"How long will it be before I get my hearing back?"
My girlfriend Cathy's 12-year-old niece, Jade, asked me that question Monday night after the final strains of "Paranoid" had finished reflecting off the walls of the Toyota Center. "It will probably be a couple days," I said.
For Jade, Ozzy Osbourne was her first real concert experience. She had been to shows at the rodeo, but those are nothing compared to seeing the "prince of fucking darkness" in person. Hearing her question, I felt an odd symmetry knowing that 27 years earlier, I asked the same thing of my best friend's older brother at my first concert.
Late one night in the summer of 1984, my ears were ringing badly. At barely 15, I had been to a handful of rodeo concerts in the Astrodome, but those were with my parents, an experience only slightly more rock and roll than going to the circus. I was a big music fan and the music I loved the most was heavy metal, so I went with my best friend and his older brother to see Yngwie Malmsteen and Talas at legendary Houston music venue Cardi's.
I remember the smell of the smoke in my clothes and that high-pitched squeal in my ears, both experiences I would repeat dozens more times throughout my life. I have very clear memories of the songs that were played, where we were standing and what the stage looked like. To this day, I cringe when I think that familiar location at the corner of Westheimer and Fountain View is now a karaoke bar.
On Monday night, I got to witness that thrill of seeing live music in person for the first time.
Like the 15-year-old version of myself, Jade loves music and has amassed an amazing store of knowledge on the subject.
At dinner before the concert, she was thumbing through the iPhone of Cathy's friend, Jennifer, and paused on a song by the Alan Parsons Project, who she thinks is "cool." When I asked if anyone knew what Parsons had done prior to forming that band, Jade quickly responded, "Pink Floyd." I would have been amazed that she knew Parsons was the engineer for Dark Side of the Moon had I not already seen her answer similar music trivia questions numerous other times.
And she wants to know more.
"Which song is this?" she asked at the beginning of "I Don't Know." When I told her, she said, "Oh, yeah, from Blizzard of Ozz."
Watching the fingers of guitarist Gus G blazing across the fretboard on the big video screen during the solo for "Flying High Again," she leaned over and asked, "Why doesn't Ozzy play with Randy Rhoads anymore?" She thought it was "sad" he died in a plane crash but didn't want to know the details because she hadn't reached that part in the Osbourne autobiography yet. Did I mention she is reading it?
During the show, I caught her glancing my direction and looking around at the rest of the crowd as we all banged our heads in unison and flashed the "devil's hand." Slowly, and with some caution, she joined us.
Talking to Cathy later, I thanked her for getting the tickets and inviting me not just because the concert was great (it was) but because I felt like I got to relive the first concert experience through Jade.
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From the grand spectacle of the noise and lights to the annoying reality of long T-shirt lines, the tangible realization for her that this was actually happening hit me when she asked, "Is that really Slash?"
In Jade, I recognize a fellow traveler, someone who approaches music with the same joy and childlike curiosity. When I was an awkward teenager, confused about who I wanted to be, music gave me focus. It helped me to see that there were other people out there who were like me and feel less alone.
When Cathy asked Jade weeks ago what her friends thought about her going to the concert, she said they didn't know who Osbourne was. Rocking out with a crowd of screaming metalheads on Monday night, I hoped she might be experiencing similar feelings of belonging, and I thought about Dewey Finn in School of Rock saying, "One great rock show can change the world," especially the world of kids like Jade and kids at heart like me.