I Get Wet (and Old): How I Confronted Mortality at an Andrew W.K. Show

by: Dominick Mayer

I’ve hit the moment where I feel old at rock shows. Granted, I knew this was coming. And yeah, I’m 23, so if you read no further, deciding that I should fuck off and/or I seem particularly enamored with the sight of my own navel, you’re at least partially right. It’s been in the queue for a while now. Three years ago, I made the ill-advised call to try and stretch my Warped Tour attendance one more year than felt right, into a year when I recognized very little of the lineup and “crunkcore” had recently moved into fashion. Over the course of those sun-scorched eight hours, I wandered the once hallowed grounds of the First Midwest Bank Amphitheater’s parking lot, contemplating my own mortality as women now felonious to eye amorously ground upon boys in ever-thinner jeans to the dulcet sounds of 3oh!3 and I wondered what in the fuck had happened to the quasi-punk festival that gave me so many of my early concertgoing memories.

Then, last summer, I saw Against Me! at Metro for what I believe is the fifth or sixth time, and realized that the time when I could force my way forward into the scrum of indignant punks hollering along to “We Laugh At Danger and Break All the Rules” had passed. Now, I’m prone to stress headaches and can’t handle being shoved about, so I stood back in the safe space just ahead of the sound board. Looking around, it occurred to me that I was now standing with the dads. The dads, who my friends and I would heckle at such events, patting ourselves on our backs because we had a car and permission to leave the suburbs for five hours at a time. Now, I saw how they so saintly stood with bourbon and earplugs, watching their kids holler themselves hoarse and stew in one another’s sweat in the kind of cathartic, churchlike experience that I and quite possibly they had once enjoyed. But that ship had sailed.

This past Sunday, I saw Andrew W.K. perform I Get Wet in its entirety at the Riviera. This show was the ultimate confluence of memories. When I was 13, my mother found that iconic album cover, with Mr. W.K. covered in blood and sullen, and promptly threw it out. (Later, I would dupe her into listening to I Get Wet under false pretenses, and like all suburban moms at that time she too was whisked away by the glorious hair metal revival it sadly failed to set off.)

Five years later, faced with the prospect of going to my senior prom solo, I opted instead to see Mastodon at the Riviera, forgetting all about my lovelorn woes for a few hours amidst some of the loudest kick drumming I’ve ever heard. That was 2007, though. In 2012, I couldn’t help but be aggravated by how the Riviera has the acoustics of the inside of a tin can. I shook my head when Math the Band (a current favorite) was done a grave disservice by a crowd who clearly only wanted to see the headliner and didn’t give a shit about enjoying anything else. I got mildly riled up about the absurd price of a cup of lukewarm Coors Light to wash down the growing realization that I was becoming the asshole who used to ruin shows for me. And I stood in the back.

Of all the shows to realize that I wasn’t the same concertgoer, or person, that I was five years ago, I can’t envision a harsher contrast than an Andrew W.K. show. Like the pure spirit of partying and joy and laughter incarnate, he has made a career out of boiling rock music down to its most bombastic, ferally gleeful core and sharing that with the people who possess enough God’s-honest earnestness to enjoy it. I still do, and always have, but now I couldn’t simply get lost in the cacophony of “I Get Wet,” irritated by my growing headache and by the amount of filler between tracks. More than this, though, I could only consider just how far I’d come in five years, how I felt myself growing scarily close to those cross-armed, indifferent dads who raise the disaffected children who keep growing in number and fucking up the Pitchfork festival every July.

And then I started to wonder: Am I going to end up being that dad?

In only five to six years, I’ve gone from a whirling dervish of purged angst to a barely-above-maladroit observer. Conceivably, I won’t be reproducing for at least five more years, if at all. So, in that time, will concertgoing become a chore by then? When my kid wants to go see the Bouncing Souls (who I’m convinced will outlive us all), will I drag my feet, willing myself to ignore my bloated mortgage long enough to witness my child experiencing the kind of unbridled mirth that once came as naturally as breathing?

The thought is terrifying, to imagine losing the closest thing to a religious experience you’ve reached in your life. But, of all the people, who else but Andrew fucking W.K. would snap me out of this extended wallow? Near the end of the almost two-hour set, he addressed the crowd through labored breaths, telling it that we find the meaning in what he does. He exists to create joy, and implored the delirious masses to go forth and do the same thing. We were to leave and find more joy in the world, to not worry so much. And my immediate reaction was to roll my eyes on instinct at what by this point in my life had somehow become a trite platitude.

Before they could complete their rotation, though, I forced them back. Why stop being sincere? Why is that level of earnestness wrong? It’s easy as hell to click your tongue and wonder how you ever once thought such words were gospel, but it’s a lot harder to keep that feeling alive once you age and do all the things that kind of turn you into a humorless dick sometimes. It won’t be easy, but I intend to learn from Andrew W.K. I intend to go forth and create joy in the world when possible, to believe in the things that mattered when it’s far more acceptable to equivocate on them. And I’ll only ask that you maybe give it a shot. Could be fun, I guess.

Dominick Mayer is a graduate student in Cinema Studies at DePaul University, an associate music editor and film critic at HEAVEmedia, an after-school robot class tutor to small children and a partially disgruntled mailman. He’s also really into professional wrestling and hip-hop and will subject you to tirades should you be foolish enough to broach either subject in his presence. He can be found on Twitter at @HEAVEdom or contacted at dsuzannemayer@gmail.com.

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