Experiencing Ben Harper, Madrid-Style

by Sally Sorte – Spain

“Yesterday seems like a life ago,” because I went to a concert. This was no black tie, knee-length skirt affair; this was Ben Harper. Silly, that I’m a fellow West Coaster and flew across nine time zones to see him. This warranted some dirty looks from A-haters, but I told them to “¡Vete a freír espárragos!” (Go fry some asparagus!)—the Spanish equivalent of “Shove that where the sun don’t shine.” Well, más o menos, they’ll probably both cause discoloration.

After enacting certain scenes of “Alice and Wonderland” at a friend’s “piso” and deciding that the cheeseburger in the microwave should probably not be making “fuegos artificiales,” we were prepared to take on the Harper.

“Does anyone know how to get there?” Apt question.

A few phone calls later, and after a beer can was pried out of my friend’s grasp “de aceite” (drinking on the “calles” is illegal in Madrid), we were stumbling onto the line four metro. School girls on their way home sat on the floor, legs splayed, in their uniform plaid skirts. My guy friends were practically creaming their coffee as a 14-year-old showed off the “cigarillos” she had purchased.

Complaining about the stairs, a friend from Pomona remarked, “Look how socialist this is that we have to go down before we can go up.”

We entered the labyrinth, and without Daedalus to instruct us, we opted for a Spanish security guard. We lined up because our group had seats on a few different “plantas.” I began people-watching like it was an intramural sport, and I was on my way towards a blue shirt when the security guard reached for my ticket. He looked me up and down, smiled (I think he liked my red, yellow and green ensemble), and pointed for me to follow a group of people headed at an acute angle for some double doors. I obediently followed, expecting one of the backs in front of me to belong to one of my friends. I quickened my pace and my hopes were dashed; negatory.

“Will I even recognize Ben Harper when I find him?” I wondered. “I don’t know what he looks like. Oh well, love is blind.”

Feeling lost, I asked a cleaning person where I should go (this strategy works on the streets), but apparently this “limpiadora” was better versed in the bathroom so that’s where I found myself. I “stalled” and then departed to show my ticket to another security guard. After consulting his crony he pointed me farther downward. I felt more oriented when I eventually found myself at the bar (familiar territory nowadays), but still no concert. I looked for a sufficiently metro European, there was, por supuesto, an ample supply of gel-haired men and I chose the one wearing a Lockhart shade of persimmon.

He was the ace to my face card because he spoke English. The mystery was that the floor/seat number had either not been printed, or had been ripped off of my ticket upon entrance. Forgoing the necessary conversation that would earn me a $15 drink, I proceeded to two more security guards and showed them my ticket.

Laughing, one showed the ripped off corner to his buddy (an “Engraved Invitation?”), and then ushered me through the door onto the floor. After weaving my way through the crowd to the stage I realized I wasn’t going to find my friends. I looked behind me, I’d forgotten to trail a back-tracking thread like Theseus, yet without a Minotaur in sight I may as well stay and enjoy the show.

It was time to make friends. I spotted two blondes and began edging toward them, but once I got a view of their “adult shop” outfits I turned around, skating across the beer-glazed floor on my platform flip-flops like Pippi Longstocking on her scrub brushes, only less effective. “Pippilotta, delicatessa, windowshade, mackrelmint, efraim’s …”

A tall guy was waving his hand and I charged like a toro to red. “Hey, I saw you waving your hand and thought you were my friend,” lie. Lie. Myth? “But since you’re not,” truth, “can you tell me where to go?” Rhetorical question. After he unsuccessfully looked for my floor/seat number like all of his more qualified predecessors, he introduced me to his gang of friends, all guys, all Catalonians. I switched to Spanish and was warmly welcomed; Spanish hospitality.

The “Ojos de Brujo” opening finished and plumes of smoke began to issue upwards from the crowd during the stage change, like hydrothermal vents. One of my new friends took a packet of white powder and stirred it into a cup of clear liquid. The clear liquid was probably water, but I’m betting the white substance was less benign. I declined the imminent offer, “take care of your body like you care for your soul,” and focused onstage.

A raging concert and multiple encores ensued. Ben laid his guitar flat on his lap and playing it like a Harp(er)sichord and then used his teeth! At one point, Ben came up behind his drummer and played over the top of his Rastafari dreadlocks, reminding me of that camp skit where one person encircles their arm around the other, creating the effect of a human tyrannosaurus rex, and uses their arms to blindly brush the other person’s teeth and apply lipstick to the other person’s mouth.

The rest is a blur. Yeah we’re “One dimensional fool[s] in a three dimensional world,” but “What good is a cynic with no better plan?” “I believe in a better way,” we aren’t innocent criminals unless we do it, “With our own, with our own two hands.”

From a broad

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