Here in San Francisco, everyone but us regularly flocks to Stern Grove for free entertainment on summer Sundays: concerts or dance performances. In particular the annual ballet and symphony performances are insanely popular. In the past I'd brought up going to Stern Grove shows, and the Sober Husband was always dismissive. "Save those seats for people who can't pay to go," he said. But on Sunday it was one of my favorite bands from the eighties, the English Beat.
There was a considerable lack of enthusiasm in the air when I suggested a trip to Stern Grove. "Who is this again?" and "I wanted to go to Harry Potter today" were the main responses. Lola had a better offer, to spend the day with her best friend from preschool.
Rallying the troops, I bullied them into getting dressed and packing up a blanket, some books, drinks, fresh bread, and some nice Havarti. Poor Iris was discovered moping in front of a computer, sadly reading online reviews of the new Harry Potter film, and I energized her only by going on Fandango and buying some tickets for an evening show.
We got to Stern Grove long after much of it had been occupied by the more industrious. We climbed up the hill behind the performance lawn and scrabbled for a bit of dirt to call our own. Feeling optimistic, I called a steeply slanted spot with a nice view, but the more realistic Sober Husband refused. "It's too angled. We can't sit there." We found a surprisingly flat spot no one else had taken, right behind a huge tree. What no one else had realized is that if you just leaned a bit, you had a fabulous view of the stage. We were happy.
The hours went by, with more people streaming in. Iris was deeply envious of a man down the hill who'd brought a hammock and tied it to some trees. Soon we were packed in solid. Finally the English Beat took the stage. They had a set which refreshingly included each and every one of their hits, unlike other bands who refuse to play their most beloved songs on the grounds that they're sick of playing those same damn songs over and over again, year after year. But the man on my right, who'd been drinking wine all afternoon, was crazy-making. He sat, silent and perfectly behaved, between each and every song, but inevitably during each and every song, he'd start lifting a nearby toddler up repeatedly, shouting to the toddler every time he swung him up crazily overhead. So every time a song started, I would recognize it and be filled with joy, relax and smile and relish the music... until this annoying man started shouting to his toddler. Then I would grind my teeth together in silent rage.
"This is why we don't come to this," I hissed at the Sober Husband. "Here we are sitting in the dirt, with this drunken guy making a hellish racket during all the songs!"
"That doesn't happen at the ballet," he agreed.
"Yes, and there, you get a seat all to yourself, and a little piece of paper proving it's yours in case someone else tries to sit there. And a little zone of space."
"And you don't have to go hours early."
During my very favorite songs I hopped up to dance, and oddly enough my getting up caused my annoying neighbor to hop up to dance, along with a friend of his (while meanwhile their wives sat, talking, sometimes quite loudly, to each other and ignoring the show for the most part). Of course the Sober Husband and Iris stood up as well to humor me, so this meant every time I was moved to jump to my feet, a big clot of us in that section were dancing on the slanted hillside. "Look," I hissed at the Sober Husband. "I control them! They don't get up and dance unless I do."
He pointed out another phenomenon. "Look over there. It's other middle-aged mommies making their tweens enjoy the music!" He was right. There were a sizable number of women in their forties, who had obviously loved the Beat back in the day, and many of them were actually forcing their own reluctant daughters to dance. Somehow it was a female-only phenomenon: there weren't any middle-aged ska dads or male tweens partaking in this odd parent-child ritual. We watched one gray-haired mother, who was obviously extremely happy, forcibly waving her miserable tween's arms to the music. "I don't insist Iris like this," I said in my own defense. "As long as she's not actively complaining, that's all I ask."
"You bribed me with Harry Potter tickets! That's all I needed," said Iris smugly.
Later I mused, "It's our day of British culture. First the British music of the eighties, and now some current British cinema. Maybe we can watch some 'Dr. Who' later to top it all off."
"Yes! And we need some British candy!" agreed Iris, who is an aficionado of European sweets. "I've been very good, I need chocolate!"
May I recommend Keith Richards' autobiography? I was a Beatles girl, but this is a pretty compelling read, with some interesting side discussions about their relative place in British culture. What got the Stones writing songs (as opposed to doing covers) was that the Beatles were writing original material.
You are not the first to recommend that... I know I should read it! I gotta read it. I do love the Stones, and the only reason I don't wanna read it is to learn more loathsome facts to make me like them less.
yay! English Beat. Sadly they are not playing in my neck of the woods... I am on vacation (currently at the Apple store) but am pleased to see I made comment of the week. Does life get any better than this?
Thanks for all of your work on the blog DH. Glad to see you are doing better
Now that you've been comment o' the week, you gotta stay non-anonymous so we can get a sense of yer personality! enjoy your vacation.
I know what you're saying about the hits. We went to see Jimmy Eat World in May, and while we LOVE their earlier stuff, we're not at all familiar with anything after that first album. And wouldn't you know, they only played THREE songs off that beloved album, and two of them weren't until right before they left the stage. *sigh*
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