Two things occurred to me as I watched Wilco perform at the Tower Theater outside of Philly last Saturday: one, Jeff Tweedy is really old. And two, I hate PDA.
A friend from home couldn’t make it to the show, so I shared four seats with just two of my friends who, unbeknownst to me, were in the preliminary stages of courtship. Though I am not particularly close with either of them, they are both rather nice people towards whom I harbor no ill-will. Previously unaware of how deep my cynicism runs, there is no way they could have known that the prospect of holding hands with someone for more than five minutes invites my gag reflex. When I was younger, it seemed like my fierce aversion to affection might dissipate as more of my friends shacked up, but the opposite has proved true. If anything, the years have contributed not only to my disgust at public displays of affection, but to an eyebrow-furrowed confusion that I have toward couples in general.
Late last summer I attended a Modest Mouse concert at the McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg, a feeding ground for sweaty twenty-something B-‘n’-T hipsters. General admission rock shows are among the dirtiest and most fun activities in which one can partake in late August; as the night cools and the hipsters smoke more pot and the band gets more fucked up and the music gets louder, one can’t help thinking, “Isaac Brock playing the guitar with his face totally rocks.” Unless, that is, one is five feet tall and stuck behind a towering teenage girl and boy wrapped in a we-are-so-like-totally-intimate-forever embrace.
The girl’s t-shirt was rolled up to her chest, the boy’s was non-existent, and both their bare backs were slick with the sweat of their love pangs. Even as they thrashed around to Modest Mouse’s wordy screech, not once did they break their lock. Their rhythms collided, her head butted into his chin, and he stepped on her feet (and mine). Still, his arms remained wrapped around either her neck or waist for the entirety of the show. The most fundamental fun factor attendant upon seeing a rock concert (besides substance abuse) is dancing. By dancing I hardly mean the stifled, awkward, try-to-stay-in-rhythm-and-fail up and down bop of the couple in front of me at Modest Mouse. By dancing I mean balls out, legs kicking, shoulders twitching, moving to whatever rhythm you (and Isaac Brock) decide. When you have to account for someone else’s awkward hovering or disjointed thrusting, it is simply not the same experience.
While trying to catch glimpses of Wilco between the shoulders of the couple in front of me on Saturday, I had a new thought about what makes me uncomfortable about PDA at concerts. “But if I could, you know I would / Just hold your hand and you’d understand / I’m the man who loves you,” Tweedy sang between Nels Cline’s cheerful chords. Oh, right. Love. You’re getting trapped in a swaying chokehold with your new boyfriend, just beginning to fall into a half on-beat rhythm, and you’re feeling cute because both of you are mouthing the words to what turns out to be your mutually favorite song. And then the band starts crooning about your eternal love—except, uh oh, you’re not in eternal love. When that moment comes, the only thing worse than being a member of this couple is being me, having to watch this couple.
Or what if you do actually like, perhaps even love, your date to the concert? Is there anything more contrived than being with someone you care deeply for, your eyes flooded with stage light, shifting weight from foot to foot, singing out of tune into their ear, “Our love, our love is all of God’s money”? Even if you don’t feel uncomfortable, I feel uncomfortable for you. To really feel the full force of my fury against PDA, I imagine what it would be like to be part of such an affectionate relationship. And in this case nothing would more effectively cheapen my hypothetical love than lyrics written by a forty-one year-old rock star from Illinois (he’s so old!).
Looking back on the intimate moments I shared with Wilco, the best parts of my experience happened when Tweedy was really on with Cline, the audience was really gibing, and one member of the couple in front of me was in the bathroom or getting beer. Anxiety free, I could finally see the fucking band.