Skip to main content

Two Old (Vaccinated) White Guys Rock the Arena

The trip was planned for our anniversary, last year. We’d drive to Chicago to see James Taylor, of all people, on tour. I last saw him live circa 1970, but I’ve followed him, loosely, ever since.

To sweeten the deal, the tour promoters threw in Jackson Browne, adding an infusion of laid-back, seventies LA onto James’s Stockbridge-to-Boston sensibility.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. A chance to see two famous old white guys rock out after their naps. It’s not like we get to a lot of arena concerts —exactly zero in the last thirty years — so why not?

The concert, scheduled for June 2020, was of course postponed indefinitely. Something about a virus.

Cut to this summer, and suddenly the tour is back on. The event was moved to late July — last week — and we wouldn’t want to waste the tickets, right?

The decision to go wasn’t without trepidation. I had just flown — for the first time in eighteen months — to Florida, epicenter of Covid lunacy. I’d worn a mask from airport to airport, but while in Ft. Lauderdale I sat in several smallish restaurants without one.

Should I have been more worried? I believe I’ve absorbed most of the conventional wisdom around vaccines and vaccinations, and this has instilled in me a certain sense of security, possibly ill-advised, but personally comfortable. The risk/reward ratio seems acceptable, and I fully accept that there’s no such thing as zero risk.

The idea is to not do anything too stupid, though sometimes it’s hard to know. The news of the delta variant was unsettling, and there was some real reluctance to venture to Chicago to spend three hours in an arena with a few thousand of our demographic peers. Just the thought of it brought to mind all that petri-dish imagery we were treated to last year.

On the other hand, I doubt you could find any venue with a higher concentration of vaccinated Americans than a James Taylor concert. My presence might have lowered the average age in the room — which doesn’t happen often — and our age group has been generally good about vaccinations. But still, there were good arguments for not going.

These included concern about Lollapalooza, the music festival going on across town in Grant Park. Ten thousand people, mostly from a vastly different demographic, some of them in our hotel. Three days, dozens of bands I’d never heard of, proof of vaccination required.

So we knew the risks. We debated them, we listened to friends, we thought long and hard. And we went.

While the risks were defined, the rewards were less so. Which was no fault of the old guys onstage. Let’s just say the whole experience underscored that I’m not twenty-one anymore, and that nostalgia has its limits.

Among those limits were the three hours in a not-particularly-butt-friendly chair, in that indoor space where too many people were — in defiance of CDC guidelines — singing. At the top of their lungs. On “Sweet Baby James” and “Fire and Rain,” I could swear I saw the droplets floating in the air. On top of that, the jerk behind us knew all the words and sang louder than James, but not nearly as well.

Happily, the droplets were figments of my imagination. We tested negative six days later.

Which brings me around — somewhat circuitously — to the warped politics of Covid, which are even more depressing now than they were last summer.

In consecutive weeks, I traveled to two states at opposite ends of the vaccination spectrum.

Illinois has an enlightened governor — J.B. Pritzker — and a Democratic legislature. Not coincidentally, the state — or at least Chicago — seems to be getting back to a wary sort of normal. It’s one of the most vaccinated states in the union. Most places are open. Masks are not generally required. Yet still, the delta variant looms in the background, putting a big question mark in front of anything we want to do.

Florida, on the other hand, is a well-chronicled catastrophe — and broadly illustrative of the power of malevolent intent. It’s no secret that the governor — Ron DeSantis — is criminally disinterested in governance, competence, or even objective reality. Or that he’s become a one-man disease vector, almost as murderous as his idol, Trump himself.

Twenty percent of new cases in the country are happening in that one state. So the anxiety is real, especially among the vaccinated, who ostensibly have the least to worry about. They’re surrounded by hordes of oblivious never-vaxers, many of whom will be dying soon. How can you not feel helpless in the face of such avoidable carnage?

It’s harsh to say it, but at this point most people who die of Covid have only themselves to blame. But it’s hard to keep your brain from going there. It’s hard not to indulge in a sick sort of schadenfreude in which people who take pride in their ignorance pay with their lives. The very idea offends us, even as we revel in it.

But as I sat in that Chicago arena that night, I wasn’t thinking about that. I was thinking about Covid’s economic cost. About how that tour — a significant investment of money and time — came to a screeching halt a year and a half ago. About how everybody involved took a huge financial hit. From the investors to the rock stars to the arena owners. From the backup band to the roadies, lighting people, and stage crew. From the neighborhood bars and restaurants that couldn’t serve us, to the Uber drivers who couldn’t pick us up, to the ushers who couldn’t show us to our seats, to the cleaning people who couldn’t sweep the aisles. Nobody was unaffected.

Some will break even, most won’t. Some will bounce back, some will be shattered. And that’s just one tiny snapshot of a global economy that’s been shaken to its core. Economic tragedy inevitably turns into human tragedy.

Covid was always going to be bad, but it didn’t have to be this bad. The fast-track vaccines were a huge lucky break that we obviously didn’t deserve. The fact that they even exist is astonishing, a deeply underappreciated accomplishment, one that never could have happened even ten years ago. By now, we should be taking vaccines for granted. Instead, too many fools aren’t taking them at all.

I’m tired of hearing how Trump and his cronies botched the pandemic response. They didn’t botch, they sabotaged. And they’re still doing it, in plain sight, telling anyone who’ll listen that vaccines destroy personal liberty. I’m still not sure how that works.

But in spite of all that, the show did indeed go on. The old white guys nailed it, and the old boomers in the crowd ate it up.

Still, it wasn’t the music that made that evening in Chicago. It was the fact that we were there at all. Everyone felt it.

Halfway through his set, James Taylor — almost embarrassed to be enjoying himself — looked out sheepishly at the mostly-full house and said what everyone in the room was feeling: “We didn’t know if anybody would show up.”

And when you think about it, it’s amazing that anybody did.

Comments

  1. I saw James Taylor at Pine Knob back in the 70's. What an amazing musician/songwriter!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Beautiful post, Andy. I saw James & Carole in the early 70s, back when the audience actually listened to their music and weren't compelled to sing along.

    ReplyDelete
  3. We call him Ron DeathSantis here.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Glad you went and had a good time overall. Hilarious about the guy sitting behind you. Classic!

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The GOP's Weaknesses are More Apparent than its Strengths

  Anyone who’s paying attention now understands that this election is a whole lot scarier than it ever should have been. It’s a shame — and an indictment of our constitutional system — that it comes down to an election at all. Surely, the Trump problem should have been settled by now, with no further elections required to get him out of our lives. His crimes were such that the real crime was letting him remain at large. All those checks and balances we were taught to revere should have somehow found a way to rid us of this monster. But the Supreme Court seems to have Trump’s back, though it’s not clear what that gains them. If anything, it makes one wonder what Trump is holding over them, and what might happen to their families if they don’t keep him out of prison. So it will come down to the election, and the lines couldn’t be drawn more indelibly. I prefer to think this can work out well — that these scorched-earth hacks can be overwhelmed at the ballot box

The New York Times has Gone Over to the Dark Side

  A week or so ago, Trump took a break from the courtroom and held a rally in a picturesque corner of New Jersey, a state he has no hope of winning. His speech at this rally was even more unhinged than usual, featuring his now-famous tributes to Al Capone and Hannibal Lecter — the latter being as fictional as Trump’s medical records, but seemingly real in his mind. These speeches are growing worse over time, and they seem to betray a worsening cognitive condition. Unfortunately, the New York Times doesn’t see it that way. Their reporting of the event was basically a puff piece . To them, this rally was Trump’s well-deserved break from the rigors and indignities of his criminal trial. They marvel that, “after a long and tense week,” he could now head to the Jersey Shore for some much-needed rest and adulation: Against the backdrop of classic Americana, Mr. Trump repeated his typical criticism that Mr. Biden’s economic policies were hurting the middle class.

Trump and Pecker Sittin’ in a Tree

  Before there was Fox News, before there was Rush Limbaugh, before there was the sprawling rightwing ecosystem of fake news and vicious smears we so enjoy today, there was the National Enquirer . For most of our lives, the Enquirer stared up at us from the checkout aisle of our local supermarket. Somehow, we never made the connection that its readers would one day fit the stereotype of the Trump voter — under-educated, gullible, malleable, easy targets for disinformation. The Enquirer nurtured those targets over many decades, got them to believe virtually anything, and helped lay the groundwork for the sort of know-nothing insurgency that brought Trump into all our lives. Decades ahead of its time, the Enquirer was peddling fake news long before it was fashionable. It appealed unapologetically to humanity’s baser instincts, the ones most of us try to rise above. It was always flamboyantly sleazy, and always there in plain sight, something we could dependably