The Family That Freaks Out Together…

I was recently gifted general admission floor tickets and a VIP backstage pass just a few days before “The Flaming Lips with Stardeath and White Dwarfs New Years Eve Freakout: 2010 Becomes 2011.” A decision had to be made: Enjoy the communal love and frenetic energy that is the party these bands have been throwing for Oklahoma City and the world for the last five years, or just stay in. Most of you are probably thinking “what kind of decision is that? It is one of the biggest concert events of the year and you don’t even have to pay for tickets. That decision is made.” You would think so, wouldn’t you?

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There was a time in my life when I never passed up an opportunity to hear live music. There is hardly a band that traveled through town that I didn’t see, and local shows were where I lived for much of my twenties.  All of this was in another era.

That was back in the day. It was another age entirely. Deciding whether to accept the gift of pure New Year’s joy is a real internal debate rather than assumed fact in our current era. My life has now  separated into two distinct ages, which I shall call B.C. (Before Children) and A.D. (After Dad).  I am now in my thirties. I am the father of two children. My oldest is a seven year old girl whose music tastes run along the lines of Justin Beiber  and other acts fueled by the Disney / Nickelodeon industrial hit making complex. My son is only three and hasn’t expressed a real preference for bands yet, but can sure bust out a mean “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in duet with his mother in imitation of Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.

When I was my daughter’s age my parents dragged me along to an Eddie Rabbitt concert at the height of his popularity. It didn’t make many permanent memories, except for the fact that it was in a hastily cleaned out rodeo arena that still smelled a little like a barnyard. Other than “I Love A Rainy Night” none of his songs really stuck with me. I slept through a lot of it to be honest. My parents never tried again .I remember begging my parents to let me attend Metallica even if they had to come too. I missed acts that I will never get a second chance to see (Nirvana comes to mind.)  I made a decision back then that if I was to ever have children that I wasn’t going to drag them to anything they weren’t going to enjoy, but I would be sure that my kids had exposure to live music and the thrill of a concert experience.  It was a resolution made as a child to protect the children of the future. The bright lights and large crowds were going to be a part of their upbringing. It was decided. That was B.C.

Now it’s A.D. My kids have been exposed to all sorts of artists in all sorts of genres, and my daughter has a love for the more bouncy side of ‘80’s new wave and pop. My son will sing along loudly to sections of the Pixies and seems to be developing nicely into a real rock and roll connoisseur. Both of my children dance like maniacs to Gnarls Barkley so I am not completely discouraged by their musical preferences, but so far my children’s concert history has consisted of taking my daughter to see noted Australian children’s entertainers The Wiggles. (Despite their album having reached Gold and Platinum status, they still perform on stage with a dancing dinosaur and a comical pirate.) Unless you count very loud church worship bands and the types of local music that perform at street festivals, carnivals, and holiday picnics, so far my resolution to allow my kids a diverse experience with live bands has been a failure.

I have failed to take my children to see anything in an arena, anything to help them make those mystical connections to the mother music. Now, it is the end of 2010 and like magic I am surprised with some great tickets for the Flaming Lips from a friend with connections to Stardeath and the White Dwarves (she gave birth to one of the members). It is my opportunity to be that Awesome Rock N’ Roll Dad that I dreamed of being. How could I pass up the opportunity?  After discussing the idea with my wife, and realizing it was entirely too late to find sitters for the youngest members of the Murphy household, we decided to bring the kids.

We explained to the kids where we were going for New Years and the sorts of things we would be doing. They were absolutely thrilled at the prospect, and if you have never heard a three year old boy say, “We will fweek owwwwt!” then well, you haven’t been a proud dad of a little rocker in the making.  We had all the little internal debates that “responsible” parents have to have. Will it be too loud? Will it be too long? Will the kids really get a kick out of it, or am I subjecting them to this because of some sense of lost opportunity? Suddenly, all the things you love about a concert become concerns. You remember the chaos of a crowd, the spectacle of a rock show with “dangerous” lasers and bright lights, the colorful metaphors shouted on stage and ubiquitous smoke and contact buzz of the concert experience. And it is a Flaming Lips show, so magnify that by a thousand and add a crowd costumed in giant animal heads and fur and scantily clad dancing gypsy women.

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Preshow prep in the years B.C. was as simple as taking a shower (optional), putting on my cleanest pair of jeans and a shirt for the band, and making sure I had enough money for beer and knew where at least one after-party was.

Preshow prep in the A. D. consisted of making sure my daughter got dressed. While my wife refreshed the purple streaks in her own hair, I was in charge of putting together an outfit for my daughter. My daughter and I debated on what was proper rock n’ roll wear. While I helped my girl find her grooviest stripped socks and a pair of sloppy-cool paint splattered jeans, she posed the question, “Is a Hannah Montana t-shirt funky enough for a freak out? ”  I relented in my argument and allowed her to wear it accessorized with a glittery pink scarf. Meanwhile, my son ran through the house naked yelling “Fweeeeek owwwwwt!” over and over, in something close to the voice of Animal from the Muppets on helium.  My wife, freshly purpled, was able to eventually catch the boy, clean him up a little and dress him in a Superman shirt and a pair of jeans.  Then she filled her purse with pull up diapers and we were ready.

Now, it was time for the safety talk. I quizzed my daughter on “Who is it safe to go with?” and “Who do you ask for help if you get lost?” and made her recite my wife’s cell number at least five times. I told her about not taking candy or anything else from strangers unless we told her it was okay. I warned her about crowds and all the time my mind was going crazy with all of the creepy possibilities. Finally, on the ride there and mid-lecture my daughter announces, “Daddy, you have got my attention! I am just tired of talking about it”. I let the warnings stand. I knew I was just never going to let go of her hand.

Once parked and inside the venue, there was a long wait at the “Will Call” box office where we were meeting my friend to get the tickets. We arrived early and she arrived a little late, so there was a wait. I began to wonder if we had made the wrong decision bringing the kids to a concert. They wanted to be anywhere but waiting patiently. I let them check out the merchandise booth and look around the venue a little. Finally, getting bored they declared we had to sit against a wall and my wife was regretting the sexy black boots she was wearing and wishing she just came barefoot. We all sat against a wall and pointed out all the wild characters waiting in line to enter the concert.  “There’s a teletubby! There’s Cookie Monster! Is that a cow? A bumblebee! What’s next, a dancing dinosaur and a comical pirate?” Nope, it was a couple of guys who looked like an OD on LED, and they gave the kids glow sticks. Already, the “ Don’t take things from strangers” talk was out the window.

Eventually, we met my friend and got our tickets. There was still time before the show and Oklahoma City’s Opening Night events were going on, so we got to enjoy some of the other activities of the night.  The girl took a few turns on an inflatable obstacle course and then it was off to the main event. The carnival feel of the night was enhanced when someone from a popular local event promoting website handed the kids a stack of green inflatable cubes and flashing green necklaces.  They looked the part of a glowing, flashing and faerie wand carrying freak out attendee now and both were very happy.

Stardeath played and the kids did their version of rave dancing with the inflatable cubes and soon a few balloons dropped. These are no ordinary balloons. They were the size of my children. Holding hands was now out as they needed both to hold and toss these gigantic balloons into the air and over the crowd. They made quick friends with members of the crowd that offered them more glowing toys and played toss with them with the gigantic balloons. Not entering the crowd was soon out too as they ran after their balloons but my fears of the crowd were eased when I noticed a sort of herd effect. Most of the concert goers were happy to hook the stray toddler and send him back to his mother with a wave.  It was the communal feel of a hippy music festival (but not as filthy) and there was a palpable feel of love in the air. It was like we were all part of some functional family of music lovers. My daughter got into her own vibe watching the lights and large screen. My son attracted admirers. His Superman shirt drew comments. One guy said, “Hey,Superman! We were waiting on you!” The reference was lost on him but I remembered the Flaming Lips song, “Waiting on Superman” and smiled. There was a woman in her twenties who gave the boy lots of attention and a kiss on the cheek.  He also got a dollar for learning to “throw the horns”.

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The Flaming Lips took the stage in that flamboyant way that only Wayne and the guys can pull off and there were balloons and confetti raining down en masse.  My son, in my arms now as the crowd surged forward, was mesmerized by the dancing girl on the screen and the barrage of images. Some part of me wondered how responsible I would be for the scars on my son’s psyche induced by the hypnotic pulsing light and the image of some mother music birthing forth the band to the stage. The rocker part of me made peace with the parent as I noticed my son’s huge smile and watched his eyes as they scanned the crowd and the sea of hands raised in peace signs and victorious fists.

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I danced with my daughter to “She Don’t Use Jelly” and we both screamed together the name of a popular petroleum jelly product and various alternatives to tissue. I lifted her to my shoulders so she could see above the crowd.  Her hands were raised above her head and I could hear her scream singing the lyrics to the songs she recognized. We discussed how one of the songs was on an episode of Yo Gabba Gabba and the fun of pretending to be a bumble bee or a frog or anything and for a moment there seemed to be so much possibility in the world.

I held hands with my wife and we were cuddled close the two of us with kids on our shoulders and for a minute I looked at her (my wife and my children’s mother) with her purple streaks and her sexy boots and  I knew this was better company than I had ever had at a show before.

I gave my one VIP pass to a nice kid who drove down from Michigan for the show. I didn’t need to see anything backstage if it meant leaving the family a member short on the floor. Everything I needed was right there with me.

The kids were tired before we were and ready to go before midnight. As a responsible parent now, I knew the kids call that shot. We flew out like Superman or a bird or a plane or anything. Hand in hand the whole family made our way out of the arena a little early but right on time singing a song together. I can’t remember many times leaving a show that happy and I didn’t have even one beer.

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Was it the rock experience that I had B.C. or even the one I used to dream about having with my kids? No. It was better. It was a fantasy land of possibility and music. Sure my son may have got a shower in beer as strangers bumped past and my daughter was nearly trampled once by dancing flowers but none of that seemed to ruin the magic of the four of us on the floor of a rock show together “freaking out”. Concert going A.D. definitely had something magical going for it. It was one part the awesome band and their music and one part the happy energetic crowd. It was mostly just being a dad with my kids at a rock show.

My son woke up this morning and said, “Mommy, last night we were fweeking owt but today it is over” and then my wife asks, “ What was your favorite part?” and was sure he would say the balloons or the lights or something a kid would notice but he answered quickly, “The Lipsticks”. Maybe that will be the name of my son’s band some day or maybe the boy was talking about the kiss on the cheek he collected. Either way, it seemed like a pretty rocker way to answer and Daddy’s heart was proud.  What was Daddy’s favorite part?

Honestly, my favorite part was my children and my wife. It was my family, and it was that experience.

It seemed to be less about just the music or the crowd and more about the people I shared it with. Yeah, maybe I missed “Soft Bulletin” but I wasn’t waiting on Superman anymore. I had him and my freaky faerie princess and I could be a frog. I could be anything. I had them and my wife and the rest of it all and the possibilities of all of the new years to come seemed just endless. Let’s freak out again and again. My resolution to make a concert memory for my kids resolved. Who knows what the next show might be?  I know who I want to go with though for sure.  We are the family who freaks out together.

Happy New Year.

By Sean Murphy, an Awesome Rock n’Roll Dad.

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