Los Angeles is trembling in its collective boots as I type. Once midnight strikes, the 405 freeway will be shut down for 53 hours over a 10-mile stretch as workers partially dismantle the Mulholland Bridge – an event of potentially city-clogging proportions that is now known nationwide as “Carmageddon”.
Carmageddon is severely fucking up my concert-going plans this weekend.
Months prior, before we all knew that the carpocalypse was imminent, I obtained tickets to see The Monkees in concert at the Greek Theatre tomorrow, July 16th – smack in the middle of what’s feared to be traffic hell. I live on the west side of L.A.; the Greek is on the east side. Suddenly, going to a show involves massive strategy and me leaving my home 3 ½ hours early in the hope of getting there on time. And my live music-loving self can’t bear to NOT go; come on! It’s (¾ of) The Monkees! They don’t tour that often anymore!
Living in Los Angeles brings any music fan an embarrassment of riches; any given night, there’s always a concert going on somewhere, from the tiniest bars to the biggest arenas. By forcing me to have an obstacle to live music, Carmageddon is bringing into sharp focus for me how lucky we have it here. You see, I grew up in a somewhat dinky town in the South. I blossomed into a full-on music fanatic in my late teens, and it became obvious quickly that my live music options were limited. Without a decent-sized venue or any especially good clubs, hardly any bands of note came through town. (At least, not until we finally got a nice new arena around 2000 or so.) And I was too young to check out any of the prominent local bands at bars. Unless you loved country music or hard rock, you were SOL.
If I wanted to see anyone live in concert that I cared about, I had to leave town with a friend or four in tow. Neil Finn, Counting Crows and the Lilith Fair had no reason to stop anywhere near Bossier City, LA. Going to see someone live in concert was a capital-A Adventure that required a road trip, a hotel room, provisions and new clothes – a big investment for our retail-jobbing and/or student selves, so we had to choose wisely. We’d see 3 concerts in an especially good year. Our destination was almost invariably Dallas.
The Adventure meant driving 3 hours with a girl I barely knew so I could, at last, see my precious R.E.M. live on the Monster tour. We bonded on that ride and became fast best friends. It meant standing in an autograph line in 2001, giddy with excitement, to meet Pete Yorn and his band; all normal conversation was lost when he flipped over my Billy Idol t-shirt. It meant sweltering in a motorplex in Ennis, TX on what was then literally the hottest day in Texas history, dunking $3 bottles of water over our heads so we could survive the HORDE Tour and see Dave Matthews Band. (Lenny Kravitz didn’t fare as well as we did; he ran offstage after about about six words of “Let Love Rule” to throw up.)
We shared meals at places like Planet Hollywood and Cheddar’s, chain restaurants that seemed exotic because we didn’t have them back home. Sometimes we got lost (“Arlington?! What do you mean, we’re in Arlington??”), sometimes we fought, and sometimes we inadvertently put ourselves in danger; I was convinced my ear had been torn off by a misguided concertgoer who tried to crowd-surf his way out of the crush departing U2’s Popmart-era concert at the Cotton Bowl and fell on me, until I actually touched my head. Sometimes, the worst that would happen was that the car CD player broke when we’d brought along 31 discs and 3 tapes, or that we couldn’t find a decent diner or an open grocery store at 2 in the morning in an unfamiliar neighborhood. But no matter the Adventure (or misadventure), we always ended up having a great time, brought together and electrified by seeing our idols perform in the same room as us.
It may do me some good to remember the pure exhilaration of a concert. It’s easy to take it for granted. I’m looking right now at the ticket I bought to see Neil Finn perform as part of his new project, Pajama Club; this will mark, I believe, the eleventh time I’ve seen him in some live incarnation since moving to Los Angeles. I’ve met Pete Yorn so many times now, I can refer to him in conversation simply as “Pete”. These are awesome occurrences that oftentimes get cataloged in my brain as “Tuesday”. Though my days as a Dave Matthews fan are far behind me, I can think of few shows over the past 9 years that made me as excited to be in the presence of live music as that scorching day in Ennis in 1996.
Angelenos, don’t forget for a day that we are constantly surrounded by live music, and that this is an AWESOME thing. It’s just going to be a little harder to get to over the next few days. It’ll take more than Carmageddon to thwart my concert-going, though. I’m ready for a new Adventure.
R.E.M. rocking the Reunion Arena in Dallas, September 19th, 1995. I was at this concert. The first three songs of their show were broadcast live on MTV. I loved how the censor was late on the button during “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?”, which meant Michael Stipe said, “Don’t fuck (–) me” to the world. This version is uncensored.
What is the HORDE tour? John Popper of Blues Traveler, founders of HORDE, explains it all for you.
I will proudly defend U2’s album Pop. Viva La Popmart…and “Pop Muzik”.