“You’re going to what?” asked Flora, her face a picture of confusion.
“Wait,” said Kate, all anxiety. “How far away is Cincinnati?”
I had just gotten done telling the girls that on Friday morning, they were going to have to remember the treats they needed for their respective activity days. They were going to have to help their dad get up and get them out the door. I informed Michael that his Aunt Irene was picking him up from daycare on Thursday.
I said again, “I’m going to go out of town for the night. I’m driving to Cincinnati to see a show.”
It was something I hadn’t done since becoming a mom, traveling on a weeknight. It’s something I hadn’t done since college, probably. I had gone to Cleveland for a couple of shows — Lollapalooza when Jane’s Addiction was at the helm, and Erasure. My first solo concert had been Depeche Mode when I was still living in Erie.
But until now, I hadn’t purchased a ticket to an out-of-town concert that was taking place on a Thursday night, figuring out the logistics for my children, and informing my husband once every detail was covered.
So their confusion was understandable.
But when I heard that Greg Dulli, frontman for Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers, was embarking on a solo tour, I didn’t hesitate to buy a ticket in October for a show on March 17. I almost bought a ticket to the Chicago show, too, but between finances and logistics, I decided that would be pushing it.
This is what Greg Dulli will do to you.
I meticulously planned my children’s life the week of the March 17th show. I didn’t want to miss any detail. I had requested PTO in February, so that was covered. The Flex had new tires. A fellow Pittsburgh-based Dulli fan had contacted me via Facebook, and so I had a traveling companion and someone to split the cost of a hotel with.
Michael had a ride home from daycare; the babysitter was booked; reminders for the girls were left. Dan was on board, even if a bit reluctantly. He was dealing with a lot; his friend has succumbed to her cancer that Monday, and his father was in and out of the hospital with his own cancer. But Dan didn’t breathe a word about me not making the trip; Kate was more worried.
“I don’t think you should go,” she said baldly. “I don’t like it.”
How to explain it to children? How to explain it to anyone who wasn’t a Dulli fan?
It was something I needed to do for me. It was something I needed like air and writing — something mine, something I didn’t share with my husband or my children, with whom I shared just about everything.
So I went.
Cincinnati was an easy drive. My traveling companion was good company — totally easy going, chatty but not overly so, undemanding. She told me about other Afghan Whigs shows she had traveled to, usually solo, usually driving back to Pittsburgh afterward. She was glad she didn’t need to do that on this trip.
We met a group of fans at a restaurant across from the venue. All of us headed into the show together, stood as a group at the front of the stage, saved spots when someone needed a drink or a bathroom break.
We cheered for spoken word artist Derrick Brown. Screamed for Dulli and for the Afghan Whigs when most of them took the stage for the second encore. AW had been born in the Queen City, and John Curley, bassist for the band, still lived there with his family. Heck, Dulli’s mom still lived in Cincinnati; she was at the show. Curley was at the show as well; he had come to say hi to some of the group I was with beforehand.
Yes, John Curley came up to the group I was standing with, greeted a number of them by name, talked about leaving his daughters home for the evening (they are teenagers, brave, brave man).
And this is the thing that is hard to capture about this experience. Yes, something about Greg Dulli is magnetic, is compelling. It goes beyond the old cliche of being a rock star that women want to fuck and men want to be. Far beyond.
Dulli captures a darkness in his music that many of us have dwelled in. The addictive appeal of the bad relationship, the desire to be in pain and to cause pain, and the plain old nature of addiction, the inability to break free. I have often wondered at how many men are Dulli fans, but then again, we’ve all been there haven’t we? With the wrong person, hopelessly in thrall to their spells or to our own fears of loneliness.
This is the appeal of Greg Dulli, this and the pure virile swagger of the man, undiminished — nay, nearly enhanced — by the years. This plus the sheer normalcy and sweetness in the rest of the band. Of Dave Rosser and Jorge Sierra coming out to chat after the show, taking pictures with and offering beers to those of us still hanging out. Greg is there too, signing autographs, and making Derrick Brown take pictures of him with the fans standing in line for a moment to chat.
Somehow we want to communicate to him that he touches us, that he has reached us. He takes it all in stride, giving each person his attention, his total focus for a minute or two.
And we are refreshed, our faith is renewed. We turn away, alive again.
Some fans travel on, back to their home bases, to their normal lives; some fans, more than a few, go onto the next show, and the next one after that.
Me and my travel buddy — we headed back to Pittsburgh the next day. I had a phone interview at 3 pm, and then many more child-related things to tend to. My father-in-law was back in the hospital; my husband needed me.
And I was there. I was there because for a few hours I was able to be away.
To have one thing that was all mine. Just for me.