What does coming of age really mean? Today, a story of waking up to adulthood with the Arcade Fire in 2007.
In April 2007, I was traveling around the West Coast of the United States, first visiting colleges, then concert-hopping and living in the seediest hostels in NorCal and SoCal, and even some really, really fucked up couches in the Mission, basically looking for an adventure. Coachella was always the plan once they’d announced their lineup. I wasn’t a big-festival virgin. My exploits at these clusterfucks started in 2004 while living in England and I sorta knew what to expect at the polo field, but of course, I wasn’t prepared for the dehydrating 105-degree heat, the desert sun, and the sheer volume of sexy people. That’s nothing, really. Rage Against The Machine were reuniting and headlining day three, and that was one of the main reasons I was there. Buying that ticket off a Craigslist advert ($240 including camping pass) was the steal of a lifetime (I haggled a lot).
Another band I was really looking forward to watching for the first time ever were the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Three bands really shaped my growing up years – Jane’s Addiction, RHCP and the Smashing Pumpkins. This was big. I’d made a friend by then, at the now-defunct Banana Bungalow/Orbit hostel off Melrose Ave. He was from Glasgow and his name was Ed Norman. I knew nothing else about him but for his obsession with John Frusciante and his upcoming trip to New Zealand with no money and the hope of a full-time, tax-exempt job. Armed with my fake ID (I was 20; fake ID courtesy back-page adverts of British FHM), I went all around West Hollywood with Ed, getting absolutely wasted on tall boys of High Life, smoking some fine bud, dancing around obscenely, checking out tattoo parlors, taking free scientology evaluations, and partaking in other, general West Hollywood bad-assery.
The bus ride to Indio the morning of April 27, 2007 was epic. The driver asked for an RATM CD that he then blasted through the stereo before announcing, “Ladies and Gentleman, this Greyhound will do a hot-run to Indio, California. I request all of you to not smoke any ‘special’ cigarettes on board. Singing and dancing is allowed, though.” All dudes abide.
Cut to right before the Red Hot Chili Peppers set on day two. By then, I’d watched so many amazing bands I’d never heard of, and I was ready enough to document my Coachella weekend in a limited edition book to be distributed to every scenester I knew in Bombay (I didn’t know many, being a city slacker and all). Ed and I had promised each other that we’d get a spot right in front of John Frusciante, and to do that, we’d have to run back to the main stage midway through Justice’s set and shove our way in through the crowd before RHCP were to come on. We did all right, I think, compared to falling asleep before RATM’s set the next night. We were in the thick now, left of stage, making our way through slowly, among an extremely tuned-in crowd. There were at least a dozen musicians on stage. This band was called the Arcade Fire.
I should mention that there must have been about 40,000 people at that stage watching the Arcade Fire (80,000 for RATM the next night). With so much variety being offered at Coachella that year, even at that specific time of day, it was plain to see and feel that the Arcade Fire were something special. So we stood there and watched. I didn’t realize how much my position had moved until the very end of their set. The slowly moving, sighing, singing crowd had displaced me and gotten me up to the second row, just where I wanted to be for John. I think it was kismet, because I really didn’t make an effort to get to where I was. I’d lost Ed, and I’d only find him much later thizzing out during the solo of ‘Don’t Forget Me’.
It’s hard to describe a song like ‘Wake Up’ off Arcade Fire’s stellar debut Funeral. Being a music journalist (I’ve only just recently started referring to myself as one), I could totally elaborate on its structure and tonality and “feel”. But, I’m talking about real feel here. What I felt that day among that massive group of kids has stayed with me today as one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. Everyone around me was singing every word to the song, creating this wall of sound and emotion and love and passion and hate and fury, that enveloped me completely before tossing me high up into the air and then bringing me down to land in what I can only call a pool of absolute bliss. I’ve never had to remind myself of the potency of live music since. Check out ‘Wake Up’ from that show, below.
I was obsessed with that song and that band after. Back at the Orbit on Monday afternoon, I looked up the lyrics in their entirety, on the Internet. What I read destroyed me. This coming-of-age tune hit me where it hurts. Close to the big two-one, with a confusing adolescence left behind, and with less of a formal education that I’d planned for myself my whole life, this song helped me wake up (NPI) to the idea of being a responsible adult. It was all too much to bear before I reminded myself that at least some part of those 40,000 people felt what I felt. We are alike in more ways than we know.
A few days later, I watched Chris Cornell at the Avalon Ballroom for free, and then Ben Gibbard at the Showbox in Seattle (which also altered my thinking considerably). A month after that, I broke up with my girlfriend of four years, and two months later, moved to Olympia, WA to begin another chapter of my life. My years in Olympia completely changed me. I couldn’t revert to pre-Coachella-me even with all the might of the world. Looking back today, I’d have to credit the power of live music as a catalyst for change in my life. And, I’d have to credit the Arcade Fire for waking me the fuck up.
P.S. I’m bad at taking pictures. I’ve got one terrible gallery of the festival on my Facebook, and all my close up photos and videos disappeared when my friend Philip crashed my hard drive. I never did think I’d have the chance to share this with people. I’m relying on all these words above to preserve this memory (in detail). Poetic justice served, I think.
Which live music experience changed your life? Leave a comment and let us know.