July 13th, 2011

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ca·thar·sis (k-thärss)
n. pl. ca·thar·ses (-sz)
1. A purifying or figurative cleansing of the emotions, especially pity and fear, described by Aristotle as an effect of tragic drama on its audience.
2. A release of emotional tension, as after an overwhelming experience, that restores or refreshes the spirit.
eu·pho·ri·a (y-fôr-, -fr-)
A feeling of great happiness or well-being.

I'm being crushed against the metal barrier in front of me by the several thousand people behind. The girl next to me's hair is in my mouth, and I am sticking uncomfortably to the leather jacket of the man behind me. (In two hours, when we peel apart, my skin will be embedded with zipper and leather wrinkle marks, but he gets a pass on this because he will spend the evening protecting my head.) The arm that's not hanging over the barrier is stuck awkwardly by my side, my feet are going numb, and I would be literally dripping with sweat if I wasn't too crowded for that to be possible. Someone's arm is around my neck, and another is propped on my shoulder; partway through the concert, someone else will snake theirs around my waste, and I will wrap my previously trapped arm around the back of a French girl's head. We are too stuck together to even jump properly to the music, and so instead we all surge as one, back and forth, back and forth. Six feet away, Jarvis Cocker writhes on top of a stack of amps and peers out at us as we all sing along to every song so loudly it's a miracle we can still hear the band.

I know, I really do know, that amazing concert experiences are not just something that happens to me; that music inspires faith like religion, and that lots of people have had similar moments in their life. This isn't about the uniqueness of my experience. But: five years ago, I went to a concert with one my best friends, a small local band playing outdoors. I couldn't even stand at the back of the crowd, it was too much for me, I was going to have a panic attack - I had to go and sit in the bleachers. Now, compare.

What this is about is healing, and how we do it. It's about realizing something about yourself that maybe you should've known a long time ago, but only just figured out. It's about lightning-bolt moments. It's about growth. Don't get me wrong; I'm the last person to take me seriously. But sometimes I'm forced to.

An important part of any concert experience is the crowd, and this one was the best I've ever been a member of. Pulp have been apart a long time, and they've been around for more than twice as long as that. They've meant a lot to a lot of people, and a lot of those people are here tonight. Everyone knows every word of every song intimately. People shout teases and quips at Jarvis like he's an old school friend. This is pure love of pop music.

The experience shook me so much that it's taken me ten days to write about it. Even now, I don't think I'm properly expressing how strongly the concert touched me - and not just the bands, but the realizations I had that night. I'm having trouble writing about it evenheadedly, as you can see. The adverbs and adjectives are piling up all over this post, and I'm at risk of sounding like some trippy new-ager when I talk about healing.

But the week before last something snapped inside of me. Leading up to it I was the unhappiest I've been since I moved here, I think. I wasn't talking to people much because I didn't have much to report - I was looking for work. I hadn't found any yet. That was about it. And then suddenly I woke up one morning, and went to the National Gallery, where I spent a long time glaring at Van Gogh's Sunflowers as Japanese tourists and a group of schoolchildren all tried to shove around me. There was no reason for me not to, after all. I was unhappy. I needed to do something to be less unhappy, or I was going to go mad. I figured that much out. The next evening I took myself to a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, and laughed so hard my cheeks hurt, and when I stepped out of the theatre into the warm Piccadilly night I felt lighter than I had since February. The day after that was the Arcade Fire show, and then Friday was Canada Day (though I only paid a brief visit to the celebrations.) Saturday was the Pride Parade, and even more dancing in Trafalgar square, and then Sunday was the night described above. So it was all a slow build of experiences, even though the tipping point was singing along to Disco 2000 with everyone else in Hyde Park that night.

I've somehow grown into the type of girl that dances, and screams, and has emotional breakthroughs rather than breakdowns in a seething crowd of strangers.javascript:void(0);