not staying for what they all want to hear
Thursday, November 20 2003
Gretchen and I drove up to Albany today to do some much-needed clothes shopping. We stopped first at the hip little neighborhood at Lark and Madison and had the lunch buffet at one of the several excellent Indian restaurants there. Unfortunately, this neighborhood has the closest good Indian food to where we live, and we take advantage of it every time we have an excuse to go to Albany.
We did our shopping at the Crossgates Mall, the place where someone was arrested for wearing a teeshirt bearing a peace slogan less than a year ago. Much as we hate malls, Gretchen and I are forced to go there when shopping for clothes. (And our local mall is too small to satisfy this need.)
Normally (and I don't really know why) I get all my new clothes at Banana Republic, but I've had such good luck with a brown pair Old Navy corduroys given to me by John (my former housemate) that I wanted to get some more at the Crossgates Old Navy. We'd never really been in an Old Navy before and were amazed to find that none of the clothes had any of those anti-theft devices on them. When you're a major corporation like The Gap and you don't put little anti-theft tags on your stuff, you're basically begging to be ripped off. That's all I have to say about that.
I also was trying to track down one of those new disposable digital cameras so I could do some purposeful new hardware hacking, but there were none to be found.
We spent about two hours at the surprisingly large New York State Museum walking around through the series of displays. These focus on cultural, artistic, and biological history, mostly in ways related to the State of New York, with a focus on Upstate and the Adirondacks. There are the usual stuffed mammals set in lifelike poses in faux environments, though these were noticeably mangier than their counterparts at, say, the Smithsonian Institution. (They really need to get rid of their rabbit.)
There was an entire room dedicated to documenting the ecological destruction caused by charcoal mining in the Adirondacks, but it made me crave a map of the parts of New York deforested for this purpose. None was provided.
Most impressive, perhaps, was the display of minerals collected from all over the state. The colors, the shapes, the fluorite. Gretchen couldn't get enough of the fluorite. There were also a couple unique exhibits, one documenting the experience of a group of 900 Jews who escaped the Nazis and were housed for a time in a New York military camp until their fate could be decided. Another exhibit had artifacts from the World Trade Center collapse, including a huge piece of bent I-beam and an entire fire engine that had been both crushed and burned.
As we were driving back to Lark Street from the museum, we were listening to a local Albany classic rock station when we learned that Lynrd Skynrd and 38 Special would be performing tonight at the "Pepsi" Arena (which we prefer to call by its pre-corporate name, Knickerbocker Arena). Gretchen floated the idea of maybe going to see the show, mostly (I think) because of her fondness for a few 38 Special songs. It seemed ridiculous to me at first, but then I realized it would be a crazy and totally random experience. This is Randomly Ever After, after all. So together we decided what the fuck, let's go! This would be only my second arena-sized rock concert, the first having been Pink Floyd in Cleveland back in 1987.
We weren't yet hungry, but we ordered burritos to go at Bombers, an Albany institution. Like everything in Albany, Bombers burritos are cheap. While there, Gretchen asked how to get to Knickerbocker Arena and tried to figure out what our alcohol options should be. There was no way in hell we were going to go see Lynrd Skynrd sober.
We went upstairs to the Bombers bar and I downed a pint of beer while Gretchen had a shot of Stoli's vanilla. We stood in a window looking out at the Lark Street hipsters smoking their cigarettes and Gretchen observed, "I wish we had some friends in Albany." That was exactly what I was thinking.
We'd had nowhere near enough booze, so we stopped at a nearby liquor store and, after some amusing banter with the employees, bought a flask of brandy.
The original plan was to smuggle the booze into the Knickerbocker Arena with us, but the scalper who sold us our tickets (a black man speculating on cracker music) told us we wouldn't get away with it. So after parking the car at the topmost level of a nearby parking garage, we took turns swigging brandy until it was mostly gone. Alcohol isn't a good drug to "take" like a pill, but in this situation it was our only choice. I was little concerned as I felt it passing from my stomach into my blood stream. Had I drunk too much? Would bad things happen? Liver don't fail me now! But I was fine. I had a good basic drunk that was going to permit me to have good time watching classic rock bands pay tribute to themselves.
The bouncers didn't even pat us down as we walked in. This might have had something to do with our look. I was wearing a fabulous new semi-formal brown sports coat I'd just bought at Banana Republic and I looked like a million bucks. Gretchen was wearing a pretty new shirt whose status in the Old Navy database will forever be bought but not sold.
I wasn't surprised by the fact that there were hardly any black people attending this concert (the two Gretchen saw looked like either journalists or VIPs). I was, however, a little surprised by the youth of the crowd. I'd expected a preponderance of fat redneck baby boomers with long grey hair and bald spots, but a surprising number of the people at this show were seemingly fashionable 20-somethings and even teenagers. I suppose concert-going is an inherently youthful activity, and the only older people one would be likely to see would be the serious fans. There was, of course, an unusual concentration of mullets and women with deep-fried blond hairdos they've been maintaining as time capsules from the day they first got laid.
One has to wonder what sorts of people attend a Lynrd Skynrd concert this far from the south. Their unabashed southern pride no doubt strikes a chord with plenty of blue-collar white folks in rural New York, even people who have never left the state. Regional pride translates well.
We found our assigned seats and quickly determined they were entirely too far from the stage, so we went down to the floor, where a couple security guys were making sure only legitimate ticket holders could get through. We watched the dynamics for awhile and then Gretchen just busted a move and walked through, encountering no difficulty. I followed soon thereafter during the distraction of another wave of people. We walked to a fairly good place in the near-stage seating and stood there, watching the band (which at this point was still 38 Special covering their own music flawlessly).
I'd seen a girl a few minutes before who had looked exactly like Jatasya from Charlottesville, but it had seemed ridiculous to me that I'd encounter Jatasya at an event like this so far from Virginia. Now, though, nearer the stage, I became aware that the Jatasya look-alike was standing right next to me. She sure looked a lot like Jatasya, whom I hadn't seen since 1998. She took one look at me and grabbed me. Oh my God, it was Jatasya! So then, somehow, in all the noise of a classic rock band keeping the faith, I explained that Gretchen is my wife and that I live in Kingston these days. Then I explained to Gretchen who Jatasya is. It turned out that Jatasya is living in Albany these days and claims to be a genuine Lynrd Skynrd fan.
We would have stayed at our seats near the stage after 38 Special closed with "Hold on Loosely," but our bladders needed emptying, so we had to put ourselves on the outside of the security gauntlet again. Getting back in looked difficult with all the lights still on, but Gretchen pulled it off using her usual "act like you own the place" technique. Meanwhile I was talking to a drunk guy wearing a backwards baseball cap who was considering just jumping the barricade. I told him that all we had to do was wait for the lights to go out and then we could just march through. "It'll be easy for you," he observed, looking at my nice new sports jacket, "You look the part, like REM or something!" Just then a bunch of security guys showed up and began shooing us back to our seats, but in a last-second save Gretchen came up and slipped me somebody's floor ticket, which I immediately used as a credential to pass through the security gauntlet. When I got to Gretchen, she was chatting with Jatasya and a random guy who complimented Jatasya on her good looks. It was from this guy that Gretchen had borrowed the floor ticket which she'd passed to me.
While these conversations continued, I went off to wait in an improbably long and slow queue to obtain several units of Coors Lite, the only kind of alcohol for sale within the floor security zone. During this time, Lynrd Skynrd took the stage and began playing their distinctive rock and roll music. They've been playing the same songs for twenty or thirty years, so they are well-practiced in their performance. The two people staffing the Coors Lite stand had been reduced to cracking open cans of the beer and dumping it into our plastic cups, since the kegs had either run dry or their taps had broken.
When I caught up with Gretchen again, she'd found a pair of great seats but lost Jatasya (who had apparently gone off to look for me). My seat was right next to a pair of fake blonds whose faces were deeply lined from excessive time spent tanning in the sun. They saw me with the beer and thought at first I was coming around to sell it - but that only happens at ballgames.
Now for a little something about the music, and the crowd's response to it. Lynrd Skynrd had a few simple multimedia props to add emotional impact to some of their songs, something they pulled off most effectively with the home movie clips they showed during "Simple Man," which they presented as a tribute to the late Ronnie Van Zant. I'm not much of a Skynrd fan but "Simple Man" is a great song.
From there things became increasingly disturbing. During the performance of "Sweet Home Alabama," the crowd went wildest during the Neil Young put-down. Out came a number of rebel flags people had brought with them, and I just looked at Gretchen and said, "These aren't our people."
The absolute low point of the concert came when Lynrd Skynrd performed their new song, "Red White and Blue" - the only song I'd never heard played hundreds of times over the years on countless radio stations. It was a piece of unapologetic redneck jingoism written in delayed response to Nine-Eleven. The colors mentioned in the title had been found on the singer in the following probing analysis repeatedly restated in the chorus:
My hair is turning white
Neck's always been red
My collar's still blue
Having established that he's an aging working class redneck, the singer goes on to advance the notion that an unspecified "they" "get the Hell out" instead of, say, making use of the First Amendment. There's not much logic presented for why these people should stop complaining and just leave the country, but the implication is that the complainers haven't worked hard, paid their taxes, and served their country. Read the lyrics for yourself:
My Daddy worked hard and so have I
We paid our taxes and gave our lives
To serve this great country
So what are they complaining about?
Yeah we love our families, we love our kids
You know it's love that makes us all so rich
That's where we're at
If they don't like it they can just get the Hell out!
As know-nothing idiot rock, "Red White and Blue" makes "Sweet Home Alabama" seem like a well-researched college dissertation. The thing is, a song like this is tailor-made for the proto-fascists busy consolidating American airwaves and sucking up to the masters Enronning our country. "Red White and Blue" is actually being played on Clear Channel radio, while opposing viewpoints, ones that hold up under logical scrutiny, depend on embattled file sharing networks to be heard.As "Red White and Blue" was performed, the movie screen showed footage of our boys overseas doing what they do best, loading missiles into airplanes, saluting one another, and otherwise getting in harm's way. As a jingoistic message of "support our troops" it seemed hopelessly out of date now that it's obvious our troops are a bunch of sitting ducks in an unwinnable war against an enemy that never was a threat to begin with. I know they only write a song every ten years or so, but when is Lynrd Skynrd going to get around to recording a tune saluting the blue collar redneck amputees at Walter Reed?
When the song was over, I booed as loudly as I could, but it was lost in the crowd's adulation. This crowd - these people - all had it in their heads that Iraqis were on those planes that hit the World Trade Center, and they still believe in the miracle of the air at Ground Zero being clean despite the pulverized mercury lamps and asbestos. Pondering the complex nature of reality might be a talent common to Skynrd fans, but it's obvious the band doesn't give them such credit.
Eventually the singer decided his stage props were incomplete without a confederate flag of his own, but he mostly kept it wrapped around the microphone stand, as if concerned about pissing off Yankees here in one of the Union's capital cities.
A large screen behind the stage was used mostly for the display of what looked like a massive stockpile of whiskey kegs. But during "Red White and Blue" it had been used to briefly display a massive American flag. Later, during songs written about Southern fried pride, it was used to display a strange miscegenation between American and confederate flags, as if the latter had to be qualified by the former as a concession to the nuanced doctrine of United We Stand.
Gretchen and I escaped sometime during the early encores, well before the inevitable performance of "Freebird." The audience had been remarkably patient during the entire show and had never once demanded the performance of the song they all wanted to hear. They knew it was coming.
Getting out of the concert this early meant that we avoided the crowd and the traffic jam that lay in the future of the other concert-goers. I wonder if we were the first people in Lynrd Skynrd concert history to leave the show before the performance of "Freebird." It's an awfully cool thing to say we did.
On the ride home Gretchen and I were discussing Michæl Jackson's recent legal troubles. I said that I felt sorry for the poor guy, since there's no fighting a sexual preference, even when it happens to be for young boys. I was pretty drunk, so I was loose enough to talk a little about my own set of sexual perversions, which are very common, considered reasonably healthy, but are nonetheless (due to their strength and arbitrariness) terribly embarrassing for me.
By the time I got around to eating my burrito from Bombers, I was a little disturbed to find a pervasive barbecue flavor inside. We'd smelled the strong scent of molasses when we'd first walked into the place, and here it was popping up in all its glory within our burritos.
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