We were driving south on the Harbor Freeway when I saw the marquee announcing that the Eagles were coming in January to the Forum.
It was early December. I said to my wife, “If you wanted to get me a nice present for Christmas, I would like to go see the Eagles.”
Why the Eagles? I was not born in the ‘50s. I am not heterosexual. I did not follow them in my youth.
More to the point, it wouldn’t have been acceptable for me to follow them in my youth.
There are a lot of bands that fall into that category. The boundaries of coolness were sharp and unforgiving back then. And while I don’t imagine there was anyone in my high school coterie who would deny the appeal of “Hotel California” or “Life in the Fast Lane,” none of us would be caught dead walking out of ye old record shoppe with their LP in our hands.
The first time I allowed myself to buy one of their albums was in the early 2000s. I was writing a screenplay and I needed to research the late ‘70s. I bought their greatest hits. They truly were great. Every one of them.
I enjoyed listening to the album, but I didn’t go hog wild. I didn’t scoop up their discography for treasures radio hadn’t discovered. And above all, I didn’t proclaim my fandom publicly, as I would for the likes of say, Nina Simone or Cole Porter or X.
But here I was, saying that’s what I wanted for Christmas.
Maybe it was just Boring Old Fart syndrome. I was nearing 50 and suddenly I just wanted to book a room overlooking Memory Lane and stay there a week. And I didn’t care who knew.
Whatever my internal circumstances, my wife bought me the tickets, and 2 months later we were rolling toward the Fabulous Forum.
Parking at the Forum was a nostalgia trip in itself. A lot? Are you serious? For however many hundreds, thousands of cars? This is how we did things back in ’73 before we figured out how to engineer parking garages. I watched with dismay as we drove close to, then further and further from the building itself.
I assessed the cars around us: Money. I started to formulate the story of the Eagles fan: 10 years older than myself. White. Prosperous. Entertainment lawyers. Orthodontists. Marketing execs. Maybe not Republican, but no bleeding hearts either. They did not feel bad about getting for themselves. They liked to party.
I think that assessment might be right in the main, but not wholly. When we got out of our cars and started to walk the miles and miles to the venue over not-new asphalt, we joined as rivulets to a river till our shoulders brushed, and I began to see a more nuanced picture. Brown people. Black people. Funky people. I did a double take: fags! Young fags. What!!
The story I had told myself about why I wouldn’t like people who liked the Eagles was unraveling. I could not help liking them. There was something about them. No one was sloppy drunk or ready to fight, like in the jostle to Dodger Stadium.
Now I was telling myself a different, perhaps equally ridiculous story: These people had the key to life. They were so much happier than me or most of the people I knew. They dressed nice. Not douchey. They were classy. Smiling, generous with their happiness.
I sat down with my Pink’s hot dog and 16-ouncer just as Glen and Don were kicking it off. The guy sitting next to me was in his late 40s, skinny and small with glasses, nerdish yet self-possessed. He was there with his buddy.
He drank one beer and it lasted him the whole concert. He kept it on the floor between his feet and in measured intervals would reach down and bring it up for a sip, often prefaced by a “cheers” with his friend.
Am I some kind of an alcoholic? Because I know it would be impossible for me to nurse 1 beer for a 2-hour concert. I only want 1 beer, but it will be gone before 3 songs.
The seats at the Forum are narrow; the guy was really close to me. By personal space rights, he could have talked to me the whole time. A testament to his character, he did not.
After my beer was gone and I was starting to say stuff like “Oh my god this is the best concert ever!” we did turn to each other, in that spontaneous manner of concertgoers in a shared state of euphoria. Now it was my turn to be cheersed.
Those of you who are my Facebook friends know what happened next: a dozen posts in a row of out-of-focus photographs of the stage, captioned with the most memorable line from yet another song everybody knows. “My Maserati does 185!” “This could be heaven or this could be hell!” It was an embarrassing burst of social networking from a person who basically never shares anything out there anymore.
It was embarrassing because it was from the heart, via the brain, altered by alcohol.
Watching these old guys and hearing the old songs, as clear and full and exciting as the day they hit the airwaves, was doing something to my psyche. Just enough years had passed that I could see my youth for what it was: The me I was then, on the cusp of sexual awakening, thinking guys in their 20s with thick moustaches were cute, wondering what it would be like to feel their stiff whiskers brush my lips.
Followed, of course, by all the crap that happened. The guys turned out to be dicks. Glen and Don were probably dicks too. But all of a sudden, it didn’t matter. Everything I did, everything that was done to me, I regretted none of it.
At the intermission I waited outside in the clinging South LA fog for the port-a-potties. I had to go so bad I wasn’t sure I’d make it. My buzz was starting to wane. “You’d think they’d spring for a few more johns,” came a gravelly voice behind me. She was short, 5 foot nothing, her face creased and tan, long straight brown hair, losing the battle for dominance with the gray. She could’ve been my babysitter, back in the day.
I asked her if she’d seen them before. “Oh yeah,” she said, “I saw ‘em in San Diego back in ’75.”
“What was that like?” I asked.
Her eyes crinkled with mischief and I saw the 17 year old she must’ve been. “A lot drinking, partying. A lot of fun.”
I forgive you, hippies. I forgive you Glen and Don. I forgive you babysitters, and babysitters’ boyfriends. You may have let me down, but you also taught me to love beauty, and that pleasure is an art, and that there is more to life than money.