The great film-maker Jean Cocteau once wrote a line of dialog for a character who observed, “The supreme tragedy of human existence is that everybody has their reasons.”
I know that’s right. One case, out of millions: This summer and fall, there’s an unprecedented number of wonderful performers doing concerts here within driving distance of us. Dylan. Reba. Strait. The Legendary Shack Shakers. Alejandro Escovedo. And too many dozens more to count. The chance of me attending any of them, however, is only slightly less than of me snowboarding tonight in our back yard.
That’s because, some 40 years ago, I attended with high hopes what turned out to be, as I call it euphemistically, The Concert from Hell.
Let me boil this down, because the nightmare goes on forever. Back in the 1960s, the biggest concert hereabouts was the annual “Shower of Stars,” sponsored by WVOK Radio, and held at the Boutwell Auditorium in Birmingham. In my sixteenth year, the planets and stars converged. All my favorite bands were headliners. I had a new driver’s license. My mom miraculously agreed to let me borrow her car for the evening. My friend Wayne not only got himself a date for the show, but assured me that he could miraculously get me one, too. What could possibly go wrong? Glad you asked.
We picked up Wayne’s date, and she informed me that her best friend, who was set to be my date, was not feeling well at all, and would like to reschedule a few decades down the road. Thus, I chauffeured Wayne and the girl up Old Highway 78, through increasingly dark clouds, which eventually turned funnel-shaped. Wayne’s and this girl’s conversation in the back seat had been sparse before, but when the sky started looking like “The Wizard of Oz,” their sporadic talk shut down altogether. It was very quiet in my mom’s car.
To make a long story shorter, what swept through Birmingham that evening was a historic round of tornadoes, but our car and human cargo barely escaped them. By the time we reached Arkadelphia Road, the traffic jam at last started to thin and some of the streetlights were back on, so we were rock concert-bound.
We reached the Boutwell Auditorium more than an hour late, but we three young persons finally got through the doors with our tickets and began to enjoy the show. Until I looked at my watch. We were just then not far off the time I was supposed to begin driving my mom’s car home, and we had barely arrived at the auditorium. The electricity in the building went on and off, on and off, and the audience clapped for both.
I knew that I needed to call home, big-time. (Note to younger readers: no cell phones in those days, no beepers, nothing. You were out in the vast universe under your own power, for better or worse.) The bands finally played. And played. And played. And then, played some more. I implored a security guard to let me back into the lobby in order to use one of the two pay phones on the tiled wall. “No pass-outs,” he told me. Fortunately, I still had the left-over ticket for my no-show, supposed date, in order to get back in, so I gleefully galloped over to use the public phones and let my parents know I was OK.
There were at least 25-30 kids waiting in line at each telephone in the lobby. Suffice it to say, I never got to one. After an eternity, the concert was over, and we faced at least another hour’s drive back to Walker County. I drove Wayne home, drove his extremely silent date home, and did not relish the prospect of arriving at my parents’ house in the wee morning hours, with death and destruction all around us and them not having heard from me in forever. My mother was shaking and red from crying, having phoned (with the few phone lines that still worked) every law enforcement agency and hospital emergency room in the area to report me missing and, most likely, dead, in one of the epochally destructive storms.
This front-door encounter at our house was interminable, and it was not pretty.
I don’t remember exactly what I dreamed about, that night, but I know there were elements of Dorothy and Oz and Toto and a vague promise by me that I would never leave Shanghi, Ala., again.
I’m proud to see that, in the meantime, some electronics experts from exactly that era have designed a brilliant gift called an iPod, on which I can listen to more songs in a day than those groups could produce in a year. And without upsetting my mother, besides.
So it goes. I hate the fact that I was turned against live concerts so early. Mark Twain once said, “A cat who sits on a hot stove will never sit on a hot stove again. Unfortunately, he will never sit on a cold stove, either.”
Point taken, Mr. Twain. I’m hungering for some live concerts, despite my past experiences. Mr. i-Pod designer, my hat is off to you, because I suspect you’ve been through some previous version of the above. After all, you had your reasons.
Me? Us? Concerts? Next summer, for sure.
As Mark Twain used to say, “Free Bird!”
Dale Short is a native of Walker County. His columns, photos and radio features are available on his website, carrolldaleshort.com. His weekly radio program “Music from Home” airs each Sunday at 6 pm on Oldies 101.5 FM and is archived afterward on his website.)