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?)