B y M a r i W a d s w o r t h
WHEN MY MOM said she wanted to see Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl to celebrate the passage into her 48th year, it seemed only natural that I would be the one to take her there. After all, our lives together have been measured, largely, by the passing of musical eras. Some of my earliest shared memories with her stem from hot college nights (hers) in Tucson, riding down the road in her sister's VW bus swaying back and forth to the Bay City Rollers' S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y NIGHT!
From that age of innocence she transcended into a Mai Tai, marijuana haze of poolside parties in Marina del Rey, California, which I remember as the vintage disco years, á la Bee Gees and Donna Summer. From there we plummeted into a darker, unknown psychedelia, crashing head-long into Pink Floyd's The Wall, and techno-pop Kraftwerk. She had friends with names like Charlotte and Dee Dee. To this day I have never met another Charlotte or Dee Dee. People with names like that, with their convertible Bugs, blue eye shadow and roller skates, were swallowed up by the '70s--early-'80s at the latest--never to be heard from again.
But not Kathie. She became Kathryn, the Vice President of Something at Century Southwest Corporation. She wore a red jersey-style T-shirt with iron-on letters that read "My Consciousness Has Been Razed." In short, the hippie turned yuppie, leaving her children to search for their identities somewhere in between.
We're not exactly opposites, my mother and I. But with every ubiquitous fad of the '80s, in which she boldly marched at the forefront of the parade in deglo colors, I retreated further from her world. During a bleak decade of J. Geils Band, Huey Lewis and the News and Michael Jackson, I sulked behind my black leather jacket and spiked hair, seeking solace in the icons of anti-establishment rock--The Smiths, The Ramones, the Cure and the U2 that delivered Boy and Under a Blood Red Sky. Inwardly, I longed for the early days in Tucson, spinning madly around the living room to The Beatles, The Byrds and my personal favorite at the tender age of five--Johnny Cash.
I recall all of this as we're getting ready for tonight's concert. I think how far we've come in understanding each other. Metaphorically and otherwise, I moved back to Tucson. She settled in Orange County (where yuppies swim downstream to spawn). What all of this has to do with Tom Petty is uncertain, except to say that on this one point we agree: that there is a timelessness to good ol' rock and roll that is truly transcendent. For one night only, differences aside, we will sing the same tune.
But we're not there yet. In fact, we're running late, despite my admonitions. I watch in horror as she packs and repacks her purse and fills a backpack with an emergency supply of food, drinks, warm clothing and pillow. "It's an outdoor amphitheater, Mom, not a camping trip," I needle her. She smiles serenely, ignoring my smart aleck remarks.
Soon I will rue my hasty commentary on timeliness as she weaves her cherry red '86 Supra through heavy traffic, amidst smoking semis and flashing brakelights, like the high-performance vehicle it isn't. "What's the matter dear?" she inquires sweetly as I involuntarily flinch and floor imaginary brake pedals. We arrive--needless to say--in record time. We pay $15 to park in a lot a quarter mile from the Bowl. That's the going rate. Later I will joke with our fellow concert-goers about how we had to scalp our tickets to pay for parking. But actually, 15 bucks is pocket change compared to the $100 each we paid for the tickets.
Going anywhere in Los Angeles is a show, but going to a happening--a sold-out concert, a members-only type club--where there's an "in" crowd is always eye candy. Few people appreciate that the true Hollywood experience is not that you might see a celebrity somewhere, but that everyone looks like some celebrity. I saw four Jerry Garcias, two Rick Ocaseks and, of course, a handful of Tom Pettys just waiting in line for the bathroom. My favorite, however, would come later in the evening when I would discover Hunter S. Thompson sitting in front of us, stoically chain smoking joints and drinking alternately (from a silver goblet) his carafe of red wine and Evian bottle filled with Vodka and OJ.
The lights go down, leaving only the glow of the city below and the nearly full moon behind us to light our way. A band unassumingly takes the stage and leads into 1989's "Love Is a Long Road" and I think it's openers Taj Mahal doing a cover until I hear that unmistakable nasally drawl, like a Bob Dylan who can actually sing. This is it. The stage is bathed in blue light, and the swarm below, equally surprised, leaps and hollers and settles into the business of dancing and singing along on every chorus of every song, a response that will sweep the entire bowl like an infectious laugh.
It's not that this is the rockingest show that either of us has ever been to. It's very much a greatest hits kind of experience, with few deviations from the studio-set pattern. With the exception of Mike Campbell's psychedelic surf rock solo, a cover of the Byrds' "It Won't Be Wrong" and an off-beat version of "The Waiting" that sounds like an Irish jig, I'm seldom surprised. The acoustic numbers wrap around the audience like a warm blanket, and Petty's voice takes on a hushed quality, like he's whispering in your ear. Tucked in by towering sycamores and a starry sky, Benmont Tench leads into "Learning to Fly" with a grand piano solo, joined by Petty on acoustic guitar as he croons "Coming down...is the hardest thing." Mom nudges me, eyes glassy, and says "This is my all-time favorite." Though she has said this of at least three previous songs, this time I believe her.
All rockers, no matter how young they appear, eventually grow up. Looking at Kathryn there beside me, the healthiest and happiest I've ever seen her, I'm glad we all made it. She belongs among the wildflowers--"You belong somewhere you feel free."
Cutline: American girls: Mom and me hang with Tom in the Hollywood Hills.
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