Thursday, April 9, 2009

To Be A Witness

Coast Is Clear (live) - Curve (mp3)
Wake Up Exhausted (semi-live) - Alkaline Trio (mp3)

In the late summer months of 2008, fellow BOTG'er Bob and I had a back-and-forth regarding the comparative joys and downfalls of recorded music versus the experience of a live performance. In that semi-debate, I begged to find live music lacking by comparison. After last night, although I still stand by much of my argument, I feel I owe an apology to my blog partner.

On Monday night, I witnessed the glorious sight of my alma mater, UNC, winning their fifth national championship on a TV screen in Chattanooga. I stood, nervous and fidgety and with a pitch half an octave above my normal range, with some 25 other alumni and family members in the pool house of one of Chattanooga's newer and nicer downtown condo complexes. The atmosphere and experience were fine. We won a championship, and the feeling was very cool.

Quite a different experience from my national championship memories from 2005 and 1993.

In 1993, I was a junior in Chapel Hill. We watched the game on our (at the time) huge 26-inch low-def TV with a dozen or so friends, and then we sped up (thank God for non-drinking friends!) to Franklin Street -- "downtown" in Chapel Hill is, for all intents and purposes, a six-block stretch of a single street -- and joined the 20,000+ people who were in the streets to celebrate a truly unifying moment.

It was a horrible night for such a celebration, to be honest. A freezing drizzle fell most of the night, and temperatures sank from the low 50s down as time passed. With the trusty assistance of Alka Hall, I managed to stay plenty warm, as did most of the other thousands around me. Those who were still cold found furniture and other flammable materials and burned them in the streets. (It was a humanitarian act, much like Han Solo slicing that Tauntaun with a light saber in order to keep Luke warm.)

By the end of the night:
  • I'd been kissed on the lips by two great female friends who would never have otherwise kissed me and never did again;
  • my beautiful cream-colored sweater (I've always been a sweater guy) had been spray-painted with "UNC #1"
  • one of my roommates passed out in the bushes five blocks away;
  • another roommate reunited (again) with the ex-girlfriend he would ultimately marry;
  • I'd been quoted by a Daily Tar Heel reporter as saying, "Because they told us not to," in answering the question, "Why are so many people jumping over the fires?"
  • I'd met someone who would later become a three-week girlfriend of sorts;
  • I discovered that I love everything about a celebratory crowd so long as gunshots and rock-slinging never get involved.
Rumors of coeds having sex in the trees or in the street were greatly exaggerated. At least, in the streets and trees where I looked. And I did look. Still, as wild nights go, it was the wildest night of my life considering the numbers of people and the activities involved.

In 2005, I was in St. Louis with that same now-married roommate thanks to the incredible fortune of having, as one of my student advisees, a young man whose father was highly-connected at UNC. I sat with said family 23 rows from the floor, behind the very backboard where freshman Marvin Williams made the play that helped seal the victory down the stretch. While the post-victory celebration wasn't comparable in numbers or insane acts, the evening had with it this religious exhilaration of having witnessed something transcendent in person for the first and likely last time.

On Monday night, while we celebrated the victory by... cleaning up.

We stared at the screen, through myriad commercials, all to wait for the cheesiest season-concluding tradition this side of the credits to Solid Gold, Luther Vandross' "One Shining Moment." I received text messages from Frank, the young man whose parents gave -- yes, gave -- me that 23rd-row ticket. He's a sophomore at UNC, and he was kind enough to empathize with my jonesing to be on Franklin Street and send me cell phone pictures documenting the night. He at one point got hit in the head by a removed street sign, but no matter to those in such heightened states of existence. (One such picture included at right.)

This leads me back to Bob's argument about live music over the recorded stuff and why I must apologize to him.

My experience of witnessing UNC's national championship on Monday was, basically, a recording. It wasn't the real experience. The concert experience is being in a town of tens of thousands whose spirit and focus and energy is aimed smack dab in the same direction as yours. The concert experience is watching the game itself play out before your very eyes not 100 feet away. Sure, I was totally giddy on Monday night, but it was a different and weaker kind of giddy.

The live version would have been so much better. And it's not even close.


Bob said...

Come see Dino Jr. live on Monday night!

Anonymous said...

troutking said...

Come see Bruce April 26th in Atlanta!