On Valentines Day just gone, I told a true life story to a bunch of beautiful strangers at TenX9 Adelaide.
This Is A Love Story
I’m not sure I believe in love at first sight. I do believe in a love so natural that when you find it, you wonder where it’s been. It’s still exciting and fun. It still makes your stomach lurch, makes you dance drunkenly and sing loudly into a hairbrush microphone, feeling drunk despite being perfectly sober. Sometimes it “feels so good it oughta be illegal”.
It makes you stand in the rain and hail, ankle-deep in mud for hours on end. I’ll come back to that part shortly.
Sometimes you just sit quietly with love, letting tears fall, remembering a time before. Love is deep and nurturing. It’s ok with you asking why. Love like that doesn’t always feel new: it just feels right.
And so it was on a grey winters morning as I stood in line outside the old 2WG radio station. I was queuing for tickets. I didn’t mind waiting – this was love. This was also pre-internet, when showing up early for tickets was not just a sign of fandom, but a necessity.
I smiled at the others, talked excitedly to a friend from primary school I hadn’t spoken to in years. As the doors swung open, I looked back and saw the line had got much longer. My stomach clenched. I stepped towards the counter, cash in hand, and bought 3 tickets to the Eastern Creek Bon Jovi These Days tour.
I don’t remember the time in between the purchase and the concert, but I remember the concert in vivid detail. It was love – true love – and it was my first time, after all. It was November 18, 1995. I was 17. I was glad I hadn’t wasted time and effort on smaller, local acts.
You want your first act of consummation to be special. Maybe you don’t expect it to be sweaty, and noisy, and messy. But sometimes love’s like that. Thank goodness.
My sister, her friend and I packed in with the rest of the crowd, holding our ‘Section A – Standing’ tickets in our hot little hands. As a country girl, I’d never, ever seen the teaming mass of humanity surging organically towards the gates. We squeezed past horses used for crowd control – we told ourselves we’d get merchandise later. We never did. We made the decision not to pay stupid amounts of money for a bottle of water and risk losing our spot; we went without water for the remainder of the evening. (Well, sort of.)
A fat man in black jeans took the stage. He harangued the crowd, asking us all to sit down. He seemed to be worried about us getting crushed when the main act came on, telling us sit one arms length from the person in front. He yelled at a girl in a blue shirt with red hair, asking her if she had shit in her ears for being the only on in a crowd of thousands not doing it. We were riding a high of collective consciousness, excitement, anticipation, and love of course, so we didn’t care.
The sky boiled. We sweated. Just when the fat man told the crowd to stand up, just before the first support act came on, just when the crowd started to really make some noise….Mighty Thor made his presence known: The sky opened.
It poured rain – November Rain, if you will. It hailed November hail – the stones were as large as my thumb, and as they pummeled our backs I thought how funny it would look to see a seething body of 100K or more people fold down like umbrellas in complete unison.
We laughed, we smiled. I drank some rain. The show was set back some time – Keanu Reeves’ band Dogstar were given the axe (Who cares?! Hundreds of people chorused). People started singing Livin’ On a Prayer. The thronging, wet, and still sweating crowd wasn’t ugly at all, it was beautiful: love would keep us together.
Finally Barnsey came on and the mood lifted even more. He warmed the crowd up like the legendary stage-dog he is, and when Bon Jovi came on, we became pure sound.
[Makes crowd noise]
The ground thrummed to the baseline, our hands were in the air, we sang until we couldn’t sing and then sang some more. As Jon Bon Jovi did his set, sounding and looking awesome, I stood there and was filled with love.
Long story short: they played for nearly 4 hours. The train journey back to Western Sydney, which I’d flinch at doing so late at night these days, took 2 more hours. I held my bladder THE WHOLE TIME. Now that’s love. I went to sleep with my body still existing in soundwaves, my ears ringing, wondering dimly whether it’s possible to sprain a vocal cord. (It pretty much is.)
It’s not that I was in love with the man – although he was hot, and still goes alright. I was in love with the music. Bon Jovi nail the rock song: anthems of hard work, sticking it to the man, with the optimism of youth, killer rifs and 4/4 beat. And then there’s the break up songs: Oh my heart [dramatic sigh].
It was fun and romantic, sad and brave, careworn, and carefree. It was sexy but not intimidating, strong but not self-loathing, masculine without misogyny.
It was rock and roll baby, and I still love it.
So you can imagine my excitement as I lined up at Botanic Park for Bon Jovi’s This House Is Not For Sale tour. I’m 40 now, and I felt the absurdity of all the years between my first time and now melt away. This time, I was with my other true love, my Tall Drink of Water. This time, we had chairs: I’m thankful for that. I felt the love again – I was in love with the beautiful sky and the smells and the sounds, and even all the bats flying in silent confusion at the noise. I felt the joy of being kid-free with my husband, as we rarely are these days.
When Bon Jovi took the stage and started singing some (unknown) song from their (unknown) new album – sorry JBJ – I thought of how we’d both changed. His hair is grey now. Even I have a few greys. I rolled my eyes at the bogans behind us who criticised everything from his stagecraft to his voice, trying to shut them out. Irritatingly, as the night wore on, I started to wonder if they were right. It’s common for some singers to play with the phrasing of hit songs when they’re live, but was Jon Bon playing with it because he was struggling with the vocals? Did he look tired? Did he sound tired? Was I tired?
I had to ask myself: had “love left me stranded at the station, with the last train gone by?” That first concert “tasted like holy water…” Surely, there was more left than “bitter wine”. Had I fallen “in and out of love”?
We all knew how the concert would end. And as Jon Bon Jovi started to sing those immortal words: “Johnny used to work on the docks…” I knew my love was still as strong as ever. It wasn’t the passion and energy of teen love, it was adult love. Deeper, wiser, tempered by sadness and loss and full of the many of the things I’ve gained.
I don’t believe in love at first sight. I do believe in a love so natural that when you find it, you wonder where it’s been.
And although this story was about music, I think that’s how all true love should be.