#68. I met Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs (Florida, 1992)
We missed more than a few concerts by our favorite bands before my younger sister and I realized that our parents couldn’t ground us badly enough — no punishment imaginable compared to the pain of not getting to see Jane’s Addiction or The Pixies six months before those bands first “broke up.”
Before my sister wizened up though, at the age of 18, she missed her absolute favorite band of all time. I never loved 10,000 Maniacs, but my sister became obsessed. I gorged on a host of angry dude 90s bands, but my sister only ever gorged on 10,000 Maniacs. I filled her life with lots of bands, and as kids we’d both emphatically loved Hall & Oates, but 10,000 Maniacs remains the only band she ever genuinely imposed on me. While I didn’t love 10,000 Maniacs, I did have to take them seriously because of this.
So for her 18th birthday, I bought her and I tickets to finally see 10,000 Maniacs live, somewhere near where I attended college in Florida. My parents though, surprised her by telling her no, she could not drive two hours from home to see her favorite band with her brother. Disobedience wouldn’t pay off, our parents promised her, and my sister wasn’t yet ready to rebel.
My parents were not ignorant of my sister’s intense relationship with 10,000 Maniacs, which made their decision even tougher for me to respect. Today, if either of my daughters loved a band that much, even if I hated the music I would escort her to the stupid concert, before I would ever allow her to miss it. Come on.
I found myself stuck with two tickets to see a band I didn’t love. But the story gets worse.
Still young enough to find concerts novel, I and the earthy girls who drove me from our college dorms to the show in Wherever, FL, arrived to the theatre three hours early. We parked and walked around the venue’s perimeter and quickly ran into a giant tour bus, beside which Natalie Merchant herself played an impromptu game of softball with some road-crew dudes. The earthy girls gasped, and we all paused 20 feet away, watching as if these were penguins in their natural environment — except I myself didn’t give much of a shit about penguins other than that my sister decorated her room in penguin posters and drew penguins all over her Trapper Keeper, and now I instead of she bore witness to the best most intimate penguin scene ever.
Cellphones wouldn’t be invented for decades, or else my sister would have footage of Natalie Merchant playing softball. Instead, my blood beat faster on behalf of my sister. And I wondered if I should even tell her about seeing this.
After getting an eye full of my sister’s hero, we all continued walking around the venue, waiting for the actual show to start. With our tickets finally torn, we headed in to our seats, but first I veered off to use the men’s room. On the way into the loo, I spotted her, using the pay phone between the men’s and ladies’ rooms, Natalie Merchant again! Tis wild to think that, before cell phones, not even the star could just stay on her tour bus and call someone, but rather, was forced to make herself vulnerable to people like me.
“Oh hi Miss Merchant!” I blurted.
Caught off guard, she covered the receiver, “Hello,” then went back to her conversation.
My sister would never forgive me. I breezed past Merchant, heart pounding.
While emptying myself into the urinal, I fantasized that I would walk back out and tell her my sister’s sad story. I’d tell Merchant, very quickly, how my sister had filled my life with 10,000 Maniacs, but now wasn’t allowed to come see the concert. Maybe, I hoped, Natalie Merchant would maybe call my sister on the payphone and say a quick hello, maybe.
I walked back out to find Natalie Merchant gone. I picked up the pay phone receiver that she had just held against her warm ear and earthy cheek, and called my sister. “Holy shit dude! I just watched Natalie Merchant play softball!”
The concert was good. I even cried, thinking of my little sister missing it, but also because I found 10,000 Maniacs’ overly-sincere music meant more to me than I realized. It did genuinely hurt to see them when my sister could not. Still feels like one of my life’s greater injustices.
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