Somewhat by accident, I took 14-year-old Seconda to her first rock concert this past December. It was one of those radio-station-sponsored affairs, with a lineup of ten bands and a running time of seven hours, and I bought the tickets assuming 17-year-old Prima, usually an exemplary sister, would be willing to go with her.
Bad assumption. Prima had no interest in seeing any of the bands, no stomach for the seven-hour ordeal, and insufficient sisterly devotion to just grit her teeth and go anyway. Reason didn’t sway her. Strategically applied guilt had no effect. She would not even consider a bribe.
Assuming (again with the assumptions!) a 14-year-old would rather wade a mile through leech-infested waters than go to a rock concert with her mom, I proposed other escorts. Cool childless aunt? Guitar-Hero-playing cousin? Maybe… Dad?
No, no, and no. For reasons I still can’t fathom, my daughter had made up her mind that, if her sister couldn’t be persuaded to go, I was the escort of choice. And so it happened that I went to a seven-hour, ten-band rock concert. Nine hours and ten minutes, actually, counting the time we spent standing in line and the twenty minutes the thing ran over (and believe you me, I was counting).
The headline act, and really the whole reason for going, was Seconda’s favorite band, Paramore. And towards the beginning of the show, in one of about a billion attempts to pump the audience into a frenzy, the concert overlords reminded us of the lineup, with pictures on the big video screens: “Coming up: Blah-de-blah, blah-de-blah, blah-de-blah… and Paramore.”
And when they said “Paramore,” my fourteen-year-old daughter squealed aloud, entirely without irony, like a kid half her age. It was as though, until that moment, she hadn’t quite let herself believe that Paramore was truly going to be there. Like it all might prove to be some elaborate bait-and-switch somehow. Anyway it was ridiculously adorable, and it made me glad no other escort had panned out.
I’m also glad I went because partway through Paramore’s eventual set, there came a kind of goosebumpy moment. They played this one number – a quieter love song that had been a radio hit – and the audience, most of whom seemed to be young women and all of whom seemed to know the words, sang along. And when the chorus came around for the second time, the singer stepped back from the mike and the audience kept on singing by themselves.
I suppose this isn’t uncommon in rock concerts, but in that moment, it just seemed like such a clear and lovely illustration of the audience’s role in realizing – completing – a piece of popular art. The artist writes the song, records it, sends it out into the world, and it’s not really complete until it’s received by someone to whom it means something. The audience gives it that last little spark; makes it real, like the Velveteen Rabbit.
I don’t believe all art works this way, or all artists. Some artists, I’m pretty sure, create what they feel compelled to create, and put it out there, and, while they certainly hope people will like it, that’s not really the point. Maybe they’ll be appreciated in posterity; maybe not. Doesn’t matter. They’ve answered to their muse.
But in the romance genre, as in pop music – I guess I should speak for myself here but I’ll go out on a limb with the gross generalization anyway – it doesn’t work like that. Posterity and the muse take a backseat, I think, to actual people alive on the planet right now.
Does that make the product more transitory? More disposable? Well, maybe. Think of the Billboard Hot 100, or the romance shelves at Barnes & Noble. There’s always something new coming along to push whatever’s there now out of the way. Whereas nobody’s ever going to shoulder out Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, or War and Peace.
Nevertheless there’s a value, I think, in that personal connection. In that special, quasi-collaborative relationship between artist and audience. And to see it so vividly enacted – to witness this crowd of young people laying claim to this song, with its resonant-to-them impression of love – gave me chills, and reminded me of what a privilege it really is to write the most popular of popular fiction, romance.
Am I off base? Did I go too far out on the limb? Is a comparison between pop music and romance legitimate? Or do you think the seven-hour concert might have impaired my critical faculties?