The Song Remains the Same
This week in 1984, my father dropped me off at the entrance to the Saratoga Performing Arts Center for a Thompson Twins concert. I was actually more excited about the opening act, Berlin, whose album Love Life I had been playing nonstop for months. Immediately upon entering the grounds, I went straight for the merchandise tables and bought a Berlin t-shirt. Then I waited impatiently for the show to start.
It was not my first rock concert. That was the Go-Gos, who I’d seen a month earlier when they played a small arena in Utica, New York, which was the closest city to our small town. But this was my first concert at a large venue, a whole two hours from home, and I felt very grown-up.
I was almost 16, about to start my junior year, which I was dreading. I hated school, or at least most of the other students, who provided me with daily reminders that I was not one of them. It had reached the point where I had told my parents I didn’t want to go back. But there were no other options, and so I was counting the days until the torment would start up again. I was very quickly running out of summer.
That night, though, I was free and happy. When Berlin’s Terri Nunn roared onto the stage on a red Honda (the tour’s sponsor) Aero scooter and launched into the first song, I felt as though I was in the middle of the very best dream, where music I’d only heard while sitting alone in my tiny bedroom had come to full-blown life. It was everything I wanted it to be even if, as the openers, Berlin’s set was far too short.
I don’t remember a lot about the Thompson Twins’ performance. At that point I knew only their two big hits, “Doctor! Doctor!” and “Hold Me Now.” I’m sure I enjoyed them. And somehow, despite having no plan and no cell phone, I managed to find my father afterward. We arrived home well after midnight, and I remember lying in bed, unable to get to sleep, thinking that maybe the world could be more magical and alive than our little town had led me to believe.
I’m sure I didn’t think about where I would be on that same night 36 years later. If I had, I very much doubt I would have seen myself living in another small town and being happy there. And although I might have thought about what it would be like to be a writer, I had no real idea what that meant. I just knew—or hoped—that things could be different than they were.
As it happens, this week has not been a terrifically great one. I got my first pair of bifocals, and getting used to them has made me realize that my body, or at least parts of it, are on the far side of their warranty period. A book that has been due on an editor’s desk for way too long is still refusing to tell me what it wants to be. And, of course, there’s the daily “What did he do now?” hell that all of us have been living with for almost four years, which is compounded by the stress of this virus that has turned our world upside down.
If someone had told me on that August night in 1984 what I was headed for—coming out in the middle of the AIDS crisis, a turbulent first relationship, a rollercoaster of a career—I might not have been so excited about the future. Fifteen-year-old me saw the world in a much different way, wanted different things. Or thought he did. He kind of thought he knew everything, really, when he actually didn’t know much at all.
The man he became, looking back across the years and thinking about that night, wishes he could at least have told the boy that things were about to change. That he was going to escape high school early and go to college. He might even tell him that a few years later he would get to meet Berlin’s Terri Nunn at a show in New York City, where he would himself live, and that he would get to tell her how much he loved her music.
Where will that man be 36 years from now? Probably, if family history is any indicator, not here to write about it. But if he is, what will he remember about this week? Probably that, once again, he was anxious about the future. And maybe that despite everything, as he sat at his desk listening to that Berlin album he loved when he was 16 and remembering a perfect night, he was still hopeful.##