Prior to Conor Oberst's lanky leap over the fence of underground hipness and onto magazine covers and the Billboard Top 10, the only occasion that anybody paired the words "bright" and "eyes" was with their bruised leg over a speaker at a karaoke night, teasing broken ends of hair to the tune of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" ("Turn around, bright eyes").
And maybe that's why I thought I liked Bright Eyes: some Pavlovian response to broken-English, nostalgic, Jim Steinman crude. Or maybe I'm a latent member of the exact impressionable demographic that I swore I would never be, lapping up Next Big Things for breakfast and clinging to the ratty jeans of youth with all of the 30-something autopilot aplomb of a depressed real estate agent.
I am not going to sell this house today.
Not that anybody here could buy it, anyway. I've co-opted radio star Dave Plotkin for this particular grudge-match with sellout hipsterism, hoping to utilize his recent loony DJ cred as a means of obscuring the inappropriateness of my own presence. Bright Eyes is for the kids, after all. And, here at the House of Blues on Saturday night, the kids especially the dirty kids rule.
"Hey, check out the Unabomber over there," surveys Dave.
"A bomb might be nice," I clench, to myself.
The fact is, everybody here looks a little bit like a teenage terrorist, all dressed down in grey membership hoodies with slouched postures to match. Drawn expressions slide down faces, as if they were intended for a fight with Mom that happened so 10 minutes ago, and the combined effect of the shuffling feet of suburban indifference is akin to that of a drill bit to the temple. In short, this is back-of-the-class, behind-the-mall, cliquish misery. Or, more succinctly, Bright Eyes waiting to happen.
"What are you doing here?" my waitress, Jamie, does more than her job. "You're usually at more, um, upbeat shows."
"I … don't … know," my jaw drops rhythmically. The fact that Jamie and I were in seventh grade together is not lost here nor was it when it was revealed to me by her a few years ago while I was high on the weed with Herbie Hancock and just seeing her brings back countless memories of gymnasium walls on my back at Sadie Hawkins dances. I'm totally writing for the school paper about tying ribbons around drug problems or something, and plotting my future as a future member of the Thompson Twins. Hold me … now.
"You feeling OK?" quizzes Dave, probably noticing the combined vertigo of a smoking wayback machine and the general nausea implied by most of my facial expressions. You see, two years ago, Dave and I went to see Bright Eyes together under the less-than-favorable circumstances of a personal Colombian flu that saw me crumpled on the couch for five days, so his wariness and worry isn't wholly unjustified. He did, after all, have to cart my drug-sick soul back to its bottle in the middle of one of the most hotly anticipated breakout shows of that particular 10 minutes. And I feel bad. But not that bad. Not yet, anyway.
"I'll be fine," I shuffle through my imaginary backpack for a reason to be here. "Fine, I swear."
But something about the sweat of dirty teenagers wafting up to the loge from a floor cluttered with shoulder-to-shoulder misery is making my stomach bleed a little, I have to admit, and I could be feeling a little better. There's not even enough room in here to make an ass of myself. And that's all I'm good at.
For the next hour or so, I sway in the breeze of indie detachment, allowing show-openers Neva Dinova and Jesse Sykes to disgust and bore me, respectively, while nothing and I mean nothing happens. So much nothing, in fact, that the pubescent dregs have taken to sitting down all throughout the House of Blues, lining walls and stairways like the carcasses of hipsters past, some tragic debris thrown from the closing salvos of a 1986 farewell concert from The Smiths. Sensing a need for something anything I head to the smoking balcony to find some sort of grown-up reprieve. Because smoking is very grown-up.
"Um, can I have a cigarette?" begs mussy gal to her likewise mussy gal pal.
"No!" replies the other. "You have asthma. Last time I gave you a cigarette, you were coughing up blood."
Lovely. So I give her one instead, mostly because I'm a very nice person. Unfortunately, this leads to awkward cigarette small talk involving her and her adjacent friend, somebody named Jimmy who is sporting the latest in retainer design and also bumming a cigarette.
"You write that article in the paper, don't you?" he cruises me.
"Oh, yeah," concurs his asthma hag. "What is it exactly that you write about?" Er.
"Will you be writing about tonight?"
Will you be doing anything interesting tonight? No? Me neither. Instead, Jimmy and I fall into a conversation about, well, Bright Eyes, and, well, how good they are.
"I read one review that said that his last concert here was like a train wreck without all the victims," Jimmy jimmies.
"Oh, there are always victims," I leer with all the charm of thrice-dead Vincent Price. "Look at us."
God, I hate myself. Back inside, awaiting the second coming, world peace or Conor Oberst, I'm finally at the end of my rope, sweating and wiping my brow in full junkie choreography. Something isn't right. Something is very, very wrong. I am going to be sick … in public, even. Finally, something to write about. Yay!
So, with all of the energy that shame unexpectedly elicits, I knock over at least four girls who all look the same, run to the bathroom and throw out all the bile that my 32 years have granted me, turning only to notice that the bathroom attendant is rolling his eyes at the fact that I'm decorating a garbage can that he'll have to spend the rest of his night with. I'm vomiting in front of an audience.
"Turn around, bright eyes …" I karaoke in my head. "Oh, turn around."
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