Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about death, motivation, and pop music.
I’ve got two concerts this week.
I don’t know exactly when I became a concert person. I went to a handful of concerts during high school – mostly rock and metal shows for back then I was mostly a rock and metal kid. And I attended a couple when I was in the Army, but the unpredictable schedule dictated what shows I could or couldn’t attend. I guess it wasn’t until after the war when concerts became a means to an end.
Music has always held a disproportionately large position in my life. I’ve always turned to pop music to both fill in when my own emotions were insufficient and to provide a shortcut to the emotions of others. That is to say, for me music has always been a means to validate self and to form a sort of community.
Concerts were, are, a validation. Sometimes a deeper experience, sometimes life altering in the moment – you know the one, when you’re caught in the sweep of the crowd that is matching the energy from the stage beat for beat. But one can’t really have a thousand life altering experiences, can he? There’d be nothing left to alter. The original would have long since been destroyed.
That’s not a hyperbole. By my estimates, I’ve been to over a thousand shows. Sometimes big ones – the kind squeezed into fields with thirty thousand of your closest strangers. Sometimes little ones – the kind in a basement or house party where you can count the attendants on one hand. Most tend to be club shows – partially because I like the sound at club shows better, and partially because the bands that I tend to like also tend to play at clubs rather than stadiums.
That and I’m not a fan of festivals for reasons Edwyn Collins accurately sums up here:
A thousand shows is a lot. On average that’s about six shows per month. My attendance tends to come in bursts, with some months being heavier than others. I do recall seeing five shows in three cities in one seven day period a few years ago – though the names of those bands have long since eluded me. But yeah, still a lot of concerts.
Over the years, I’ve forgotten most of the opening acts. If pressed, I probably couldn’t name more than half of the headliners – at least without consulting my record collection. And the shows all seem to serve the same overpriced beer to the same cliched people. And most of the time the shows themselves follow the same formula. Start with a crowd favorite. Then up the ante with an even more popular song. Work in sad song or switch to the new stuff. Pepper in some old favorites. End on a bitter sweet note. Leave the stage and pretend like the show’s over, but everyone in the crowd knows that you still haven’t played your biggest hit.
Lather. Rinse. Repeat.
Hell, even without knowing the songs, I can usually lip sync to the entire evening. It’s all so predictable.
And I hope it never stops.
There is a certain comfort in the experience. The overpriced beer tastes like home, no matter what city I’m in. The nature of set lists – they’re predictable because the formula works. Hell, even the clichéd people are a comfort. I have friends here in Richmond that I consistently see at rock shows – some of whom I first met 200 miles away at a festival in Delaware.
Naturally, going to shows and being greeted by the familiar only motivates so far. The Familiar, even the Familiar and the Good, only serve as effective motivation when the current situation is uncomfortable.
Familiar won’t typically get me off the couch.
But I’ll drive hundreds of miles for a good rock show. I’ll crash on a couch, despite being too old for that. I’ll burn vacation days for recovering from the night before instead of recovering from the months prior. And the reason for that comes down to one word – death.
Talking about death tends to make people uncomfortable – despite it being the end state that we all face. Both Eastern and Western philosophy have a history of urging people to be motivated by our own mortality – a personal favorite of mine being “Keep death and exile daily before thine eyes,” by Epictetus.
One day you will die, so make sure what you do today matters.
When you give up on the concept of immortality via the afterlife, your personal concept of forever shrinks to just a few decades. Life becomes both finite and comprehensible in a way only desirable as “short.” Life becomes the act of maximizing happiness and time while minimizing pain.
For me that means prioritizing experiences – and by proxy anecdotes – over possessions. A fire could gut my house tomorrow, and take with it all my autographed albums. But it can’t take away the conversation I had with Matt Pond over a beer between sets.
Or that time I saw David Ford loop a dozen instruments to play State of the Union.
Or when New Order played a Joy Division encore.
Or the time fun. sat two tables away from me prior to their sold-out show in Carrboro, North Carolina.
Or listening to Transatlanticism over and over again during the war and then closing the loop by seeing Death Cab live at Stubb’s in Austin.
Yes, there’s a certain amount of hedonism involved. And a fair amount of ego. But the one thing that I’ve seen people say on their death beds is that they seldom seem to regret the things that they have done. Rather, they regret the things that they missed.
So when you really love a band. When an album has been there for you time and time again. In the grand scheme of things – which are you going to regret more missing the show or being a bit tired on a random Thursday?