It’s just before midnight and I am in a 124-year-old former dance hall on Manhattan’s lower east side having eye-sex with Fountains of Wayne guitarist Jody Porter. He doesn’t know this, of course, and neither does this diverse crowd of urban hipness whose sweaty elbows have been getting to know mine over the last 90 minutes.
At 45, Jody is 10 years my junior, but he maintains a Jagger-esque look, and a rock n’ roll attitude, which belies the inescapable fact that he has been performing with Fountains of Wayne for 16 years. On this night, he is at his best, pounding away, gently and violently by turn, on a series of vintage guitars each one older than the next. Yes, for this show before his hometown fans, Jody is on. I should know, I’ve spent the last three nights with him in Washington DC, Philadelphia and, now, New York.
Welcome to day three of my midlife crisis. These last 72 hours have included a full-day at work, 264 miles of Interstate 95, three of the East Coast’s coolest nightclubs, a dull but persistent sense of guilt over twin teenage daughters left home alone for the first time, and dozens of songs by Jody and his mates in Fountains of Wayne. Is this any way for a middle-aged mother to celebrate getting older?
As it has for many people, music has often randomly collided with the significant events of my life. I learned that rock was sexy when I snuck the Rolling Stones’ Sticky Fingers album (the one with the Warhol-designed crotch shot) out of my sister’s bedroom and into my own so I could privately stare at it. My falling in love band was Squeeze and I had two pregnancy bands while waiting for my daughters to arrive: Hole and Elastica.
For the past year, all five Fountains of Wayne albums have provided an emotional rescue during some very difficult life experiences. So, when earlier this year the band announced tour dates for their current album, Sky Full of Holes, I announced my birthday would be celebrated in style, on the road.
Keep in mind, now, I’m nothing like a 20-something following the Grateful Dead… excuse me, I mean Phish. And while I may not have the constitution for whirling dancing any more, there are some distinct advantages that come with maturity and experience on the rock show circuit: we’re traveling in a nice car, not hitchhiking; when the shows end, we’re heading to a comfortable hotel, not a tent; and we’re eating in restaurants with tablecloths, not sharing a package of peanut butter Nabs.
A Sound Beginning
Let me back up a bit. This three-day odyssey began in February when my bestie Sue and I packed up for a Thelma-and-Louise style road trip to see Fountains of Wayne in Chapel Hill, N.C., a mere five hour drive from our homes in suburban Washington DC.
It was on a frigid, raw night that I walked into the legendary Cat’s Cradle with Sue, a mom of four and French teacher who left behind ungraded quizzes and a handwritten note to her kids: “Make your own damn sandwich.” Over the decades Joan Baez, Iggy Pop and Nirvana had all played here. It is a few miles from the University of North Carolina’s Chapel Hill campus, and the students in the audience oozed Southern hospitality, even though we were old enough to be their parents.
I snaked to the front along the stage and stood at my favorite place, far left. Jody picked up his guitar, slung low, and they broke into “Flair,” from the band’s first album. My adventure had officially begun. Eighteen songs executed with high energy left me elated and perfectly in the moment. I would have driven days to see it all again.
It would be April before I would embark on the main leg of the tour, the shows in DC, Philadelphia and New York, with my husband Scott who offers a gracious endorsement of my ridiculous infatuations.
The spotlight was profiling the glowing Matchless logo on Chris Collingwood’s amp as we gathered with a group of friends at DC’s 9:30 Club. It was my 55th birthday, I reminded myself.
James Iha, the now-silver-haired Smashing Pumpkins guitarist, opened the night with a short but lovely acoustic set. As he introduced his last song, I was surprised by a flaming birthday cupcake lovingly presented to me by a wacky friend who happens to be named “Ruben,” as in “Richie and Ruben,” a highlight from Sky Full of Holes. Later Ruben delivered another gift, a Dandy Warhols poster he lifted from the Club wall. It turns out swiping stupid stuff is still fun.
The next day we headed north, but not without apprehension knowing we would not return until Sunday. “No party Hollywood,” were the last words Scott spoke to our 16-year-old twins Olivia and Justine who immediately tweeted it. We were confident all would be fine, but the lyrics from Fountains of Wayne’s song “Fire Island” were not at all comforting: “All the kids at school will be naked in the pool while our parents are
on Fire Island.” Holy crap, we have a pool.
In less than 18 hours we were inside Union Transfer, a restaurant turned club in Philadelphia where we met up with my friend Steve, who I have known even longer than my husband. Our tour, it turns out, allowed us to reconnect with old friends like Steve in a way that only can be accomplished at a rock show. A Rolling Stones lyric crept to mind: “Hey, let’s go mess and fool around. You know, like we used to.”
And we did. Fountains of Wayne delivered an even better show than the one in D.C. the night before and my head was in the perfect zone. Gone were thoughts of work and worry over the teen party that was doubtless taking place at my home at that very moment. Alleluia, I was delivered from the quotidian stressors of middle age.
Afterwards, we encountered Jody outside the club wearing a Breton cap while allowing a cigarette to dance playfully between his lips. And there I was, an accomplished professional, mature mother of two, engaged in a surreal conversation with someone whose guitar licks first lit a tire fire in my heart 15 years ago.
On to New York
The veil of hip that only happens in lower Manhattan hung heavy on that April evening inside Irving Plaza, a club that Dee Dee Ramone once described as “funky without being a dump.” I watched and waited in a VIP spot, secured with the help of one of Scott’s childhood friends. You see, connections are another of the many things that get better with age: like friends, vintage guitars, venerable night clubs, and music that reaches into our pasts to summon anew the memories of an earlier day.
I surveyed the crowd and, like each of the previous two nights, Fountains of Wayne fans from all age groups were represented. I wasn’t the oldest and certainly not the youngest. None of it mattered when the first chords of “Little Red Lights” were struck because the crowd became one, united by a shared appreciation for a band that had inspired each of us at one point or another.
About midway through the evening, they performed a love song called I-95 with this verse that seemed a little too appropriate: “It’s a nine hour drive, from me to you, south on I-95. And I’ll do it til the day that I die, if I need to, just to see you again.” It was another satisfying and solid set, but sadly, the last for a while.
It was while driving home, down I-95, when I concluded that rock and roll is not bound by age and there is no apology needed. I won’t admit to chasing youth, but I still want to chase the attitude of youth, one of carefree adventure and spending time doing what I like to do. I can smile about the aching bruises on my knees when I remember I got them while dancing against the iron railings at Irving Plaza. And I am brought back to Fountains of Wayne’s “Summer Place,” and its thematic lyric: “The injuries fade, but the memories last a lifetime.”