Essay–Nostalgia is a Dangerous Thing
I’ll share a little secret with you–I’m a geek.
I was one of the awkward kids who never really seemed to find his place until very late in high school. While the cool kids in junior high and early high school listened to Van Halen, I was jamming out to Rush, Pink Floyd, and Metallica. I wrote. I played video games. I played the trumpet in band. I had friends who were in some ways very much like me and in others, very different.
For some reason, I never quite understood the allure of Van Halen and similar bands. I just didn’t. The music was okay, although not really all that complex. Eddie was a fantastic guitarist, no doubt about that. But what really annoyed me, besides David Lee Roth’s voice, was their lyrics. They just didn’t have anything to them.
I realize now, all these decades later, that VH is a party band. Their lyrics weren’t supposed to be deep or have any real meaning to them. They were just what they were–to have fun. And maybe that’s why I never really had any appreciation for their songs.
When Sammy Hagar took over, some of that changed. We got songs like “Dreams” and “Right Now” that were radically different. And the music suddenly became more complex. But I still didn’t like most of the songs on their albums because instead of focusing on making that kind of music, they still wandered into party land. I guess I was a curmudgeon even in my teenage years.
I have been to probably a hundred concerts in my life. I’ve seen Tool seven times, Rush nine times, Pink Floyd twice (including a concert at the wall in Berlin before it fell), Ministry, Skinny Puppy, and Front Line Assembly multiple times. I love live music. I can even “sometimes” enjoy live country music, although I wouldn’t dare ever play it at home or in the car. Can’t stand the whiny shit, I guess.
My musical tastes are all over the place, but hardly as eclectic as some other geeks I know. And no, I don’t listen to radio. Ever. And yet because of services like Spotify, Pandora, SomaFM, and you wonderful fiendlings, I discover new music all the time. And yes, when I find something I like, I purchase it. From the artist if possible.
Ah, I see I’ve drifted off point. So let me get back to it.
Last night’s Van Halen concert was disappointing in many ways. It was great to see Eddie still shredding at 60 years old. It was great to see his brother destroying the drumset with skill. The bass player, Eddie’s son, might as well have been hiding backstage. And David Lee Roth? Ugh.
I’m 44 years old now. The “Diamond Dave” all the girls swooned over in junior high and high school has become a parody of himself. He seriously talked for about 15 minutes last night while the band played behind him. He told self-indulgent narcissistic bullshit stories and anecdotes. And while this was going on, I sat in my chair on the lawn and tried to ignore it by reading a book on my phone. That, folks, is truly pathetic. And it’s something I’ve NEVER done at another concert. So why did I do it last night?
I’m not entirely certain. But now that I’ve slept, I have an idea. The concert audience was filled with more old fogies (like myself) than youngsters. As you may expect, however, the youngsters were screaming and carrying on like they would at most other shows. And to be fair, they were seeing a legendary band. The older folks? That was odd.
When we first sat down, the lawn was pretty well packed. A little over an hour into the show, the folks behind us, a large group of them, had simply left. Maybe they felt the same way I did. Or maybe they just moved to another part of the lawn. I can’t say for certain which it was.
I was so conflicted about what I was seeing and hearing. There were several times during the show when the band didn’t seem to be in rhythm. It was strange. Maybe it’s my old ears, but it definitely reduced my ability to enjoy the concert. Rather than actually sing, David Lee Roth resorted to just talking the words over the mic. And even then, you could barely make out what he was saying. The only time he truly enunciated was when he was on an ego trip.
And maybe that’s because his voice is weak now. He sounded hoarse half the time. It happens, I know. All singers eventually have one of those nights where the voice just doesn’t cooperate. But I’ve a feeling that’s the norm for him now. I felt embarrassed for him. I felt embarrassed for us.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad I went and saw them just because I’d have hated to miss out on the experience. They are, after all, legends. And BMan and I had a good time poking fun at all the fat old people (like us) trying to shake and shimmy with the grooves. And let’s not forget the massive contact high of hundreds of oldsters smoking enough ganja to get Snoop Dogg couch locked.
But it’s the dissonance of watching folks who were once at the top of their game slip all the way down. One of my favorite songs by Rush is called “Losing It” and the line “Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it” has always haunted me. Neil Peart no doubt wrote that song about the fear of age destroying his ability to create music, to play, to do what he loves. I have that fear too and always have.
I’ve seen many bands on their so called “401k Tours.” I have to say that Van Halen was by far the worst of them. And as talented as they used to be, it made the fall that much greater and that much more meaningful. And horrifying.
The last Rush concert I attended, which is probably the last tour they’ll ever do, was still a magnificent performance. The trio simply destroyed the stadium, acting like they hadn’t aged a damned bit since the 70s. That’s remarkable. Some bands can do that. Some can’t. But the magic of watching your rock idols perform as well as they ever have is a tremendous feeling. Watching the opposite, however, is just depressing.
For BMan, last night was a bit of a religious experience. For me, it was too. But it was more of a requiem than a celebration. More funeral than mass. I hope I don’t ever feel that again. I wish VH all the success in the universe and I know they’ve been through a lot. Although most of it was self-inflicted. I hold no animosity for them. I just wish I’d seen them in their prime before the fall. But then again, they were never one of my favorite bands.
I’m going to see Velvet Acid Christ and Skinny Puppy later this year. SP always puts on a great show (except that one time on the Mythmaker tour) and it’ll only be the second time I’ve seen VAC. I look forward to those shows because there are as many kids at them as there are old fogies like me. That’s encouraging. Maybe I’ll steal some of their youthful passion. I can forget the nostalgia of my youth and simply focus on enjoying the words, the music, and the sensation of being around a bunch of folks truly enjoying the music for no other reason than it being music.
Nostalgia is not a place I want to live. Looking back is not nearly as fun as living in the present and looking to the future. Trying to relive the past often destroys it. So that’s the last 401k Tour I’ll be attending for a long, long time.