When I posted last, I said I didn't find my Thing until I was in my twenties. I think I was wrong. I actually did have a very active obsession when I was in high school: attending and photographing rock concerts. But it was one of those extra-extra curricular activities, and not anything I ever mentioned on my college applications.
When we were packing up my old house for sale, I ran across a wall calendar from my junior year in high school. I used a magic marker to frame any dates where I went to a concert. Don't tell my kids this, but I was averaging about two a week, including on school nights! All the way over on Long Island! On a regular basis, I left my little hamlet in New Jersey to go to Madison Square Garden, the Nassau Coliseum, Roosevelt Stadium, and the thoroughly grungy Capitol Theater in Passaic. I went with my friend Cathy, and between us we had it down to a science. I carried all the photography equipment, and she carried the contraband cassette recorder for making bootleg tapes. We were obsessed with the Eagles, with Jackson Browne and Linda Ronstadt, with Dan Fogelberg and Loggins and Messina. We also branched out to more mainstream performers like Elton John, Bad Company, Deep Purple, Billy Joel and Yes. But none of them matched the devotion we saved for "the family," the country-folky-rock players who followed then-California governor Jerry Brown around like groupies.
I went to my first concert, the Edgar Winter Group, when I was thirteen. They were playing at the Wollman Rink in Central Park, which every summer hosted the Schaefer Music Festival. Tickets were three dollars each. I really didn't know much about the Edgar Winter Group other than their heavy-metal hit, "Frankenstein." But some older guys from my church youth group invited me to go one Sunday afternoon after church and I pleaded with my parents to let me. Since it was the nice Japanese boys from CHURCH, well, why not?
That started it. I loved the long, interminable general-admission line, that started forming five hours before the concert. How everyone just relaxed into an easy, happy, afternoon hang-out. I loved buying my first concert Tshirt. I loved the lights flaring on just as it started getting dark out, the screaming of the crowd, the adrenaline as the band came onstage. I stood on a chair and yelled along with everyone else. And then at the end, all the Bic lighters and matches being held up, and the audience was transformed into a field of flickering stars. I was thoroughly hooked.
Luckily for me, I had an afterschool job that paid pretty well. All of my paychecks went straight into concert tickets, record albums, and later, darkroom chemicals and photo paper. At some point I started wanting to get to concerts ten or twelve hours ahead of time, so I could get that coveted front row seat, the better to take photographs with. I developed them in a darkroom set up in my mother's basement laundry room.
I had a perfect partner in my friend Cathy. We traded records and spent hours trolling the record aisles at Sam Goody's and Korvette's. We got up before dawn to stand in hour for concert tickets at Ticketron in Paramus Park Mall, and eventually hired our own seedy ticket scalper, Dominic. Dominic, who most definitely had mob ties, worked out of a tiny concrete bunker off of Route 17 in Rochelle Park. He was our supplier for the best tickets in the biggest venues, and he could guarantee us third row or better at the Garden or Nassau Coliseum.
I'm impressed now at how organized we were. We worked hard for our money - she worked at a department store, and I worked as a shipping clerk for a mail-order company for short wave radios. We studied up on our favorite bands, kept thorough scrapbooks, cataloguing every concert review and article from Rolling Stone. We designed and hand-embroidered a denim shirt for Dan Fogelberg - a landscape of mountains and sunrise as an ode to our favorite song of his, "To the Morning." We passed a plastic bag with the shirt, embroidery thread, needles and wooden embroidery hoop between us as we changed classes. It took months, but we finished it in time to toss it up on stage from our front row seats. Later, we'd replay the bootleg tape over and over just to hear Dan's voice, "Wow, that's beautiful." Every time, we screamed.
I had no idea what this avocation of ours would mean, decades later. How I would jolt back to sophomore year every time I heard "Peaceful Easy Feeling" or "Take it to the Limit" on the radio. How I would savor every moment of memory.
I know that my girls are building their own sweet memories now; that when they're nearing fifty they will think about how it felt to be out rowing on the Oakland Estuary at dawn, or what it was like to take that final bow in front of a cheering audience.