One could argue that Bob Dylan was not at his peak live performance level when I saw him in concert in 2005. Granted, this is coming from a one-time Deadhead who believed Jerry Garcia was a genius, even when he forgot lyrics and bumped his head against his microphone.
But I was in no position to judge. While Dylan’s legendary, scratchy voice echoed from the stage, I was in the lobby of the Beacon Theater, practically begging the bartender to hurry up. Pour me my beers, man, and fast. It was just taking too long. My mother and cousin, who were both inside enjoying “Visions of Joanna” and now “Highway 61 Revisited,” were surely starting to wonder what was taking so much time.Music had become something that sounded so good when I was under the influence, like a triumphant anthem applauding my inebriation, but so dull when I was sober.
And what was taking so much time? The musty, slightly weed-scented lobby was practically empty since Dylan was on stage. Getting two beers, one for my Mom and one for me (my cousin doesn’t drink), should have taken no time, which is what I whispered to my Mom when I left my seat, since “I didn’t really care for this song anyway.”
But the sad fact of the matter was, I didn’t really care for any song that much anymore, especially ones performed live, unless I was drunk. Music had become something that sounded so good when I was under the influence, like a triumphant anthem applauding my inebriation, but so dull, so completely colorless, so utterly pointless, when I was sober.
I didn’t care much about my family at this point either, which is a terrible thing to say, but it’s true. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have been chugging four beers by myself in the Beacon Theater lobby. I would have been in my seat, smiling and dancing with my Mom and my Cuz, who’d flown all the way from Michigan to see Dylan play.
He’d seen Dylan perform a lot, at venues much closer to his home. But this, he said, “was a chance to share what means so much to me about this man with some of my favorite family.”
I wanted so desperately to share in his joy but, well, I just didn’t know how to do that without a drink.
So there I was in the lobby, gulping four Bud Lights greedily from sticky plastic cups. And yeah, it was taking some time. I was at the very beginning of my “problem drinking” at this point. I had yet to even enter my first rehab. So I wasn’t someone who could drink fast and like a fish. If it were 2011, I could have slammed those beers in seconds.
That sounds like I’m bragging, which is not my intent, I swear. My point is to illustrate how my disease altered not just my mind but also my body, and eventually took me to a place where I could drink beer (and vodka and scotch) like water.
But back to 2005, with my buzz finally on, I returned to our seats. As it turned out, I missed one of my cousin’s favorite songs (“Not Dark Yet”) while I was selfishly slurping down those Bud Lights. I could see the disappointment in his eyes when he told me. He had come all this way so he could be standing next to me while his musical idol performed. But my chair had been empty.
I felt badly, but I quickly brushed it off, because in my mind, I wouldn’t have enjoyed it anyway if I were sober. And the scary part was, at that point in time, I was right. Once I returned, four beers in my belly and one to sip slowly “for show,” I had a blast. One big artificial blast. I barely remember hearing “All Along The Watchtower,” although per my mom and cousin’s account, I really enjoyed that encore.
Thankfully, my ear buds (along with many other things) are no longer being held hostage by a substance. Now, years later and with more than two and a half years of sobriety under my belt, good music sounds good to me, and concerts are so much fun. And I don’t need a drop of liquor to enjoy either.
But what I do still have is the guilt, the memories of how misplaced my priorities were, of my disregard for the feelings of my those I loved. Booze became more important than Bob Dylan, sure, but what’s worse is that it became more important than my family.