The older boy wanted to see ZZ Top, and because I am not a fan at first I said “no,” but then I said “if you buy your ticket, I’ll buy mine.” He did, and so we went. The show was at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds. It was Saturday night and the fair was in full swing, the air pungent with a particular American-ized desperation – cigarette smoke and fried dough, the fumigated odor of cheap perfume from the passing women – and for a time, before the music began, we just stood and watched. In the background, beyond the grandstand bleachers, the rides whirled and gyrated; a dozen or so feet to our right, a middle-aged couple made out with unrestrained fervor, tongue-to-tongue, hand-to-ass. Her jeans looked painfully tight; you could feel the flesh of her thighs aching for freedom. Or at least the next size up. Later, I caught a glimpse of his tee shirt: “Camping without beer is just sitting in the woods.”
I was caught off guard by the cheapness and excess of it all. So many lights flashing, so much noise and circumstance. And ZZ Top itself: Such a strange – and strangely compelling – band, Billy and Dusty implacable behind beard and hat, Frank the drummer nearly invisible behind his set. They sing primarily of sunglasses, Cadillac cars, and the female anatomy (oh, and stockings. Let’s not forget those), the lyrics laid over a raunchy and infectious blues shuffle. It is not music that asks much of its listeners. But then, I suppose that is part of the appeal.
It was a short set, and who could blame them? The band has been around for nearly a half-century. They are old and presumably rich and one can only imagine how many of these shows they’ve played, how many adoring crowds they’ve seen, buzzed on over-priced fair beer and mentholated cigarettes. From the stage, they gaze out over those crowds to the stomach-churning tilt-a-whirls beyond. What are they thinking of? Home. The end of the show. Sleep. The ache in their hips.
Or maybe just wondering how much longer the ride can possibly last.