Face in the crowd
I’ve been working 50-hour weeks all summer at a day camp, my first “real” job. And god, it’s fucking tough. No matter how much you love kids, and I tend to really like ’em, 10 hours a day with 25 eight-year-olds is a bit much for anybody. And although I consider myself very mature, kids know how to push your buttons. By the end of the day I often give up and just start pleading with them. No matter how good of an attitude you have — and I’ve come to realize over the past month that the key is to find the kid’s actions funny, rather than annoying — it can get rough.
Now, my social battery is low on good days, but I haven’t really seen my friends much this summer. Most of them are gone anyway, but I have trouble finding the energy or motivation to commit to plans that don’t involve lying on a couch. I did make an exception last week, though.
I’m not much of a concert person. I don’t like people bumping into me or spilling beer on me, or my sneakers getting sticky. I don’t like standing still for that long, and I like dancing in public even less. But more than that, I have trouble staying grounded in the experience, so I don’t often enjoy concerts. I’m that way with a lot of things, but especially things that are amped up, that you are supposed to enjoy, because then I feel pressure to enjoy them.
That being said, I’ve been causally in love with Julien Baker for a couple years now, and I almost foamed at the mouth when I saw she was opening for Courtney Barnett at the State. As much as I would absolutely love to write a couple self-indulgent paragraphs exploring my feelings for her music, her story, etc., I have enough awareness left to realize that is not at all interesting to read from someone with zero musical expertise. So let’s just agree she is incredible and move on.
Wednesday, the day of the show, was a rough day at work. Suffice it to say that a game of silent ball quickly ended with a half dozen children jumping on me. So I was not so enthusiastic about going to the show. But I showered and washed off the layers of sunscreen, bug spray and sweat, and put on a bold front. We got to the show a couple minutes after Baker was supposed to start, because I needed to stop at an ATM, there being no way in hell I would leave without a t-shirt or some similar merch, and I had that painfully earned paycheck burning a hole in my pocket.
We found standing room, and I was transfixed immediately. Baker’s music is sad, and not dance-y at all — sway-y, at best. But she has some intense passion and emotions, and a voice that seems to come from her whole being. I was able to ignore the rude people who barged their way in front of us and proceeded to make out (and then ask the people around them who was on stage).
But I wasn’t able to ignore what I interpreted as visible frustration and pain on Baker’s face. I know I was projecting, but it almost hurt to watch her perform these heart-wrenching songs. I became ungrounded, ripped from the experience. I had, up until that point, been able to be present, because Baker is the only person I would ever fan-girl over. But then to witness her like that, performing, I needed to form a narrative, an explanation in my head.
I knew it was her last show with Barnett, so was that it? Was it the crowd? I needed to know. Baker’s set was over all too soon, and I was left melancholy and out of it. We went up to the balcony for Barnett’s set, where I was able to get back into it. There was a little girl with big ear protectors next to us, dancing around carefree, and two women in front of us doing the same. Barnett’s much harder, rockier sound got me dancing a bit, and I could ground myself again. But then the girl next to us got more and more tired, and the women in front of us less and less enthusiastic — they seemed to be upset with one another, and one gave up on the show entirely and went on Instagram.
Boom — I was ungrounded again. I guess I hadn’t realized how much I rely on people around me to influence my emotions, to make me happy or sad. But despite all of this, I would say this was the best show I’ve ever been to. Granted, my concert days have been few. Still, that’s something to build on.