It’s half past six in Las Vegas’s Hard Rock Hotel & Casino.
At the little café, pens hover over 3×5 notecards. The assignment: “50 Goals for 2016.” Sam peeks over to see what I’ve come up with. Visit a foreign country. Go to a strip club. Learn martial arts… The first few come easy. It’s the teens where momentum starts tapering off.
Headed down the hall towards us is my friend Dalan from Santa Barbara. He’s shed the blanket he wore outside, his x’d hands and “vegan” throat piece now clearly visible. He’s not breaking stride. “Y’all get tickets?” he asks.
Yeah, I tell him. We’re in.
“Awesome! I’m going to get back in line.” He’s on a mission. “I’m getting scared!” I watch him disappear down the hall. Sam looks up at me. Still stumped.
“Should we put down ‘See Morrissey’?” she asks.
I think for a moment. “Yeah, why not?” Call it an easy win. He’s performing downstairs in two hours.
Don’t ask me why 50. The number’s arbitrary—and maybe too ambitious. I do the math. Let’s see. 365 days in a year, divided by seven is 52… Yes, this undertaking will demand creativity— e.g., going to a strip club in a foreign country. But maybe completing them all’s not the point.
“What should maybe happen,” I think out loud, “is, after writing the list, we take a red pen and, like, circle the really important ones. Maybe even make another list.” Sam nods, brows lowered. I’ve read too many self-help books the past year.
The upstairs café becomes the bar downstairs. Half the fun of a Morrissey event is fan fashion, and we’re smack dab in the heart of the action. Preshow now becomes time for planning and people-watching. And people-watch we do. Middle-aged men with rockabilly haircuts, kids in Smiths tees older than they are, Doc Martins and tattooed flesh… it’s a lot of attitude for one little casino. A casino now overrun with Morrissey fans. The cocktail waitresses, navigating this maze, exchange glances: “Who are all these people?” An early-30s couple at the bar, who look like they’re here exclusively to drink and gamble, buy us drinks. I thank the waitress, then slide mine across to Sam.
“Oh! Maybe I’ll dumpster more!” she says, pen flying to her index card. Maybe the beer is loosening her up. She’s now into her 40s, while I’m stuck at 35: “Dry clean shirts.” I give a nod to my father-brother Bryan Funck. His idea.
The line swells. Now I’m getting scared. We join in behind about a thousand people. I look at our tickets: standing room only. Wait, so does that mean…? “What if they, like, reach capacity and we don’t get in?” I’m transferring worry.
“No,” says Sam, a look of horror. The line crawls forward. 20 minutes til showtime. More people joining. “No,” Sam continues, “Why would they sell the tickets, then?” She’s right; I begin to relax.
But I’m not fully at ease until, what seems like an eternity later, we emerge into the cavernous venue, Morrissey’s pop culture stock footage flashing on the screen behind the instruments. Unlike me, this is Sam’s first time, so I tell her: Don’t worry about me. Do what you must.
“I’m going to get closer,” she says. “What about you?”
I hang back. Propping myself on a handrail behind the standing-room crowd, I decide to settle in next to a family from L.A. I’ll just pretend I’m one of their kids.
Showtime: The lights dim, Morrissey takes the stage. And… wow. Green polyester shirt half unbuttoned, gray chest hair bursting forth. He’s sassily whipping the mic cord. Fans swoon. Like a fine wine, his voice has only gotten better with age. The dude’s older than my dad, but he’s killing it! Already I’m second-guessing my decision; maybe I should have squeezed up front with Sam.
Save for two drunks who edge too close, the night passes without incident. Then, midway through, I feel a tap on my shoulder. Employees. “You can’t sit up there! Get down!”
Now what? I consider my options. Sneak up to the balcony? Uninspired. I have my notecard, and there’s #26 burning a hole in my pocket: “Make every complaint an advantage.” Bossed around by people in uniform; in 2015, certainly cause for complaint.
My line of sight now reduced to a lot of sweaty backs and no Morrissey… I’m wanting to curse these mean staff members, when it occurs to me: here is precedent in the making. A test of my wherewithal. How will I ring in 2016? Blazing a trail of empty promises and broken dreams? Or forging my mind into a fist to crush my enemies?! I ponder for a moment.
Then charge into the crowd. Next thing I know, I’m pressed against the barricade on house left. Way house left. Like, by the PA speakers. Morrissey’s going in and out of view depending on his position onstage. But when I can see him, man, can I see him! As for Boz or the other band members—forget it. The screen showing god-knows-what during “The World is Full of Crashing Bores”? I mean, I see Morrissey pointing at something. What he’s pointing at I have no idea. (Later Sam tells me: “Pictures of royalty.” Oh.)
Squeals and shrieks fill the P.A., drowning out the crowd. “Meat is Murder.” This time I needn’t wonder what’s onscreen. I move center for a look anyway. What I find are the same nightmarish images that have haunted me since age 15. Cows branded. Birds crammed into extermination trucks. Blood from open throats spilling onto the assembly line killing floor. The images haven’t changed. And nor has my attitude: “It’s death for no reason, and death for no reason is murder.”
I think about the woman and her husband in line behind us on the way in. “That’s not real, is it?” I ask, gesturing to her coat.
“It’s rabbit,” she says.
“Why would you wear that? To a vegan’s concert?”
“They’re basically just road kill anyway,” she says, her hand running across it. Fur-hags: always “petting ” their pelts, the sickos. I turn in disgust. “We’re getting a hamburger after this, too,” her husband calls over my shoulder.
I know that somewhere now stands this couple, confronted with the consequence of their apathy. The song builds to ear-splitting crescendo, as text fills the screen: “Cual es tu excusa ahora?” Morrissey’s ad-libbing the final lines: “What will make you care? What will ever make you care?” A question most will never answer.
The band begins “You Have Killed Me.” I can’t see a damn thing, but you won’t hear me complaining. No sir. I’m here, amongst fellow fans, actually participating. I’m so stoked I’m almost pogoing. A middle-age woman hands me a beer. “No thanks,” I say.
But I’m not willing to let a little thing like sobriety stand in my way. We throw our arms around one another, her singing to me, me singing to her; Morrissey singing to all of us. She’s swinging her cup, I’m raising my notecard to the sky. This is awesome!
Two more, and it’s time for the encore, which for me is the real reason to go see Morrissey. Since I’m already here—like, in the pit—I scan the crowd for Sam, and there she is. I plow through a dozen people, grabbing her hand and pulling her in. The encore…What can I say? Always a time of great anticipation. Security tightens. Morrissey’s men stand at attention. Whispers pass behind the barricade. Stakes are high: shit’s about to go down.
So begins “Suedehead.”
Stage-crashing Morrissey is a time-honored tradition—maybe not started by hardcore kids, but I like to think we escalated it. A few dare cross the barrier, and are shoved back. Little Davids battling Hard Rock goliaths. I’m not sure who usually plays The Joint, but the staff ’s response leads me to presume their fans aren’t so zealous. Backlash is fierce. One brave fan falls by their hands. Then another. This is no surprise. What does surprise me, though, is the response from Morrissey’s own. Dalan from Santa Barbara, generally tolerated, even at times abetted by Moz himself, makes a break for it. He’s over the barricade. One big leap and he’ll have his hug, as per usual. Down below we’re all rooting for him. Then— rebuffed by Morrissey’s man in the curtain. Dalan falls, slow-motion-like, into the waiting hands of The Joint’s ogres. He raises his own in surrender. They drag him out.
“Morrissey’s team has orders now not to let anybody up,” Dalan tells Sam and me afterwards, a little sadly. “He’s getting old, you know?” Not like the old days anymore, indeed, eh, Moz?
Meanwhile I move in to take Dalan’s place. I clasp Sam in one hand, barricade in the other, knuckles clenched white. I’m cackling like a madman. I hoist myself onto the bar, just waiting for an opportunity to spring. The guy beside me gives a complicit nod. “Can you make it?”
“I can try,” I say.
Typical me, always inching towards delinquent lines. Most are happy to pay their money, watch the show, go home. Not me. Never been my style. Nothing keeps me awake at night like knowing I could have gone for it but didn’t. Those who stay behind the barricade rarely make history. But right now I’m staring down a flank of security, biceps the width of my torso. These guys take their job seriously. Attempt seems futile. My palms start sweating over that bar. I’m losing my nerve.
It’s the same old story: poised on the brink of greatness, and then—that urge to pull back. Doubt supplanting will. Excuses overtaking: The goal is too great. The obstacle too big. Maybe true. And yet… totally irrelevant. See, I believe in such a thing as “right action.” Its metric is fear; the more important the action, the more fear it evokes. Morrissey’s shirt comes off. This is it, last exit to Brooklyn. Should I?
I don’t. And I regret it. The lights cut on with piercing finality. Show’s over, our Vegas adventure at its end. But I’m still full of adrenaline; I don’t want it to.
Sam and I exit. “Should we go to a strip club?” I ask. Some of our goals are collaborative.
“Fuck it, I’m down!” says Sam. She’s riding high. “That’ll be a good transition back to reality.” Conveniently, a strip club’s sign blinks at us from across the street. What happens in Vegas… “Wow… I can’t believe… we just… Morrissey!” Sam is saying. She’s already amended “See Morrissey” to “Give Morrissey a letter.” The distant glint in her eyes tells me better than words ever could: There is more Moz in her future.
“You’re turning into one of those superfans, huh?” I joke. Like Dalan, camping out all day, draped in his blanket. Like Trinity, clocking her 209th—“or something like that, I’ve lost count”—Moz concert. Maxing out credit cards flying across the globe, earning a lifetime spot on the guest list. It’s a great dream. “You better get on that,” I tell Sam. “Dude probably doesn’t have that many left…” It’s not meant as a taunt—not for Sam, anyway. But my remark hangs there. Suddenly I’m staring down the spectre of my own unlived potential. As The Smiths blast from cars exiting parking garages, a vision crystallizes right there in the shadow of the strip club.
I pull out my index card. Another for the list. Because I swear: I’ll never let another security guard stop me from going for it. Ever. Again.