Seeing Live Music in Your 40s: Hurts So Good

by Nancy Davis Kho
Originally Published: 

There is now going to be a renewed sense of urgency with which I send that message to Xers younger than I am, which is most of them since I was born in the first few years of the demographic wave that separates us from the Boomers. Because I have reached that vaunted stage of life where it actually hurts to be at a show.

I had a hint of this about six years ago, when a dull ache in my right foot turned into a raging pain that was diagnosed as plantar fasciitis. No particular injury caused it; I just woke up one day to find that my body had rebelled against itself. There would be no more wearing of chic heeled boots to shows, no more cute feminine flats. From that point forward, it was heel stretches, custom made inserts and sensible clogs with arch support. I consoled myself that if the music is good, no one is looking at my feet anyway, strapped on some black orthopedic monstrosities and got back to rockin’ (note, not “rocking” like rocking chair. Not yet.). I could still shake it to a Black Keys stadium show, a Book of Love reunion tour at a dark club, the second encore of a Lord Huron show at the Fillmore in San Francisco. Maybe the foot problems were as bad as it would get for me.

But my aging body wasn’t about to give up on the self-sabotage that easily. A minor strain in my right shoulder last year, from throwing a pinecone for my dog to chase (critique from my athletic husband: “Yeah, I’ve seen your throwing mechanics, that was probably inevitable”), turned a degree more painful as the months passed, then a little worse after that, and finally transformed into full blown capsulitis, aka Frozen Shoulder syndrome. We’re not talking about the fun Disney Frozen™ shoulder that comes dressed in princess sparkles and exhorts everyone to let it go. This is the kind of frozen shoulder where I can’t raise my right arm past my ribcage, or reach behind me to zipper a dress, or lift anything heavier than a soup can.

Most critically: I can no longer wave my hands in the air like I just don’t care. I care very, very much because doing so gives me a shooting pain up the front of my right shoulder. There was an incident at a party recently, dancing to “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes—you know, the part where you explode out of the whispered verse to scream “Let me go out! Like a blister in the sun!” at the top of your lungs?—when the shoulder movement I made while demonstrating how a blister in the sun might go out caused such pain that I had to actually take a knee.

The shoulder specialist who diagnosed it said, “This is the most frequent ailment I treat for women between 40 and 60.” My hairdresser said, “I had it. Menopause is next.” I assume the invitation to join the AARP, surely already in the mail, will come in an envelope marked “EZ 2 Open for Frozen Shoulder Sufferers!” as well.

In the next six weeks I’m scheduled to see five concerts, from The Replacements to Jenny Lewis to a house concert by a folk singer named Robby Hecht. Am I excited? So excited. Am I already strategizing where I can stand at each venue to prevent people from brushing into my right shoulder? Affirmative. Also I may have practiced a couple of dance moves in front of the mirror and during kitchen cleanup that involve keeping my hands no higher than waist level.

The frozen shoulder is bad, but what hurts worse is the realization that at some future date, I’ll be looking back on it like the good old days. “Remember when I didn’t trip over my walker trying to get to the front of the stage? Remember when I could hear the band without double hearing aids?” (Although if the hearing aids happen, they will probably be linked to too many concerts, so there’s some justice.)

So my message to thirty-something music lovers who think they are too busy with kids and school open houses and work and soccer practice: this is why God created babysitters and microwave dinners. Make use of them liberally. Enjoy seeing shows while you still can.

The day will come when you’re at a live show and the lead singer belts out a love song lyric about being in pain, and you’ll be able to relate only too well.

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