We were late in buying tickets, which put us in the nosebleeds. It was alright. We’d seen Neko before.
In Seattle, at the Paramount. 20 rows back if it was 10. Media seats, free through the Seattle newspaper I wrote for. Perk of the job. Event staff wants the newspaper writer to have a good time, so when he writes about his time, what he writes is good. It’s axiomatic. I had a coworker in the newsroom complain about this once. Free tickets for primo seats, he said, blinds us to all the crap people go through to experience live entertainment: Nonsensical service fees, post-Napster price inflation, secondary markets, bot buyers, seats where all you can hear is bass, seats where all you can hear are echoes. I paid him no mind. You know what they say about gift horses.
But back to the topic at hand: Comes now Neko to Tacoma. I’d be attending as a civilian, crammed into a nook of the theater whose name I can never say with 100 percent confidence. The bass would probably be too loud. The vocals only echoes. It was alright. We were happy we got seats at all.
You could feel her coming for weeks. Down at the Java Jive men talked about how they knew her when. Saint Neko, by whose grace Spanaway sounds like a prayer, by whose grace South Tacoma Way is a funeral dirge, by whose grace Tacoma will never forget it was thrice All American. She was coming home. Down at the Java Jive they knew her when.
It was a Wednesday. The concert. I can tell you the date. November 9th, 2016. 11/9. A European, with their reverse way of enumerating month and day, would say that date 9/11. But come now. We weren’t taking stock of a terrorist attack that day. It was, what? A peaceful election in the world’s oldest democracy. Yet after the opening act that night, the night after the peaceful election in the world’s oldest democracy, before Saint Neko came on, friends made the great ascent to our nosebleeds to ask: Where were you when it happened?
I know I’ll never forget. I told them this story: At the paper I wrote for in Seattle, I volunteered to cover the Republican election night party in Bellevue. I considered it an assignment in sociology. I considered it an assignment to cover a funeral dirge. Whose funeral? His political career’s, I, as a junior member of the media-intelligentsia industrial complex, was certain. As a junior member of the media-intelligentsia industrial complex, I wanted to be at the kill site when democracy ate its ill-begotten young.
But, no. We’re not talking about a murder scene. But, so. What was with the fog of depression hanging in the Pantages that night? What was with the wave of nausea that hit when the opening act did an impression of him. That moan of ache where a day before there would have been a guffaw? What blight had struck? Come, Saint Neko. Save us.
I’ll never forget. The hotel staff scrambling to put out more chairs for the swelling crowd at the Bellevue Hyatt. Republicans staring in awe at the three-screen megacast of the Fox News Election Center, Republicans catching a tan off all the red on the map. Their teeth getting white from the Megyn Kelly glare. Reporters catching a tan off the hot whiskey breath of I-told-you-so sources who’d known all along that he had it in the bag. The problem, it was explained by tailored suits smelling of 15-year-old scotch, was that we, we being reporters, reporters being part of the media-intelligentsia complex, the media-intelligentsia complex having just been mortally wounded by an election that defied all our knowing pontifications, was that we had taken too many free tickets, tickets that put us in the good seats, where we forgot how much bullshit everyone else had to put up with, the service fees, the cramped leg room, where the bass is too loud and the vocals are all echoes. It was past midnight by then. It was Wednesday. 11/9. 9/11.
The artist is like the lover. You cannot dictate what you need from her, because the need is too vast to speak. It is more vast than language. We need Saint Neko to remind us. We need her to help us forget. This fog of depression. Is it spilling on to the stage? Will she drown on our one thousand pleas for salvation hitting all at once? Is that the word? Salvation? Perhaps deliverance. Perhaps transcendence. No, it is vaster than language. What we need is for this theater, called the Pan-ta-ges, to be filled to the nooks and nosebleeds with a megacast of Neko, let our skin be bronzed by the heat of that hair, the flame of that voice. Yes, let the room burn, remind us that we were thrice All American.
I told the friends who came up to our seats this: Less than 24 hours before, when election night was over and I had filed my story, and one of my colleagues whispered to me that she was going to go home and cry into her vomit, I walked down to my car and as I approached it I noticed there was a man in a tailored suit sitting in the vehicle parked next to mine, and I paid him little mind, but still he startled a bit as I got close, and up from his lap came the shocked face of a woman, blow-job-interruptus, and the free association with the pussy-grabber was immediate and not entirely abstract, it seemed, as I drove home to Tacoma that American morning.
What I needed from Neko, I told the friends, was everything that the night before had stolen.
The main event has begun. She has taken the stage. Is she drowning? Is she one with our depression? My boss cried in the office today. Did she cry today? Or is it us? Can we receive the message, under such duress? I’m not sure. We are so far from the stage. But then, there it is. Ringing clear in the nosebleed. Her benediction. Her absolution. “I’m so tired.” She sings. “I’m so tired.” She sings. “ And I wish I was the moon tonight.” And with that we leave our earthly selves, our mispontificating selves, we leave the grabbing and the blow jobs and the bad seats and good seats and the tans and the reds. What we leave is vaster than language.
Saint Neko, full of grace, sing for us sinners. They still speak your name at the Java Jive. Spanaway is in our prayers.
Daniel Person is a journalist living in Tacoma. He has written for publications across the West, including Outside Online, Cowboys & Indians, and High Country News. His story about Blackfeet tribal members using traditional practices to address PTSD was recently featured in the anthology Montana: Warts and All. He is also the co-author of the forthcoming 26 Songs in 30 Days: Woody Guthrie’s Columbia River Songs and the Planned Promised Land in the Pacific Northwest. Lastly, though his employer wouldn’t use that term, he is news editor at Seattle Weekly.