In my family, we have saying for when someone announces a matter of jaw-dropping insignificance with much fanfare and hoopla. So if you yell, “I’m putting my socks in the hamper!!” or “A bird just flew by!!” here’s what you’ll hear from the rest of us, in the most deadpan voices we can summon:
“Alert the media.”
I think I’m about to have my own “Alert the Media” moment when I tell you: I have refrained from going to concerts for the past 40 days.
In May, when I’d seen St. Vincent and tUnE-yArDs, Cake, and the Black Keys within a week, even I knew it was a little much for my schedule and budget. The point was driven home when my youngest looked at me getting ready in front of the bathroom mirror for Black Keys and said, “Mom? I don’t want to be mean?” which of course is just a warning flag that watch out, oh yes she does. “But you’ve really gone to a lot of concerts lately.”
I’d also suffered the faintest whiffs of self doubt about my zest for concert going. What if I’m just a variation on the baseball player in Springsteen’s Glory Days, clinging to an outdated self image? Maybe if I could just stop going to concerts, I’d realize I outgrew them long ago.
So I haven’t seen a show since May 4. More than that, in an effort to really emulate what life sans concerts would be like, I haven’t read an entertainment listing section, checked my Songkick alerts, or scanned marquees of venues that I pass on my trips around town. I have deleted my weekly emails from Another Planet Entertainment, LiveNation, and Amoeba Records without opening them. I turned down an invitation to a gala where Band of Horses made an appearance, I did not act upon Bob Schneider’s tweet “Anyone want to work at the merch table at my June show in SF? Free ticket for you and companion,” I tried to block out the prior knowledge that Teddy Thompson was playing a gig in Oakland on a night I was free and eating dinner in the same neighborhood.
With my unaccustomed spare time I read even more than usual. (Guess what – in the Game of Thrones series, eventually EVERYONE is stabbed to death.) I deadheaded the roses and tried not to think about the Grateful Dead. I was home to cook dinner for my family night after night. I organized paperwork in my office and started watching “My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding” with the kids. I even went to my first ever PTA meeting. Ask Me About Parliamentary Procedure!! Because we spent half the meeting listening to one woman argue about it.
Then I went to my first ever meeting at Oakland City Hall. What took up 55 minutes on the agenda? A discussion about a new Oakland jazz club, followed by a discussion of a new Oakland Latin music club. The Universe was not making it easy on me.
And after my 40 days in the musical desert, here’s what I figured out. Not going to shows for 40 days: not a big problem. There’s plenty of other stuff to fill up the 4.5 or so hours that going to a show once a month requires.
Not having something to look forward to? Big problem.
Life at middle age can feel a little flat sometimes. Not unhappy; just flat. Researchers talk about the U curve of happiness – the earlier and later thirds of life show higher levels of happiness and satisfaction, while our forties and fifties are where many people bottom out. Not so difficult to figure out why: we’re frantically working to save for our kids’ education and our own retirements, and we’re trying to help our aging parents however we can. We’ve realized we probably won’t ever be a cowboy or astronaut. Every other phone call we get seems to be a notice that cancer has set up shop inside someone we love, or that it has finally finished its dastardly work. Many of us are in marriages that are old enough to buy a stiff drink, or with a divorce behind us; either way, romance will never feel quite so clichéd and idealistic as it did when we were 20. We adore our kids, when they are not getting on our last nerve and spending our last dime and filling our hearts with worry.
So a wise midlifer looks for other things to bring those jolts of joy as we pass through the lowest depths of Happiness U: your sports team’s season, or travel, or a big sale at Nordstrom’s, or Saturday mornings on your bike. And since those moments can last only so long before you have to be back at the office or get into another argument with the kids about cleaning their rooms, it’s really the anticipation of the moment that provides the bulk of the excitement.
When we went to New Zealand a few years ago we did it on 10 days’ notice, to take advantage of superlow air fares. It was one of the best trips of my whole life. But I will forever feel a bit cheated that I only had 10 days to look forward to it. I could milked six months of excitement over it, easily.
And it turns out, that’s what I missed most about going to concerts. I love researching the possibilities of who is on tour, weighing the relative merits of one show over another, reading reviews of other shows to see if this is a band that craters or comes alive onstage. I love sharing my excitement with whichever friend is coming with me, trading the band’s CDs ahead of time and talking about where we could grab a bite to eat before the show. I get a lot of joy trying to boil it all down into a blog post that will make you laugh and lure you into a concert hall yourself.
My fast is over. I’m going to see One Direction on Thursday night and Rhett Miller and the Serial Lady Killers next Tuesday.