SAN DIEGO — Too many years had passed since I had seen a rock show live. I think it must have been at least two.
I and others of the Yuppie generation would go more often, if our choices were more palatable. Appearances by Dylan and Springsteen are, however, rare. So we turn our thoughts--for the moment, at least--away from mortgages and children, away from "Dallas" and "Miami Vice," and venture into the night looking for who's available.
How about John Cougar Mellencamp?
Just an old boy from Indiana, Mellencamp is 35. So, he's "palatable." But I had another reason for going. Would there be, in the Sports Arena crowd of a Friday night, anyone even a day beyond prepubescent?
A few were. Most of the others were young enough to be our children.
Geoff Wilkie is a 16-year-old junior at Point Loma High School. Jason Ledbetter is a 15-year-old freshman at Roosevelt Junior High. They came to the arena knowing little about Mellencamp ("We see his videos"), even less of his hope for American farmers, but thinking it might be a good night . . . for picking up girls.
"Girls are all over the place here," said Geoff, looking around lecherously.
"Girls are the big reason we come," said Jason, with the icy detachment of an entrepreneur explaining a business trip to Zurich.
I asked the boys if they ever listened to Jackson Browne, my favorite singer-songwriter, now an old-timer at 37.
They looked at each other as though I had spoken in Esperanto.
Geoff made a castor-oil face and shook his head.
Have you heard of Bob Dylan, I asked.
"Sure. Yeah. Dylan . . . " they said.
Jason looked at Geoff and replied: "Sounds familiar. What group is she with?"
The boys came to the Sports Arena hoping for heavy-metal hullabaloo. Mellencamp represented a compromise--if the music didn't make it, "the girls" just might. Geoff said they "dig" heavy metal--Twisted Sister, Judas Priest, Motley Crue, et al --for "guitar solos and better stage shows."
"Yeah," Jason said dourly, "more explosions."
I asked if, in listening to Mellencamp, they had shared his concern for the plight of American farmers.
Jason looked at Geoff. "Not really," Jason said, almost apologetically.
Finally, I asked what they thought they would listen to when they got to be my age, 34.
"Probably that classical crap," Jason said, cuing Geoff to laugh uproariously.
Geoff and Jason stood in front of a jam-packed concession line. Five lines of at least 12 people each waited in turn for new Coke, popcorn, peanuts, kosher hot dogs and "this-Bud's-for-you" beer. All stood with hideously craned necks, gazing at a video monitor hung from the ceiling. The monitor carried MTV, the 24-hour rock cable channel.
I must say, once the show started, the generation gap narrowed considerably. The music was terrific.
It brought back a flood of memories of great shows I had seen since junior year in high school--Janis Joplin at the 1969 Texas Pop Festival; Bruce Springsteen, before he became a platinum institution; Willie Nelson, when he played to groups of maybe a dozen at a Fort Worth nightclub; the late Jim Croce, whose love of life and reverence for characters made his death all the more poignant, and of course Jackson Browne, whose performances I have seen 13 times, including one on the steps of the Capitol in Washington.
I knew what Geoff meant about girls. I knew what the college kid making out with his date in the seat next to mine had to feel. Every woman I ever went out with I could picture beside me, in a seat at a rock show. Just remembering was worth the ticket price.
By the end of the second encore, however, my ears had a curious ringing. Even in the parking lot, while starting my car, it felt as though a drummer had gotten trapped inside my rib cage. My heart had a stronger, more amplified thump-thump.
Once home, my wife asked, "How was your evening?" I didn't hear her. "HOW WAS YOUR EVENING?" she asked. I caught enough to respond.
When I sat down ready to watch my video of that night's "Dallas," I'll be damned if Sue Ellen didn't sound strangely like John Cougar Mellencamp.
And I bet she cares about farmers.