October 22, 2014

Chapter 6: Breaking Up With My Mom : Tales of a Female Music Enthusiast

The hunger for independence happens for most kids somewhere between 8th grade and sophomore year of high school. It is within this window of time that moody teens decide they only want to be seen alone or with friends. Parents are plucked, no kicked from their social equation all together.

1987 was the year I broke up with my mom. Up to this point she had been nothing but an incredible trooper and friend. She was not only willing to take me to any show I asked to see, she was genuinely excited to see live bands with me – something that I can barely get my adult friends to do with me now. 

Together my mom and I saw:


* Prince – twice (Purple Rain & Parade tour)
* Howard Jones - twice
* UB40 w/ Erasure (to be accurate that took place in 1988 @ Pier 84 in NYC)
* Bryan Adams w/ The Hooters at Madison Square Garden, 1987
* They Might Be Giants – The Ritz , 1986 - (So many men tried to pick up my Mom that night, it was freaky)
* Adam and the Ants w/ Wall of Voodoo – 1985 at Radio City Music Hall (Rabid female fans threw bras and panties at the stage all all night long but especially during "Strip" )
* Squeeze opening for David Bowie on the Spiders from Mars tour in 1987 at Giant’s Stadium
Peter Gabriel - So tour in 1986 at Madison Square Garden
* And while not a band, there was Hands Across America along side 6 and half million other people




But then age 16 happened. Hormones took over and I went through the Jekyll and Hyde change. I transformed from a content sidekick of a parental unit to a brooding teenage turd who preferred to play orphan.
My mom could have handled the change in my attitude with screaming matches or groundings but instead she did something miraculous. She became a willing chauffeur to any and all shows I asked to see, 99% of which were 40 minutes away in New York City. To be clear, the city was not the tourist friendly Disneyland it is today; it was the seedy New York of the late ‘80s. These were the rough and tumble Ed Koch years of NY.

The whole scenario still blows my mind to this day. A handful of my friend’s parents (along with my own) willingly gave their daughters permission to attend a number of concerts in New York parent-free. Not even coolest of cool moms on Gilmore Girls (picture w/ the Bangles below) would have offered that level of privilege and freedom to her daughter. My friends and I were trusted to stay at the show (IE not leave the concert to wander the big, dangerous city alone), behave respectably, and then meet my mom at an arranged pick up location near the venue when the concert was done. We mostly followed the big alternative bands of the day so luckily these shows were held in respectable, large all ages venues that welcomed a gaggle of bridge and tunnel girls with an allowance to burn on expensive cups of soda and band merch.


The concert ritual began months before the actual big event. It all started glued to a telephone with a parent’s credit card; borrowed with permission. Pre- internet you could get concert tickets one of three ways: by calling the ticket agency handling the event, visiting the ticket agency booth (Ticketron/Teletron had a  window at a sporting goods store a few towns away – too much of a distance / time suck to a busy parent or sibling with a car), or the venue located a whole state away. I LOVED the competitive thrill of getting through on the phone (much like trying to be the 100th caller on a radio station for a prize from Z100), so the phone was my preferred way to buy tickets. I would hope for it to ring after just a few tries but inevitably I would get a busy signal. And then another. And another. Methodically I would dial with the receiver pinned between my shoulder and cheek. With one hand poised over the keypad, I would hang up with the right hand and then re-dial with the left. I always called from my dad’s office. He had the least distracting to a teen room in the house and he ended up with the only phone in the house that had the modern and magical redial button. That was my secret weapon.

Sometimes this ticket buying process took hours - all depending on the size of the band and venue. If and when I managed to get through to a ticket agent, I then had to then scream for my parents who needed to be present just in case the other voice at the end of the telephone questioned my age and asked for a parent’s permission to charge the card. We only had one telephone line in the house so the rest of my poor family was barred from trying to use it until I got through - bless their patient hearts. The coveted tickets would then be mailed to our house and the wait for those tickets was unbearable. They were the tangible proof that we concert bound and on our way to greatness unlike anything we had ever experienced before. Freedom! New York City! Loud music! Flocks of interesting strangers!

In hindsight,  I think the hardest part of this whole process was learning about upcoming concerts in the first place. Collecting this valuable information was a difficult job and without a car or a computer, it took a lot of timely investigative work. I meticulously kept notes while listening to the radio each night. I depended on the word of mouth from friends (who also learned details from their older brother & sisters). The final piece of the puzzle was scouring my parent’s multiple newspaper subscriptions that featured advertisements for upcoming concerts.


Once tickets were procured, the only really important thing left for me to do was pick something to wear. I had yet to discover thrift stores so most of the items I wore still came from the local Paramus Park Mall. I had transitioned away from preppy jock bookworm but the Bergen County malls still limited me to a sea of popped collars, shoulder pads, and the Miami Vice fallout of never wearing socks. Crazy neon colors had been all the rage with the mainstream culture so I responded by embracing the more Gothic color pallet of black, gray, and cream (super funny knowing how colorful my wardrobe is now). My concert uniform also would include at least one Swatch, a long skirt or pegged pants, bulky sweaters with an even larger shirt underneath it, and multiple silver/ turquoise rings. The bonus reward to going to these concerts was that the more band shirts I purchased at them, the more often I could show the world that not only I was an cool enough to be at this show, but that I had impeccable taste in music overall. I am not ashamed to admit that my band shirt obsession has not diminished since 1986.


We would ride to NYC in my mom’s white Chevy Celebrity listening to mix tapes or if the wind was blowing the right way, the alternative hits of Long Island’s WDRE (“Dare to be different!”). My mom must have had the patience of a saint. We were a carload of high energy girls bouncing around like ping pong balls in oversized cable knits about to be chaperone free at a concert. We had hormones multiplying by the minute. There was the intoxicating prospect of meeting cute boys but the reality was most high school kids were not allowed to go to concerts alone so the members of the opposite sex were all at least college age. That could have spelled after school special stranger danger disaster but the actual number of members of the opposite sex we flirted with at these shows were zero.



The concerts themselves were a blur. Literally. Like most teenage girls, we had trouble sitting still. These concerts were rarely spent in the original seat I had purchased (most of these shows had seating). The game was to hunt for open seats that didn’t look like anyone was showing up to fill. The goal was to find group seating that moved us just that much closer to the stage. We would wiggle and worm our way up towards the stage, often getting within the first 20 rows. The biggest decision of the night would be to risk losing the seat we had hijacked in the name of dancing. We wanted to dance in the isles, by no means common behavior of the adults around us but as painfully enthusiastic girls, it seemed very necessary. The opening acts at these concerts were more often than not unknown to us so we would use that hour to wander the halls, stairways, and theater lobbies (the most gorgeous being Radio City Music Hall’s ornate Art Deco d├ęcor. People watching up until this point was limited to our NJ suburban backyards so the alternative show going crowds of a New York City show was as good as it could possibly get. There were the classic new wavers, new-romantics in their pirate blouses, pale looking librarian types in oversized glasses, the impeccably dressed (think Bryan Ferry), and gay people who I had personally only seen once before in Provincetown, MA on a family vacation. The atmosphere was as important and as memorable as the bands themselves. Admittedly my friends and I were an anomaly to be stared back at. We were very young, spirited, and parentless. We were fish out of water suburban brats from one state away. We were also not welcomed by those sitting around us as we squealed and jumped like dolphins in heat, danced like third rate Go-Gos, talked loudly about the world we knew nothing of, and did all of the typical things sheltered teenage girls do. The echo of “Where are their parents?” still ring in my ears.


What amazes me all these years later, besides the deep trust our parents had in us, is that pre-cell phones there was no way of knowing what time a show would be over by. It was all planned and discussed on the car ride into the city. Mom would hang out in the city on her own (bookstores and coffee shops) and when it came time to pick us up, she kept circling in the car until we showed up. Typically our rendezvous point was across the street or on one of the side streets of the theater / venue.  She never seemed stressed or angry if any of the shows that ran a little late. I remember her talking about how she enjoyed the time to herself in a city she once called home after college in the mid ‘60s. These occasional trips gave her an opportunity to revisit her old stomping grounds as well. She was and remained a night owl through her life and was truly dedicated to offering us the unique opportunity to seek culture and art on our own terms.  
The rides back home usually went relatively quickly as the traffic out of the Lincoln Tunnel or George Washington Bridge was light after 10 pm. Inevitably one of my friends would fall asleep but it was my job to keep my mom company and awake. There would always be plenty to recap from the night and babble on about in great detail. Who knew that years later this actually would be a valuable touring band member skill to have. I remain an expert at being the high energy front seat passenger who keeps the tour van driver entertained into the wee hours between long drives between shows like Seattle to Denver in 24 hours straight.


On a very special occasion my mom would stop at one of the endless diners along Rt. 17 and we would share disco fries (french fries with gravy and cheese; New Jersey’s version of poutine) and grilled cheese sandwiches. These are among my favorite memories I have of my youth.
These occasional concerts introduced me to New York City as a home away from home. Most teenagers are told to avoid their closest bustling major metropolitan, to fear it, but my experience was the exact opposite. I had gone to hundreds of museums and theater performances there as a kid with my family and was also given the training wheels to explore a little more of NYC without the guidance. This unusual freedom and trust offered a number of things. At my most impressionable age I was given the gift of experiencing live music without the filter of adult supervision. I built up street smarts from a very early age and knew my way around NYC better than most of the parents of my friends. Rather than thinking of the city as a dirty, dangerous, and worthless place, I believed it to be a mecca of culture and endless possibilities. My adult life has been built on this one of a kind foundation and my enthusiasm towards experiencing live music still thrives. City, good. Music, better. That about sums my life up to this day.


From 1986-1988  - the parentless concerts included
* R.E.M. / 10,000 Maniacs -1987 - (Stipe in a dozen shirts that were taken off one by one to reveal a new message)   
* The Replacements - 1987 (I had never seen adults so drunk before in my life)
* Depeche Mode - Music for the Masses tour - 1987
* U2 -Joshua Tree Tour - 1987 - Madison Sq. Garden. (Bono in a sling)


* Red Hot Chili Peppers - The Ritz - 1988 (Socks in all the right places)
* Big Audio Dynamite - Irving Plaza - 1987 (The closest I ever came to seeing The Clash)
* Grateful Dead - Giant's Stadium - 1987 (Don't ask, I did it for a stupid boy)
* A Conspiracy of Hope / Amnesty International - 1986 - Giant Stadium : Third World, Peter, Paul, & Mary, Little Steven with Darlene Love and John Waite, Bob Geldof, Jackson Browne, Ruben Blades with Fela Kuti and Carlos Santana, Yoko Ono, Miles Davis, The Neville Brothers, Joan Baez, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Joni Mitchell, The Police, U2, and more. (After this concert I became an active member of Amnesty International and created a chapter in my high school)



*and last but not least, Amnesty International's Human Rights Now! benefit concert in Philly - RFK Stadium - 1988 : Sting, Peter Gabriel, Bruce Sprinsteen & the E Street Band, Tracy Chapman, Youssou N'Dour, and Joan Baez.