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Barry Smith: Irrelativity

Barry Smith
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
Jordan Curet The Aspen Times
ALL | The Aspen Times

I went to see the Descendents last week, and it really was amazing. Funny, intense, poignant, painful – everything I was hoping for.

I got as close to the front as I possibly could, just like I always try to do. Sure, I was kicked in the head a few times, but that’s to be expected. I also got punched in the kidneys a bit more than I would have preferred, but so it goes when you’re in the thick of it. Despite lots of close calls, I only fell down once, and someone fell on top of me, but we both were quickly picked up and sent back into the swirl of thrashing elbows. Final tally – one swollen knee, one fat lip, overall body bruising and soreness and a ruined T-shirt. Not a bad evening of entertainment.

Oh, wait … maybe you think I’m talking about “The Descendants,” the George Clooney comedy/drama film currently in theaters. No. Haven’t seen that yet. I might catch it soon, or wait till it comes out on DVD. Either way, probably not much danger of getting kicked in the head while watching it. Too bad.

No, no … I’m talking about the Descendents, with an “e.” The punk band from the ’80s. In fact, for a while they were my favorite punk band. They were based in SoCal, where I also was based at the time – if you can call still living with one’s parents at age 19 being “based” somewhere.

In fact, the last time I saw the Descendents was way back in 1987: a quarter of a century ago! We used to see them a lot, my punk rock friends and I. We’d head out to L.A. on a Friday night, following the map on the photocopied flier to some little makeshift “venue” – often just an empty room with a PA and some lights (or not) pointed at a stage (or not.) And it was awesome. Total artistic DIY. Urban anarchy. The only guarantees were that the band would rock, that your ears would be ringing the next morning and that the cops would show up at some point. Oh, yeah, and that you’d get kicked in the head, even if only a little bit. You’d totally get your $6 worth.

Well …

The Descendents gig last week was not in a tiny makeshift venue, but in a huge venue in Denver. A real venue. With lots of lights, and sound, and people. Young people. Were it not for the presence of the band, I might have been the oldest dude there. I guess there are worse things than being the oldest guy at the punk rock show. Tickets cost roughly seven times what I paid way back when. Fine. Inflation, surcharges, I understand, and I think this band deserves success. I brought earplugs and used them. The T-shirt I was wearing was not ripped and stained from skateboarding, nor did it say “Sex Pistols.” It was gray. From the Gap. Stretch fit. Shoes – North Face light hikers, not Vans high tops. My head full of dyed-orange hair – long gone. The cops didn’t show up, or if they did, they didn’t pay me any mind.

I knew all of this going in. I knew it wouldn’t be the same – of course not. I was braced for a time warp, the potential disorientation of stepping back into something 25 years later. I was prepared to confront some things at this concert – Who am I now? Who was I then? Would the 19-year-old me like the now-me? And vice versa? What’s become of the subculture that was once such an important part of my life? Do you really wish things were the same, or is growth inevitable and therefore embracing it is the only option?

See? Punk rock brings out the big questions.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “No man can step into the same river twice, for it is not the same river, and he is not the same man.” Heraclitus also must have revisited his favorite punk band while in his mid-40s.

But … none of that happened! It was not a night of mortality-pondering philosophy. My usual annoying introspective self really only thought one thing during the whole gig – “Hey, this band still rocks! And I’m having fun! Just like 25 years ago.”

And that’s good enough for now. I can pontificate later.

So just because it’s true, it’s not necessarily bad news: A man cannot step into the same mosh pit twice, for it is not the same mosh pit, and he is not the same … OW! SOMEBODY KICKED ME IN THE HEAD!


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