identity, music, open letters

open letter to a rock god

Dear Rob Dickinson (formerly of the Catherine Wheel):

When I was 15, I did something stupid: I went to a show in Philly with a friend, and we threw our bras at you. I didn’t understand then what I know now: that it was a silly, immature thing to do; that, if you and your bandmates were different kinds of people, it would have been a dangerous thing to do; that you probably thought we were ridiculous and even a little annoying.

But you were unfailingly kind when we met you, spending a few minutes talking with us, signing whatever we asked for, and hugging us on the way out. It is a memory I have alternately cherished and been embarrassed by, and I’m only now, 16 years later, figuring out why.

Last night I took my 15-year-old cousin and her best friend to an all-ages show in Philly for her birthday. It was strange to be on the “chaperone” side of the concert-going experience. I am still young enough, at 31, to remember vividly the energy of going to a show: dressing up in my coolest clothes; being too nervous and excited to eat; feeling like I would just pass out from sheer tension during the opening act; dancing during the performance I was really there to see; hoping at each interlude between songs that the next song would be that song, the one I really wanted to hear (“I Want To Touch You,” in case you were wondering). I watched my cousin do this last night; she bounced her way through the entrance line and envisioned every single moment of the show before we got to the door. It was contagious, and I felt the little swoop of butterflies in my own stomach all over again. I remembered that hot August night in 1995, when I put on a pair of jeans and my favorite thrift-store shirt (because that’s what was cool in 1995). I remembered standing in the semi-darkness at the TLA, listening to Wax play “Ticket To Ride” in their opening set and feeling like I just couldn’t wait for you to come on to the stage. And I remembered the overwhelming sense of enjoyment all the way through your set.

On the other hand, I am now old enough, at 31, to recognize the risks of a show like the one I went to last night. The bar was small, crowded, too hot. Two teenagers passed out during the headlining band’s set. The mix of teens and young adults was contentious; there was some beer-fueled machismo happening, and a little weird underage-girl-ogling.

But at the end of the night, my cousin walked up to one of the guys in one of the bands to tell him she liked his set. He was, I would guess, about 22; handsome; a bit like a frat boy. My cousin is a beautiful girl, but offers nothing of interest to a 22-year-old man who has his head on straight enough to know that 15-year-olds spell nothing but trouble for him. I imagine that, after months on the road, a little human contact is appreciated–but this guy probably wanted that contact on an equal level, say with a woman his own age.

Still, he was unfailingly kind to her. He hugged her, wished her a happy birthday, thanked her for coming to the show. His smile was genuine, and for that brief moment his attention was entirely on her. The moment felt so familiar, and I was so pleased for her to have found something similar.

So I guess what I want to say now, Rob Dickinson, is thank you. Thank you for being kind, and for being respectful, and for being patient with my ridiculous 15-year-old antics. Thank you for recognizing what I was and what I wanted, and for giving it to me. Thank you for being a role model to other musicians. I have no idea if this guy in this band last night ever listened to Catherine Wheel.  I don’t know if he knows who you are. But when you treated me with respect, like a person, you helped set a standard of behavior for other musicians, and you helped ensure that my now 15-year-old cousin, like me, gets to live her dream a little.

And I’m sorry about the bra.

2 thoughts on “open letter to a rock god”

  1. Great post! Such memories…
    I give big thanks to two musicians who treated my teenaged son with more than kindness: first, Tad Kubler of the Hold Steady who, after running a guitar contest that Dennis won at Lollapalooza, brought him up onstage in front of thousands of people to play in their encore; and Tim McIlrath of Rise Against who, backstage at Warped Tour, not only had a long conversation with Dennis, but promised him the set list after the show…and actually walked it straight to him when they left the stage. Classy. And compassionate. And something he will remember all his life.

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