I’ve tried for years to ingratiate myself into the live music scene with little luck. In Portland, it’s almost mandatory to be an avid concert-goer, lest you fall behind on whatever new band is hot right now. “Have you heard about that new chick who plays a harp made entirely out of elk bones? She lost her fingers in an airplane propeller so she plays with her toes. I can’t stand her music but she’s so cool.”
I’ve witnessed fleeting moments of subtle brilliance at live shows, but I mostly find myself standing around, lingering in boredom, my mind wandering while some scruffy singer-songwriter plucks away at a worn guitar onstage mumbling about heartbreak. In all likelihood, my inability to appreciate live music is probably a personality flaw, but it doesn’t change the fact that I’m usually bored out of my gourd at concerts. I’ll find myself daydreaming and thinking about other stuff, like if the sweater I bought last month can still be returned, or I’ll make lists in my head of what I want for dinner later.
I certainly don’t hate music, and I’d be upset if I gave that impression. If fact I consider myself quite musically savvy, and I enjoy making bold, obnoxious claims about the music scene: “Azealia Banks is over! 2013 is the year of the sitar! Ke$ha is actually a creative genius!” Sure, I almost never update my Facebook with Mumford and Sons lyrics or abandon a certain beloved indie band when they gain mainstream exposure, but that doesn’t mean my appreciation for music isn’t heartfelt.
Portland is so saturated with good music and it would be a crime to pass up the myriad of bands that pass through playing shows. I attend concerts partly to offset the guilt I feel for pirating MP3’s all day, and partly in hopes that whatever show I see will offer up some little nugget of magic to compensate for the hours spent standing around wondering how much longer the set list will be. Sometimes I get lucky and the band will play a chilling acoustic rendition of some 80’s Janet Jackson hit, or perhaps Tay Zonday will unexpectedly show up as a guest vocalist, but for the most part I’d rather enjoy music at home while I doodle fat Batmans and watch Property Virgins on mute. I'm a super busy guy, so I need to multitask.
To me, the entire concept of a concert is inherently strange: a bunch of people crammed shoulder to shoulder, quiet and reverent, watching somebody beneath a spotlight make noises at them. The worst part is that I can’t even skip over the songs I don’t like. Additionally, I can't help but wonder what it must look like to the musician, gazing out into a sea of solemn faces.
Because I don't want to come off like some grumpy villain in a Saturday morning cartoon, I go to concerts, pretend to have fun, and wait patiently for something in my brain to click (spoiler alert: nothing’s clicked yet, but I’ll continue to persist).
On occasion something will happen at a music venue to make the excursion worthwhile. Sometimes it has nothing to do with the music at all.
Several months ago I dragged myself to a show across the river, expecting little more than sore feet and possibly some damaged eardrums depending on how close I situated myself to the speakers. I skipped out on the opening act and arrived late. Luckily the friend I was meeting there had scoped out some prime real estate near the front of the stage. I hadn’t heard of the band, but it was one of those poppy ensembles that makes patently catchy music, but avoids being pigeonholed as “Top 40” by way of goofy outfits and weird haircuts. I did a tiny Liz Lemon-style eye roll and congratulated myself on seeing through their shtick, but the beats were pure and unpretentious, so I succumbed to the rhythm and danced along with everyone else.
A few songs in, I became aware of someone jabbing me repeatedly from behind. I glanced over my shoulder and noticed a lanky hipster dude had wormed his way to the front of the crowd with his potato-shaped girlfriend in tow. They were dancing in that specific sort of way intended to cause trouble. If moshing is still a thing, I’m unaware, but the two of them were clearly attempting something of the sort. Whatever the case, they were creating a ruckus, jabbing and thrusting and generally being assholes.
“Hipsterrrrrrrrr…” I hissed under my breath. I shot the guy a dirty look and turned my attention back to the stage, hoping my sneer would be enough to stop any further disturbance on his part.
The word “hipster” is problematic, as I’m unsure it has any real meaning at this point. Five or so years ago it was used to refer to snarky vegans in Williamsburg who rode bikes to their nondescript media jobs and wore keffiyehs in the middle of August. Now I think it’s a catch-all to mean “anything I personally don’t understand or care about,” which creates this strange cycle of would-be hipsters putting down other would-be hipsters, while the world’s soccer moms and geologists watch from the sidelines, wondering what the fuss is about.
I used the term hipster to describe the people thrashing about behind me because I don’t know what term would be more apt. The guy had a full tattoo sleeve consisting of generic symbols—stars, koi fish, an octopus—and he had one of those haircuts that seemed to defy gravity. I’ve always wondered if hipster kids just wildly chop at their own locks or if they go to barbershops and specifically ask for terrible cuts.
As Hipster Dude flayed about, whacking people around him, his girlfriend stood by his side looking lumpy and miserable as potato girlfriends are wont to do (on a side note, why is it that waif-thin hipster guys always seem to date miserable potato girls? I don’t understand my generation). Twice Hipster Dude almost sent the girl next to me to the floor, and twice I turned around and told him to knock it off. Both times I was met with a steely, defiant gaze of indifference. When he almost toppled the girl for a third time, I figured something needed to be done.
My best friend in high school once told me that when he was a kid and people would talk during movies, he’d imagine himself running across the tops of their heads like a feather-light ninja, chopping off the heads of the worst offenders with a make-believe katana. It made him feel better to exact fictional, over the top revenge, especially because in reality he couldn’t do much to alter the situation. I can relate to that sort of wishful thinking, even in adulthood. When Hipster Dude made it clear he had no intention of calming down, notions of reality blurred in my brain. What really happened—what is true and what only occurred in my imagination—is foggy. Fact and fiction merged at some point during the fight that ensued.
In the beginning, only words were flung. I turned around fully and pointedly asked the kid what his problem was. He flipped his hair out of his face, cocked his head at me, and asked me what I planned to do about it. He stepped closer to me, and I narrowed my eyes at him. A Hipster Battle had been engaged.
At first, our scuffle was tame and went unnoticed in the raucous crowd. Round One consisted of hurling insults at each other. I made fun of his haircut, which didn’t seem to faze him.
My lanky opponent appeared weak, but looks can be deceiving, and hipsters can be tricky to engage in combat. They don’t fight fair, and their gluten-free diets make them spry and lithe. I tried my best to keep my head in the game. I called him an “emo douchenozzle,” and followed up with a counterattack.
I could tell my purposefully incorrect labeling of my opponent as “emo” had taken him by surprise and caused his ego to fracture, but little good it did. His return attack was fierce. A flurry of American Spirit Golds.
I was in trouble. People around us were beginning to notice that a brawl was taking place, though from their perspective it undoubtedly appeared as if two skinny white boys were engaged in a low-impact slap fight. In my head, and I’m sure in my opponent’s as well, the fight was epic and dramatic. I switched gears and brought out the big guns.
I’ve only been in one other fight in my life. It was during homecoming in ninth grade, and I lost that fight. I came away with nothing to show for myself save for a black eye. I'm sure I could have held my own in the battle with Hipster Dude had we been playing on a level field, but he had the unfair advantage in the form of a potato-shaped cheerleader rooting for him and giving him strength. One energizing can of PBR later and my foe was back in action.
With no support units of my own, I knew I was in dire straits. It was time for my Fatality. I whipped out the one weapon I knew could turn the tides in my favor.
My finishing move was a success; Hipster Dude and his tater tot of a girlfriend were laid to waste, fried to bits.
I swear on a million bibles that that's how it all went down. Either that, or a bouncer saw a shoving match happening in the audience, and after I whined about how the guy was "being meeeean to me!", escorted my adversary out of the venue. Regardless, Hipster Dude was the one that got kicked out, not me, which means I won. In my head, I always win.
Over time, when I tell this story to my grandchildren (or robot grandchildren, should it turn out I can’t conceive naturally), I imagine the hipster guy will morph into a member of a drug cartel, and the skirmish will transform into a devastating gunfight. By the time I’m ninety, I’ll claim that I single-handedly destroyed a fleet of Decepticons, after which President Beyoncé knighted me as a retroactive member of the 1991 Chicago Bulls team. Perhaps one of my robot grandchildren will question the truth in my tale, but I will simply reply, “Hush, idiot. It’s true if I say it is. Don't make me take out your batteries.” Then I will quietly sip my liquid space-meatloaf, gaze out the window, and reminisce about the time I saved the world.