Resurrecting the Music That Still Gets under Our Skin:
Yeah Yeah Yeahs in Dallas
I’m at a party with a handful of academics. Whiskey bottles and cracker varieties crowd the countertops; in the corner, an unused fireplace mocks the Texas heat. I’m mapping an escape route (over the balcony, down the gutter) when our host mentions Coachella, and the conversation shifts into hyper-drive. We’re full to the teeth with live-music experiences, and these are the stories we most enjoy telling; they contain our boldest moments; they reveal vulnerabilities we didn’t know we shared.
In the spirit of the approaching concert season, I’d like to recount one such story:
Caught in rush-hour traffic, my boyfriend complains about the ride I’ve requested. He insults me, saying I’m impulsive, immature, foolish, and his words splinter the trellis of confidence I’ve erected. He drops me at the corner of Elm and Good Latimer, and I watch his brake lights shudder before he turns onto the highway, and I’m left alone in downtown Dallas, twenty-two years old, new to the city.
The line outside Gypsy Tea Room stretches two blocks, so far that I can’t see the venue’s entrance or the bouncer who separates tickets from their stubs. I have no ticket to the sold-out Yeah Yeah Yeahs show at a time when Fever to Tell is still considered one of the best albums of the decade. I’d fallen in love with Karen O’s split personality—the hopeless romantic and cynical revolutionary—on this and later albums, an idea expressed in the title of her newest (at the time) release: Show Your Bones.
Panic marches down my spine.
I’m no stranger to scalpers, but I’ve never done this alone, or sober, and no conspicuous sellers move through the crowd, searching for buyers. I carve out new insults for myself (awkward, unpopular, alone) and stare into my phone’s face, fingering my boyfriend’s digits and weighing my pride against my fear of hipsters, their popularity and uncanny fashion sense.
I wish I could remember the flicker of thought the moment before I pocketed my cellphone and found the courage to approach that line. I like to think that it was a lyric that fluttered up and perched in my consciousness, a drumbeat, a chord, Karen O’s almond eyes, her fearless fists.
Starting from the back, I accost each person; I make public my lack of foresight, my solitude and determination. And each person shakes her head no and avoids eye contact, offended by my need. No extra tickets, not for any price. Their heads follow my empty hands back down the street, where I wait, biting my lip, knitting my brow. Maybe the bouncer will take pity.
Ten o’clock approaches, and the streets are mineral pitch and absence. Even now, I think he must have descended from the heavens or materialized in a poof of black smoke. He whispers, and I’m paralyzed. Anyone need a ticket?
They all turn to face me, waiting, watching my heart clot with disbelief. I cannot speak. Behind me I hear, “She does,” and a finger shoots in my direction. I do. The stranger extends a rectangle of neon paper, which I take, and disappears into the night.
Music has been the only constant in my life, the one non-negotiable. Blinded by tunnel vision, insecurity, hopelessness, I too often forget that music lurks in the background, an effervescent fog awaiting my return. When the right show shuffles into view, the right song coincides with the right moment, I’m reminded of the infinitude of the human mind and the tenuous barrier between the imagined and the concrete. Music provides me with a vision beyond experience—a vision that inspires confidence when I feel most alone.