Finding the fountain of youth in music

Once upon a time a Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce de León spent a great deal of time searching what is now Florida for the fabled Fountain of Youth.

Once upon a time a Spanish explorer named Juan Ponce de León spent a great deal of time searching what is now Florida for the fabled Fountain of Youth.

Because de León died after a poisoned arrow struck him at the age of 47 – the age I attain on Aug. 10 – I am assuming that he never found it.

Although it can hardly benefit poor de León, who has been dead for 494 years now, I have actually been successful in the quest for the Fountain of Youth.

And this past Sunday, I sipped again of its healing waters.

Now, it should be noted that I’m not speaking literally here. Don’t go searching Western Washington for any magic fountain to keep you young. You won’t find it. If you do, however, please contact me. I’d like the scoop and maybe a sip or two.

No, friend, my fountain is not water, it’s music, specifically live music. Even more specifically, the hard rock and heavy metal of my youth.

Coming of age in the 1980s, I was drawn to heavy metal and hard rock. As the predominant genres of that time period, their appeal of distorted guitars, wailing vocals, pounding drums and high energy of bands like Iron Maiden, Mötley Crüe, Metallica and the mighty Van Halen were undeniable.

Like many youth of the period, I clung to those bands and their ilk, grew my hair long, donned the uniform of concert T’s and jeans, all while finding real solace in the lyrics and the music when teen angst begin to overwhelm me.

I found a place to belong.

Those bands became more than just music to me. They became the soundtrack of my life, and going to live shows was, for me, akin to going to church.

While many of my peers eventually “grew up,” taking on careers and families and finding their way to the suburbs and more acceptable forms of music, like adult contemporary and John Tesh and Yanni – you know who you are, peers – I continued to kneel at the altar of music.

Sure, I went to college also, honed my craft of writing, eventually got a career as a journalist and started a family. But I never abandoned my allegiance to the music. I’m the guy who still wears a concert T under his work shirt, the guy who wore his hair long way past the time my receding hair line should have allowed. Look up skullet. It wasn’t pretty.

Beyond all the accoutrements of being a metal head and hard rock fan, however, was the music. I picked up the guitar, learned to pick a few of my favorite bands’ songs, and got out some aggression, courtesy of a Marshall amp turned up to about 8.

Most important, I went to shows. Lots and lots of shows.

About seven years ago I got my first opportunity not only to go to concerts but actually to take pictures at a concert at the White River Amphitheatre, photographing Slipknot, Disturbed, Dragonforce and Mastodon at the inaugural Mayhem Festival. This involved standing between the front row barricade and the stage, snapping pictures mere feet away from the bands for three songs.

It was like a drug; I was addicted immediately.

Every year since then, I await the summer festival season at the Amphitheatre to get my music fix. I have been blessed to have taken pictures of some of my favorite bands, including such music heavyweights as Iron Maiden, Megadeth and Rush.

This past Sunday, I got the opportunity to take pictures of Van Halen. Back in the 1980s Van Halen was the biggest band in the world, selling out arenas and stadiums and moving millions of records. Their shows were must-sees, and they often sold out in mere minutes. I was lucky enough to catch the band’s “1984” tour stop in Salt Lake City when I was in the ninth grade at the tender age of 14.

Many bands are all about business live, striving to provide as flawless a performance as possible. For Van Halen it was all about feel. As David Lee Roth, the band’s flamboyant front-man proclaimed, a Van Halen show was an intimate party with a few thousand close friends. That’s how it was in 1984, and that’s how it is in 2015, judging by the band’s smoking 2½, 25-song set.

The band tore through a sampling of its catalog, tossing in a few deep-cut rarities and a pair of songs never performed live – “Drop Dead Legs” from “1984” and “Dirty Movies” from “Fair Warning”, if you’re keeping score – putting to rest doubts about being able to deliver live at their advanced ages. Roth and Van Halen are both 60. In fact, I thought they played as well as they did the first time I saw the band.

Most important for me, however, was the opportunity provided by the music and stage show to sip from the fountain again, and to shed a bit of the cynicism and callousness that I’ve acquired over the past three decades. For a few precious moments, I was able to feel 14 again, and that my friend, is priceless.

And with about eight shows left on the schedule at White River, including Def Leppard, Foreigner, Styx and Tesla coming up, it looks like I’ll be bellying up to the Fountain of Youth a few more times this summer. And I’ll have the pics to prove it.