Live music exists for the moment that superglues itself into your memory.
R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe's introduction to "World Leader Pretend" on the Green Tour in 1989. Him, with his funky mascara, alone with a snare drum. It's as clear as a Polaroid in my mind, some 21 years later.
I've got dozens, maybe even hundreds, of these little snippets, but I guess they probably don't mean much to anyone else. Concert memories are, like miracle golf shots and SNL jokes, very much "guess you had to be there" stories.
But my most recent one is worth sharing. It's not "guess you had to be there," but "wish you had been there."
A senior at our school was able to arrange a special seniors-only mini-concert during the school day before Spring Break. The duo of Drew Holcomb and his wife Ellie played a stripped-down 40-minute set. Attendance was voluntary, but virtually every senior showed up. [NOTE: The rise of the married couple turned singing partnership has to be at its zenith in 2010. The Weepies, Mates of State, Drew and Ellie Holcomb, Arcade Fire... I know I'm forgetting plenty, so go ahead and add yours to the comments!]
Because I got there late, I don't know quite how the chemistry formed, but I have a few clues. First off, we're an all-boys school, and Ellie Holcomb is just about 120% adorable. Adorable singing adult women can hold 120 boys at attention with little difficulty. Second, Drew Holcomb is a pretty laid back and cool dude. The kind of singer-songwriter that adorable singing adult women like Ellie undoubtedly find irresistible. The two of them had the perfect amount of relaxed sincerity, a delicate quality teenage boys respect.
The chorus to "Better Love" is all too simple. And repetitive. "Better love, Better love I see." On the third chorus, Drew and Ellie kinda asked the crowd to sing along. Um, hello? Drew? Ellie? Maybe y'all don't understand groupthink. Maybe y'all don't understand teenage boys. But, um, they don't do sing-alongs.
Then Ellie kicked it up a notch with a verbal gaffe. Between songs, she commented, "I've never been with this many guys before."
And with that, and her ability to live with the teen testosterone guffaws, Ellie was made an unofficial member of the class.
To close out the performance, they sang a song I'd never heard before. Neither had, I suspect, 95% of the seniors in that room. "Better Love" is by no means the greatest song ever. In my experience, the best songs are rarely made that much better in concert. Rather, it's the decent ones that have plenty of room to grow and improve that can take flight in a concert.
The chorus to "Better Love" is all too simple. And repetitive. "Better love, Better love I see." On the third chorus, Drew and Ellie kinda asked the crowd to sing along.
Um, hello? Drew? Ellie? Maybe y'all don't understand groupthink. Maybe y'all don't understand teenage boys. But, um, they don't do sing-alongs. A room of 120 17- and 18-year-olds don't start singing along with a chorus with the word "love" in it, not unless it's in some shredding hard rock or punk or screamo anthem for the age. Certainly not in the quiet hush of a single acoustic guitar and two voices.
But sing they did. At first maybe a dozen or so guys added their voices to the mix. But the numbers were enough to build on, like that first attempt at The Wave at a sporting event. By the third time around, a room of adolescent males were singing a heartbreaking chorus about hope and dissatisfaction, and I was wiping tears from my eyes.
In all of our stereotypes about boys and males, it's important to remember that the forest doesn't always speak for the trees.
A moment like this one, hearing a hundred untrained and unexpected male voices join the intimate chorus, is why educators will never disappear.
Billy Faires is Director of Communications at McCallie School.