I confess: watching boys strip off their school uniforms and run around topless isn’t usually the way I spend a Friday night. Somewhere past 15 it just stopped feeling de rigeur. In fact it seems like a decidedly dodgy thing to reprise now I’m 32; people get a bit upset about stuff like that nowadays.
And yet, just last week, this is what I found myself doing. Watching a boy stripping off his school uniform and running around like a loony while I giggled behind my hand like an idiot.
It was Friday night. I found myself, against all my usual discretion, at an AC/DC tribute night. I felt like I’d stepped back in time. I hadn’t been to a gig at that venue since I was a teen – wearing clunky boots, too much eyeliner, and chugging beer like it was Ribena – and here I was half a life later…wearing, er, clunky boots, too much eyeliner, and chugging beer like it was Ribena. Progress. Excellent.
I looked around me. Lots of people seemed to be wearing stuff they might have worn in the 90s too. Some of them looked like they might even be wearing their stuff from the 70s, (and I suspected they’d never stopped). There we stood – some suspended in a time which had never died, and some retrieving time like a pair of favourite old jeans found at the back of the wardrobe. The room smelt like these places usually do – stale carpet, sleepy beer, and the electro-plastic smell of equipment a bit too warm and sparky to pass the next safety test. And men. It stank of men. I think I even caught a whiff of Brute, which span me back to all those clumsy teen kisses that got planted on me like wet socks flung at a laundry basket.
I don’t know much about AC/DC. I know it’s the law for every person with two testicles to wear one of their T-shirts for at least a year of their lives. I know it reminds me of the knobs on the little generator thingy in physics experiments at school. I know there are guitars involved. I did not know an overgrown schoolboy ran around sticking his tongue out like he’d had too many E numbers. Were we supposed to chuck sherbet at him or something? Oh no. That’s just him, being all Rock.
Familiar songs were played. I bobbed dutifully like they were old favourites when really I was thinking “Ohhhhh! THIS is AC/DC!” I chugged Ribena-beer, and beamed up at my happy boyfriend, lost in his own light of a thousand remembered air-guitar solos. “You cute little rock dweeb”, I thought as I patted his bum. I turned and watched everyone else.
These people were lost. Like, properly lost. There was a man in his 50s down the front on his own, diving about in a school uniform. There was a lady in full leather who looked 20 from the back but 60 from the front, power-prodding the air like she’d just won Rock Bingo. There was a man in a wheelchair gliding around the floor as smoothly as a pinball in an old groove. They were lost – and loving it. I couldn’t take my eyes off them. They had paid twelve quid to watch some unknown men pretending to be better-known men.
Why were they here? They could be at home, whacking up the real AC/DC really loud. They could watch old gigs of the real AC/DC on Youtube. They could even catch the real AC/DC in their current line-up, somewhere in the world, and hear those old songs curve a quarter-mile around a stadium, feel the composite power of science and magic making the sound whoosh around thousands of thrashing bodies. Why were they here, while a man named Dougal gyrated in velour on the bar with his tiny boy-nipples? Is this really what it is to pay tribute?
It would be patronising to suppose I could tell what they were all feeling and why. I would no doubt get it wrong. But I saw it as a good thing – that furore of the familiar – standing there in memory of my Doctor Martens and a haze of Brute. We were a clan for the night, like humans are supposed to be. It was, if anything, a tribute to nature, not just the knee-socked gods of rock. It was who we all are: alone, but together, seeking abandonment to something ineffable, higher than the every day job of being us. It doesn’t matter if it’s in a stadium of people the size of pin-pricks, or down your local with a man in velour – it’s all real if it feels real.
And they did ruddy rock.