This has been a year of firsts for me. First salary paying job… and, um…
This has been a year of first for me.
But two weekends ago I made it a first for something else, music festivals.
I had driven with a colleague to Bendigo a rural city near Melbourne where the annual Groovin the Moo music festival was being held. We arrived early and lined up behind about 100 people (30 000 would be attending that day). All of the festival goers were expressing their individuality by wearing almost exactly the same thing: tights, khaki army jackets and circular sunglasses (I write this with a sneer mainly out of jealousy because, due to my blonde hair and long face, I can’t wear circular sunglasses without looking like a Nazi doctor).
I had run out of things to talk about with my friend during the drive after she had asked me sit in the backseat when I had tried to lighten the mood with an offensive joke. So to pass time I eaves-dropped on the young bohemians. They were all talking about their jobs in retail and PR, this didn’t strike me as very boho but hey, a bohemian’s gotta eat, even if it is only ever brunch.
I noticed several people queuing behind us were dressed in various animal onesies. I spent a few minutes watching other people turn up in their onesies and looking disappointed because there was already a cow in the queue.
At 1030am the gates opened and we filtered in. The fields were still pristine, two big structures had been set up and one was already droning a repetitive fuzzy woof. My companion and I made our way to the main stage and watched the first, fairly nondescript, act play to a crowd of about 60 people.
The next act were a duo called Matt and Kim who, in between playing other people’s music and running around on the stage, spoke at length about their sex-life and how they were from Brooklyn.
The New York nymphomaniacs were followed by They Might Be Giants, a band I had actually heard of. Now, by “heard of”, I mean I have heard two of their songs a few times but this technicality did not stop me from excitedly yelling, “I love They Might be Giants,” before I went too far and added, “they had a huge impact on me when I was a teenager.” I realized I had overplayed my hand when they proceeded to play several songs I had never heard and I could do nothing but stand silently and eat my words.
Eventually a song came on that I did know, ‘Dr. Worm’. The crowd roared as it too recognised the hit. I felt uplifted as I sang the song’s opening lyrics with the rest of the audience.
“My name is Dr.Worm, I’m not a real doctor but I -”
I quickly realised that, in fact, these are not the opening lyrics of the song and by the second clause of the first verse I was completely lost. In any case I listened carefully, waiting for a point where I could sing the part I knew.
I soon felt it building and I shifted my weight back and forth and licked my lips in anticipation. I felt like a sprinter awaiting the blast of the starter pistol. Then I made a false start and just ended up blurting out, “WORM!”
The song ended and I resumed standing there silently and nodding politely along to the rest of their set.
Later, a band called Tame Impala took the stage. They opened with their hit-single, ‘It Feels Like We Only Go Backwards’. Similarly with They Might Be Giants I recognised this song but I didn’t know any of the words so I contented myself with miming the lyrics. Now, miming usually works for me, for instance, if I’m at a party when a Jay-Z or Kanye West song comes on and everybody, except me, knows it word for word I can generally camouflage myself among the beat and the rest of the party’s singing. Miming in a field, however, is more conspicuous and I got my share of weird looks as I stood their mouthing what were clearly the wrong lyrics.
The band then moved into its main oeuvre. This consisted almost exclusively of psychotropic songs threaded together by a seemingly endless guitar solo. The music beckoned everybody into a mysterious sonic embrace. Garlanded girls and boys with their eyes closed revealing vajazzled eyelids, swung and dipped to the band’s psychedelic riffs. Nearby, a group of revellers in their onesies had melted into an unhygienic looking cuddle puddle.
The crowd was being raptured into a collective nirvana but I found myself thinkig about what to do with my hands: in pockets? Folded? Out straight by my side? I ended up sort of gripping my pockets and shrugging my shoulders to the beat. I incorporated my feet into my diffident-dance by lifting and lowering my heels in a snazzy routine that I also use to stave off deep-vein thrombosis on long-haul flights.
Meanwhile, I had become acutely aware of the fact that my companion and I were not talking. I mean, I had spent the whole day in a state of longwinded introspection about how I didn’t know any of the songs and was envious of all the bohos-cum-salespeople.
“Rupert?” My companion’s voice broke my train of thought. What a remarkable coincidence, it was as if she could hear my internal monologue. “Are you okay?” She asked, looking concerned.
“You look very tense. Your shoulders are all hunched and you’re pulling quite violently at your pants.”
I thought about it for a second before this spilled out from my mouth, “Doyouhatemefortellingthatjoke?”
“Excuse me?” It was her turn now.
I slowed down, “Do you hate me for telling you that joke?”
“The one I told in the car, about the collapsing scaffolding and the choir.”
“That was a joke? I thought it was just a depressing story.”
“So why did you tell me to sit in the back seat?”
“I didn’t, as soon as you told that “joke” and I said it was sad, you just clambered into the back seat and didn’t say anything for the rest of the car ride.”
Fair enough, I thought, I guess that was what happened. “Well we haven’t exchanged a word the whole time we’ve been here,” I continued, “so, I mean, obviously something is wrong.”
“Rupert, it’s not about you it’s about the music. I am listening to the music, that’s what you do at shows you listen to the music.” She indicated towards the band before turning away from me.
I stood there as the flanging guitars swept out across the crowd. It’s not about me? It’s about the music? So that’s what the problem was, as the song reached its last crescendo, I realised that I had spent the whole day listening to myself and not to the music. No wonder I wasn’t having a good time, nobody enjoys listening to me, including me.
I laughed and, as the last song’s concluding chord petered out across the audience, I finally felt that sense of abandon I had been missing out on.
Happy, I threw my hands towards the sky and cried, “RUPERT. SHUT. UP!
The crowd burst into roars of approval.