Friday, January 18, 2008

Philadelphia, Rock City

I have an aunt who's 2 years older than me. She developed huge and all-enveloping crushes on actors and pop stars which would last for 3 months or so; then, the object of passion would be kicked remorselessly to the curb as the new crush was cultivated. When she was 13 and I was 11, her attention was on Peter Criss of KISS. She was obsessed with him, and by extension, with the band. Her tiny bedroom (my grandparents had an itty-bitty narrow brick rowhouse in Philadelphia; my grandmother still lives there) was papered floor to ceiling with posters, album covers, Tiger Beat clippings and any other KISS memorabilia she could find. She was a master of KISS trivia, cornering anyone who'd listen and regaling them with hometowns, dates of birth, favorite foods and mothers' maiden names of all of the band members. She knew every lyric* and melodic nuance of every song. (that's right, I used the phrase "melodic nuance" in a sentence about KISS songs. Stay with the story).


When the band was on tour (I think it was early 1977) and stopping in Philadelphia, she mounted a 6-week all-out campaign to get my grandparents to allow her to go. And for almost 6 weeks, she was rebuffed at every turn. She found many creative ways to pester and harangue them about the KISS concert and why she COULD NOT CONTINUE TO LIVE if she missed it; they found just as many ways to tell her that she'd attend OVER THEIR DEAD BODIES.


Finally, after a particularly emotional plea, my grandmother, in a weak moment, said "Fine. You can go. But only if I go with you." Imagine the outrage with which a 13-year-old girl would react to such a suggestion...your MOTHER? Taking you to a KISS concert? Much pleading and whining followed, but my aunt finally realized that this was nothing less than an ultimatum...accept maternal chaperone, or miss the concert.

She gave in. Not happily, but it was her only option. So, my grandmother (who was in her late 50s at the time) bought tickets for herself, my aunt, my sister (10 at the time), my great-aunt Ruth (who was NEARLY 70) and me.

My Aunt Ruth was my grandfather's oldest sister, and she was old-lady glamour circa 1970 or so personified...blond bouffant hair, jeweled cat's-eye glasses, and double-knit pantsuits in many pastel colors, always worn with appropriate jewelry and kick-ass shoes. She was extremely outgoing, like my grandfather, but without his occasional (frequent when he got older) cranky irascibility. She was all fun, all the time. A visit to her house was a treat on par with a pool outing in the summer or a rare trip to McDonald's...she put out the pretzels, chips, and dip, poured the 7up in highball glasses, and let us have the run of the place. So when my grandmother called and asked her to provide moral support for an outing with 3 tweens at a rock concert, Aunt Ruth said what she always said..."sure! Why not?"


So there we were...13-year-old rabid KISS fan in full-on 1978 teen fashion with as much makeup as she could sneak onto her face in the backseat of the car on the ride to the show, a skinny 11-year-old with an even skinnier 10-year-old sister, a 56-year-old woman and her 70-year-old sister-in-law, traipsing into the Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA, with the dregs of basement-dwelling teenage boy society. Rock City, indeed.

Our seats were so-so, kind of in the middle of the mezzanine, with a decent view of the stage. My sister and I didn't care, we were just along for the ride (and as was typical of me at the time, I'd have been just as happy home with a book), and my aunt was so caught up in the excitement of seeing her idols live that we could have been in the rafters for all she cared. Who knows what was going through her mind...more than likely, she was pretending that none of us were there, and was trying her best to position herself to allow Peter Criss a glance at her...at which point he'd stop the show, pull her onto the stage with him, and begin the whirlwhind courtship that would end up with her becoming Mrs. Peter Criss.

The noise level, what with screaming teenagers and amplifiers turned up to eleven, was fearsome. My grandmother started to complain about her eardrums almost immediately. Aunt Ruth was well on the way to eventual deafness, so the noise didn't bother her at all. Something else, however, did bother her. A miasma surrounded us, and as the ganja fumes swirled and intensified, Aunt Ruth (in the voice of a half-deaf senior citizen utterly lacking self-consciousness) said "what is that smell? WHAT is that SMELL? Is someone smoking something? Mary, CAN YOU SMELL THAT? Is that MARIJUANA? That's not cigarettes, Mary! THAT'S MARIJUANA! Do you hear me? Those kids are SMOKING MARIJUANA, Mary!"

Did we HEAR her? No one in our entire section heard anything else. A group of 16 and 17 year old boys sitting behind us were doubled over laughing, and my sister and I were hysterical. My aunt was looking for a trapdoor through which to escape, as Aunt Ruth continued talking. "Don't they know how dangerous that is? Those kids smoke that pot, and next thing you know, they're using needles and jumping off buildings! Mary, shouldn't we get an usher or something? Now you know I'm not a spoilsport, but that's illegal!" Aunt Ruth's voice got louder as the music's volume increased; I'm pretty sure that the band stopped at some point to see where the talking was coming from.

I don't really remember how my grandmother and Aunt Ruth settled this. There was no police activity, so I guess that authorities were not summoned. My aunt was mortified, but somewhat consoled by the tshirts and posters Aunt Ruth bought for all of us. She bought a tshirt herself, and wore it over top of her pantsuit (my grandmother decided that she didn't need a KISS tshirt).

My aunt lost interest in KISS not long after the concert. Perhaps it was 13-year-old humiliation; I'm sure that she was certain that EVERYONE was paying attention ONLY to us (in this particular case, this wasn't just adolescent self-absorption), or perhaps it was disappointment at the fact that her imagined invitation to the stage with Peter Criss did not materialize.

In December of the following year, she dragged my mother, sisters and me to the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in downtown Philadelphia (it was no more than 20 degrees that day; we were not enthusiastic spectators). Erik Estrada was the Grand Marshall. Who knew? That float stops for a minute, right where we're standing, he sees her, and a love story begins....

*(Did anyone else think that the lyrics went "I'm gonna rock and roll all night...and part of everyday!"? I was not yet familiar with the use of the word "party" as a verb. And "part of everyday" made sense....after all, even rock stars wouldn't be able to rock and roll ALL night and ALL day, right?)

31 comments:

Sauntering Soul said...

The first time my ex-husband spoke to me (even though we went to high school together) was when we ran into each other at a Dokken/Ronnie James Dio concert. I was 15 years old and even I had a headache by the time I left that concert.

Many years later, I had to wake my ex-husband up THREE TIMES during a Rolling Stones concert because he had smoked so much pot he couldn't stay awake. Good times. And perhaps you understand why he's my ex a little better now.

CDP said...

Oh my. Yes, definitely lends some perspective. You'll need to blog about both of those!

BeckEye said...

Great story!

You know, I think the guys from KISS only have the energy to rock 'n' roll part of every day at this point.

Your comment about KISS stopping to hear where the talking was coming from reminding me of my own concert story about Charlie Sexton. He shushed us. The story is near the end of the post.

DCup said...

I'm glad you wrote your KISS post! Hilarious! Fabulous storytelling. I laughed when you left the comment on the Osmonds post because during even that wholesome concert, people were smoking pot. I remember asking my Aunt Nancy what that smell was and she just laughed and waved me away.

Great Aunt Ruth is the kind of old lady I want to be. I might even go for the retro 1970 glam look for good measure!

FranIAm said...

I see the Necco wars are just beginning...

Having some experience of Philadelphia and row houses and so forth, I have an image of your aunt that goes beyond the hair and the glasses. I can hear her saying in the way that only Philadelphians can, like calling everyone "hon" and remarking about how "bee-you-dee-full" something is. God dammit I want a pretzel now.

I love that she flipped out about the MARIJUANA!!! What an image.

And then you deliver the key ending... Erik Estrada.

If not for the neccos, I think you'd be perfect!

CDP said...

BeckEye--I know...they can Rock and Roll til 9 pm now, and part of the afternoon, right?

DCup--there was pot at the Donny Osmond concert? Oh my gosh...I wonder how Donny felt about that, considering that Mormons don't even drink coffee. Wow.

Fran--tee hee! Yes, I'm just getting started. And you're dead on about the accent, and the "bee yoo dee ful"...that's my family! I want a pretzel now, too.

Distributorcap said...

meanwhile Gene Simmons is on the Celebrity Apprentice......

go figure

The Lady Who Doesn't Lunch: said...

Here's to Aunt Ruth! Cool enough to know the scent of hippie lettuce when she smells it. My mother has turned out to be the fun "Aunt Ruth" in our family.

What a great story!

CDP said...

Dcap--I know! There's really no such thing as a counter-culture figure anymore, is there? Snoop Dogg does commercials, Gene Simmons hooks up with the Donald...I guess Chuck D will be next, maybe doing an iPod commercial.

Lady--Yes, that's a detail I didn't mention, how surprised I was that Aunt Ruth knew what the smell was! "hippie lettuce"...tee hee.

Spartacus said...

Oh CDP! First off, thanks for linking to me in this post. What honor to be part of this great story. Yeah, your concert story was "right here" alright.

As I was reading this, I could so see your aunt's face as the band took the stage and could not stop laughing at the pot smoking part.

But I'm curious...your aunt's name. Would it happen to be Beth? Oh what can I do?

CDP said...

Spartacus--Ha! I know! No, it's Kim, so she was easily able to substitute it for Beth when she was wearing a groove in that record...I heard that song MANY times in her bedroom!

Übermilf said...

Necco wafers taste like Pepto-Bismol.

FranIAm said...

UH OH! Ubermilf is poised for battle!

dguzman said...

"blond bouffant hair, jeweled cat's-eye glasses, and double-knit pantsuits in many pastel colors, always worn with appropriate jewelry and kick-ass shoes"--I think your Aunt Ruth masqueraded as my 4th grade grammar teacher, Mrs. West. I love the part about "needles and jumping off buildings"--I remember that being the story of EVERY drug user when I was a kid. I think they ALL jumped off buildings, thinking they could fly, under the influence of whatever. I was scared SHITLESS.

Oh, and I'm not sure, but I heard a rumor that KISS and Peter Criss had a special section in their backstage prep contract that specified NO NECCO WAFERS--THEY ARE FROM THE DEVIL!

CDP said...

Ubermilf, Fran, and Dguzman...this aggression against Necco wafers will not stand.

Worker Mommy said...

Ha I love it!
A cool concert story is what I don't have...unless you count the time that my friend called the concert hall (a small venue/club) I was at and told them I had a family emergency. The band stops playing to announce my name and ask that I immediately report to the club offices. I was freaked until I arrived at the office and the guy said "Drew's on the phone and your dad's been in an accident" Drew wasn't close w/my family and I'm not even entirely sure my parents knew him so it was instantly clear that Drew was up to something.
Anyway, when I took the phone Drew tells me "act upset" but really we want you to come on a road trip to New York with us and we didn't know how else to get a hold of you".
Seriously and he wasn't under the influence of anything.
So while I couldn't just up and take the middle of the night trip to New York...I did tell him to come get me...because clearly I couldn't go back and enjoy myself at the concert - because he'd clearly ruined that for me.

Oops...sorry for hijacking your comments...but hey I guess i did kind of have a semi interesting concert story...yay me!

CDP said...

WM--That was a good story!

CDP said...

BeckEye--I just went back and read your story, it was great!

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