Getting the Old Band Together (One Night Only)

It was midway through the night, when my old college friend—we’ll call him “Todd” since that’s his name—jokingly asked me “This isn’t going to turn into another one of your columns, is it?” Perhaps he too was sensing the inherent emotionality of the evening. Or perhaps, after three decades, he was keenly aware of my propensity to feel every feeling deeper than any man in the hemisphere and then try processing those feelings in tragi-comic prose form. Oh unnamed friend named “Todd,” if you have to ask, I think you already know the answer.

Now in his defense (or mine), last Wednesday was tailor-made for my writing style. It featured nostalgia, schmaltz, male bonding, guitar rock, brotherhood, friendship, Brown University, the passage of time and sushi. Frankly, if I didn’t write about it, I’m afraid that my autocorrect may have just taken over and written a piece himself.

But I didn’t mean to begin in media res. Or to use the phrase “in media res.” For that I blame the Harvard School for Boys. But we’ll table that for another day.

This story begins last Tuesday. I’m currently on hiatus. Which means I mostly spend my days by myself, driving around Southern California and trying to soothe my loneliness with various meat sandwiches. But on Tuesday, I found myself on a text chain, in which I didn’t recognize any of the numbers. Naturally, I assumed it was a cannabis dispensary, because lately I’ve been getting a lot of unsolicited texts from pot dispensaries. Maybe they got my number from the places that sell me meat sandwiches?

Eventually a half century of solving Nancy Drew mysteries paid off and I was able to deduce that the first text had come from a fraternity brother in San Francisco asking three of us who live in LA whether we had any interest in seeing the last show of Guns N’ Roses North American tour the next night at the Forum. This was exactly the kind of plan that given any time to think about, four men in their fifties could have found at least fifty reasons for it not to work: cost, babysitting, a work night, early hints of sciatica, general malaise. But my Bay Area friend—we’ll call him Chris, since Todd is already taken— didn’t give us a chance to wring our hands and talk ourselves out of it. The next text said he was flying down and talking us to the show, his treat. I didn’t even have a chance to say that I already had plans on Wednesday to fall asleep on my couch while watching Designated Survivor.

Just like that I was having a plan with some of my oldest friends. And there was nothing I could do about it.

I should mention here, that I have no particular affinity for Guns N’ Roses. I last saw them in 1989 opening for the Stones. They have never been “my guys” per se and I can probably name 50 bands I’d rather see. If I wanted to seem like a rock snob, I’d namecheck, Husker Du, Guided by Voices, Pavement, the Replacements, X, the Buzzcocks, but I’m better than that.

Additionally, they hadn’t been “our guys.” In fact, I’d already graduated from college when I discovered Appetite for Destruction in late ‘88/ early ‘89. So it’s not as if me and my 3 college buddies had sung along to GnR in the Phi Psi bar. This wasn’t Meat Loaf we’re talking about. But I will say, they are the perfect band to reunite a bunch of friends for a night of pretending the last three decades never happened In fact, that’s what the band was doing on stage right along with us.

It had been 22 years since Guns N’ Roses had played with the Axl, Slash and Duff incarnation that the fans had prayed would someday reunite. And while outside of a handful of super-brainy Phi Kappa Psi groupies, I’m not sure that anyone was praying that Paul, Chris, Todd and I would reunite. That said, we figured out that Wednesday night was the first time the four of us have been together in... 22 years. Get it? Like the band. The last time we all saw each other was at Chris’ wedding on Long Island. And that event remains more memorable for the pre-wedding party at a bar called the OBI, where at least 300 per cent of the men wore jean suits and Paco Rabanne. People at this bar made the Jersey Shore guys look like they had done “gym-tan-laundry” aboard the Mayflower.

To finally cut to the chase, it was wonderful seeing these guys again. Sure, we now talked about different stuff: kids in college, back pain, the loss of parents, anti-depressants, a little more back pain. But in other ways, it truly felt like we had, for one night only, turned back the clock. For one night, I got to forget who the President is, as we travelled back to an era when Dukakis still had a fighting chance.

I can’t remember the last time I went to a big rock show with a group of friends. Or that we “prepared” for a show by singing along to their entire back catalogue the whole way there. To be fair, the night wasn’t perfect. The band played for 4 hours, their longest show ever. And around the three hour mark, for me it passed from “this is so fun” to “so this must be how they torture prisoners in Gitmo now that we no longer waterboard.”

But all in all, it was an emotional night. I suppose there were the obvious reasons: I felt young again, I felt like I was part of a brotherhood again. But beyond that, I was highly cognizant of how rapidly the last 22 years had flown by. And perhaps I was looking ahead to where we’d all be in 22 more. Certainly, once I hit 50, I had begun to ponder whether I’ve reached that point that Bill Clinton called “starting to feel that there are yesterdays than tomorrows.”

And of course, there’s the unmistakable sense that recently, most gatherings of old friends, have taken place in churches or synagogues to mourn the loss of an old comrade or colleague. That’s just how it is. And it’s not about to become less commonplace.

So for one night, I was thrilled that I said “yes” than scrambling to find a reason to say “maybe next time.” I was thrilled that for one night at least, I didn’t look around and see a car filled with financiers and tv producers and business owners. Instead, if you squinted just right, you would see four 19 year-olds, singing “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” at the top of the lungs, as if we were driving back from a party at URI and everybody could just skip their morning classes.

At the end of the night, we all said our goodbyes and vowed never to let another two decades pass before doing this again. When we all first met as hopeful college boys, we seemingly had nothing but endless time ahead of us. I like to think that today, with just as much hope but a little more wisdom, I’ll remember to do more things like this. To reconnect with those who once meant so much to me. Because time is moving and it only moves one way.

Though for one night, we somehow did a pretty good job of stopping that clock. And if I can somehow do that occasionally, I’ll take it every time.

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