Nora’s first rock concert


The setting is Chico, California, a college town 80 miles north of Sacramento in the least populous part of the state. The occasion is the annual meeting of the California Geographical Society, at which my wife is giving the keynote address. Nora and I are in town for no special reason — both Ruth and I travel all the time for work, and it’s rare that the whole family goes along, but I’d never been to Chico and wanted to see it. Chico is the kind of town we hope Merced will be when the university here grows up. Nora is four, so she goes where she has to, though not of course without making her issues known.

There is an opening night barbeque at the Cal State Chico Alumni House, at which there are enough pleasant places for a child to run and be chased by her dad while mom schmoozes. On the way back to the car at about 8:30 PM, we hear a rock band playing in an auditorium on campus. Nora gets interested.

Now, I’m very serious about children’s music — no doubt too serious, as indeed I am about lots of things. I have long credited Sesame Street, itself on the serious side of rock and roll, as being foundational to my music tastes. When Ruth got pregnant five years ago, worried that I was going to be stuck with a bunch of Frere Jacques and Hot Cross Buns, I started my research into music that is made for kids but still bearable to adults, and by this point Nora has three dozen records that she listens to incessently by Dan Zanes, Linda Tillery and Taj Mahal, Jessica Harper, Billy Jonas, Laurie Berkner, Asheba and numerous others who play original songs, folk songs, and traditional children’s songs in a cross section of rock music genres. She also has her favorite mommy and daddy songs, mostly obvious choices, such as “Twist and Shout”, “Tutti Frutti”, “ABC” and “We Got the Beat,” the last of which was introduced to her by Miss Yesenia, her dance teacher. Nora and I dance around the living room to all these songs on a regular basis.

Nora has also seen some live music, always with excitement — three times she’s seen Dan Zanes, who has as one of his virtues the fact that he tours Northern California regularly. She’s been to the local Arts Center to see fado and jazz, because that’s what can be seen there, and she’s been to the occasional festival with live music. But she’s never been to a rock concert, not the kind of rock concert that her mommy and daddy used to frequent and still occasionally see, for all the obvious reasons, starting from the fact that if her mommy and daddy do manage to get to a rock concert three or four times a year these days, we prefer to leave Nora with Grammy.

So we’re walking past this auditorium and Nora says she wants to see the music. Mommy says, “that’s rock and roll,” and Nora, who has heard the term before, gets very excited and starts shouting to the streets of Chico, “Rock and roll! rock and roll!” Ruth and I smile at each other, shrug, and walk toward the front of the auditorium, knowing that of course the music is going to be much too loud, but what the hell, we wouldn’t mind seeing a band anyway so we’ll give it the five minutes it has before it gets to be too much for her and we’ll have to go back to the hotel.

We approach the door, where it becomes quickly apparent that this is a moderately large show, with dozens of kids (all loooking between 14-20, since this is an all-ages show in a town full of bars, where the 21+ crowd is gathered) milling around in front and, no doubt, a real ticket price that we don’t want to pay for five minutes of humoring our daughter. So we go up to the person taking tickets at the door, obviously a CSUC undergraduate, and say “our daughter wants to see the band, but we know it will be too loud and we’ll leave in five minutes. can we peak in?” We are obviously telling the truth — I mean, there are no other forty year old couples with four year old children trying to talk their way in. The kid laughs and says, “sure, go ahead.”

It turns out that the band we are seeing is The Big Sleep, a Brooklyn, New York band with two moderately well-known CDs on a national tour with headliner Minus the Bear and one other band. The kind of band I’d have played on the radio as an undergrad DJ in 1985 and would perhaps have heard of, though not necessarily heard, as late as 1999. Their website lists Led Zepellin and Funkadelic among a number of influences, and I buy that: heavy axe-work over a drummer who knows more then one rhythm, heavily emphasizing the solo and the jam, lyrics vestigal. A little post-grunge to be quite Zep, but that’s not a problem for me, since I prefer Nirvana anyway. Definitely a band that, any year, I’d enjoy for 30 minutes, though not necessarily one that I’d remember after the show was over.

But this year it is Nora’s turn to teach me, and so The Big Sleep — whose new record I’ve just bought and intend to review on this site — will be recorded as a turning point in my life as a daddy, regardless of whether they will change my music listening habits.

We walk in with Nora on my shoulders, hanging toward the back of the room. I can’t see this, since she’s on my shoulders, but Ruth tells me Nora has the biggest grin of all time on her face. After about three minutes, with her smiling and clapping and shouting, she says she wants to get down off my shoulders, so I let her down, and she immediately makes a mad dash for the front of the auditorium, with me and Ruth chasing her. Nora posts us right next to the right front speaker bank, where she insists on climbing back on my shoulders so that she can see. We stay for the rest of the band’s set, about 30 minutes, with Nora cheering and clapping and saying over and over with that huge grin on her face “it’s so loud! it’s so loud!”

Naturally, being tired middle-aged professionals, and knowing that our four-year old will turn cranky if we let her stay up too much longer, at the end of the set we don’t tell her that there are two other bands still to come. We do, however, go back to the merch table, where for some reason they don’t have Big Sleep T-shirts in Nora’s size. They do, however, have a 4″x6″ postcard of the band amid all the Minus the Bear swag (and I presume that I never will in my life hear a song by Minus the Bear, though I suppose I could just get on Myspace any time if I want), so we take that and Nora stares and stares at it, in the car back to the hotel, back at the hotel before she goes to sleep, and on until we return to Merced and she — unprompted, on her own initiative — tapes the postcard to the wall above her bed, where it now sits as her first rock poster.

Sadly, given where we live, a city with exactly one venue, a well-policed 21+ over bar, there are really only two ways for Nora to get to hear loud rock music again any time soon. The first is for her daddy to start promoting rock concerts in town. The other is for her to form a band. Who knows? Both may be imminent.


2 Responses to “Nora’s first rock concert”

  1. 1 Grammy

    I loved the description but admit to being totally biased in favor of the author and the subjects.

  2. Episcopalian says : I absolutely agree with this !

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