The best show I never saw

Pub date December 12, 2006
SectionMusicSectionMusic Features

My daughter, Dolores — otherwise known as Dolly, though only to family, as she’s getting a little too sophisticated for nicknames — is a born rocker. The first music she heard, pipin’ hot out of the womb, was London Calling by the Clash. Now that she’s five, she wants more of the same when her father, mellowing in his old age, tries to catch the news on NPR on the way to kindergarten: “Dad, what is this? I don’t want talk…. I want rock.” When I inevitably cave to the pressure of the younger and cooler, the air guitar and air drums start right up.
Beyond rocking out in the car, Dolly fronts a semi-imaginary band called the Rock Girls, featuring a rotating lineup of her cousins Chloe and Abby on bass and drums, respectively, and Katie Rockgirl, Lisa McCartney, or Veronica Lee Mills (Dolly’s stage names) on — what else? — vocals and lead guitar. Now, I realize every parent in the world thinks their kid is somehow more gifted and magnificent than the common rabble of paste-eating snot noses, but I’m serious here: she’s got some intense, Tenacious D–style talent at coming up with extemporaneous rock lyrics, from her early punk hit “Step on a Pigeon, Yeah!,” made up on an evening stroll through the streets of Prague a few years ago, to her current repertoire, which is leaning lyrically toward the inspirational power ballad (“I can do anything in the world, yeah!”), and exhibits an intuitive grasp of song structure and phrasing. Beyond this, the kid’s got serious moves. She takes ballet and tap classes, both of which influence her Rock Girls routines, but lately she’s been working in flamenco-type flourishes and bounce-off-furniture, Martha Graham–meets–the Solid Gold Dancers modern dance maneuvers.
And while she’s seen the Sippy Cups during a matinee at Cafe du Nord and her namesake, Dolly Parton, at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, she hasn’t really seen any show-shows. You know, shows that happen after dark, with mosh pits and people in leather jackets drinking bourbon and acting cooler than they actually are. So I decided to take her to see Radio Birdman at the Great American Music Hall on Aug. 31. Why not? It was an all-ages show, I had an extra set of headphone-style ear protection left over from my days of shooting guns, and besides — she was born to rock.
As we walked down O’Farrell on the way to the show, we came to one of those sparkly sidewalks. Dolly has a rule: when there’s a sparkly sidewalk, you’ve got to dance. Doesn’t matter where you’re going or what you’re doing, sparkles equal boogie. This stretch of sparkle motion lasted half a city block and included a new move, the likes of which Britney Spears can only dream about.
“Did you see that, Dad? Did you see the DJ thing?”
She showed me again, cocking her head to the side as though holding headphones in the crook of her neck and doing an exaggerated Jam Master Jay–style zip-zip-whir scratch. I don’t know where she got it, but she’s got it.
We arrived at the hall around 9, and openers the Sermon had already played. I ran into my friend Brett from back in the day — he’d ridden his motorcycle from Denver to see Radio Birdman. It was a good night for Dolly’s first real show. Radio Birdman, who’d formed in 1974 in Sydney, Australia, broke up in 1979 and, despite occasional reformations, had never toured in the United States until now. They were in their 50s; Dolly was midway through five. The torch was about to be passed, rock ’n’ roll–style. The Black Furies came on with, “Fuckin’ fuck yeah! We’re the fuckin’ Black fuckin’ Furies from San Fran-fuckin’-cisco, motherfuckers!” I’m not sure how much Dolly caught from the balcony next to the lighting booth, where former Guardian intern K. Tighe hooked us up with the primo seats and free Cokes. Dolly’s had a few more cherries than mine, but I’m not one to hold a grudge.
Dolly had been talkin’ about rockin’ all day, from when I dropped her off at kindergarten at 10 to 8, to when her mom picked her up. We made sure she caught a nap after dinner, but it was a little shorter than planned, as she was superexcited to see the show. Halfway through the Black Furies, however, her eyelids started drooping, and she leaned into Pops, sleeping right through the Furies’ continuing flurry of fucks. I asked her if she wanted to go home, but she didn’t want to leave without accomplishing the mission.
She had a slight rally between sets. We did a little call-and-response in the bathroom:
“Are you ready?” I asked.
“Yeah!” she shouted.
“Ready to what?”
“Ready to rock!”
The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We walked around the floor for a bit, which kind of freaked her out because it was dark and there were a bunch of punker types dressed in black. Plus, when you’re five, your eyes are level with most people’s butts, which has to be a drag. Then we went outside, where we spotted another kid with shotgun earmuffs. Went back upstairs to the lighting loft. My friend Heather stopped by and tried to chat with Dolly, who looked at me and said, “I want to go home now.”
I’m not going to lie to you: I was disappointed. But not all that much, strangely enough. I mean, if it’d been a date and my date was, like, “I’m not feeling this,” I’d have said, “Here’s a 20. Catch a cab.” But I’ve seen a lot of rock bands, and none of them are as cool as my kid. I’m sure Radio Birdman will come around again in the next 30 years. We’ll see them then — and I’ll be the one to fall asleep.
It’s not about me anymore, and I find that comforting. During the first six months of Dolly’s life, I found it terrifying, depressing, and just plain weird. I no longer played the lead role in my own life. I went through Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s five stages of death over that fact: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. And that’s where I am now: acceptance. Not a grudging but a welcoming acceptance. Hertz may have you believe that “when you’re number two, you try harder,” but the fact of the matter is, when you’re number two, you can finally relax. SFBG
• Radio Birdman (sort of) with Dolly, Great American Music Hall, Aug. 31
• The Melvins and Big Business, Great American Music Hall, Nov. 29. The Melvins killed rock. Rock is now dead, and all the other bands can unplug, go home, and stop pretending.
• Slim Cessna’s Auto Club and Rykarda Parasol, 12 Galaxies, Oct. 20
• Hot Mute, Hot Mute (Hot Mute)
• Easy Action, Triclops!, and Red Fang, Parkside, Nov. 10
• Viva Voce, Get Yr Blood Sucked Out (Barsuk)
• Bronx, Priestess, and Riverboat Gamblers, Independent, Jun. 24
• Bronx, The Bronx (Island)
• Silver Jews, Tanglewood Numbers (Drag City)
• Rykarda Parasol, Our Hearts First Meet (Three Ring)
• Rocky Votolato, Makers (Barsuk)
• Neko Case, Fox Confessor Brings the Flood (Anti-)
• Islands, Return to the Sea (Equator)
• Favourite Sons, Down Beside Your Beauty (Vice)
• Heartless Bastards, All This Time (Fat Possum)