I was in third grade when I first heard the album American Idiot by Green Day. My mom blasted the anti-Bush/Iraq War anthem “Holiday” on the CD player in our home despite being a stark George W. supporter. The band had a different, angrier sound than her typical Beatles playlist. And I liked the bleeding heart grenade on the cover.
I unfortunately copied lead singer Billie Joe Armstrong’s eyeliner look in middle school while watching their 90’s music videos on repeat. When my neighbor informed me she went to highschool with Armstrong’s wife in Mankato, I (creepily) felt more connected to the band.
Even though I despised the album, I asked my most gullible and easy-going friend to attend Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown World Tour with me at the Target Center. No way could I ask my friends from church to see a band who released an album titled Bullet in a Bible.
For four hours on the night of July 11, 2009 I experienced a whiplash of punk, anarchist propaganda. A 40-foot defiled image of God displayed during the “Jesus of Suburbia” setlist made me incredibly grateful my parents were not in attendance. I could feel the heat from the flames behind Tré Cool’s drumset. A guy with a green mohawk in front of me took his black shirt off. When Armstrong screamed at the audience to repeat their best sex noises, I couldn’t stop laughing. When he expressed his happiness over the recent inauguration of Barack Obama, I felt free to cheer. And when he pulled someone onstage to sing “Longview” and they forgot the second verse, I boo’ed with everyone else. I knew every word of the 1994 song.
All my other favorite music groups have broken up, retired or overdosed on heroin. Someone once advised me to invest more time in contemporary musicians, otherwise the nostalgia will kill me. Perhaps Green Day, despite being past their prime, is that band for me. They certainly aren’t for my friend, who never talked to me again after the concert.
It was a sticky summer day in August of 2004, and I stood in my concrete crumbling driveway as I watched the last car pull out onto Brown Road. My little town of Long Lake just ended their yearly festival, Corn Days, and the family who visited each year to celebrate just left.
My dad turned to me and said, “I have a surprise for you, but let’s get inside first.”
With curiosity lingering in my blonde noggin, I followed him inside. Then, he showed me the tickets. They said, “Hilary Duff at Xcel Energy.” They were three, fourth row seats, one for my best friend, my mom and I. And they were located dead center. My blue eyes must’ve been the size of jawbreakers.
I said, “One moment please,” and calmly walked to my room. I shut the door and looked at my Hilary Duff poster on the back of my door staring at me. With all the might my little seven-year-old lungs could, I let out the biggest scream and jumped up and down as if I was putting on skinny jeans. I vividly remember popping in my Hilary Duff Dignity CD to my silver, blue boombox and singing at the top of my lungs days leading up to the big concert.
The day of the concert arrived. I was about to see my idol. Though this popstar had no idea of my weird obsession with her, I knew in my little heart that this was what dreams were made of.
As I was rushing out the door to see my favorite singer in person with my best friend, Celine, I stepped on our creaky stair step wrong down to my garage and twisted my ankle. It throbbed to the rhythm of my heartbeat as blood rushed to it. Both my mom and Celine asked if I didn’t want to go anymore, but I fought back the tears and trudged on. I was determined to go to this concert.
When we made it to the X, we rushed to our seats. The Click Five opened for her and from what I could tell by the amount of screaming teenage girls in front of me, they were pretty dreamy. I even heard one screech, “HE LOOKED AT ME!”
After they trotted off stage, we bought a $40 Duff T-shirt, and a strobe stick that made you feel like you were tripping out if you looked too long. Then, we made our way to our seats to find a family sitting in them. They tried to argue with us that the seats were theirs, but Mama Shaw was determined to make them move.
Shortly after that, the lights dimmed. Smoke flooded the stage. Tiny, trippy strobe lights trickled through each row. Then, Hillary appeared. I had never felt so happy in my entire life. I could see the sheen in her shiny hair, the glimmer of her lip gloss and the tone of her calves. Every word — every note — I knew because I had practiced in my room with a hairbrush.
And then, she sang “This is What Dreams are Made of”
In my mind I kept thinking, “Now, this is what dreams are made of.”
A year ago, my best friend Kate asked what concert I would attend if I could see any artist in the world, and I scoffed. I told her Ben Rector. Obviously. He was our favorite artist. His songs were our windows-rolled-down, belt-it-out-until-it-hurts anthems.
Two months later, he was playing at a restaurant half a mile from my house. Turns out he has relatives in White Bear Lake and he decided to visit them while on tour. It also happened to be Kate’s birthday.
To celebrate, we rented a pontoon for the afternoon, queuing up our Ben Rector albums and humming to Thank God for the Summertime like it wasn’t almost over. Then we posted up at a table at Tally’s dockside, a lakefront restaurant.
Ben Rector arrived in a tinted limo.
He sat in front of us on a folding chair with his keyboard and a microphone, as if he were a teenaged dreamer sitting behind a bucket full of quarters. He wore a baseball hat, colored shorts and Birkenstock sandals. Sweat dripped from his floppy hair as his smooth voice took us through playlists of memories.
Kate left for college in Arizona a month later. When I miss her, I look at her recent Spotify songs.
Ben Rector is always on the list.