Last week I went to a concert here in Tucson. The headline act was Judas Priest, one of my favorite bands from my younger days. I saw them in Tucson thirty plus years earlier, but remember little in the way of detail, with one glaring exception( more on that later ). Because a sizeable chunk of those formative years was largely spent in a chemically induced fog, I thought it would be cool to see if the band held the same allure for me as a live act, now that I’m old and boring (i.e. drug free ). Drugs have a way of wrapping crap in a big red bow, and it isn’t until your body has permanently flushed them away that you see things for what they really are: all steamy crap, no bow. Small wonder virtually all my seemingly amazing friends and captivating interests from 1976-1983( the forgotten years; more on that another time ) have been dumped and flushed, as it were.
I still enjoy the music. Yeah, the lyrics may be inane, about invaders, domination and little else, but man those guys shred. I was all about lead guitar and screaming vocals growing up, and no one did it better. You have to appreciate the time and effort that goes into becoming masters of a particular genre in music. I don’t begrudge you your Luciano Pavarotti( shoot me in the face if I have to listen more than two minutes ); I think he sucks, but I appreciate that he’s good at what he does, and that there’s a great deal of skill involved in his performances( mostly of tailors and structural engineers ). He’s sooo boring, but I don’t project that on you because you listen to it( loser ), so please don’t call me stupid because I like Priest.
I arrived at the show with my brother-in-law and his brother( does that make him my brother-in-law, too?), two fellow long-standing Priest fans. I was especially curious to see how a band that drapes itself in tight leather and studs would look after all these years. I mean, these guys have to be in their sixties – how much time does it take to put that stuff on at that age? What if you have to poop after your roadies pull on those pants for you? Can you wear Depends under leather, or is the absorbance compromised by the ultra tight fit? And how pathetic will you look with a spiked dog collar and open leather vest? These are the important questions that most wouldn’t think to ask, and I went looking for answers.
The first thing that struck me was that the years had, indeed, not been kind – to the audience. The band members actually looked pretty good, considering their ages and the corrosive effects of band life. But again, the crowd…everyone (but me) looked so old; some had tried to put on a bold face, but that face was old, wrinkly and warted. All those hot metal chicks who wore tight pants and halter tops in 1978 looked sadly different. They still wore tight pants, but only because the amount of fabric necessary to cover that much square footage comfortably simply isn’t available in fashionable form. The halters, thankfully, had been replaced with band t-shirts, the names and faces of which were distorted by bulging fat and sagging breasts. The guys were no better. The seat in front of them that had been an unwelcome barrier to getting closer to the stage back in the seventies was now a convenient belly support whenever they stood. Those who retained the long hair of their youth now had a bald spot up top; they looked like Franciscan Monks gone bad. And the joints in hand that had been a crowd staple way back when had been replaced with plastic bottles of Bud Light( why do people drink that crap? Anyone who has had a decent beer can’t possibly like it. My father called it “kidney-filtered”).
Anyone who’s been to a rock concert knows the distinctive smell of pot. The scent was largely absent this night. This could be partially explained by the near full-body cavity search at the entrance by security( I told the monster who fondled me that I usually expect a drink or two before letting someone get to third base. He didn’t laugh, either because he’d heard it before, or was too stupid to get it. I vote the latter). A more plausible explanation, though, is that everyone there was too old to get high anymore. With age comes responsibility, and the burdens of work, mortgages and raising grandchildren are not improved by smoking dope. Whatever the reasons, the pungent aroma of marijuana had been replaced, at least where I was standing, by a new organic smell: farts. At this age, apparently, it’s comfort over manners and besides, there’s safety in numbers( “Oh, yeah?Prove it was me.” ). More than one person was giving their sphincter the night off, and the 130 decibel music provided ample cover for even the most explosive emanation.
I mentioned I was fuzzy about the details of the first time I saw Judas Priest, but the end of that concert I will never forget. I was sitting( or my seat, I should say, was located ) 8th row center. After the last note was struck, the drummer stood and chucked his drumsticks into the crowd. I can still see, in my mind’s eye, one of these sticks turning end over end in slow motion straight towards me. As any rocker knows, snatching a piece of band paraphernalia at a live concert is like catching a foul ball bare handed at a baseball game; you are instant athlete, revered and cheered for by an adoring, envious crowd. I don’t know what I was thinking at that moment, or, given the likely state of my brain that night( fried ), whether I was thinking at all. No matter; at the critical moment, when a lightning-quick jab of either hand would have procured for me the coveted prize, I instead managed only a meager twitch of my right hand that wouldn’t shake a fly. The result was predictable. The sound as the stick struck me square in the forehead was like that of bat on ball; it may have been the single loudest percussion note of the entire evening. After a teeter and a couple of blinks, I looked down at my feet and there lay the wooden treasure, still mine for the taking. Still I could not manage to relay message from brain to appendage, and before I could react, five or six people were engaged in a wild scrum at my feet. As the lights came up, I had only two untied shoes and a growing walnut on my forehead to show for my brush with destiny. In a life filled with innumerable failure, I still regard the lost drumstick as one of my greatest personal blunders.
I was ready this time, then, for a chance at atonement. I told no one, lest I fail again; but if things were to be offered to the crowd, I was determined to get something. By the end of the second encore, I had made it to within a few feet of the stage. Sure enough, the drummer came up to the front of the stage with a whole handful of sticks. Yes! Sweet redemption was at hand. It became evident very quickly, however, that no throwing was forthcoming. No doubt the drummer, at his advanced age, feared a torn rotator cuff or loss of credibility for throwing like a girl. Instead he handed sticks to the crowd, looking for hot girls to give them to( it took forever ). I turned my attention instead to the guitarist, who was flicking picks into the crowd. Almost immediately I reached out with cat-like reflex and with my right hand, snatched a pick in midair. The fat guy standing next to me said “Dude, did you get it?”, and before I could show him, another pick bounced off his bulbous nose and I snagged it with my left. I saw in his eyes the envy and adoration that had been denied me those thirty-some years before. Sadly, the failure was now his, and given his age, obesity, lack of athleticism and of opportunity in the future, he would likely carry that failure to his grave. I have felt his pain, and he has my sympathy. Had I given him the second pick, he likely would be spared the emotional scars. I hereby resolve, should I ever see him again( unlikely )and happen to be carrying said pick if I do( please ), to give it to him and end his suffering.
In closing, I have to say that I really enjoyed the show. The music was great, and Judas Priest was still a great live act. This is their farewell tour, so it was great to have had one last chance to see them. Clearly, there is something to be said for sobriety; I’m sure I’ll remember this show much better than the first, and the reflexes, even at my advanced age, were markedly improved.