On a warm fall night in Manhattan. kids are buzzing around CBGB. From across the Bowery. it could be any night, any fall from the last twenty years-young discontents and their older. slightly mellowed fore-bearers jacked up on caffeine/nicotine/alcohol/other waiting to get their collective rocks off at the seediest, oldest, and best punk club in New York City. But there’s something different about this night, noticeable from the median and then rapidly more so as one approaches the entrance. These aren’t the violently pierced. mohawked. leathered. pleathered, and glassyeyed punks of yesteryear. There isn’t a single Ramones jacket or safety pin in sight. Nor are they the dirty-jeaned, big-booted collection of indie-rockers. diehards. and straightedgers of punk’s more recent milieu. The kids here are different. Shockingly. bizarrely so. The kids. it appears. are all right. There are young girls in powder blue, midriff-baring tank tops emblazoned with the word “rockstar” emerging from idling SUVs. waving goodbye to their parents behind the wheel with a dismissive nod. There are clean-cut high school boys wearing baseball hats and overly long shorts and khakis. Serious looking fifteen-year-olds smile awkwardly and switch off their cell phones. There is backslapping. There are high-pitched giggles.
It’s a young and different crowd. in from the suburbs and out in the big city tonight for a concert. Here to watch their version of punk ascend triumphantly and not notice the differences. To sing along wide-eyed and happy. To feel better at the end of the night instead of bruised. It’s November 2001 and I’m attending my very Dashboard Confessional concert. The city is unseasonably warm and wary-what happened two months before still hangs heavy, but not heavy enough to weigh down the enormous anticipation that’s building inside CBGB’s scarred innards. Before the show. I run into a friend who attends NYU. She laughs when she sees me. “l never figured you for an emo kid,” she says. “I didn’t either.” I answer. just there to keep her friend company-her friend who, at is a good three years above the room’s median age. She seems embarrassed to be there-or at the very least to be asked about it. “Are you a big fan?” I ask the friend. “l think he’s really good,” she says.
Just then. the lights dim and the girls recede into the crowd. Some fellows in white T-shirts to my left climb on the back of chairs and start hooting. I catch a glimpse of a small Asian-American teen in glasses standing just below the stage furiously scribbling in her journal. oblivious to the diminishing light. Nervous applause ripples through the crowd. lt’s the awkward hum of a classroom when the teacher leaves to get help resetting the fraying reel. Just before the juvenile boiling point is reached, a surprisingly short and compact dark~haired man walks out onto the stage alone. He musses with his collapsed black pompadour hairdo. swings his acoustic guitar to the front. squints into the expectant crowd. and flashes a rabbity, nervous smile.
“OK.” Chris Carrabba says. “arc you guys ready to try one? The crowd erupts. and, as the first few notes are plucked. what was once a disparate collection of homework-dodgers is transformed into a head-nodding choir. Carrabba’s voice is a bit yelpy in spots, chasing the high notes like an affection-starved pet nipping at the heels of its owner. He has two full sleeves of tattoos on his arms. one of which strums out chunky acoustic chords. “You look cute in your blue jeans / but you’re plastic just like the rest . . . dying to look smooth with your tattoos / but you’re searching just like everyone.” And the audience sings with him. Every single word. with some lingering behind and some charging forward. lt’s like an extremely successful bout of responsive reading. except the hypercharged and ecstatic look on the kids’ faces says they’re not just echoing-they’re emoting.
When the song ends, everyone screams, as much for themselves as for the shy-looking fellow on stage. The guys next to me are practically falling all over themselves. One of them, baseball hat perfectly molded to his head, arms thrown around his friends’ shoulders, screams oul. “We love you, Chris!” The songs go on and on-and the crowd’s voices never diminish. Halfway through, some of the guys are doing harmonies. lt’s hard to tell whether it’s CB’s notoriously low stage or Carrabba`s small stature, but with each successive number the crowd seems to surge up higher and higher-both in volume and mass-until by the end the two sides are meeting each other from the start of each song. Occasionally. Carrabba builds to at refrain and then merely steps away from the mic. letting the devotees in the blank. Someone walks past me towards the back, retreating from the stage, crying. But there is no moshing. no physical injuries. I’ve never seen such wellbehaved teenagers in a rock club. Song after song with titles like “Again I Go Unnoticed” and “This Ruined Puzzle” have the kids around me glassyeyed with glee and reverence.
After a few more rousing choruses. It’s over.
This to me is a kind of sincerity revolution. An experience without snark or sarcasm. It represents what it is that I believe is right about coming together and creating a community within a moment. It is a reset of the disillusionment that came before, and it is better than I could have ever said it.
I have been to a Dashboard Confessional concert, on the very same tour that this exerpt was referring to. It was every bit as sincere and hopeful as these words portray. I didn’t get why that was important until now.
We need some words to all sing together. Not comment on the words and stand back, aloof. We need to all speak in one voice and be carried away by the possibilities of the moment, rather than chase away any possiblity of knowing one another intimately. It isn’t a religion or following a single figurehead. It is a movement away from ego and toward consensus. It is a movement toward belonging and away from being obsessively right.
It is for emotion and connection.
It is against skepticism and stalling.
At some point the things I am passionate about in education, technology and business will have their watershed moments. I just hope they are more like the vignette above and less like the selfish present that seems to deepen within every moment.
I don’t want to be guarded. I want to sing. With you. About things that allow us to be together. Without parenthesis or ironic twitpics.