Stephen from Boston writes to us about 11 years ago today. (Actually, he thinks it was 12 years ago so I’ve done some very minor editing–anybody with the semicolon skills of Stephen requires only the least bit of tweaking.)
This stands as my favorite concert memory of all time, Yo La Tengo related or no:
In 2003, when I was an undergrad at UMass Amherst, I managed to get tickets to see Yo La Tengo. Without belaboring the anecdote with too much needless personal context, I’ll say that being able to go to the show was deeply personal to me, and that my excitement for it preceded the show by several days. It didn’t let up, either; by the time I took my seat near the back of the theater I was already grinning in anticipation. The couple seated next to me asked politely, “Would you be offended if we made out during the show?” I think I told them I would be “too happy to notice.”
So Beachwood Sparks, I think, played [not according to my memory or my notes], and then Portastatic played, and finally Yo La Tengo took the stage, and I immediately became unable to stop smiling. I laughed when they ad-libbed in “Nuclear War” and I wept when they played “Tom Courtenay,” then my second-favorite song of all time, and the whole time I couldn’t help grinning like an idiot. Remember that I hadn’t seen them yet—hadn’t even heard whether they were good live—so primed though I might have been for disappointment, I was instead on cloud nine, the band peeling off song after perfect song.
When they came out for encores, I don’t think I could have asked for anything more than a cursory pair of hits and a “goodnight.” To my surprise, though, they started asking the audience for suggestions. I completely forget what the first request was [“Artificial Heart“], but I’ll forever remember what Ira said after they finished it:
“OK, wait a minute. I want to know what the guy in back who’s been smiling this entire time wants to hear.”
It took me a second, and then I remembered why my cheeks hurt so much. “M-me?” I asked, experiencing the disbelief particular to every audience member who’s ever hoped against hope to be selected, and is.
The band nodded: Yes, you! So I told them: I wanted to hear “Deeper Into Movies,” which was my first-favorite song of all time. Ira joked that he’d have to retune his guitar to play it, and I immediately apologized, racking my brain for a less imposing request. “Well, no, that’s okay—but if I have to retune,” he reasoned, “then you’ll just have to come up to the front while I do it.”
I cannot adequately express how it felt to walk from my budget, rear-of-theater seat, all the way down the aisle, and through the crowd gathered at the front of the stage, only to look up at the band that meant so much to me, and to realize that they, too, were happy to see me walk up to greet them. I tried to write them a letter that night to express my gratitude, and it was beyond impossible. Eleven years later, I have experienced nothing comparable to being given such a personal gift, from a band who mean so much to me, and who only knew me fleetingly as “smiling guy in rear of venue.”
It’ll be my favorite song for the rest of my life.