Boris on stage at Revolution Hall, Portland Oregon, September 17 2022

Boris at Revolution Hall

Published 2022-09-19

This weekend I attended my first post-covid (hell, post-third-child) rock and roll show. My neighbor invited me to see Philly shoegaze band Nothing open for Japanese heavy metal giants Boris at Revolution Hall.

I am probably not qualified to judge how good it was because it’s been a decade since I’ve been to a rock show but it was fucking good.

And, as a side note, regardless of whether we want Covid to be “over”…it is definitely over. There were hundreds of people packed into an indoor space and maybe a dozen of them were wearing masks. No one asked for proof of vaccination. This is in cautious, liberal Portland Oregon at a venue frequented by the most cautious, liberal imaginable cohort. Whether it’s advisable, from a public health standpoint, to declare Covid “over” is a good question, but the actual reality is that society has decided it’s over. So adjust your expectations accordingly.

Anyway during the first third of Boris’ act I did the unthinkable — I removed my earplugs. I never used to wear earplugs to shows, as a young person. Indeed this was my first time doing so! My neighbor — who has now been to (by his count) 62 shows since August 2021 — always wears earplugs. It makes very good sense to wear earplugs to a heavy metal show

And yet.

Something was missing from the heavy metal show experience, to me. In a word: punishment. Heavy metal is only fun when it’s heard at a volume I would describe as “punishing.”

(I also reallly really wanted to jump into the mosh pit but I decided this was neither wise nor decorous for a man in his sixth decade.)

A lot of my preferences are like this, to my own perpetual bafflement.

  • Riding my bike up steep hills in the burning heat or pouring rain
  • Food so spicy I feel it all the way through my alimentary canal
  • Sleeping on a really hard bed, in a really cold room
  • The first twelve hours of a fever when you hallucinate, and every inch of your body hurts
  • Bee stings and sunburns from a long spring bike ride
  • That moment when you pour water over the rocks in a sauna and it singes the hair in your nose
  • …and then immediately jumping to a snowbank, stark naked
  • Getting the tartar scraped off my teeth
  • (Indeed, once I had a filling replaced without novocaine, it was an almost surreal experience. There was about two seconds where I saw white but then…no pain…and almost out of body sense of relief)

Look, to be clear: I don’t like pain. I have no piercings or tattoos because it would probably hurt. I am also not a thrill seeker. Terrified of heights, and fistfights, and crashing on my bike. Anyone who’s ever gone mountain biking with me can attest to how much I go out of my way not to crash.

Some while ago a friend tweeted at me:

I have never gotten the hard on you do for climbing hills (hate it) or getting drenched (not terrible but not a fan)

And while I do not get a literal hard on I admit that I seek out those experiences. Willingly. Why do I do this?

There is nothing in my personality profile that suggests I am a person who seeks punishment. I had a happy childhood and mostly trouble-free adolescence, and a smooth young adulthood, and I liked very much my 40s and the trend seems to be continuing into my comfortable 50s. All of my personal traumas are either self-inflicted (e.g. divorce) or just standard life stuff that happens to everyone (e.g. people I love sometimes die.)

I do admit I get a small charge of machissimo when I do these extreme things, sure. But even absent that: I prefer it.

  • I prefer to ride my bike up a hill rather than down.
  • I prefer spicy food that hurts a little (I put habanero in my spaghetti)
  • I can’t sleep in a bed that’s too soft
  • …or a room that’s tuned to a comfortable temperature
  • Hot tubs are exactly the wrong temperature
  • Hell I asked to have that filling replaced without novocaine
  • I like unlistenable droning noise delivered at punishing volumes. While I work.

I dunno where I’m going with all this. I like being uncomfortable and distrust comfort. When people post photos from vacation where they’re sipping maitais on the lanai I think, well that looks nice provided you have a really blistering sunburn from being out in the surf all day.

Which, if I had to advance a theory, there it is: I like punishing myself because it throws into stark relief how not-punishing the rest of my cushy life is. My favorite part of backpacking is the first shower back in civilization.