When I was 10 years old, I thought I was the Most Different And Unique Kid Ever. I, like most preteens, thought the world was full of morons (except me and my Super Cool™ friends), and that we were the young revolutionaries who would lead the world into a brighter future with better, cooler, and more unique taste.
My favourite artist at the time was, of course, the epitome of punk itself—Ashlee Simpson. She’s part of some of my most important firsts—hers was the first CD I ever purchased with my own money, and her show at Massey Hall on March 13, 2005 was my first show concert. If I may: it was LIFE CHANGING.
When I found out she was touring (AND COMING TO TORONTO?!) I was thrilled. I had never been to a concert before, but learned from my friends’ older siblings that concerts were where it was really at. Finally, I thought. Coolness is just a ticket away.
At 10 years old, I didn’t hold down a job or contribute to society in any way. Since I was basically a freeloader in my parents’ house, I had to convince the Bank of Mom and Dad to toss me a loan to buy the $50 ticket. Thankfully, the loan was approved, and I was on my way to growing up—it was at that concert that I started my journey from little girl to young woman.
I went with my dad. Stoic, unsmiling, Russian Sergey was not a fan of “punk” princess Ashlee, but he didn’t trust a 10-year-old at Massey Hall. I didn’t trust him in public, so I convinced my best friend at the time—another Russian girl named Anna—to go with us, and off we were, like the three amigos.
Thirteen years later, the finer memories of the show are blurry. The costumes Ashlee wore are fuzzy around the edges, and the songs she sang, other than the ABSOLUTELY BRILLIANT “LaLa” are all but dust in my head. I truly can’t remember much—I can’t remember what I was wearing, or her on stage banter. I do remember asking Sergey to buy me one of her overpriced merch glowstick necklaces and he scoffed at the $10 price tag. I had to make do; a piece of confetti (now long gone) I found on the ground was my souvenir of the night. What I do remember, though, are the feelings that show elicited in me—this was my first time hearing LIVE music from an artist that I deeply, deeply admired; an artist I drew sketches of and took style tips from. I bought every magazine that had her on the cover. I wanted to BE her. And, of course, I remember my shitty seats in the upper left-hand balcony—if I leaned over the railing at just the right angle, I was able to catch a glimpse of her walking around the stage.
I had practiced for the concert for weeks. Her debut album, Autobiography (an underrated work of art), tackled challenging themes of rejection, complicated relationships, self-love, and sexual awakening—themes that were mostly lost on me as a child, but ones that came to light very shortly after I learned what “lala” actually meant. I listened to it on repeat, pausing after every line to write it down, making my own lyric book and spending hours trying to memorize the words and melodies. It was the first time that any kind of music had affected me in such a deep way. Even my father’s old Pink Floyd tapes didn’t do to me what “Pieces of Me” did. It felt like the songs were a part of me, so I memorized them all.
Ashlee Simpson’s show helped me realize I needed music. For the first time I ever, I was part of something bigger than just me.
I still love Ashlee Simpson, and I think it’s because of this highly, highly emotional experience we shared together. It wasn’t just a concert to me—it was my first. We all remember our first show, and even if we hate the band or artist now, there’s some part of us that refuses to part with the dog-eared record or cracked CD cases of the first artist we saw live.
The journey Ashlee took me on during my first ever concert felt private: I remember forgetting that my dad was there, and forgetting about my friend. I even forgot about myself. I was out of body. Ashlee Simpson’s show helped me realize I an>needed music. For the first time I ever, I was part of something bigger than just me. They cut the backing track, and it was just us, her fans. We were her backing track. I was part of one big voice, all of us singing and screaming at the top of our lungs, no music needed; we couldn’t even hear her. This was the moment, I think, that affected me so deeply, and it continues to be the thing that keeps me coming back to concerts and shows all the time, the moment that I long and look for: those few seconds in which the audience is one, their voices tangled. Just a bunch of kids, all singing along.