"If this show is ‘All Ages’, where’s my damn senior discount?" - Kate Tyler Wall on being 53, female, and punk.
(Andy’s note: I’m really excited to post this, as I fully intend to live to a ripe old age, without sacrificing the things I love. Thanks again, Kate!)
(Photo by Roland J. Wall)
I have a ticket for the Flatliners/DayTrader/Holy Mess show at The Fire in Philadelphia in two weeks, and my husband is not happy about me going there alone. I was there once before, for the Evil Weevil Records showcase. I took a cab from his office, and then he picked me up after the show. He’s concerned about my safety in that part of town. This comes up a lot. He’s not trying to set limits or order me around. He’s just worried.
I’m a 53-year-old woman who loves to go to punk shows. So far, I’m often in a category by myself. The audience at a lot of shows is 85% male, period, with most of the females on the arm of a guy or in BFF duos, and certainly 20 or 30 years younger than I am. There are people my age at some old-school or rockabilly-influenced bands, like Social Distortion, but they’re guys, or couples, or with their kids. I’m almost always alone.
The younger fans I see at shows are tied into the scene. They know where the house shows are, know where to park in a dodgy neighborhood. They may not have someone at home, who’s waiting up at 2:00 a.m. on a work night, fretting about whether their car has been vandalized, or they’ve gotten hurt in the pit, or if they’ll be able to stay awake making the two-hour drive alone from Asbury Park. They might have to deal with getting hit on, but not with getting picked on, by the lead singer of their favorite local band.
I’m a born-again punk. Several years ago, around the time I realized I hated my former job and other key parts of my life, I found that the old-school punk that had been background music in my youth was now saving my soul. From there, I moved on to the current scene. To paraphrase every punk who ever lived, the music sounds like I feel. When I did find a better job, it was only part time, and right when the economy went to Hell. Suddenly I had time on my hands to seek out and listen to bands, from the Class of 1977 on up through whatever went on Bandcamp last week. Slowly, after years of not going to any kinds of shows, I began venturing out again. Live music of all kinds has become my life’s blood. Only I discovered that even my youngest friends were not willing to accompany me to a punk show, although I go along with them to catch indie acts, singer-songwriters, Danish metal bands, whatever. I was on my own.
I’ve missed as many bands as I’ve seen, mostly because of venue locations. As I’ve tried to explain to my husband, The Fire is actually pretty unremarkable compared with warehouse or basement shows. I missed the glory days of the legendary Ox in Philly, including a show by three of my favorite bands shortly before it got shut down, because I just couldn’t pull the trigger to go to that neighborhood alone. I don’t know anyone to give me the deets on some of the semi-secret performance spaces around town, and I’m not sure of how I’d be received if I went. Mostly, I’m invisible to the bros. I just get my beer at the bar and get lost in the music, and I’m usually left alone. That’s good and bad. Bad only because I’d like to talk to more people, make some friends to go to shows with. I’m shy by nature, and most people are there with their friends. Still, I didn’t fully appreciate how good it was not to be noticed until my previous trip to The Fire. I was there for six hours, checking out some bands I hadn’t heard of and some that I had listened to and wanted to see live. I was hanging on to see my favorite locals, whom I’d been trying to catch for several months and were one of the last bands scheduled. Late in the evening I found a place up front during Restorations’ set, and since I’m used to holding down my piece of real estate at big commercial barns like the Electric Factory (where I go five to seven hours without a drink or bathroom break, just so I get a good spot and don’t lose it), I stayed there for my favorites, who were up next. I wasn’t front and center, just off on one side. The moment my faves hit the stage, the lead singer pointed me out and started a running commentary about my age, claiming I was his mother. At first it seemed to be meant as fun and funny, and I took it as such. If you’re going to be the Betty White of orgcore, you have to roll with it.
But it went on too long and started to seem a little mean-spirited. I taunted them about it a bit on Twitter afterward and eventually got an apology of sorts that claimed they commended, celebrated, and congratulated my status. This was good to hear, but since the tweet also included the words “elderly” and “old”, it lost some of its intended impact. I don’t think of 53 as “elderly”. I have more physical strength and stamina now than I did when I was 30. I don’t dress like a teenager or as someone’s mom. The band underestimated my actual age by a few years while they made fun of me. I don’t bring earplugs to shows like a friend who is only 32, or bitch to everyone around me about how I’m too old to stay up late anymore like the guys I hear at every show who are in, uh, their late 20s. I just want to enjoy the music, dammit.
I do like to be up front, because there’s no point, for me, in going to see live music if I have to stand miles away looking at the back of some guy’s head. I avoid the pit (after breaking a toe at a Gaslight Anthem show last summer) unless I can be right by the stage. I’ll get slightly crushed and bruised and splashed with beer up there, but that’s OK. (My friends are dismayed when I show them YouTube videos the day after a show where I can be glimpsed amidst the mayhem. And I hesitated writing about even being near the pit, because when you’re older you actually think of things like “Will revealing this make me lose my health insurance?”) At small shows it’s really not a problem. At larger places, with more mainstream bands, it’s suicide to be on the floor unless you’re in the front row. Security guys at the big joints tend to be protective of me when I’m riding the rail. If I can’t get that spot, I’m first row up in the balcony, where I can see and not be kicked in the head by drunken crowd surfers. So that’s a concession I do make sometimes, but there are plenty of people younger than me, including guys, who do the same thing for the same reasons.
I’ve had the opportunity to meet a number of performers, many of whom (Frank Turner, Chuck Ragan, and Dave Hause come to mind) are incredibly nice to all their fans and don’t seem to care about what age they happen to be.
And I admit to playing the age card occasionally. Two weeks ago I made sure every security guy, roadie, and fellow front-row hanger knew about it so I could guilt my way into getting a Social D set list, without slipping anybody a ten-spot or flashing tits like the people who got the other ones. Security at the Factory doesn’t even bother patting me down anymore. If someone asks why I’m alone, I make jokes about being stood up by my date—Iggy Pop.
But I do regret the frustration of not feeling free to go to some shows alone, and having to worry about where to stand. There is a part of aging you can’t take back. I know the dumb things I did when I was younger, the strange parts of town I went late at night, the times I walked home alone in the wee hours of the morning. I just can’t go back to that, because many years of experience, things that happened to me or to people I know, or things that almost happened, left an indelible impression. Age does mean learning a few lessons, and while I think it’s vital not to shut yourself off to new experiences and learning new things, it’s stupid to try to unlearn things about your personal safety. You learned them for a reason.
So, in short, I’d like to find somebody, of any age, to go to shows with or even just meet me there so I don’t have to walk to my car alone or worry my husband to death. Somebody who knows safe places to park, somebody who will vouch for me at a basement show, somebody to help me feel both less invisible and less conspicuous. Preferably before that Off With Their Heads show at The Barbary in August.
Kate Tyler Wall is an editor and writer from Delaware who can still hear that rebel yell just as loud as it was in 1983, and watch Tom Gabel sing it, from the front row. Based in Philadelphia, she roams the eastern seaboard in search of three chords and the truth, and would be happy to bake cookies for any band that will put her on the guest list, or anybody who will walk her to the car after a show. She posts on Twitter as @KateBegins2Rock.
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