Monday, June 11, 2007

The One Day Road Trip, Complete With Music & Hallucination (11 June 2007)

I'vm very tired ttoday. I have decided to keep in all typos and mistakes in this paragraph because it might be explary--examplary of my mindset right now. I left for Denver yesterday morning to see The Police in concert , but because I just started this new job, I couldn't very well ask for today off. So isntead of stayning at a motel rooma nd getting some rest, I drove through the night, heading straight for my job (I brought a change of clothes) and getting wto work as soon as I could. Due to that lack of sleep, my head is heavy and my sight grows dim. But I made my bed, so notw I have to not sleep int it.

I drove to Denver yesterday with my pal Merrill. I used to work with him and we'd commute together almost every single day. We also went on a road trip to Comic-Con last year. If his wife has a miraculous change of heart, we'll go to Comic-Con again this year. This was a mini-road trip to see the Police in concert. We're both big Sting fans, though not as big as tyranist (who once got a drunken tattoo on his left buttock in the Philippines, but had to have it removed because it looked more like "Stink" than "Sting").

I'm not old enough to have seen the Police back when they were a real touring band, so of course I jumped at the chance to see them perform for their little reunion. I was hoping for some new songs (which may still happen), but I'm one of the few fans that actually prefers the Sting solo music to the great stuff he did with Andy and Stewart.

The drive wasn't too long, and we kept ourselves occupied by talking about a variety of subjects, but mostly writing, podcasts, time travel, and homosexuality. The landscape in Colorado was amazing, with many European-looking ski towns built right at the base of the mountains, and more neat rows of green trees than I thought possible.

The concert was at the Pepsi Center and we arrived early enough to park in downtown Denver and wander around the outdoor mall near the college campus. It was pretty nice and--no, I gotta take that back. For the size of Denver, this downtown area was immaculate, safe, clean, well-maintained, and pretty. In Los Angeles, you'd have to go up to the Universal Citywalk or some other such remote location to find a place where you could not only walk around alone at midnight without fear, eat your meal on a parkbench without being accosted by angry and/or insane homeless people, and see real green grass.

The only other time I went to Denver was in 1999 for the Star Wars Celebration. I always assumed I took a wrong turn on the way back because the drive back took more than two hours longer than the drive there. I realised this morning that I just missed the turnoff to a shortcut that goes through the mountains, shaving a considerable length off the drive.

Merrill and I hung around for a while until it was time to go to the show, then we just followed the people (usually between 25 and 45) who were making their way to the Pepsi Center. I didn't see a lot of people with Sting or Police shirts on (maybe four, counting myself), but we found a booth selling overpriced t-shirts and each bought one. By the end of the show, there were a lot more people with them on, but what I thought was strange was that literally EVERY single shirt showed the Police as they were twenty-five years ago, and there wasn't a poster, jacket, shirt, or button with Sting, Andy, and Stewart as they look now. I don't know how odd that is, but I found it pretty odd.

I don't go to a lot of concerts anymore. As I get older, there are less and less bands that thrill me enough to go out and see them, and when there is somebody, it's often hard to find somebody to go with that feels the same way. Merrill and I talked about concerts we both went to in the past, and there's really only two we had in common: Sting and Metallica. Musically, we aren't really on the same page, as demonstrated by the mix tapes I made him listen to on the drive (half the songs he declared either gay or unknown to him).

Our seats were in the uppermost section, but the first row of it, so we could put our feet where we wanted. The seats themselves were quite small, and poor Merrill, who has gotten a bit rotund, found it uncomfortable to sit there. The crowd was very sedate and very calm, and there wasn't a lot of dancing, screaming, or people singing along (really). I noticed a lot of text messaging going on, which may be the chewing and spitting of the modern age.

The opening act was already playing when we got to our seats. They were so far away from our section that I couldn't read their name, but they sounded an awful lot like very early U2 (we're talking "Boy" and "October," before "War" and "Unforgettable Fire"). Later I learnt that the band was called Fictionplane, and the lead singer, rather than being related to Bono, was Joe Sumner . . . Sting's oldest son. Interesting.

When they were done, we got a few minutes of filler video on the three screens above the stage, then the Police came out. We had talked about what music they might play, having listened to all of their Message In A Box collection during the drive. I wondered if they would play Sting solo songs, or perhaps some of their favourite covers (like Beatles or Hendrix tunes), but the answer was no, only Police songs. It wasn't just the greatest hits kind of stuff, they also played fairly obscure album tracks like "Visions of the Night" and "Lowlife,"* as well as semi-famous songs like "Driven to Tears" and the "Bed's Too Big Without You."

Merrill and I have (yet another) disagreement when it comes to concert-going. He wants the songs to be as close to the album versions as possible, and hates it when they've futzed with the lyrics or the timing or fused it with other songs, etc. Me, I'm just the opposite. If I want to hear album versions, I listen to . . . you guessed it, the album versions. When I go to a concert, there's nothing I love more than to try and guess what the song is as they start to play, participating in an informal Name That Tune game with the rest of the audience.

The Police concert was sort of the best of both worlds, with half the songs being instantly identifiable and the other half being drawn-out, jazzed-up, or experimental versions of the songs we've known for years. He and I both had a list of songs we wanted to hear them play, and I imagine Merrill was disappointed, since they played none of the ones from his list. Me, I was happy to hear "King of Pain," "Don't Stand So Close To Me," and "So Lonely."

I used to hate sitting in front of older, fatter, or lazier people who would tell us to sit down if we stood up for one of our favorite songs. Merrill and I stood for one song, which I no longer remember, but stayed seated the rest of the concert, until the group behind us finally went home. Then we stayed seated the rest of the time.

I didn't date enough Catholic schoolgirls growing up. As it stands, I have no, "And then she unzipped her jumper" stories.

They had three giant screens above the performers and each one showed a different part of the stage. It was like we were watching a three camera sitcom setup live as it happened. During "Walking In Your Footsteps," they projected images of a brontosaurus skeleton stomping around. Merrill had just told me that years before he made a video for his dad's birthday or Father's Day or something and his sister wanted him to use that song in the background. Merrill had said, "Wait, the song the goes 'Hey Mister Dinosaur, you really couldn't ask for more?" and she told him yes.

The concert was a short one, in my opinion. They certainly played a lot of songs, but it seemed almost no time had passed before they were off the stage, coming back for one of . . . three (I think) encores. Every Sting concert I've gone to has either ended with "Every Breath You Take" or "Fragile," so it's kind of easy to know it's not over, but this one was unpredictable. I wanted to hear them talk about their songs, about getting back together, about new material, about how they're getting along, but there wasn't much talk from any of them. At one point, Stewart broke a drumhead (don't know what you call it) and Sting talked for a moment while they fixed it. But even then, it was terse, "The elevation is really high here" talk rather than, "The reason we got back together was . . ." or "I think the level we hate one another is about the same as it was in 1981 right now."

But again, that's just me. Obviously other people thought the concert was too long, as they took off after the band left the stage the first time (or the second). And even though everyone knows the show's not 100% over until the houselights come up, I'd say more than half the crowd had started for the exits before that happened.

I think my favourite song was when they performed "Wrapped Around Your Finger," always one of my faves to begin with. Stewart left his drums to play a gong, cymbals, and a xylophone. It sounds silly, I know, but it was really eerie and unique. He did hop back onto the drums for the end of the song, though. Stewart did double duty like that again on "King of Pain" and "Walking In Your Footsteps."

After the concert, Merrill and I got lost. I don't know how it happened, but suddenly we found ourselves alone, on some school campus, a mile or so away from my car and the Pizza Hut/Taco Bell we had planned on eating at. The restaurant stayed open until midnight, but when we got to it, they were out of all the Pizza Hut food and had no more chalupas. The girl behind the counter talked to us about the Police, and I thought she was just feigning disappointment when we told her we'd just come from the show, but then she talked about reading an interview with Stewart Townsend so I knew she was really a fan.

They had good Pepsi at that Taco Bell and Merrill and I went outside to eat it. Young people were hanging out, skateboarding, holding hands, making trouble, and walking around, and I remembered my own lost youth and how it seems I never did any of that stuff when I was a kid.

We went back to my car and started the long drive home. Merrill, though he's a miser of Dickensian proportions, was more than willing to get a motel room, but like I said, I had to be back at work the next morning, so we had to get going as soon as we could. Merrill has a logical, if infuriating, No Sleep policy on road trips, declaring that it's the passenger's job to make sure the driver is awake and alert.**

After we got gas, it was Merrill's turn to drive, and I was playing guard dog. There wasn't a lot to see now that it was night and we were away from the city. In fact, there were times when we had to turn on the high beams because the sky and the road in front of us were equally black. It was hard to stay awake.

About an hour outside of Denver, I gasped. There was an elk the size of a VW bus standing right there on the soft shoulder of the freeway. I swore up a storm, seriously freaking out about it. I didn't think there were animals that big outside of Alaska and Tattooine. But Merrill had seen nothing. A couple of miles later, there was a small doe standing beside the road . . . but Merrill didn't see that one either. Hmmm. I asked him if it was possible I hallucinated the monstrous elk, and he pointed out that there were deer crossing signs all over the Colorado freeways. He also asked me how to tell him many fingers he was holding up . . . but it turned out to be one.

Knowing that I'd be at my new job in just a handful of hours, I didn't feel like talking much, and when Merrill put on his headphones to listen to mp3s, I lost consciousness for a while. He awoke me by rolling the back window down, and since it was in the forties outside and I had shorts on, I couldn't go back to sleep after that. There were many twists and turns driving through canyons and gorges, and like I had been the day before (after six hours of driving or so), Merrill started to struggle with the road and the wheel. At some point, we switched again, and I had no problem with Merrill going to sleep. He must've been exhausted, because he made that seriously disturbing rasping noise you make when you pass out in a bathtub, on the stairs, or on an anthill. It sounded almost like a death rattle, except it happened every time he breathed. Poor guy.

But poor guy me, looking at the clock, my dreams of being able to take a quick nap before work were rapidly fleeting. Soon the sun began to rise and I thought about vampires and if I was one, how long I could drive before the light would kill me. Eventually, I got to the last CDs in the car--a couple of Oldies compilations I had made for my mother--but was too tired to sing along (except for "Midnight Train to Georgia," which I learned backup vocals to before the chorus, which is an uninteresting story I might someday regale you with).

Because I now live in the Land Of A Thousand Wal-marts, that is where we had parked Merrill's car (which is for sale if anybody has some loose change lying around), and I dropped him off to go home and sleep and headed to my job to go to work. I came in and changed my clothes in the bathroom, splashed some water on my face, and began my day. It wasn't really so bad, though I was a little punchy when it came to typing or remembering things.

In retrospect, I guess I could've done things differently to make it easier on myself. But it's fun to hang out with my friend and it's fun to see a band that I like, and I have the money to blow on high priced gasoline and equally high priced concert t-shirts. I don't know if it was a stupid trip to take or not, but it probably won't be the last one I go on.

I hope.

Rish "Lord I Was Born A Ramblin' Man" Outfield

*Actually, they may have played neither of these songs and I just can't remember right. Lack of sleep damages the brain, I've been told. Please substitute "Voices Inside My Head" and "Next To You" for those two examples.

**The last time I drove to Denver, I had to be home for the start of college classes the next day. My two passengers fell asleep after a while. About an hour before we were home, the guy in the passenger seat woke up, the sunrise hitting his face. He looked over to see me, driving the car, asleep at the wheel. He woke me up (rather loudly) and we switched places. I have no idea how long I had been asleep or how we survived.

P.S. P.S. In the days since I wrote this post, I went to see the Police again, this time in Las Vegas with Jeff and Emily. I gotta say, the show was a totally different experience than last week's show, even though literally every single song was the same. The environment was different and the crowd was so much more into it than Denver's was. We were singing along, dancing, and making merry. At the Denver show, it was all the crowd could do to keep from soiling themselves in will-sapped apathy. But hey, that's life, isn't it?

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