“And I wonder…if everything could ever feel this real forever,
if anything could ever be this good again” ~ Everlong
* * * * *
The Foo Fighters’ 20th Anniversary extravaganza will go down in history – mine, at least – and not just because Dave Grohl showed up on a throne; it was the first time attending a concert compelled me to finalize my Will. Until now, I’d thought only Kid Rock could make me do questionable things.
And, how funny is that? To think, amid the anticipation and excitement of attending our first Foo Fighters concert, we had to prepare to die. Now, I’m writing this, so you’ve no doubt deduced I made it out safely. But, I wouldn’t say I came through the experience wholly unscathed.
Washington, D.C. gets in your head. You don’t even have to visit to form an opinion about the place; it’s our nation’s capitol. It’s where we house POTUS, where our country’s leaders gather to debate – and theoretically solve – our country’s problems, and it’s where we keep our history, from our founding documents to the sometimes towering memorials we’ve dedicated to the men, women, soldiers, and thinkers who made our slice of civilization what it is. To tell the truth, while it pisses you off as much as inspires, it’s a bit overwhelming. I highly recommend it.
We drove straight through on Wednesday, July 1, allowing two full days to take in the sights before Saturday’s concert. The Metro carried us long distances, but mostly we walked – about ten miles a day. Our first stop was the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights. Our final stop the following evening was the Jefferson Memorial. In between, we either walked into or walked by Ford’s Theatre, the house where Lincoln died, Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum, a Masonic Temple, the Smithsonian’s National Art & Portrait Galleries, Library of Congress, Capitol, White House and Executive Offices Building, Washington Monument and the National Mall, Memorials for Lincoln, World War II, Vietnam, and the Korean War, Potomac River, Tidal Basin, and the extraordinarily poignant tribute to Franklin Delano Roosevelt. To name a few.
I tipped the street musicians all the cash I had on me. Scott bought a newspaper from a homeless man. In a median where two major streets converged, a grove of trees sheltered a long-ago abandoned fountain adorned with Zodiac signs. On an adjacent bench, next to an overloaded shopping cart, I noticed someone sleeping beneath a blanket.
We stood in lines at the National Archives for over an hour, despite bolting for the Rotunda the instant we were cleared to enter the building. Some whispers claimed the delay was ordered by the FBI. Regardless, we were glad to have made it our first stop, because the lines weren’t getting any shorter. I was disappointed to be denied access to “the big room” at the Library of Congress, but equally honored and humbled to have set foot inside at all. Next time, I’m going all the way in!
News about the gunman down the street from our hotel Thursday morning didn’t reach us for a day or two, which made it easy to calmly and reverently browse the Smithsonian’s collection of Presidential Portraits. At the Lincoln Memorial, before I could snap the picture I’d been eager to take of the Reflecting Pool, shouts from a security guard sent everyone scurrying outside. Law enforcement arrived scary fast, and somebody was quickly hauled out in handcuffs. Unlike dozens of other onlookers, we didn’t stick around to get video.
Near L’Enfant Square, we caught a glimpse of a nearby, deteriorating statue, surrounded by grass and discarded food and beverage containers. The stretch of concrete above I-395 felt like the land that time forgot. I saw a photographer taking pictures of an overflowing garbage can near China Town. There were panhandlers everywhere, and so much of the infrastructure – roads, bridges, buildings – needs serious attention. But, there are improvements and restorations going on all over, and I’m sure the city will maintain its grandeur long after we’re all gone. Well, mostly sure.
I’m embarrassed I know so little about FDR; no Commander in Chief in my lifetime has offered more inspiring words. It’s a shame we don’t make ‘em like that anymore. A park ranger at the Jefferson Memorial entertained Scott and other visitors for over thirty minutes, telling stories about America’s earliest days. Me, I leaned against the pillars, admired the skyline, and watched the paddle-boaters pedal their way around the Tidal Basin like slow-motion bumper cars. I was on a Founding Fathers high as we left, until I spied a seemingly unused tampon, smashed from rain and footfalls on one of the bottom portico steps. The level of disrespect left me temporarily dumbfounded. After a couple beers and repeated, internal assurances that someone was surely on top of the garbage and homeless things, so I didn’t need to get angry and write my congressman, I calmed down and fell asleep.
And then we went to a concert.
Independence Day. RFK Stadium looks like a lot of other places in D.C.: like it needs a good pressure washing, a can or twelve of paint, and a few extra screws. But, I felt safe knowing the National Armory was next door. On the granite slab that welcomed us, honoring the founder of the Redskins, someone had affixed a bright red RACIST sticker. Nobody made a move to rip it off. I found that oddly comforting.
The lineup was RDGLDGRN (a D.C. band added at the last minute), Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, Gary Clark, Jr., Heart, LL Cool J, Buddy Guy, D.C.’s own Trouble Funk, and – ultimately – Foo Fighters. The sound, specifically the echo, was awful, and I had no room to dance (but, don’t think I didn’t). Between Joan Jett and Gary Clark, Jr., the infield and all uncovered seats were evacuated for over an hour due to nearby lightning. Smokers were herded to areas closest to the outside air, and garbage piled up quickly. I mentioned to event staff there were no receptacles up the ramp. Their reply was, “The whole stadium’s like that,” as if that made everything okay.
But, the garbage was gone within an hour. And, in the smoker’s “corner,” I met this really cool chick from Brazil. She’d been in the country only a month. I shared my cigarettes. She bought me a beer. Our seats were next to a couple from London, and thankfully one row removed from the downpour, so we never had to leave our seats. Once allowed back on the field, people running and sliding in the mud drew huge cheers from the crowd in the stadium. It was hilarious. And, while the sound did suck, the echo became part of the experience – which, in the end, was amazing.
Picture a wiry, goofy kid playing drums in an underground D.C. punk band. Imagine his exposure to poverty, homelessness, racism, drugs, and injustice, all the while surrounded by monuments to greatness. Imagine him wanting to change the world.
Let him grow up to play drums in a Seattle band, get lucky, get paid, reach icon status, then strip it all away when the band’s front man blows his head off because he can’t take it. Watch the boy fall apart. Then, watch him rise to his feet, pick up a guitar, and start a new band, one that – twenty years later – is arguably as big as the first. Let them build Sonic Highways and host an anniversary show unlike any other, where songwriters and musicians from across the country gather together to celebrate the diverse backgrounds, sounds, and cultures that define American music. And do it in his hometown, at RFK Stadium. On the Fuckin’ Fourth of July.
Oh, and a few weeks before the show, break his leg.
Dave Grohl is like RFK Stadium, like D.C., like America: bruised and broken, but still awesome and inspiring. If you’re an American, you should consider finding out more about him. And, with or without Foo Fighters tickets, if you haven’t visited Washington, D.C., you should go. According to the map, it’s a tiny dot tucked in along the Virginia-Maryland border. But, it’s a scenic and powerful little place – that happens to belong to YOU, the citizens of America. If it’s yours, don’t you think you should know more about it?
With very few exceptions, access to the history D.C. stores for us is free of charge, from the Smithsonian Museums to the National Archives, so it doesn’t have to cost half as much as Disneyworld. Sure, you might see things that piss you off. I did. And that’s okay, because, in D.C., there’s a good chance you’ll run across something else that alternately moves you to greatness. I don’t see that as such an awful thing.
Now, run off and go change the world.