The soundtrack of the pro hockey arena the past two-plus decades, perhaps predictably, has nightly included one of Canada’s most idiosyncratic exports: Geddy, Alex, and Neil — Rush. I’m not sure I’ve watched an NHL game on TV the last 20 years without hearing a snippet of one of their radio hit records of the ’80s aired during a stoppage of play. The band is back with fresh material in 2007, embarking on a world tour this summer and fall, and three-quarters of not-too-old-to-rock-out-still OFB will be in attendance. Later this morning, tickets for those shows will go on sale all across the country, but in a way that is anything but progressive.
My chief thought this weekend is the loss, attributable to technology, of one of my favorite life experiences: showcasing my allegiance to my band with nights of shopping mall campouts in line for Rush tickets. Once upon a time, before modems, the loyal fan who wanted to attend the show had to scrounge together his lawn-cutting earnings, insert fresh batteries in the boombox, gather his Hemispheres and 2112 and Moving Pictures cassettes, and make a hurried race to the suburban shopping mall cement for fully 36 hours (at least) in advance of the 10:00 a.m. ticket sale to assure his admission. It was, for me, a sacred ritual. A most satisfying sacrifice. I did it in high school and college in places like Rockville, Md., Richmond, Va., and Dayton, Ohio. I’d do it again now, for sales this weekend, if just two other Rush fans would join me, pledging to bring a cooler of beer and, I suppose, a digitized boombox . . . although I’d prefer to see one of those tape-playing clunky giants of the forgotten past.
I have so many cherished memories from those eons of hours in lines. The early ’80s were so chock full of great heavy sounds; we didn’t listen just to Rush throughout the nights but also AC/DC and Pink Floyd and Sabbath and Zeppelin. And the beautiful thing about that time was that you didn’t even need your cassettes with you to hear them; you could scroll all up and down the FM dial and land on album rock greatness seemingly without ever encountering a commercial. Man do I miss that. XM’s got nothing on the spirit of that radio.
Here’s my predictable Old Fart lament: kids today — to the extent that they even listen to rock any more — will never know those sacred nights of sacrifice and their classic sounds.
Before I was 16 and licensed to drive one of my parents would always drop me off in the parking lots for the lines, but it would only be mom who’d drive by every 5 or 6 hours to check on me. That was seriously uncool at 15, I can assure you, and I gave her dagger stares for it.
Once in a while sales would take place in exceedingly chilly temps in Mid-Atlantic suburbia. I remember one year getting hit by a six-inch snowstorm and the guys driving the mall trucks plowing snow stopping and sharing their stash of donuts and hot chocolate with us.
There was always that one hardcore leader-keeper of the line list. I guess he was always the first arrival, and he had what struck me as a heavy responsibility: verifying the integrity of the line order. You could leave line, obviously, for nature calls, or to make a big food run for the rest, but you could never sneak away for like 3 hours and try and steal sleep in softened comfort somewhere. That was grounds for banishment. But you know what, in all my years of all those lines I don’t remember a single instance of a Rush fan leaving and trying to sneak back in near sale time. I guess we all just embraced this novel experience. Or, collectively, perhaps we just thought: greatness to our ears deserved great sacrifice. I never arrived first for the line perhaps because I never wanted that line leader’s job. I always, though, treasured being second or third in line, assured of great seats.
I remember most vividly those anxious minutes from 9:50 — 10:00 a.m. of sale day, my eyes wide at the store attendant standing sentry within, me racked with stress that in her rock music cluelessness she’d dither and somehow delay our arrival to the counter in time for 10:00:01.
I remember most especially the rush-release of stress as my ticket request was finalized and that ducat was spit out of the primitive sales terminal and into my hands. I’d walk out of the mall store oblivious to any sense of sacrifice I’d made the preceding two days. It was the sort of exhilaration that robs the youth of the feeling of his legs as he walks as credentialed rocker.
Truly with every modern ticket sale of the past 10 or 15 years I’ve thought back longingly of those olden days when you genuinely had to demonstrate your allegiance to a band with the snake-line of back-aching sacrifice. We’ll never see its likes again, and that’s a loss.