Aren’t you excited?

Museums aren’t really my thing. When V asks if I want to go to Art After Five with her on Friday, I say okay because I haven’t seen V in awhile and I want to spend some time with her. Lots of people find art museums to be calming, but for some reason walking around the Philadelphia Museum of Art makes me feel listless and lost.

V was my English professor at Penn State for three semesters. She taught me how to write better, to think critically (something I now forget how to do), and to remind myself that I am beautiful and smart from time to time. I’ve cried to her about everything from a C+ paper to my anxiety around turning twenty. Since she left State College to open up her own business in Philadelphia, we’ve become great friends and I respect her immensely. V is the same age as my mother.

“Wanna smoke some pot?” V says before we get into a cab.

“Right now?”

I am reminded of that C+ paper, which I received shortly after telling my English 458 class a silly story about being high as balls at the Band of Horses show at the State Theatre my sophomore year. I sat down in my balcony seat next to my super cute graduate student French teacher, whom I had exchanged mixes with when I was a freshman. With monsieur Nate on my left and Zack on my right, I had bugged out and told him how stoned I was. Nate nodded. “This show is gonna be really great for you.” A few weeks later, V asked me if I had been high when I wrote my paper. I was wildly embarrassed.

I did not smoke much after that.

We climb the stairs to the art museum two at a time, out of breath by the time we reach the top. I look behind me and sigh. Philadelphia, you are so beautiful. V leads me to a dark corner by the entrance and pulls out a little baggie and one-hitter. “Here, Allie, your fine motor skills are probably better than mine.” She has matches, no lighter. We hear a door slam and jump, as if we’re sixteen years old, trying to get stoned before Homecoming without our parents knowing. Note: I never smoked pot in high school, not once. I was too proud of my good girl status, too scared to lose the trust of my parents.

image
I giggle. I am not scared. We are 25 and 55. We are adults.

V and I enter the museum. Inside, the sound of Wayna, an Ethiopian Grammy-nominated singer wafts through the hallways. I grab $8 glasses of cheap-ass wine from the bartender and smile big when he pours to the top. V and I grab seats on the steps and look around. I’m not sure it can get more bougie than this.

“Who would have thought we’d be hanging out five years after you came crying to me about your C+ paper?” V asks me. “Who would have thought we’d be at the art museum on a Friday night, enjoying live music and wine and taking it all in?” She pauses. “I think I’m a little high. This conversation feels a little more edgy than it would be normally.”

Who would have thought.

Wayna ends her set and a DJ spinning exclusively world music takes over. An older couple starts doing the fox trot, or something, while everyone else awkwardly watches. V’s friend M comes by and they chat for awhile alone. M is fifty, with dyed red hair, a heavy South Philly accent and a six-pack I can see through her slinky going-out top. She’s going through a divorce, V tells me later.

When I come back with two more glasses of winemuseum, the makeshift dance floor at the bottom of the steps has filled up. I drop all my shit in a corner and make my way to join in. I am surrounded by people of every age. Little girls dressed to the nines, big black dudes with dreads and head wraps, elderly couples letting it all hang out. The DJ is bopping his head. Apparently world music with a beat is a thing.

V and I dance together, bumping hips and getting groovy. V tries to get some of the single men to dance with her, just for funzies, just because she can. My boots slip and slide gracefully on the cool marble floor; I twist and shout, I moonwalk, I spin myself in circles. The atmosphere has shifted from bougie to bananas. I am dancing unlike I have ever danced at a club or a party or even in my own living room.

“Hey, baby,” V says, shaking her body around me in every direction. “This is what fifty looks like! Aren’t you excited?”

You, me and the Shins

The girl behind me in the second row had been crying nearly the entire set. The show was almost over, and as James Mercer sang the opening line to “New Slang,” I took a look over my shoulder. High-waisted jean shorts, a blonde top knot with a streak of purple at the base of her neck. Wing-tipped eyeliner, which was starting to glisten at the edges, and teeth that looked like the braces just came off. She couldn’t have been older than sixteen.

I was sixteen the first time I heard The Shins. Lloyd Cargo, that motherfucker, he put “Young Pilgrims” on the ever-famous “California Mix.” When my father saw the jewel case casually strewn on the kitchen table, he picked up and squinted. “With love? Is that what that says?”

Image

Later that year, I snuck into Garden State by buying a ticket for Open Water (which, it turns out, was also rated R) and I was convinced I was falling in love for the first time. When he kissed me I felt fireworks, and even though he was only the second boy to have his tongue in my mouth, I was sure it was the real thing. He burned me the Garden State soundtrack in addition to both Shins albums onto CDs that played in my 5-Disc changer on heavy rotation. He left for college a few weeks later and I started my junior year of high school in the deepest yet most delicious depression I had ever experienced. The first few notes of “Caring is Creepy” sent my face into a histrionic place of heartbreak and I reveled in the pain. To this day I have never shed so many tears over a record.

Half a year later I was “celebrating my three-month anniversary” (wasn’t high school funny?) with my boyfriend, who also gave me these so-called “fireworks.” We had tickets to see The Shins at the Electric Factory. It was April 27, 2005, and I was convinced I was going to lose it (control of my teenage emotions- not my virginity, come on now). “Pink Bullets” (acoustic) rocked my world and I bought this t-shirt, which had a bleeding heart over my own.

ImageThe first time I got drunk it was that coming August, and I was wearing that t-shirt (at Lloyd Cargo’s house- full circle, right?) I know it sounds crazy, but the beers I drank during a game of Kings completely destroyed that shirt. The fabric looked bleached in all these weird places and I eventually ended up cutting out the Shins design and sewing it onto super worn-in and perfectly fitting undershirt I found in a drawer at my great aunt and uncle’s.

A year later I left for college. A few weeks after I was dropped off at Penn State, my brother Michael texted me. “Mom cries every time she listens to that Shins song you love.” I had left some of my CDs in the car. “Kissing the Lipless” was the opening track on “Chutes Too Narrow,” and it was bringing my mother emotional turmoil about me growing up and getting older. If you only knew, ma. If you only knew.

I didn’t listen to the Shins very much after that. “Wincing the Night Away” came out my freshman year, and I thought it totally sucked. I hated that the Shins changed after I was the one who went away to college and wasn’t changing at all (at least, I didn’t think I was changing- wasn’t college funny?) My mom still listened to CDs I had left behind in the family Expedition, but I barely touched my MP3s at school.

At the Tower Theater last Thursday night, I was front row and center thanks to my friend Caroline. I had been listening to the Shins latest release, “Port of Morrow,” after being offered a ticket to the concert, and I was enjoying it very much. Most of the concert was spent sitting down, as there’s really no reason to stand up when you’re eye-to-eye with the band. But when “Kissing the Lipless” started booming from the speakers that were right in front of my face, I jumped up and started singing. Though I know the song is really about sex and breakups, I like to think of it as a homecoming song. “Called to see/if you’re back…” When it came to a close, James Mercer looked at me, and then the keyboardist. “That was a good one, that was a good one,” he said quietly. I had been smiling the entire set. A band that used to bring me to tears at the drop of a hat brought me only a look of sheer joy that night. As the lights came up after “One by One All Day” and people started collecting their things to leave, Caroline grabbed the setlist and I looked behind me once more.

“I have to know,” I asked the long-haired girl standing next to the blubbering top knot. “How old are you guys?”

“I’m 22,” she said, “but this concert is my sister’s 15th birthday present.”

“Perfect,” I said, nodding. “That’s perfect.”

Monday Monday Monday

In August, Penn State Alumni magazine “The Penn Stater” was calling for submissions about concert memories in University Park. I had a lot to choose from. I saw Death Cab for Cutie at the BJC in August 2006, right before I starting going to school there. My dad came all the way up from the Philly suburbs to see Guster with me in the fall of 2007. Band of Horses played at the State Theatre, where I had a really awkward encounter with my super cute French teacher when I was a little bit too inebriated (I got embarrassed and told him the reason I was acting so weird). I saw Third Eye Blind at the Theatre, and Illinois, too. I danced onstage with Jens Lekman at Chronic Town, the hookah lounge on West College, and played the tambourine at Cafe 210 with local favorites The Kalob Griffin Band. Wednesday nights junior year were dedicated to blue grass and the all-inclusive crush on singer Natalie Berrena (she went from blonde to brunette to red and rocked it all). There were house party shows that I wish I could revisit, like Menya at the co-op and Endless Mike and the Beagle Club at the guys’ apartment on Hamilton.

(You can see the top of my head in this whole video.)

Ultimately, I chose to write about Raise Up Roof Beams, which was a band I fell in love with during the first few months of my freshman year. This is what I sent to the Penn Stater:

My first two years at Penn State I was in a club called SOMA (Students Organizing the Multiple Arts). It was the first club after high school that I joined and it made me feel so connected. I loved the responsibility of attending meetings, walking north on Shortlidge to the Thomas building after dinner in Simmons every other Wednesday. I loved meeting other kids who shared a deep love of independent music. Over the course of my college career, I saw many shows put on by SOMA and even organized one myself (The Good Life at The Hub, October 2007). However, the first SOMA show I ever went to was one where I worked the door, handing out fliers to the attendees who gathered on couches in Waring Commons. The opening band, a group of kids from Harrisburg, was called Raise Up Roof Beams, and I remember being mesmerized by the door, listening intently to the lyrics, the accordion, the harmonica, the guitar and the huge bass played by a small blonde girl. After their set, I borrowed $8 from one of my new friends to buy their CD (all I had was Lion Cash). Raise Up Roof Beams’ first record, “Fingers and Photons,” will forever remind me of walking across campus in the fall of my freshman year. I booked Raise Up Roof Beams to play another show at Dragon Chasers downtown in the Spring, which was when I met the members of the band. Five years later in Manayunk, Phliadelphia, I ran into the bass-playing blonde at a bar. I was happy to hear that the band is currently working on their third full-length album.

(This video is five years old, but that’s ok.)

I never heard back from the Penn Stater. The cover of the November issue was originally slated to feature “Concert Memories,” but after Sandusky etc. they put out “Our Darkest Days,” which makes sense. But where did the thousands of submissions go, and will the magazine ever use them? I was really hoping to be published– if only to promote the band. Something inside of me has pushed to make Raise Up Roof Beams “happen” for years. Summer 2007, Sara and I drove an hour and a half to see them play with Koji on the Roof inside a rec hall in Camp Hill. I’m not sure if I saw them play after that– until this past Friday.

Roof Beams opened at The Fire, with only three original members (the others aren’t performing with them right now, but they are recording remotely to contribute to their third album) but with a gorgeously familiar sound. I was looking forward to seeing Nathan (lead singer/guitarist) who is now married and has a baby, which is a total mind blow. Zack said I seemed nervous when I was talking to him. I felt like I was nineteen, starstruck by a local band who hit my heart in just the right way.

After their set, I went to the bar for another beer and made eye contact with someone who looked so familiar. “Do I know you?” I asked. “I’m not sure, but you look familiar as well,” he replied. His name was Chad, his girlfriend was Lisa, and they said they had been to a SOMA meeting or two back in the day. “I fell in love with Roof Beams when they played in Waring Commons when I was a freshman,” I told him, “fall of 2006.” “You’re kidding,” he said smiling, “me too.”