When people asked me 13 years ago what I was having, I said, “a guitarist.” The sex of my baby wasn’t important, as long as I had created a musical human. I dragged my embryo and fetus to Ani Difranco several times, birthed my baby girl to Mazzy Star, enhanced her afternoon naps with Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, nursed her to Keb Mo, took her for car rides serenaded by the Indigo Girls, and dressed her in a Righteous Baby onesie of my own design. When Serena could talk, she’d request her favorite: “’Pow[er] of Two,’ Mommy.” At three, she invited Ani Difranco to dinner. Since she emerged twelve years ago, she’s seen the Indigo Girls (as an infant), Regina Spektor, Ani Difranco, Billy Bragg, and Willy Porter. She slept through all but the last. (I’m not allowed to mention Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers.)
Over the past few weeks, we’ve watched the School of Rock’s tributes to Eric Clapton, Steely Dan, and, last Saturday, CBGB. As always, the kids were as impressive as the finest adult cover bands. But Serena hasn’t made a lot of friends at the cliquey school, so she usually watches with detachment instead of excitement.
Consequently, I was worried that I’d made a mistake spending $100 for our two tickets to see Cheap Trick at the Rams Head, catty corner to Angel’s Rock Bar, where Marty and I bobbed up and down to old favorites by the Bad Brains and Television, while Serena read a book of ghost stories on a sofa in the corner. After the show, I fueled her up on some crappy McDonald’s food (which helped her recall why she hasn’t eaten anything from McDonald’s in over two years), and we took our place in line in the long hallway of the club, where someone said, “I hate people who come to see the opening act.”
“Are you kidding?” I asked. “I went to see an opening act called Cheap Trick in 1979 at the Baltimore Civic Center!” They were on the bill with UFO, whom I liked, and Rush, whom I loathed. I pulled out my photos of that night—Robin signing an autograph while being pulled out the door by his tour manager, Rick giving me the thumbs up in front of a curtain. My treasures. “It’s people like us who turn opening acts into superstars.”
When we got in, we made our way quickly to a spot at the balcony, where no people could push in front of us and where we’d have room to lean and a place to put drinks—important, as I had to pre-caffeinate the kid to keep her standing.
Jason Faulkner (who is as easy on the eyes as a young Jon Bon Jovi) and Roger Manning of Jellyfish were the openers, and I could feel Serena’s excitement growing. But when it was time for the greatest fucking rock and roll band to take the stage, I could see that edge in her. She was captivated, enrapt. She screamed and yelled and woo-hooed and reveled in wide-eyed awe. And while she didn’t know a lot of the songs, she sang along anyway, because you can do that with Cheap Trick. They were never a band to be bogged down by pesky political verse and awkward, fancy timings. They are jump-up-and-down-able; even the crippled old mommies became all right while they played. And, damn it, they are still cute after all these years. Hello, Tom Petersson, you handsome old dandy in your purple duster and your rhinestone-spangled bass!
During the concert, I asked Serena whether she thought Rick Nielsen was a great guitarist, and she said, “DUH.” And I asked whether she was enjoying herself, and she said, “DUH.” And I asked if she liked Robin’s voice and Tom’s bass and Bun E.’s drumming and even the addition of Jason and Roger to the band, and she answered “DUH” to each. And then she added, “For a bunch of old guys, they can sure move around!”
When the show ended, I figured Serena would want to get out of there quickly, as it was late, and we’d been in loud clubs since 5:00, but she was intent on getting guitar picks. We went to the floor by the stage to find the strays. I begged a stage hand to get my “12-year-old daughter” a souvenir from her “first concert,” and he did. Serena stuck her finger between spaces in the barricade and got a purple pick for me before catching another flung into the air. Then came the begging. She wanted to go backstage, so she had me ask the guard if we could go up. I showed him the post cards Rick sent me in 1977. A nice story, he said, but he’s heard them all. Serena told me I should try again, show him the pictures, but I declined, and she was too shy to do it herself.
“What would you say to them, Serena? Hi, you’re great? My mom loves you?”
“Yeah. I don’t know. I just want to meet them.”
As we were leaving in the cold, without coats, we walked out by the bus, and Serena wished out loud that we could wait for them. “I wish I lived back in your day, when you could just meet bands,” she said, referring to my planned encounters with the likes of the Ramones, U2, and Cheap Trick. But it’s not that security has gotten any tighter. You simply have to catch those stars before they rise.
I knew when Serena was born that there’d be a small chance, despite our political and cultural influence, that my baby would grow up to be a banker or a stripper. I might have prevented the latter by giving her a name that doesn’t end in i and isn’t a color or a food. But the truth is that I really don’t care what she becomes, as long as she is passionate about it, and as long as she is still passionate about music—listening to it, performing it, and seeing it. Live. I know her mom still is.