the last band

A very little over a week ago, I was standing in the balcony of the 9:30 Club watching The National. It was the fourth time I've seen them play live, and the only time in a sold-out space. We had stood in a long line, waiting to get in, listening to the couple in front of us talk about Rod Blagojevich (you can't escape people chewing over politics anywhere in Washington D.C.) then swelling into the club, after bag checks and hand stamps, shoulder to shoulder with other seeking bodies.

It was a good show - The National always puts on a solid show - and we met some friends, and it was nice to see them and the chiaroscuro people in the crowd - many singing along with all the songs, a little bit of love in their faces. And looking at all these people, I realized that most of them were about my age (30), give or take a few years. The guys on stage were about my age, give or take few years, and the songs they were playing were about people my age, give or take a few years. And seeing all this, I suddenly understood that I am on the edge of an ending moment. The number of bands that I have left to see in sticky-floored clubs singing songs about me and people like me in a sardine-packed crowd is coming to an end. The bands are getting younger and people my age are getting less willing to stand shoulder to shoulder and shout lyrics and spill beer all over each other and feel alive by being one among many. My moment being part of the current of now is trailing away.

It made me think of the summer after I graduated high school. You have the great formality that is commencement to officially alert you that Your Adult Life Is About To Start, but the summer that follows is a thresholding space, a time soaked in the awareness of change and suffused in unknown possibilities. It's the last, formalized generational moment - almost everyone gets there and goes through it at the same time. College commencement four or five years later is already a kind of dilution - a certain percentage of souls have already spun off, wandering satellites in irregular orbits created by the gravitational pull of their own life events.

Still, that last summer day capped and gowned - college graduation - is the end, the very end, of formal timelines. Any sort of forward motion afterwards is idiosyncratic and chaotic, endlessly variable and subject to change. From that point on, sharing group life events is a vanishingly small numbers game. Everyone is alone to find or miss what mile markers they may - careers, relationships, children, houses - whenever they happen to stumble upon them. The group march is over, and everyone staggers off to travel their own path.

So standing in the club last week, watching the band play and watching the crowd watch, in the peculiar particular way a crowd can watch when the band onstage is singing specifically for them, I had the sensation of stumbling against an unexpected object. It felt weirdly important, a sort of sharp jab in the ribs by some noodling cosmic finger alerting me that the days do run like rabbits and I cannot conquer time, and it felt a little bit heart-twisting, because I now know how rare that singular feeling of collective generational experience is, and how increasingly rare it will be.

Adulthood comes, whether you will or no.

(I'm interested in the last words of direction that are given at the doorway to the adult world, the benedictions and warnings and admonitions and inspirations heaped down by the older and wiser on the captive audiences at the gates: specifically, commencement speeches. So all this week I will be posting excerpts and links to some of my favorite ones. I'd like to hear what you think so I will be enabling comments in case you feel inclined to add your two cents.)