Not a member? Sign up now
True Stories: Backstage Pass
I thought I was a fan; I didn't realize I was supposed to be a groupie.
by Rachel Friedman
"He's looking at us!" Becca shouted over the music.
"Who?" I mouthed.
"You're crazy!" I screamed into her ear, my lips close to the four purple studs crawling up her left lobe. I took a deep drag of my Camel cigarette. Closed my eyes. Exhaled. I loved this band. I couldn't believe I was only two rows from the stage, close enough to see the lead guitarist's pointy incisors when he opened his mouth to sing.
When the show ended, a boxy security guard approached us. "You girls want to go backstage?"
"I told you," Becca said. We were led to an unmarked door. Becca marched boldly inside; I trailed behind her like a stray. Soon the band arrived: the lead singer, in jeans and a black t-shirt; the baby-faced drummer. The bassist, all voluminous hair and under-eye circles, headed straight for us.
"Hey." He introduced himself, like we were three ordinary people meeting at some lame high-school party. "Where are you ladies from?"
"Syracuse," we said in unison.
"Cool, cool." He popped the top off a beer, took a deep swig. I had so many questions: about his creative process, how they decide on set lists and who takes a solo when. I was a classical violist with secret fantasies of being in a band. But the bassist's name was being called.
"Gotta go," he said, looking disappointed. "Here." He took my hand, scrawled an address with a black marker. "If you guys ever need tickets to a show, just say the word."
"Cool," we said. And then he was gone.
Two months later, the band announced a nearby show. I composed several drafts to the bassist on lined notebook paper — my only other option was leftover monogrammed Bat Mitzvah stationary, which obviously wasn't going to work — finally settling on three brief sentences of pleasantries and then straight to the point. Did he possibly have two extra tickets to the show?
The bassist wrote back, but not until after I'd missed the show. He sent a postcard, white with a psychedelic blue balloon floating up into space. He apologized for not getting me tickets in time. He asked me to write again ("It's nice to get letters"). I wanted to show off the note to all my friends, but I knew keeping it a secret made me even more special.
The postcards kept coming for more than a year, one every month or two. I spaced out my responses, trying to play it cool, but I could only force myself to wait a few days before responding. We discussed what we were reading, what we were listening to, where we'd traveled and where we wanted to go. I went to three of the band's shows, but didn't ask for tickets or tell the bassist I'd be there. I was more than some fan looking for free tickets. The bassist thought I was interesting. We were friends. I wanted more than anything to get out of my small town and into a world like his, with music and philosophy and no boys holding the beer funnel up for me as I knelt on the damp ground.
A few weeks before my seventeenth birthday, the band was scheduled to play a weekend show in a field near my town. It would be three days of drinking and smoking in the blazing August heat. It was the summer before senior year, when life would become an endless series of college applications and minor panic attacks. I didn't ask the bassist for tickets but I wrote and told him I'd be there. I wished him good luck. He responded with a promise of four backstage passes. The three guys I was going to the concert with couldn't believe our luck.
We went directly to the VIP area after claiming a camp site. We were so close to the stage it sounded like we were on it. I lay back in the grass, head in one of my friends' laps, eyes closed, letting the sun purify me. I was content, a feeling I'd found difficult to access lately, with my parents' recent divorce, not to mention academic and social pressures. I didn't notice someone blocking the sun until Brian nudged my shoulder, at which point I found myself blinking up at the bassist.