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’90s Teenage Concert Memories in the Pandemic

As I enter the sixth month of my coronavirus lockdown at home, I have looked more and more backward at things in my life. These old practices bring a sense of comfort in a time when there’s often little of such to be had.

The lockdown has afforded me time to catch up on the pop culture overload, too. I’m finishing up TV series I stopped mid-March, and I’m finally getting around to thinning my pop culture pile.

But it’s also been a good time to further revisit pop culture, revisiting stuff I had not seen or read in decades. After seeing the news that Batman Versus Predator would be going out of print, I found my trade paperback of that oh-so-’90s read. (I also found my copies of Batman Versus Predator III, and the less said about that, the better.)

Sometimes I find myself in some weird “bookends” experiences, watching Keith David in the new season of Greenleaf, and also listening to a younger David on Gargoyles.

Amid this pop culture blender life of mine, I’ve been participating in a private mixtape club on Facebook with some friends. We started doing themed challenges, and among them was making a mix based on our teenage years. But, in a group of Gen Xers and OG Millennials, how could I put a spin on what easily could become 45 minutes “Hey, ’member Primitive Radio Gods?”

Then it hit me: Make a mix of music based on every concert I attended as a teenager, from June 1994 through October 2000. Teenaged Marvin Comes Alive! was born.

I could not find my ticket stub collection, so I had to go off memory and a few handy internet databases. And because I always love to scale things up, I then told stories about the different shows being dredged up for the first time in decades. You never know what’s in your mind until you start rooting around in there, and we live more life than we consciously remember.

Wanna hear some stories?

First concert I ever saw was Tori Amos at the renowned Tower Theater in June 1994. Tori played “Winter” during the encore, and she laughed when I yelled out “Don’t forget your earmuffs!” after she sang about mittens and boots. Ah, to be a 13-year-old dork again.

I did get to see David Bowie, once, at The Electric Factory in October 1997. I was 16, and I went with a friend who was a couple years younger. He grew up in a conservative Jewish household, and the show was on a Saturday night. I get to his house, and his parents were arguing about whether to light the Sabbath candles like out of a Neil Simon play.

Also, the mom told my friend to wear a sweater to the rock concert. Driving us to the show, the parents joked that David Bowie was secretly Jewish and his real last name is Bowinsky.

Gail Ann Dorsey played bass in Bowie’s band by then, and I was super stoked to see this Black woman playing his then 30-year catalog. She was super dope, playing that famous bass line from “Under Pressure” while singing Freddie Mercury’s part. I remember Bowie joking that Boston was “like Philadelphia, but with books.”

I had a summer romance that wasn’t, once. I met an Icelandic au pair while waiting in line to see Tina Turner, in summer 1997. We hung out a few more times before she went back to Iceland. I may still have a postcard from her.

Turner was, in a word, electrifying, all amazing stamina, big hair, power vocals, and those famous legs. During “River Deep, Mountain High,” the video wall showed old footage of her from the 1960s.

She had one of those big, all-purpose bands that included a Euro-looking percussionist in a tank top and pony tail who also played saxophone. (Big “sad sax guy from Regular Show” energy.) By the end, she had us all singing “The Best” together, the chorus going again and again and again. She owned all of us.

Other wacky moments:

  • Cyndi Lauper opened for the Tina Turner show, super pregnant and sitting in a chair while playing lap guitar. She performed a beautiful, slower version of “Time After Time” with Eric Bazilian from The Hooters, her big collaborator on She’s So Unusual.
  • At the Lilith Fair in July 1997, Joan Osborne sang “One of Us.” Of course she did. But, this time, she sang it as goth band Rasputina played three cellos behind her.
  • Lesley Rankine, playing with her electronic band Ruby at long-gone Philly venue The Khyber, started the show mad late. Shortly after she got on stage, she said in her Scottish burr, “I’m pretty shitfaced, so apologies if I mess up some of me lyrics.”
  • Suzanne Vega, playing the famous WXPN Singer Songwriter Festival in 1997, did mess up a verse of “Tom’s Diner” and re-sang it. Happens to the best of us!

Does it get more ’90s than seeing the Lilith Fair? Female singer/songwriters were my jam at the time. I walked away with two life lessons.

One: Even when you convert all but one of the men’s restrooms at a large venue, women still will have to wait in line, while the men walk in and out of that single restroom.

And, two: Sarah McLachlan must have immeasurable hubris to follow Tracy Chapman as a headliner. I saw Chapman burn the venue down performing a cover of “Proud Mary” so strong that most of the mainstage bill came out to sing along. The hubris of McLachlan, even though it was her festival!

As fun as these shows were for my past, some shows may have told my future.

When I was 14, I saw R.E.M. tour on the Monster album, which turned out to be the supernova of the band. Bill Berry would retire from music by 1997 after suffering aneurysms, and the band would sputter out over the next decade.

Fast forward to 2003, when I started dating the woman that became my wife. On her shelf is the program from that tour! R.E.M. played a run of dates at the venue. Were we at the same show that night? Perhaps.

Did our paths cross there? Who knows.

It would have been weird, anyhow; I was almost 15, and she was 19. It would take eight more years, on a hot Philadelphia night in July 2003, before I stepped into another show, and a true rock ’n’ roll love story would begin.


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