My first time seeing the iconic crooner Morrissey was over 20 years ago. It was the debut solo tour of America after the breakup of his legendary band, The Smiths. For Morrissey, the show at the Paramount Theatre in Madison Square Garden was a proclamation that he was undaunted and forging ahead on his own. For me, I was determined to make my first rock concert memorable. I had stumbled upon The Smiths as a teenager and had instantly claimed Morrissey for myself.
Pulled by the momentum of the Manhattan crowd, I wanted and needed to be as close as possible to the voice that had been my constant companion. There was a kinship there, something familiar and yet startlingly new. I saw him as my gateway out, as an opening toward the world beyond what I had, of the world that I longed to have. When the lights lowered, I joined the surge of bodies leaping their way from their assigned rows toward the lip of the stage. It was there, smooshed and jostled, squeezed and swayed, that I entered the realm of space that was close enough to be relevant. Among the throngs who held their arms outstretched, yearning for a handshake or single touch, I was enraptured. From the gentle mob, there were a few lucky ones who nimbly scaled the crowd, crossed over the bouncers, and ascended the stage to directly embrace and thank Morrissey. That, I realized, was the souvenir that I needed.
Attending a Morrissey concert is a unique experience. The devotion of Morrissey's fans is unsurpassed. The fans go to hear Morrissey bellow his biting, witty lyrics while posturing around the stage, using the microphone cord as his whip. But the fans also go with the burning determination to see each other have the chance to ascend the stage and pay their respects to the man whose music improves their lives. It's not about waving to the crowd or flaunting in the spotlight; it's simply a personally delivered thank you to the legendary singer that involves a hug and often a kiss.
Depending on the venue, at times, the security guards surrounding the stage react too roughly, yanking and thrusting those off the stage; sometimes fans have been kicked out of the arena; sometimes they have been hurt. More often, however, the guards realize that the men and women, armed with flowers or small gifts and dressed in t-shirts decorated with photos of Morrissey or his literary inspiration, Oscar Wilde, are hardly a threat.
The nature of the fan is to appreciate, admire and adore. For some, the way to express this is through getting a photo, for others it is an autograph. For me, and the many others like me, it is best expressed by stealing a moment, by appearing without an invitation.
Over the years, many times, I have pushed and shoved my way past the bouncers toward attaining that ultimate souvenir -- an on-stage embrace of my musical hero. In the decades that have passed since the first night I saw him at Madison Square Garden, much of my former life has changed with the exception of my admiration of Morrissey. Every time Morrissey tours America, I am committed to being there. While both of us have aged, the concerts feel remarkably the same. Yes, there are some new songs, some new band members, but still, the fundamental urge to be at the front, to be part of the adoration, remains.
Last night, in Red Bank, N.J., again I found myself poised at the perfect position. I finished gauging the height of the stage from the pit and the position of the security guards, and I felt fairly confident that with few extra heaves and a lot of extra straining, I could still hoist myself up enough to swing a leg over to make it up. Awaiting what I knew would be the final encore of a perfectly brilliant show, for a moment I paused to wonder if now, a 40-something-married-mother-of-two, I ought to be sitting properly in a row in the balcony or even at home tucked in for the night, but then I shook that off as absurd, and up I went.
Fandom and all of its eccentricities shouldn't have a forced expiration date. For me and so many other aging fans, the experience of seeing Morrissey live is timeless, new, urgent and creates the same impulse to rush the stage and boldly declare my allegiance as if for the very first time.