On Paramore and grief
Camping out in front of the venue, a deathiversary, and the song that made me cry in front of Hayley
I was in the car back from the previous night’s Oklahoma City Paramore show, halfway through the 6-hour drive, when I realized I’d missed the 11-year anniversary of my friend/friend’s brother “Matt” passing away unexpectedly of a freak illness. The Instagram post I saw about him was a kick to the chest: not only because it always is, but because I realized we saw Paramore together in 2008. The first time I saw them. The second was ACL of this year, and third was on Wednesday—his deathiversary.
Matt loved Paramore. He wore like, 3 shirts ever—a guy of simple habits—and one of them was an olive-green Paramore tee he got at that show. I bought a Jimmy Eat World (the headliner) shirt that my cousin stole and lost c. 2010, and I have been scouring the internet for a replica ever since. At this point, I’m not entirely sure it existed. Anyway, 11 years means he’s now been gone longer than we knew each other.
Maybe I’m projecting, but now, in retrospect, I felt like something was off the day of the show. I am a big proponent of The Body Keeping The Score as an explanation for things—I believe our bodies often remember things our minds don’t, especially on anniversaries. In reality, though, it’s possible I was just off-kilter from sleeping on the ground in 40 degrees the previous night.
The decision to camp for the Paramore show was a last-minute call: I pulled off at an Academy an hour outside of Oklahoma City, bought a $25 1-person tent and the cheapest 30-degree sleeping bag they had, and drove to the Criterion to set up camp. Fifty-eighth in line, turns out (I received a numbered wristband at 9am the next morning).
*record scratch* Wait, so how did I know I needed to camp to get a wristband to get a spot to get into the venue? Well, the week prior I’d been added to a Twitter Stan DM thread. These are career Paramore stans who go to multiple shows per tour, camp out at all of them, and try each time to get picked for “Misery Business” (where Hayley traditionally pulls a fan or two up on stage to sing the last chorus of the band’s hit).
On the thread, I learned that you’re most likely to get picked for “Miz Biz” if you are at the venue’s front barricade and bring a creative sign (here’s a thread of various signs made over the years by one of the two girls who got picked at the OKC show). Well, after a 7-hour drive, I wasn’t really in the mood to socialize. So I set up my tent, broke out the hand warmers, and cocooned up. It’ll be an experience to remember, I assured myself.
And it was! I won’t downplay it. Being three people back, 10 yards from Hayley Williams and guitarist Taylor York and drummer Zac Farro—something big shifted. I think they imprinted on me like people do on a puppy that they rescue too young.
The craziest part is that I SWEAR Hayley and I made eye contact.
Like I said, I was a little out of it at the show. The exhaustion didn’t help, nor did, I’m now sure, the pall of unremembered grief. To make matters worse, the vibe of the show was strange. Two crowd members fainted and a fight broke out—at the end, Hayley actually said, “Well, this was a weird one!”
But despite it all, I know I made eye contact with my hero a few ephemeral times. Most notably, during “Misguided Ghosts.” The plucked acoustic chords and aching lyrics cracked me open, and the tears flowed: for the despondent young Hayley who wrote the song, and for my former and present selves, so hopelessly lost (even at my favorite band’s concert). Tears streaming, singing along to every word, I locked eyes with her for a second.
I hope she saw me. I hope she knew in that moment that her words still carry weight. A second later, I was alone again in the crowd, wiping my face as if anyone around me would notice or care. I felt a deep sense of loneliness, cross-cut by the irony of being surrounded by America’s most fervent Paramore superfans.
By the end of the concert, Hayley seemed drained. She almost didn’t finish Misery Business, which she had to halt in order to break up a fight in the crowd (probably over some sort of getting-picked-for-Miz-Biz drama). (Here’s a video; it was an absolutely wild moment.) Taylor’s face, usually cool/calm/collected, flashed dark with visible empathetic anger for Hayley as she struggled to compose herself. Miraculously, the band reeled the vibe back in and closed out the show strong. A masterclass in artistic resilience. If that had been me, I’d have given the crowd the finger and walked off stage.
I went into the camping experience expecting to have an intense, but positive experience. Yesterday afternoon, nibbling on leftover pie back in Austin, I had to come to terms with the fact that it kinda wasn’t……..fun.
I mean, it WAS. Finally getting the Paramore-headlining-at-a-small-venue experience, seeing the band human-sized right in front of me, and the absolutely exquisite performance put on by artists who have perfected their craft—it was all worth it, a dozen times over.
But sitting on the couch yesterday, processing with my husband, I choked back tears as the cement dried on the experience I thought would bring me the clarity I so desperately need right now. I couldn’t get past the date coincidence. 11/23. Matt never got to listen to Self-Titled, or After Laughter. Thanksgiving has sucked for 11 years. And the concert didn’t fix it. Or even rekindle my inspiration to write. What if no one ever reads what I have to say about my favorite band? What if this newsletter, the articles I’ve been pitching, the book I’ve been outlining, it’s all just a vain attempt to distract myself from my terrifyingly new life, back in a city I no longer know, with no one to keep me company but ghosts?
Back in May, a switch flipped, and I decided I needed to stop pissing around and just write the damn Paramore book. Yesterday, after driving home from the concert, I hit a brick wall for the first time since then.
I am realizing that if I am going to do right by Paramore, by myself, by the ones no longer here, I need to befriend my grief. And maybe, just maybe, somewhere in the liminal space between music and writing, I’ll keep finding somebody who will look me in the eyes when I’m crying.