middle age. (That’s one of the most shocking sentences I’ve ever typed in my 44 years. I’m still wrapping my mind around it.) It means that the musicians of my youth — those vibrant men and women who blew my mind wide open and taught me to love the beat, the style, the groove of rock and roll — are older than me, which means some of them are skimming the edge of old age, or they are already officially what we must call old, and that’s only if they’re lucky enough to still be around.
Which brings me to my next, painful, point: so many of them have gone on to the great show in the sky. That’s the thing about middle age, in part, and also about rock and roll, in part: you lose your heroes.
I never saw Prince or David Bowie or Leonard Cohen live, and losing them felt like losing actual pieces of my life experience, as though part of my past was dissolving, or maybe it was just my childhood disappearing even farther into the ether. I hold deep regret for missing so many inspiring acts because either I was too young to be permitted or I passed up the chance because I was lazy or, the opposite, I decided to be “responsible” and not go out on a work/school night. (I did get to see Michael Jackson — as part of the Jackson Five Victory Tour — when I was 10, an experience made possible only by my awesome grandma winning tickets on the radio. Bless her.)
I pat myself on the back for getting to a couple of important concerts: I spent a good two hours on two Peter Pan buses in the cold and dark in 1993 to see and hear Nirvana in person in Worcester, MA. I sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic threading through roads flanked by cotton fields in Texas so that I could see Soundgarden at Lollapalooza.
Due to reunion trends, I’ve been given an inordinate number of second chances: I finally saw local legends the Pixies — just before Kim Deal packed it up — at UMass, where they were “born.” I got to hear Wire twice. Perhaps most significantly, my husband finagled a front row spot for me in front of my childhood hero from the Go-gos, Jane Wiedlin, in 2011, long past the time I thought I’d ever get the chance. (I was so close, I could see not just all her guitar pedals but also straight down into her cleavage. Amazing.)
When Tom Petty died suddenly last month, I was reminded of how much we take for granted. Somehow, even though he was on the Heartbreakers 40th anniversary tour, I still thought I had plenty of time to see him play. Petty was so ubiquitous: his songs were all over movies and TV shows, they were still regularly played on the radio, just about everyone had a connection to his songs, and it really felt like he would be part of our American landscape forever. Long After Dark was my very first record, which I bought with my allowance at age nine. I’d only had 35 years to see him live, but I still didn’t make it.
So my heart was happy when, last month, I went to see the Psychedelic Furs (Love My Way was my second record). Lead singer/frontman/performer extraordinaire Richard Butler, seemed like his heart was exceedingly happy too. At 61, he looked as delighted as he ever has to perform, despite the not-even-close-to-sold-out, much smaller venue from his early days.
“His voice is the same!” multiple people wrote later. And it was: bold and strong and deep and soulful. His spirit was the same as when I’d first seen him (very late, considering their heyday) 17 years ago. I could only imagine how he felt, a survivor among many of his peers, likely grateful beyond words to still be at it.
He held his hands aloft reverently during a rendition of the song “Heaven” that sent me right back to 1984. I loved hearing so many hits and so many personal favorites with amazing sound despite only one other original band member on stage, his brother. What I wanted more than anything at the end of the night was to give him a big hug — for putting together such a blissful event, for allowing me to celebrate the rock and roll I’ve loved since I was in my single digits, to feel the familiar tug in my chest, to be buoyed elsewhere magically, comfortably, blissfully back to a time when I still had all my heroes.
Thank Heaven I still have Richard Butler.