Dave Grohl made me a woman.
But let’s back up – across an ocean, actually. It had been one week since my summer escape to Europe, and the adventures were steadily becoming more ridiculous. Travel accomplice Kimi Kieft and I had tested cheese in Dublin, conspired with a law-evading grandma in Edinburgh and bar-hopped all night with a Benneton ad of international travelers in London. Ours was a trip spawned from the clutching, asphyxiating desire for NEW; we didn’t have motorcycles, but we had diaries. And we wanted something worth writing about, an affirming experience louder than our self-fulfilling, twenty-something boredom.
Enter the Rock En Seine music festival, a two-day bonbon of multilingual music, pop culture portraits and enough chain-smoking to take out Smokey the Bear. Pronounced “Rock ahn Sen” (though I much preferred the bastardized hillbilly slur of “Rock Insane”), the third-annual Parisian concert drew an enormous menagerie of Eurohipsters, all of whom seemed to subsist solely on rich crepes and an inversely kind relationship with skintight jeans. The three main stages featured both English- and French-speaking bands ” regardless, everyone had an adept grasp on English cursing ” and the buzzing atmosphere brimmed with art exhibits, clothing vendors and waffle stands. (Waffles translate well.) Thanks to a surprising press connection, Kimi and I attended the closing day, which boasted headliners Franz Ferdinand, former Led Zeppelin wailer Robert Plant and the Foo Fighters.
It was also the eve of my 21st birthday – which is supposedly a big deal, but try explaining that to the Europeans. The date carried weight; I’d always imagined some sort of cinematic event as punctuation. Half a world away from California, I needed something that would make a fantastic future seem closer to home – and I was needled by the belief that I hadn’t accomplished enough for my age. But those thoughts had competition; the whole fair was a polyphonic explosion, with bands blaring and eclectic recordings humming from every booth. Diverse also were the performers’ interaction; Sayag Jazz Machine fluttered epileptically through their mellow grooves, while local favorite Saian Supa Crew unleashed throat-scraping nihilistic howls and sweated off their pronounced makeup. Robert Plant preferred to stand immobile, spending his valuable vibrato on boring solo work and few Zeppelin standards. (Cries of “Seeng of zee Led Zeplain!” were infinitely amusing.)
But the prize for “Most European” went to Goldfrapp, a British pop outfit that mixes Blondie with Kylie Minogue, and then both with staunchly proud key-tar. Their act unspooled with backup dancers who dressed as disco unicorns, then ratty chimpanzees, then some sort of black-and-silver beetle usually confined to psychotropic hallucinations.
For a real lost-in-translation moment, though, nothing compared to the backstage. The lounge was one big, screaming bubble of French, none of which fell on comprehending ears. And as this was a working birthday, the interviews also posed their problems; after I asked Franz Ferdinand lead singer (and Scotsman) Alex Kapranos if he spoke any French, he offered an obliging, rapid-fire response that made the other reporters burst with laughter. Then Kapranos beamed at me, and I distinctly had no idea what was going on, aside from how the Franz drummer was looking intently down my shirt. (Full interview forthcoming.)
But if one thing crosses the language barrier, it’s sycophantic journalism: the poised writers in the press tent broke into hysterics at the arrival of the Foo Fighters. And I couldn’t claim immunity; crudely printed photos of Dave Grohl still adorn the walls of my childhood home, and his music is always on my tongue for the “what changed your life?” debate. Actual nicknames were created by high school friends to convey the magnitude of my Foo obsession; to see the real, live men in front of me was shocking.
After a paralyzing shiver of nerves (the worst I’ve ever had), I stomped over to them with false bravado and quivering knees. Twenty minutes later, I emerged with an interview and birthday wishes from my hero, not to mention a hysterical love for music journalism, life and everyone within a 10-mile radius. (Full interview absolutely freakin’ forthcoming.)
That euphoria lasted through the Foo Fighters’ riotous, heavy, churning set, one filled with wailing new radio releases, a gorgeously sparse “Everlong” and Grohl’s admittedly poor attempts at the native language. The other FFs, Franz Ferdinand, picked up the slack with almost entirely French stage banter, as well as an impressively unified attack on their dancey tunes that suggested the great talent running through their young blood. And the French crowds ate it all up with flourish, shrieking and jumping and, appropriately, making out sloppily.
As for this American in Paris? I officially turned 21 backstage at the festival after-party, simultaneously chugging champagne and marveling at the obscene luck that courses through my life (do I even deserve it?). And I thought that maybe the point of becoming an adult is embracing the idealism of childhood, something we parrot but rarely accept as epiphany. It’s reaching as far as possible and really, finally believing you can have what you never expected to see.
So now it’s back to the small town, and the hope of well-acquainted turmoil. Hello, adventure – I’ve waited here for you. But maybe I should’ve been looking instead.
Stacey Anderson is a journalism and music senior, KCPR DJ, and petit dejeuner. E-mail her at email@example.com.