In the opening pages of Robert McCammon’s book, Boy’s Life, he talks about magic. Specifically, he says:
“When people get weepy at movies, it’s because in that dark theater the golden pool of magic is touched, just briefly. Then they come out into the hard sun of logic and reason again and it dries up, and they’re left feeling a little heartsad and not knowing why.”
And that’s exactly how I felt on Sunday night. It was a dark theater, but I wasn’t there to watch a movie. I was there to watch one of my favorite bands take the stage, so I could scream along with their songs and forget that anything else outside of the music existed.
I wanted to feel some sort of magic so desperately that I was even willing to try and find it alone.
I had been looking forward to the show for days when I got a text from a friend saying he would have to bail. I had never been to a concert by myself before. The last time I saw this particular band I managed to drag a friend along with me, even though she didn’t have the slightest clue of who they were. I was a thousand miles away from home and I decided that a two-hour drive was worth it to see what kind of magic these four guys had within them.
So we got in my car and left our small college town in Iowa to make it to the venue in Lawrence, Kansas. Up until a few weeks before that show I didn’t know who the band was either. I had received a text from a guy who I had been involved with, asking me if I had ever heard of them and when I told him I hadn’t he recommended a song.
A song that made me listen to another song and another, and then I was standing in the venue, desperately hoping to create a memory that would make me forget where the introduction of the band began.
Music can be a catch-22 that way. It can hold happy memories that transport you back in time but it can also be a trigger for things that went wrong.
But I didn’t want this band that I really liked to turn in to that. I wanted the music to belong to me. I needed a little magic.
And two years later I was in need of some again. The girl who dragged her friend to the show in Kansas wasn’t used to doing things on her own but the girl whose friend just bailed on her was. I was really getting used to being on my own so I decided to not let a perfectly good ticket go to waste. I got out of my car and found myself in line with the people who I was going to be sharing the music with, and they were young, like really young.
In a way they reminded me of what I must have looked like and sounded like when I first started going to live shows with friends. After ten minutes in line it made me homesick for a time that seemed all too brief and I began to feel lonely instead of just alone. At the door I flashed my license with pride, and was looking forward to having a beer in my hands with the feeling that it would give me something to do. And also allow me to identify the other semi-adults in the room.
The lights went down, the opening band came on and I stood there in the over 21 section, leaning against the railing and wondering how I got here. Not just here, as in a concert alone, but here in this point of my life where most days were met with disappointment rather than optimism of what life was going to roll out for me. This was the dangerous train of thought that was quickly going off the rails when the guy next to me asked if I would cover his spot while he went to the bar. I flashed a smile and said, “sure.”
Along the railing it appeared that I wasn’t the only person alone. The two guys who were on my left first looked like they were together but as the one returned from the bar he confirmed that he too had been bailed on, and he came a lot further than I did to have this experience. Three hours to be exact.
The three of us rallied together, happy to find someone else to be our friend even if it was just for a night. We took the floor as the headliner began to set up and I was practically bouncing with anticipation. I couldn’t help wondering if it was going to feel as good as it did the first time I saw them. Would it feel as special?
The introductory track for their new album plays overhead on the speaker and the crowd immediately responds.
I can already feel it happening. This collective bubble that is being blown together and on the inside we feel safe and understood. It’s the type of protection that lets you sing your heart out and thrash around as each song on the set list takes you away from the person who walked in the door by herself.
As they play my favorite songs I turn to one of my new friends, uttering every word and seeing him do the same.
We’re dancing and laughing because we can’t believe we get to be here and feel this happy.
It’s magic, and it is produced by guitar strings and drum beats. It floats out from the amps and touches every single body, seamlessly weaving us together to build a perfect night. I wasn’t sure if it would feel the same, and I was right. It didn’t feel the same but I think it may have felt even better. I was a long ways away from the girl in Kansas but I still had this band and I had this music. And for a night I had all the people in this room too.
The crowd begs for an encore and I feel breathless. The band gives back two more songs and every person rushes forward to give everything they have left for this last moment. The band isn’t even playing anymore, they’re barely singing as we have taken over for them. Letting them know how much it means to us to have their words play in our daily lives, and some days they play on repeat. Then it’s over.
The house lights come on, and it’s exactly like Robert McCammon said, we leave knowing outside there is logic and reason waiting for us and with every step we take away from the stage the magic begins to dry up a little more. The bubble that we have created together pops but the difference is I’m a little heartsad and I know why. We all have our own paths to get back to but I’m fairly confident we’ll find what we’re looking for again.
We’ll find the magic that makes us feel like we belong.