I don’t recall exactly when my mother’s preoccupation with Billy Idol began. I can’t say I remember her having much of an opinion about him either way at the height of his popularity in the 1980s. Nevertheless, some time within the last decade or so, my mom has become a huge fan of Billy Idol, has seen him in concert numerous times, and has an autographed picture of him (although the authenticity of the autograph is questionable as the picture was purchased at a flea market).
Create a picture in your mind of what a stereotypical Billy Idol fan might look like. At this point, I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I’m fairly certain that it would look nothing like my mother. Although she looks quite a bit younger than her 60-something years, she is distinctly lacking in that punk sensibility one might expect from Billy idolizer. Her strawberry blonde hair is short and curly, and she favors capri pants and cute but sensible shoes. She does have a tattoo on the back of one shoulder, but that remains hidden most of the time. Also, it’s a dolphin, as opposed to, say, a skull or a snake.
Anyway, logically, I know that your age and appearance do not dictate what music you love and vice versa. What I find odd about my mom’s love for Billy Idol is the seeming suddenness and intensity with which it hit. I remember her casually remarking that she liked “Dancing With Myself,” and the next thing I knew, she was requesting BIlly Idol at every wedding she attended, going to concerts, and buying autographed pictures. Now, I’m not talking about full-blown obsession or anything. She never considered abandoning her life to follow him on tour. It’s just that her adoration for Mr. Idol seemed to come, with great fervor, out of nowhere.
This spring, when the lineup for Milwaukee’s Summerfest was announced, my mom asked me if I wanted to see Billy Idol with her. I’ve always enjoyed his music, perhaps not with the same intensity as she does, but I do like it. However, I’d never particularly thought of him as someone I would go out of my way to see. But what the heck, why not? You only live once, right? Why not make seeing Billy Idol with my mother a part of that?
Due in part to high demand and in part to some apparently misleading and inconsistent information on the Summerfest web site, we were unable to obtain advanced tickets online. However, that did not mean we were necessarily out of luck. One of the nice things about Summerfest is that there are almost always reserved seats released (for free, except the price of general entry to the festival) at the box office on the day of the show on a first come, first served basis. Failing that, bleacher seating and standing room were also options. When I explained these various possibilities to my husband, who had decided to come along, he shook his head and remarked that it was all kind of surreal that we were driving up to Milwaukee and coordinating all of this so my mother could see Billy Idol.
When we arrived at the Summerfest gates, my mom simply had to show her ID because it was senior day, and those 60 years or older got free admission before 4:00 pm. “I bet Billy will be a big draw for the senior crowd,” my mom remarked, and I instantly experienced some cognitive disharmony. Billy Idol reminds me of my youth, which does not seem that long ago, so hearing his name in the same breath as “senior crowd” (not referring to seniors in high school) seemed wrong. Of course, I know that Mr. Idol is 57 years old, perhaps not technically a senior citizen, but enough to join the AARP (never mind the fact that he’s British).
Alas, the advanced tickets were gone by the time we arrived at the box office. My mother was instantly anxious about not being able to get bleacher seats, but I tried to calm her down and convinced her that our best plan of attack would be to get to the amphitheater on the early side, at least half an hour before the opening act began, to secure our bleacher seats and save on for my Dad, who would be joining us after he was done herding cats (no, really, he was looking after some feral cats for a vacationing friend and had to herd them into a shed each evening for protection from coyotes). We enjoyed some other bands, food, and beer, (mostly) avoided the rain, and got to the amphitheater about 40 minutes before Billy’s opening band was scheduled to start and were shocked at the size of the crowd. At first, the prospect of finding seats did not seem promising, but we managed to find some in the back. As we settled in, I suggested that my mom text my father as to where are seats were located because, once the band began playing, hearing phone calls would be difficult.
“Oh, he doesn’t text.” my mom said. “I showed him how once, but I don’t know if he remembers.”
This thought had not occurred to me. “Well, he could read a text, though, right?” I said, taking for granted that texts pop up on the screen of my phone automatically.
“Probably,” she said, sounding decidedly unsure, and began to compose a text. It couldn’t hurt.
When my dad called me some time later, it was impossible to hear on my phone, so I wended my way outside the amphitheater until I could hear him. The problem was, he still could not hear me. He told me he would try to find a better location and call me back, but when he did so, it was no better. No matter how loudly, slowly, or deliberately I repeated our location, he could not make head or tale of what I was saying. “Did you get the text?” I said repeatedly, hoping he would at least pick up the word text and fiddle with his phone long enough to come across the message from my mom.
“What?” he said again. “Put your mom on. Maybe I’ll understand her.”
My dad didn’t realize that I was now nowhere near my mother. “I’ll have her call you back,” I said with the vague hope that he might have heard and returned to the bleachers to tell my mom what had happened. She left to try where I had failed. I waited and did my best to enjoy the 80s hair band cover band that served as the opener. An update from my mom let me know that she couldn’t get in touch with my father. Calls to his phone were going straight to voice mail.
The fact that my dad, whom I had never known to be a big concert-goer, had not only voluntarily agreed to come see Billy Idol but also had agreed to this knowing that he would be arriving later than everyone else ant that we would have to coordinate our meeting via cell phone amidst lots of noise had perplexed me and added to the already surreal quality of the evening. Now, it seemed there was a good possibility that we wouldn’t even be able to find each other!
Twenty or so minutes later, my mom arrived back at our seats with my father, whom she’d found wandering amongst the crowd. “I was channeling him!” she told me. In any case, I was happy we were finally all together.
The concert was fun. Billy played all his hits with the energy of a much younger man. My mother elbowed my enthusiastically when Billy took his shirt off (as if I hadn’t noticed and wasn’t already marveling at his abs). Despite all of the snafus we encountered, a good time was had by all.
As we were leaving the park after the concert, my dad remarked to me, “I must have made 300 cat posts* while listening to Billy Idol. That was my go-to CD. It made the time go so fast.”
It was a surreal evening, indeed, but one that kind of made me want to cry, “More! More! More!”
Of course, with a rebel yell.
*To avoid confusion, I should note that my dad used to construct cat scratching posts to be sold at fundraisers for the humane society. He was not, in fact, tweeting about kittens during the concert.