By Allie Moh.
Dan checked his phone again and stood outside Brixton Academy in the cold. The place looked more beat up than he remembered, or maybe it had always looked that way. His friend, Matt, had convinced him to go see a band from their younger days. It was a band they’d grown up with, a band they’d first bonded over, a band they’d caught on every tour. They’d recently reformed and Matt was eager to go see them. Dan, however, wasn’t. He thought they’d become self too indulgent; they’d released too many “best of” and singles albums and remixes. Besides, they’d never be the same as the old days.
Matt appeared with his long-term girlfriend, Marcy, the one he was going to propose to in a month, the one he’d spend the rest of his life with. Dan and Matt had planned to go to the gig together, just the two of them. Dan sighed, with her around, he’d barely be able to talk to Matt. It’d be as if he came to the gig on his own. He felt an echo of his youth, thinking about the few gigs he did go to on his own when there was no one else to go with him.
There was a time when every weekend Dan was off to a gig. It didn’t matter if it was in a different city or even out of the country, he’d find a way and time. He went to music festivals, open mics, secret gigs and talent shows. Then, somehow his focus shifted. Other things became more important. He got a better job, dated girls who weren’t so into music and just stopped going.
They walked inside. The place reeked of beer, vomit and bleach.
“Like the old days,” Matt smiled.
Dan felt sick. How did he ever think this was cool? Matt left Dan with Marcy while he got the beers.
“Sorry I tagged along,” Marcy said, when they were left alone. “I know it’s your thing with Matt. But he insisted I come. He couldn’t stop raving about this band!”
Dan smiled and shrugged, “Sure, no worries.” He had tried really hard to not like her, but he couldn’t. She was lovely and perfect for Matt. Matt brought the beers and they tuned to face the stage.
The set-up of the stage used to excite Dan, the only sort of foreplay he knew for long time, but now he was impatient, the band was already twenty minutes late and he had a meeting early the next morning. He wanted to get home at a reasonable hour. He used to go right up to the front of the stage and not let his spot go whether he had to piss or thought he’d pass out. That was the spot to be. Otherwise it just wasn’t worth it. Now, Dan didn’t really want to be soaked in beer and sweat and wondered why people had to chuck beer over everyone or loudly talk over the music to their mate standing right next to them.
There was a skinny kid next to Dan who had wedged himself into the crowd. The guy had a full pint of beer and some had already spilled on Dan’s arm. It then fell out of the kid’s grasp, splashing the sticky floor and soaking Dan’s legs. Dan looked down to assess the damage and then looked at the kid. The kid gave an apologetic look tinged with sarcasm. It was a look Dan recognised. It was a look Dan used to give to people older than him. It meant “Cool down, Grandpa. And what are you doing out this late anyway?”
The skinny kid turned back towards the stage. His face lit up with excitement. He bopped his head to an invisible tune as he chatted loudly to his friend about a mixture of youthful frivolities such as girls, Friday night plans and booze. He squinted his eyes at the stage in the glare of the lights, as if he were searching for something. For some reason it made Dan think of The Clash’s Rude Boy, the moment where Ray Gange seems to have an epiphany while the Clash plays ‘Police and Thieves’. Dan used to try and collect gig epiphanies as if piecing them together could form some sort of grand idea and would guide him through life. When he first watched the film he felt an affinity with the wannabe roadie. Now if he were to watch Rude Boy, he’d want to smack Ray and tell him to get up, get a job, get a life, do something. That’s when Dan had the sad realisation that not everyone can grow up to be an astronaut or rockstar. But he didn’t know what was worse, not achieving his dreams or having them change to something all together less inspiring along the way, something as banal as a wife, kids and a house.
Finally the band came on stage. At first Dan didn’t recognise them. He thought it was still the crew. Surely these podgy, middle-aged men weren’t the ones he idolised when he was younger. They first played a few newer songs they were experimenting with. The youthful crowd broke out in a rhythmic sway, which he assumed was the newest and correct way to express appreciation for the music.
Dan felt too awkward to dance. He didn’t have enough beers in him to even attempt to. He was more self-conscious about his body the older he got, he’d heard somewhere that it was the reverse for women. He was also conscious of his height as he never was before. He hoped he wasn’t blocking anyone’s view and he kept turning around to the girls behind him to check. However these two, one red headed and one blonde, neither natural hair color, much younger than him and in too much eyeliner, now thought he was interested in them. He could tell by the way each time he turned, they turned to each other and began to talk, avoiding his look. For a minute, Dan thought he could pull it off. But then he remembered when he went to the toilet before the gig and had studied his lined face, especially the lines around his mouth from years of pulling on cigarettes and spliffs. For a moment he laughed, they were young enough that maybe he could entice them by buying them alcohol and cigarettes. But then he quickly realised that this put him into the creepy old man category and that made him feel depressed and old all over again.
The band then broke out some of their classic songs and for a moment it sounded as if things hadn’t changed. As if Dan hadn’t started noticing grey hair and wrinkles. As if he was that sweaty scrawny kid standing next to him again. Raw energy spilled from every pore of the band, transmitted to the crowd through volume and bass. He felt himself pushing the crowd forward. He didn’t care how stupid he looked, a man in his late-thirties dressed in a polo shirt, sweaty and arms raised in the air. This was the best he felt in years. He felt like he did when he was younger, that the singer was speaking directly to him and no one else in the room. That he’d probably get on well with the band and could become good friends with them. That they were all in this together. He forget about all of his worries – that compared to other people his age, even his friends, he had no girlfriend or wife, no kids, no house, not even a great job. This sweet moment of raw emotion, made him realise that it all didn’t matter. For a second, he wanted to follow the band on tour again.
As soon as he grasped this moment of peace, that thing he hungered for as a youth and now as an adult, it was over. The lights were back on, instruments unplugged and the stage was deserted. The place cleared out pretty quickly. He guessed most went out into the cold to find somewhere to continue their drinking. He wished he could go too and disregard his responsibilities for the next day or at least pretend that they didn’t exist, just for that night. A few people remained behind, scattered around piles of their belongings, jackets and bags on the floor, waiting for friends to come back from the toilets or waiting to try and meet the band or grab a stage souvenir.
“Looks like you had a good time,” Matt said, slapping him on the back. “Wish I could let loose like you did.”
While Matt and Marcy looked at some t-shirts at the merchandise stall, Dan went to the toilet. This time in the mirror, he didn’t look so old. Maybe it was because the light overhead had burnt out. He didn’t know if it was his imagination or the beers, but he could see that young optimistic kid inside him. He winked at himself in the mirror.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Allie Moh, originally from New York City, moved to London at 19 to complete her BA in English Literature at Middlesex University. She specialises in short stories after obtaining her MA in Creative Writing from Roehampton University. Her work tends to focus on things like street fundraisers, graffiti artists, one nights stands and illegal immigrants. She is currently back in NYC struggling with visa issues to get back to the UK while working on her debut collection of short stories.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Saturday, December 1st, 2012.