What on earth is a 60-year-old doing at toronto's
mega rock concert?
NO, NOT JAGGER OR BACHMAN.
THIS IS THEIR WORLD. BUT THE GUY IN A GEEZER
hat seems waaay out of place. Or am I?
My beloved's daughter Claire
and friend Bridget, both 15, belong here. Celebrities,
TV, music-it's teen heaven. When Justin Timberlake
appears on the massive screen rearing up before
us, the girls photograph each other giddy-happy
in front of his image. The real flesh and blood
Justin, a mere mortal-sized speck on a very distant
stage, is ignored. Video is their reality. Over
the din of a hundred loudspeakers I hear the
ghost of Marshall McLuhan chortling. He proclaimed "the
medium is the message" 39 years ago, the year
of my first (and very different) superstar rock
I could've turned around and
untied Paul McCartney's shoelaces, but the real
news was happening in front of the stage at Empire
Stadium. It was the Beatles' first North America
tour and the media was in love with the quick-witted
Brits who gave great quotes. My Victoria Times
editor thought the "mop-heads" were a short-lived
novelty, but sent his two UVic summer reporters
to get a local angle. The Vancouver crowd seemed
huge to a Victoria kid, even though all 20,000
tickets weren't sold. "There just weren't enough
12-to-15-year-old girls to go around," explained
Red Robinson, Vancouver 's reigning DJ. But the
stadium was packed with teenies, all screaming
at the top of their lungs and oblivious to police
trying to maintain order. That scared me. I was
standing in front of the stage, camera in hand,
being bombarded by jelly beans. Some idiot reporter
had asked Ringo what his favourite food was.
Infatuated fans now tossed tiny love offerings.
As excitement built, the crowd
pressed forward against a sagging excuse for
a fence. It resembled a chain of iron bedsteads
propped up by Vancouver 's biggest, fattest and
most worried-looking cops, all leaning at a 45-degree
angle. Front-row fans were gasping for air, falling,
or climbing over the rail. Screaming and sobbing
towards the stage, they were plucked from danger
by police and carried to safety. An elegantly
dressed woman in her 20s kept shouting "I love
you Paul" as she was inelegantly passed from
cop to cop.
Several times the music stopped,
stadium lights came on, and Robinson pleaded
for calm. It had no effect. I chose my escape
route under the stage. It felt like a stampede
waiting to happen. Suddenly Lennon yelled, "Now!" The
Beatles abandoned their instruments, ran to their
limos, and zoomed away.
It was something new, a scale
of mass disorder not seen before at a concert.
No one was prepared. In 1964 we were still '50s-style
square-even the Beatles wore grey suits. The
mythical flower power '60s hadn't happened yet.
But the times, they were a-changin'. And fast.
By the time we get to SARStock
we are half a million strong. Being surrounded
by that many strangers, especially the young
and restless and loud, is a bit scary. They're
different, aren't they? We were.
My sensible Tilley hat feels
like a billboard shouting: "Warning, oldster
below." (A friend calls these "geezer hats." Sure,
I could've borrowed a baseball cap, but they're
dorky. Kid stuff. Geezer is the lesser of two
awfuls.) But gradually I realize how many "mature" folks,
even families with kids, make up this crowd.
This is no teen riot-it's a Canada Day block
party. Rock's demographics have changed. As my
beloved sings along with The Guess Who, Claire
turns in surprise. "You know these songs? Who
are these guys?" Guess. Yup, mom grew up with
rock. Me too. So did the establishment-the show's
well-organized, the barriers sturdy, and troubles
are cooled quickly, firmly and tactfully. We
exit through a gamut of smiling riot police asking "Good
concert?" All is calm.
Rock was once youthful rebellion,
dangerous stuff played loud to annoy parents
and other authorities. But during half a century
it's become mainstream. Baby boomers spend their
pension cheques upgrading cherished LPs to Best
of 20th Century Masters CDs. In our house, mom
cranks up the volume.
But the most damning evidence
that rock is nearing retirement age was this SARS
concert. Toronto the Infected threw a party to
show the world it was once again Toronto the Safe.
Rock, an icon of safety? Time for another musical
revolution. Pass the creativity, please.
Jim Bigsby, a former
Martlet editor, is a wannabe musician in Victoria
(but keeping his day job).