UVic Torch -- Spring 2003
Autumn 2003,
Volume 25, Number 1

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Vox Alumni Remember when rock was dangerous.
Photograph by BONNIE LIGHT, BA '95

What on earth is a 60-year-old doing at toronto's mega rock concert?


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 concert.

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).

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