Last Friday, I received a Mother’s Day gift from Diana. I know it should have been the other way around, but when it comes to creative thoughtfulness regarding commonly-recognized marital celebrations, I am the absolute worst. I have always envied (and hated) those people able to pull some hot-tub-Champaign-and-chocolate-covered-strawberries-hot-air-balloon-ride out of their ass in order to surprise their significant other for a birthday or anniversary. As usual, it was up to Diana to arrange her own celebration for Mother’s Day.
On Wednesday, Diana called to tell me she had gotten us two tickets to see Kansas live at the Ralston Arena the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend. Now, I had a ton of crap to get done at work that week, and we were already committed to going camping that weekend, so I was a little aggravated that she had heaped more onto that. But I wouldn’t for the world intentionally hurt Diana’s feelings, and I really did want to see Kansas again, so I put on a brave face.
“That’s awesome, Honey. What made you decide to get tickets?”
“Well, I remember they were one of the bands you liked when we first started dating.”
And that is true. In the big, brown vinyl box of 8-track tapes that rode shotgun with me in my car in high school, Kansas dominated the section I classified as “Smart Rock” or “Brain Rock” (I had yet to hear the term “Prog Rock”). I had seen Kansas live in 1980, and naturally assumed at the time that everyone loved them. But, over the years I have discovered that there are actually only two types of people in this world: those who like Kansas (such as my friends Lucy and Rex who have an obsessive serial-killer shrine built to them in their basement), and those who think they like Kansas, but really only like Carry on Wayward Son and Dust in the Wind (like Diana, whose one and only rock album was Queen’s News of the World). And that’s fine. Hell, I know it’s heresy, but the only song I like by the Rolling Stones is “Paint it Black,” and I will turn the station if one of The Who’s CSI-coopted songs comes on. People like what they like, and I’m cool with it.
But Kansas has never truly been your basic Top 40 band. Imagine Handel and Rossini having a love child who learned to the play the electric guitar and violin. Their music is technical and complicated, and their lyrics rival any 20th century poetry I’ve ever heard. You kind of have to invest some thought into their music. So, while I knew Diana would enjoy seeing Kansas play Dust in the Wind, I wasn’t quite so sure how she would handle a 15-minute live version of “Miracles out of Nowhere” (and the accompanying five-minute Baroque organ solo in the middle). Then there was the opening band to consider.
“You remember correctly, Darling. I DO like Kansas. Who’s opening up for them?”
“Some band called Winger.” (Oh, hell) “Have you heard of them?”
“Yeah, late-80s/early-90s heavy-metal-ish. Glam metal, maybe? Is that a thing? Umm… anyway, they’re not really what you’re used to. Might be a little loud.”
“I’ll be okay. I’m kind of excited about this. I’ve never been to a rock concert.”
“Well, I’m excited too.”
“I’ll plan everything out.”
“Of course you will.”
And, she did. When I was 17, my concert plans consisted solely of working two days bailing hay or cutting tobacco for gas money, getting someone’s older brother to buy us a couple of six-packs of Stroh’s, and making it to the Nashville Municipal Auditorium at some point during the opening act without running my parents’ 1970 Custom Cruiser station wagon into a ditch near Clarksville. Diana’s plans were a little more thought-out and, well, Diana-y:
- Get to the venue two hours before the doors open to find a good parking place where we can just pull out without having to fight traffic (and make as few left turns as possible).
- Eat supper at some shady Kino joint right across from the venue because it’s right across from the venue. Also, they have good hamburgers.
- Sit in the car until the doors open and talk about how excited Diana is to see an actual rock concert. Other topics of discussion could include: how poor we were when we first started out, how glad we are our kids don’t live in our basement, and how pissed off Diana still is that one of my ex-girlfriends keyed her car in high school.
- Go inside the venue as soon as the doors open so we’ll have plenty of time to buy a T-shirt, order a margarita, and find our seats while it’s still light enough to see.
- Sit down and drink for an hour before the show starts and talk about how excited Diana is to see an actual rock concert and how she still can’t believe that bitch keyed her car (seriously, the woman holds a grudge).
- Watch the concert.
- Get home before the sun goes down and all the teenagers start coming out.
Which is EXACTLY what we did… well, except for getting home before dark. Once we got through the doors, Diana saw a couple of people checking IDs and handing out wristbands.
“What are those?”
“Age verification, so you can buy alcohol.”
“Oooh, I want one.”
Diana got her wristband. I declined as I was driving and would be making all those tricky right turns out of the parking lot. Then she wanted a concert shirt. I bought her two. Then she wanted a margarita. I bought her two. Then we found our seats, which was pretty easy as we were the only people there yet. We sat and talked while Diana drank her margaritas.
Now, we don’t drink a lot. We have nothing against alcohol, it’s just not a big part of our lives other than an occasional beer for me or glass of wine or fruity-slushy drink for Diana when we eat out. So when Diana does drink in any significant amounts, it tends to affect her noticeably. Fortunately, on a scale of one-to-Disneyland, Diana is the happiest place on earth when she’s drinking. These were strong margaritas, so by the time Winger began their set, Diana was ready to go.
As we waited for the show to start, I watched people file in. Old people. I thought, “What are all these geezers doing at a Kansas concert?” Then I remembered I WAS these geezers. It was strange because I have known for some time I was getting old. For several years now I’ve had this uncomfortable feeling I really couldn’t put my finger on. The logoed t-shirts I wore in high school were suddenly showing up in Target as “retro-cool.” The hair in my nose needed trimming more often than the hair on my head. Grocery store and dentist office music shifted from Henri Mancini and Elvis Presley to Foreigner and Loverboy. You know you’re getting old when you start playing air guitar in your local Kroger.
I tried to picture us all as we would have been in 1979: long hair, bell-bottom jeans, shirt collars large enough to shelter a family of 12 under in a windstorm, but I couldn’t. We were all too far gone for that. Inside, though. Inside I was wearing stacks and combing my non-receded hairline with an afro pick… even though I didn’t have an afro… because afro picks were cool.
Finally, the lights dimmed and some local radio jock introduced the opening band. I was never really a fan of Winger, but to give them their due, they brought the ruckus. Six stacks of Marshall amps pointed right at us in an arena the size of a large high school gym created a wall of sound that made my brain ring. On a positive note, I finally found something louder than my tinnitus. I turned to look at Diana. She was grinning and bopping her head. I yelled at her while making some kind of impromptu sign language with my hands.
“You like it?”
“YES! I want to do the devil horn things.”
“The devil horn things?”
I cocked my head inquisitively, and she flashed me the University of Texas hand signal. Meh, close enough.
“Well, then get up and do it, man.”
She did. I know, like most people now days, I use the word “awesome” far too often for far too many things which are not, in fact, awesome. But she was awesome. Drunk and awesome. I just sat there because, well, Winger. But I fell just a little bit more in love with Diana right then.
Winger finished their set and Diana sat down to recover.
“I think I peaked too early. I’m beat.”
“You’re okay. They still have to set up for Kansas.”
Diana got another margarita.
The roadies began to move Winger’s equipment offstage and lowered the backdrop with their band logo on it. Then the crew for Kansas brought their equipment and raised a different backdrop.
“Ooooh, I like that picture.”
“It’s called ‘Bleeding Kansas’ It’s part of a mural in the Kansas State Capitol building.”
“I love that you know stuff like that.”
“Do you know who the guy is in the picture?”
Diana was slurring a bit at this point.
“John Brown. He was an abolitionist before the Civil War.”
“Wooooooo! GO, JAMES BROWN!”
Meh, close enough.
“Yeah! GO, JAMES BROWN!”
Kansas came out. I know the line-up had changed some, but, man, they were incredible. I won’t belabor it. They were on their 40th Anniversary of the release of Leftoverture tour. If nothing else made feel old, that did. Still, I was amazed at how good they sounded and how many memories they brought back. Finally, they finished their set, thanked the audience, and left the stage. Diana turned to me with a sad look.
“Are they done?”
I grabbed both of her shoulders, got right up into her personal space, and looked her dead in the eye.
“Listen to me very carefully. If you stand up right now, and start going ‘WOOOOOOOOOO,’ they WILL come back out and they WILL play ‘Carry on Wayward Son!’”
“Are you serious?”
“I have never been more serious in my life. But you have to do it now, and you have to believe… like clapping your hands and saying I DO believe in fairies in Peter Pan.”
“Are you going to do it?”
“Can’t. It only works once and I used all my power in 1980 to make Cheap Trick come back out and play ‘I Want You to Want Me.’ This is all on you, Darling.”
Diana got up and started yelling WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! Eventually Kansas came out and played “Carry on Wayward Son.” It was the best rendition I have ever heard. After they left the stage, Diana smiled.
“I did it!”
“Yes, you did. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. Now, let’s get the hell out of here before the traffic gets bad.”
“Anything you say, Rocker Chick.”
A few right turns later, we were safely on our way home. Diana was in her quietly-happy place.
“Thank you for taking me to my first rock concert.”
“Well, thank you for buying the tickets.”
“I can’t believe we’re out at 11:00 at night.”
“Yes, very not-us. What’s gotten into you lately? Eating out all the time. Planning trips to other states. Buying tickets to concerts.”
“I don’t know. We were married so young, and I never really got to do things like this.”
And she was right. By the time she was 19, Diana had a husband, two kids born within a year of each other, and all the adult responsibility many people don’t see until their mid-to-late twenties or thirties. We never could figure out where all the kids were coming from, but it probably had something to do with all the crazed-weasel sex we were having at the time. It’s not that we regret anything. We raised two good human beings who don’t hit us up for cash every month. Giving up partying and concert-going in order to do that was a no-brainer. Totally worth it. But now. Now I think I owe Diana something a bit more than riding into our golden years on the cushions of our couch while binge-watching Netflix. I think I owe her some new experiences she should have already experienced. I glanced over at her.
“Have you ever heard of the band Parliament?”
“Well, if they’re not all dead, I think you’re going to like them.”
“Wooooo! GO, JAMES BROWN!”
“Yeah. GO, JAMES BROWN!”