' ' Cinema Romantico: A Digression: My Favorite Chicago Moment

Friday, September 03, 2010

A Digression: My Favorite Chicago Moment

WARNING: Length, earnestness and unbridled enthusiasm ahead. Proceed at your own peril.

When I awoke the morning of Friday August 6 I was not a Little Monster, the label pop superstar Lady Gaga applies to her most ardent fans.

Don't get me wrong. I was a Lady Gaga fan. A fairly big one. But there is a fine line between fan and fanatic, between admirer and Little Monster. I know Bruce Springsteen fans and I know Bruce Springsteen fanatics. I am a Bruce Springsteen fanatic. Fanatics fly to New York City for one night only solely to see him and become genuinely angry with people who honestly think Natalie Merchant and 10,000 Maniacs wrote "Because the Night" (do not get me started). And here was Chicago's monstrous music festival Lollapalooza set to play host to Lady Gaga and her Monster Ball opening night and I wasn't going and so how could I be a little monster?

Single day tickets were a cool $90 a pop and most of my 2010 has been a financial sinkhole, partly from many momentous events requiring vast sums of cash to be spent all happening right around the same time, partly from my had-to-take-the-opportunity trip to Hawaii, partly from having to pay off a significant medical expense, partly from having to get my beloved Honda Civic serviced one week before Lollapalooza, partly from, you know, "the economy". Plus, on account of a time-off fiasco at my office leaving me with but one vacation day left for the rest of the year which I kinda need to keep in my back pocket I could not take the whole of Friday August 6 off for the rest of the many fine bands playing in Grant Park meaning I would be coughing up $90 for a single act.

I thought about it. I decided to be fiscally responsible. I decided to be mature. I decided to "act my age." I decided not to go. I had already seen her live, anyway, and the show had actually left me just a little bit disappointed. Even when I heard she would be employing a "low key" $150,000 stage and even when my friend Matt made a brief plea that I should attend or live to regret it I adhered to my decision. I was gonna be a "grown up", darn it. But then I got to work that Friday morning and something in the back of my mind kept telling me I should renege. I looked for excuses not to. The web reports filtering in from the early hours of Lollapalooza were reporting the south field of Grant Park where Lady Gaga would be playing was rather wet and on the verge of transforming into a mud pit. I mean, come on, I told myself, I'm a month away from turning thirty-three! I can't go stand in the mud with all those young whippersnappers for five hours! But still....I couldn't let it go. On the sidewalk near my daily Starbucks stop a homeless man shouted, "Save me a seat for Lady Gaga!" Was this a sign? Nope. Like any good raving lunatic he was yelling it at everyone that passed by him. But still....I couldn't let it go. After work I hiked to Grant Park and tracked down the box office, still not sure what I was going to do, and then saw they only accepted cash. I did not have $90 cash on me. This was the sign. But still....I couldn't let it go. I backtracked to an ATM, pulled out $100, enough for one ticket and one Bud Light (it was that or Bud or Bud Light Lime - Lollapalooza! Over 100 Bands And 3 Kinds Of Beer!) tall boy, shuddered, and decided this was it. I was going.

And so I made my way for the second time past the protestors standing outside the box office with signs and megaphones telling all of us on the way to see Our Lady Of Perpetual Gaga that we would be damned to hell for doing so and proceeded inside the gates and as I followed two girls toward the stage at the far west side I overheard one of them say "You gotta be in the moment." A ha! This was the sign! Because that's what I was gonna do! I was gonna be in the moment!

I arrived just in time to see Hot Chip take the stage and as they tore things up I cleverly maneuvered by way through the crowds and mud to get within about 90 feet, right beside three guys and a girl who couldn't have been older than 20 (note the lack of the alcohol id bracelets) busting some stone cold moves and passing around a bottle of extravagantly cheap whiskey and cutting it with Sprite. Kids these days.

Where's Nick? Somewhere in this scrum.

When Hot Chip finished there was a rapid push forward and I rode it, baby, for all it was worth reaching a point less than seventy feet from the stage and then settled in for an hour-plus wait in a mass of sweating humanity that was quite literally elbows to asses. Plus, it smelled. Like, really, really bad, like manure-accented b.o., though thankfully the girl near me with the Springsteen "Born in the U.S.A."-era bandana was playing traffic cop and refusing to let any "wedgers" past. I wished I had double fisted the Bud Light but had chosen against it for fear that in my advanced age two beers would increase the likelihood of my having to go to the bathroom. This is what it's come to.

Finally, a few minutes past eight, over the gigantic fence off to the right of the stage, the side I was nearest to, a blonde head bobbed up and down, exhorting the crowd to make noise. IT WAS HER! Chaos ensued, believe me, as I found myself, in the midst of a serious stage rush that was less a rush than numerous walls of humanity unremittingly pressing forward all at once. This was it. I was going to die - right here, right now - in a Lady Gaga stage rush. Paramedics would find my body afterwards and think, "What the hell was this guy doing down here?" But not to worry for all ended well, and I ended up less than fifty feet from where, moments later, Her Gaganess would appear with an elaborate lime green car containing a keyboard under the hood. Tricky.

Lady Gaga's stage banter is curious. (Note: I'm more than a bit partisan and so it's difficult for me to be objective like "real" critics but even I will admit she did talk a little too much. She just needs to streamline it more because when she really revved things up in the 2nd half of the show it was untouchable. It's her first real tour, after all. She's still figuring things out. Oh, and if you're one of the people who can't deal with the two minute intervals between costume & set changes then, hey, newsflash: You don't get to live life with an omnipresent DVR remote. You can't suck it up for 120 seconds? Really?) She talks a lot about having come from nowhere to be a "star" and thanks everyone for "believing" in her and making her "dream come true" and so on and so forth and at first you think she might really be sincere. Except then she and her former dee jay perform a "heavy metal breakdown" to Metallica and you think, nope, this is all irony. Except then she's advising that we have to live for ourselves and not let The Man get us down (only in more words and more explicitly) and this, that and the other and so you think, wait, is she sincere? Except then she's suddenly wielding her bejeweled disco stick like a disco ball bra-wearing dictator and you're convinced it has to be irony. Except then there is a costume change and she emerges covered in fake blood and none of it matters anymore because, for crying out loud, Lady Gaga is up there covered in fake blood! What the hell else do you people want?! Quit deconstructing her persona you pseudo-intellectuals, you, be in the god damn moment for once, and just appreciate the fact that she's COVERED IN FAKE BLOOD!!!

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?

But there was one line she had during her banter that struck a real chord with me and it was when she was doing her big rap about how we're all different but all really the same, that sorta thing, and she said "It doesn't matter how much money you have in your pocket right now....because you can come here and be whatever the fuck you want to be!" and, well, occasionally you hear the things you need to hear when you need to hear them and you are in the places you need to be when you need to be there and that's what I needed to hear and this was where I needed to be. I had, like, eleven bucks but I was there and I was gonna be whatever the fuck I wanted to be.

I danced like those people in Zion in "The Matrix Reloaded" and I jumped up and down and pumped my fists and I sang along really, really loud and I willingly held hands with the people on either side of me when she instructed that we do so during "Speechless" and during my favorite song from all of last year, the song that saved my life (which is melodramatic, I know, but I'm a melodramatic person and it's true, anyway, it did save my life, and please believe me when I tell you that), there was this enormous tentacled monster swaying, or possibly boogying, on the stage and Lady Gaga was strutting around in her patented flame-throwing brassiere and I got this cheek to cheek grin and I felt my heart surge and I took a mental picture that no one can ever take away from me and all the while I knew "Bad Romance" was still coming and then it came next and I went absolutely insane and found myself doing the discotheque-version of moshing with a bunch of shirtless gay men and twentysomething girls, a few dressed like Ms. Gaga herself, and shouted the chorus with so much vigor I went slightly hoarse.

The lament about outdoor music festivals is that there are far too many people crammed into one space and that there are poor sight lines and there is poor sound and even poorer weather and that's all true, of course, but sometimes to remind yourself that you're still alive, well, all those elements are necessary. I needed to be in the sweat-soaked scrum of thousands and I needed to be in the mud and the heat and surrounded by all these young'uns just to prove that all of life's drudgery has not got the best of me yet. I was searching for one clear moment of love and truth and even though I had a little faith what I needed was some proof, and I found it at The Haus Of Gaga. It is dangerous to get into the business of ranking things, even though I always do it, and so I will not and instead simply say that this show meant as much to me as Bruce in Detroit in '99 or The Arcade Fire at the Riv in '05. It was everything coming together - the performer, the performance, the setting, the situation, the desperate yearning for it to go on forever, the way it stays with you for days and days.

So many people so close to me have asked me so many times "Why Lady Gaga?" that I have lost count and the connection is at once too simple and too complicated to explain and so I will do my best. So many people have used so many adjectives to describe her and everyone is entitled to their opinion - even if I think many of those opinions are awe-inspiringly ignorant - and all I can say is that her great songs (of which there are officially, at present, six) are big and brash and bombastic and garish and unapologetic of their obvious influences because she is unafraid to show where she comes from and, most importantly, they are alive, they are so alive that they overwhelm me. A few years ago about "Born To Run" Bruce Springsteen said, "I wanted it to sound enormous, to grab you by your throat and...insist that you pay attention - not just to the music, but to life, to being alive." To me, her great songs sound enormous. They grab me by my throat and insist that I pay attention - not just to the music, but to life, to being alive. They truly do.

And at the show's conclusion she screamed "Now let's get drunk!" and everyone cheered while I thought "Damn, Lady Gaga, I'm tired. I gotta go to bed now." And then I realized I had a headache. And then I realized my dinner had been a Bud Light tallboy. And then I realized after standing in basically one place for over four hours that my right hip was in such agony I was literally limping across Grant Park and to the train. And as the thousands of us tried to make our escape, encountering false exit upon false exit, a group of us eventually forced our way through a fence that was not supposed to be forced through and I found myself hobbling past the same spot where all those protestors had been earlier and I could not help but wonder what would happen if they were there now, insulting the one person who had just united us? It's not that they are insufferable, slobbering, self righteous shitheads, though they are, because they are entitled to say whatever they want except none of us can truly know what will happen come the afterlife. But I do know that in this life Lady Gaga makes me happy and I do not even want to imagine my life for the past year without her.

Whoever earns the "privilege" of delivering my eulogy please make damn sure you say at least one thing: this guy was a Little Monster.

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