I’ve never attended a rock show holding a ticket with the magical words, “General Admission” on it. This means that for the last 44 years I’ve either missed a fundamental element of the modern concert experience, or I’ve smartly found the perfect balance between “being there” while maximizing personal comfort.
Since becoming a prosthetic-wearing biped, I’ve opted out of the GA experience. I find the thought of standing for long periods of time in a stormy sea of humanity with a prosthetic leg slightly unnerving. Also, securing a prime GA spot is the modern equivalent of the late 1880’s Western land rushes. People gather far too early to anxiously await the “opening” of a physical space and then fight each other for what they eventually claim.
This past Sunday, I became one of those people.
Fortunately for Max and me, the 20-degree weather plus a stiff wind discouraged early arrivers. This allowed us to secure space for ourselves less than 10 feet from the stage without difficulty. That was the good news. A quick consultation with my phone’s clock revealed the bad: we had 45 minutes to wait before the opening act came on, and another hour after that before the headliner, Weezer, would appear.
Herein lies the central problem with GA – once you secure “your” space, you have to defend it. Since concert venues generally discourage you from bringing knives and guns into the show, your only weapons are nasty glares and under-the-breath comments. Since I’m not a true alpha male, this puts me squarely in my element.
So, close to 2 hours before the main show, Max and I stood there staring at each other like the couple at the end of The Graduate: “Now what?” I told Max to go collect his obligatory concert tee-shirt while I held his spot. That killed 8 minutes. The next 37 consisted of (a) repeatedly checking football game scores and the news on my phone as if the act of hitting “refresh” in my browser would spontaneously create a fascinating event that would make time move more quickly, and (b) watching 10 promotional slides for the concert venue loop on a giant screen, including a reminder to see Jessie’s Girl, an 8-person 80’s cover act. This had the scientifically-verifiable effect of actually slowing time down.
As I waited, my right foot began to ache. I can usually remedy this problem by either finding a chair or walking. The former is an obvious solution: when your body hurts from standing, stop standing. The latter is less intuitively apparent, but walking distributes pressure across the entire surface of my foot and usually helps minimize the pain caused by standing for too long. Unfortunately, I couldn’t exercise either of these options.
The whole point of General Admission is to cram lots of people into a space devoid of chairs. Sitting’s not an option. And when a popular band – i.e., Weezer – plays, more people get crammed into that fixed space than when a band whose fan base consists only of its parents performs. In other words, even though we were still 15 minutes from the opening act, the crowd had thickened to a point where I couldn’t escape the gravity of this tiny human planetoid and find space to walk.
Stuck, I crossed my arms and tried to think of something original to tweet. (I failed.) By the time the opening set ended, I had been on my feet and stationary for an hour and 15 minutes. Max and I compared notes about the undercard. He was kinder than I to Elliot and the Ghost. (I thought the most entertaining part of their act was when the bassist’s patch cord failed, forcing the band to perform as a 2 guitar and drums act for 30 seconds while the bassist quickly (and successfully) troubleshot a solution.) By the time Weezer came out shortly after 9:00, I had been standing still for close to 2 hours.
I wouldn’t have thought of a Weezer crowd as particularly rambunctious. I based this assumption on the fact that Rivers Cuomo, the lead singer, wears cardigan sweaters and graduated from Harvard with a B.A. in English.
I was wrong.
By the third song the first of the body surfers had made his way atop the GA crowd just to our left. By the fifth, a vortex of happy, sweating people swirled circularly into each other, my first direct experience with a mosh pit. It was akin to watching nature programs on television all your life and suddenly finding yourself standing 10 feet away from a rhino in the wild.
Happily, all of this action distracted me from the increasing pain in my good foot and, increasingly, my sound knee as it stiffened up while I tried to absorb the decaying forces emanating from the eye of this human cyclone. However, as the collisions and body surfers veered more closely to me and Max, the thoughts of a one-legged 44-year-old man clawed through my smile-plastered face, something along the lines of: “Is this a smart thing for me to be doing?”
In the end, we avoided both getting sucked into the mosh vortex and having to pass any human beings above our heads forward. As Rivers Cuomo and his bandmates left the stage, Max looked at me, grinning, and said, “Now we’ve got to get out of here.” While the crowd slowly dispersed – and I particularly noted the 6-foot tall guy wearing a Pikachu sleeper with his arm around his girlfriend, which struck me as fundamentally oxymoronic – I leaned over to Max and shouted, “I’m having trouble walking!” He looked at me quizzically. I realized in that moment that, for the most part, Max probably doesn’t think of me as an amputee.
Most people assume that walking with a prosthesis is hard. And it is. But fewer understand that just standing still when you have only one foot comes with its own drawbacks. Because my daily life almost never requires me to stand dead still for 3-plus hours, I had forgotten that fact myself. Feeling the throbbing in my foot and a distinct lack of smoothness in my good knee, I suddenly remembered.
But despite the side effects, I irrationally feel a bit proud about the fact that I was there “in the action” on Sunday. Getting buffeted, screaming with the crowd, losing myself in the moment … it was worth the discomfort.