They let us in at 10:40. Our $2.50 tickets got us four seats in the second to last row of the balcony, with no one behind us, so we moved back there to enjoy the show with a little more leg room. The show didn’t end up starting until after midnight and for the next two hours all I did was sit there, jumping out of my skin. I don’t remember a single song he did. What I do remember was that Van was having a hard time standing and there were a lot of brown Export Ale beer bottles on the stage. I was mesmerized.
The band did not seem to be in much better shape alcoholically than Van, so if nothing else, they were working in tandem. Like I said, I was mesmerized. Every song made me want to be up on stage. To be closer to the music. I wish I remember what songs he played, but scribbling down the setlist was the furthest thing from my mind that night. And in the diary I kept at the time, although I rhapsodized about the show, I failed to write down anything pertinent in terms of details.
As we were leaving the show, the general sense of the crowd was noncommittal, that it had merely been OK. To me it was a master magician doing his thing, drunk as they come. I’ve been to at least a couple of shows since then that in alcoholic terms were reincarnations of that night in 1971 and each one has been a show not to have missed. Nights like those would leave me wondering more than usual what to make of Van and his music. I had a lot of whats and whys running around in my head. But as Van says, it ain’t why, it just is, a sentiment I whole-heartedly endorse; but back then I hadn’t gotten that far in the manual.
Walking out of the theatre, I was wishing I was a backup singer in the band, that instead of turning forward down the road that led me back to school, I could turn back and get on the musician’s bus and head out on tour. My thinking outside the box hadn’t taken me as far as singing backup, and so like Cinderella who has lost her glass slipper, I headed back to school.
This time the car was short a person. The friend of the boyfriend begged off. I didn’t realize till the next day that it had meant to be a blind date. Well, Pixie should have told me. I wouldn’t have been a mute on the way up and turned into a Vanflabophobic after. As a blind date it wasn’t very successful, but as a Van concert it couldn’t have been better.
So I got in the backseat, encouraged to lie down, while Pixie and her boyfriend had the front. A night of liquid refreshment had me needing a bathroom, and by the time we hit the highway the need had pretty much taken over the number one through ten spot of things I would really like to rectify. And just when I had convinced myself that I could hold on until we got back to school, Pixie’s boyfriend pulled the car over to the side of the road and the two got to the part of the evening they’d most been looking forward to.
The car shaking did not help my situation at all. Neither did the potholes and the country roads on the rest of the drive. We made it though. We got dropped off up the road, only the open field to cross, up the fire escape and in through the window into Pixie’s room. There were no lights on at the school, which must be a good sign. Surely if they had found us missing, there would be at least one candle burning.
As we crawled through the window sometime after four, Pixie’s two roommates filled us in – everything had gone like clockwork. No one suspected a thing.
We’d done it! What a night.
It wasn’t until a few weeks later that we realized we’d been a bit premature in our thinking. Pixie and I were called down to Mr. Reid’s office after the last class of the day. As the two of us sat in the library next to his office, waiting to be called in, it crossed our minds what it might be about, but we convinced ourselves that he probably wanted to discuss something to do with the chapel music. As the most talented musician in our class, Pixie would always be in on a meeting like that, and so would I, as the choir leader. We were almost cheerful as we walked into his office.
That didn’t last long.
The Monday night in question as we so ably held up the Capital Theatre wall, a former classmate saw us in line and came over to chat before heading off to wherever it was she was going that night. Unbeknownst to us, someone else had also seen us in line – a former St. Helen’s denizen, who had graduated a year ahead of us. And over cereal the next morning, she mentioned just whom she’d seen to her father, who happened to be on the board of directors of the school. You can imagine the phone wires must have been burning over the next few weeks.
The gig was up, so there was nothing but to confess to the whole sordid mess. What could you girls have been thinking – with the Cowansville prison only six miles away and two men escaped and on the loose? What were we thinking of? How could we even contemplate leaving the school, two prefects whose job it was to set an example? Our crime was so serious that the board had discussed expulsion, but lucky for us, they had settled on suspension of our positions; that was our punishment – strip us of our prefect belts, Pixie lost her head of house and I lost choir leader, we were on probation and we were lucky it was our last year because we most surely wouldn’t have been invited back. I suppose we got enough demerits to plaster our names in infamy for the duration of time. So what did we have to say for ourselves, young ladies?
Not much, after I asked him whether if I had come to him and asked if I could go to the concert, would he have said yes. There was a resounding no. I remember sitting across from him and saying, “That’s what I thought. That’s why I didn’t ask.” I think I got a few more demerits for that one.
Our instructions included calling our parents and telling them. Pixie’s mother was a virtual saint, at least in comparison to mine. My mother made sure that any luck the board of directors had afforded us was more than used up on her end. Enough so that the name Van Morrison always left a bad taste in her mouth.
So I played the music a little bit quieter at home. That didn’t seem to bother me too much. Van on soft is a nice place to be. A small price to pay for my first time.