Aerosmith: Starwood Amphitheatre, Tennessee

“EVERY DAY, I LOOK in the mirror/ All these lines in my face gettin’ clearer/ The past is gone…” It is a benediction, an acceptance, a truth projected forward rather than backwards. It is the opening of Aerosmith’s meandering ‘Dream On,’ a song that’s most likely about regret and reconciling how it was with what it might have been — and scratching up enough hope to continue.

Because no matter what — life goes on.

As has America’s greatest rock & roll band. As have their fans. As have the people who have no idea who they are or why they matter. Time rolls forward, sweeping us up — or if we fight it, in spite of ourselves. But there is no choice, only knowledge accepted or denied.

And still it rolls.

‘Dream On’, with its filigreed melody, its melting rhythm, its eroticism that is something far beyond carnal. It was a beacon of things unknown, things murky, things necessary — even as they terrified the uninitiated.

For all the promised mystery, though, it was mostly an as-yet-unlived siren’s song for a youth lost to waste and beauty surrendered in the name of ephemerality. The young believed its promises, held their lighters aloft and screamed to join up, hurling their futures at the feet of the wanton rock gawds recklessly treading about upon their innocence like moth-chewed Persian rugs.

Standing under the pavilion at what was — and to me will always be — Starwood Amphitheatre outside Nashville, Steven Tyler sent out this hymn to the wages paid into the night. Ardor. Ardent. Aching. For the man who defies gender and blurs sexual definition, it was a song about surviving the circus, but also an elegy for a former wife recently passed from cancer of the brain.

Cyrinda Foxe, a platinum blonde child of New York’s new wave, a punk princess paramour of New York Doll David Johansen, the inspiration for David Bowie’s ‘Jean Genie,’ was gone. A flicker and out — and Tyler was holding his voice aloft like so many disposable lighters on the hill of puke and sodden grass, a memory to burn itself into the eternal with no uncertain passion.

“Sing women, just for today/ Never tomorrow/ Good lord might take you away…” If Tyler sang for a love that had passed, so many memories can fill each individual’s gap. We all have those friends who’ve gone… the ones you’ve put your shoulder next to and howled the truth that was defiant and scary and challenged us to live broader, fuller lives.

And for me, swept up in the jagged rasp, time cracked open and a too temperate cafeteria, humid from the cranked and pumping Midwestern steam heat, appeared. There was a mountain of down jackets in light and navy blue, emerald green, the occasional olive and khaki and a cherry on top dot of crimson littering a far corner.

There were the wooden tables for the proper U.S. boys to have their lunch at each day — now lining the walls beneath the windows, to maximize floor space, but also to offer a place to perch for those of us not yet dancing.

The not-yet-dancing… in our Shetland sweaters and straight-legged cords, our topsiders and our squeaky clean stick straight hair glistening under the rainbow-gelled overhead lights. Watching the brave and the bold gyrating as white midwestern kids do — herking and jerking in hunt-and-peck time to Bad Company and Foreigner, Mott the Hoople, AC/DC and T. Rex and being Cleveland, Ohio the Michael Stanley Band’s nearly threatening ‘Let’s Get The Show On The Road.’

The boys, of course, were across this vast expanse of polished wood and churning bodies. They were watching us watching them — as not quite sure what to do as we were not quite sure what to expect. The joys of single sex education — you know you’re either the quarry or the hunter, but you’re still not quite sure what to do when you’re in proximity of the other.

So you narrow your eyes, run your fingers through that wash of ebony or butter silk, shift from side to side, crack your gum, turn away. It all seems so ridiculous… so silly… so fraught.

Until. Until that boy is suddenly standing before you. Unsure. Terrified to speak. Terrified not to. Responding isn’t much easier, because… well, what does it mean? What are you supposed to say?

And so it was that I’d crawled up on top of a table, feet firmly planted like baby oaks into the bench beneath me. Leaning forward, elbows on knees, chin on hands, guileless smile on face. Even in the 7th grade, I loved to watch, to see the waves of rhythm, feel the sweet energy of kids seeking some kind of solace and connection beyond anything they’d ever found.

Lost in the moment, I almost didn’t realise there was boy in front of me. Blonde headed, pale skin, middle height. In a pin-striped oxford cloth shirt, tender consternation embroidered on his face… lips knotted in confusion.

“Would you, uhm, like to, ah… dance?” he finally pushed out. I tilted my head. Took him in. Realized it was a threshold to cross — and knew it was a bridge that while I could never cross back over was one I’d been waiting for all night.

Joe Perry’s serpentine guitar part was twisting around the melody, Tyler’d not yet begin to yowl his paean to the price he’d pay. I lifted an eyebrow, savouring the moment, half smile upon my lips because this was the moment where it was all about to change. Into what, I didn’t know… just that it was Andy Parker took my hand, well, my fingers really — encircling them like fragile bits of china or baby bird bones that he might crush. Almost as if he wasn’t sure what little girl digits would feel like, hoping they’d be soft, relieved that they were.

Feet just the tiniest bit shuffly, heading to the middle of the semi-crowded clot of barely pubescents, shifting from side to side… “Even as dusk to dawn…” came the confession that wouldn’t, couldn’t resonate in real time for a bunch of children with shining eyes and faltering courage.

Bridge of nose to shoulder, then the puff of cheekbone resting on graceful young boy collarbone, eyes closed as the eyes of all the little girls not yet singed into my back. The damp palms on the widest part of my shoulder blade, the part my wings would’ve sprouted from — not that I wanted to fly away. No, I wanted to be right there, right then, feet barely moving in the smallest slowest circles, a young boy’s breath fetid, suppressed, hardly escaping into my ear.

It was so intimate, so close, wrapped up in a dancing school boy’s arms. Him so tentative, so polite, so not wanting to ruin the moment, not sure what he wanted really. Me, feeling the proximity, the penetrating heat of another — that sense that whatever was happening wasn’t too risque, wasn’t too fast, wasn’t something to fear.

Just relax and feel the jagged edges of Tyler ranting.

“Sing women, sing for the years, sing for the light, sing for the tears…” And when the song ended, there was that extended moment of not knowing what to do — not wanting to let go, not being able to stay engaged. An innocence defined and a want to that’s neither seedy nor overwhelming.

The end of that first slow dance is a lot like life… heady, yes, but uncertain.

You can want. You can maybe even have. But what does it mean?

There in the darkness of the University School lower campus dining room, it was about what was to unfold, to happen, to catch you on up and take you away on a current of blood-boiling desire. But it started sweetly, with a boy who was as startled by the pooling of something curious in the tummy, as not aware of the way it would all turn out as I was.

Just as suddenly, the heat broke and a bit of sweat rolled down my front. It was sticky under the pavilion, as the tropical storm that was named Lili had rolled through Nashville just that afternoon — and Music City was more humidor than commodores. Up on the grass, Steven Tyler was giving witness to what dreams can mean, the danger and the delight of the price paid, the reckless pleasure and the white knuckled prayers of the survivors.

Somewhere up in heaven, Cyrinda Foxe — long divorced, but still an indelible part of his soul — smiles with eyes like pinwheels and lips like thick, slick glass.

Somewhere Andy Parker has no clue. May not even remember the girl in the yellow monogrammed sweater and pink button-down shirt.

But in that moment, I looked at my friend the gossip columnist, smiled brightly and winked. We didn’t know each other until much later in life; but during ‘Dream On,’ we recognised the deepest secrets the other held and laughed. The promise of what could be stretched before us somewhere in another long past night.

That’s the beauty of great rock and roll: there’s a transparency that let’s us see ourselves.

For Aerosmith, hands down America’s greatest rock band, it was the mirror calling the evening black.

© Holly Gleason, October 2002

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