A Moment To Be Real

Photo I took at the September 12, 2022 show

The Goo Goo Dolls were propelled into the mainstream with their six studio album Dizzy Up The Girl mostly thanks to its inclusion of “Iris”, which was originally written for the movie City of Angels and stayed at the top of the music charts for almost five months.  

I do not recall the circumstances of how I acquired this album in my youth. Was it an album specifically bought for me because I had some interest in the band or did I claim ownership of one of Kim’s music CDs like I did with Everclear’s So Much for the Afterglow album? I have no clue. What I do know is that it would play a huge role in my earliest attempts at using music as a form of therapy.

When I was on the bus to school, I would listen to music on my portable CD player through foam covered headphones and imagined music videos while watching the scenery zip by as I stared out the window. When I was at home, I would listen to music while playing video games or chilling by the little stream by the dirt trail behind out house. Once the divorce was underway, music was an escape from the seemingly endless reminders that I was a disappointing third wheel and a failure in my family—at least according to the woman that gave birth to me.

“Why can’t you be more like your brother?”

“There’s too much estrogen in this house.”

“There will be consequences.”

Dizzy Up The Girl, which I had got around the divorce,was frequently in my CD player. It didn’t hold the same emotionally relatable lyrics as other albums in my collection at the time I had acquired it. For me, it was mostly the music itself that carried the emotional weight. “Black Balloon” is incredibly depressing and hopeless both lyrically and musically, but I did not relate to the themes of drug addiction at all while I felt the tone of the song in my soul. It did have its moments lyrically, particularly with the song “Acoustic #3”.

While everyone else seemed to be swooning over John Rzeznik, I adored the gravely, raw energy vocals of bassist Robby Takac on the few tracks he sings on. Years later, I was happy to discover GGD’s old punk rock stuff when Robby was the lead singer.

Then John Rzeznik wrote a song called “I’m Still Here” for Treasure Planet. The song was written about a misunderstood teenage character with an absent father and a mother who kind of didn’t know what to do with him because he was always getting into trouble, but Rzeznik had written it in such a way that he could have written it for anyone who was still trying to figure out who they were. It felt like Rzeznik reached into my soul, pulled out my most vulnerable feelings, and turned them into words. I’m positive the opening lyric “I am a question to the world; not an answer to be heard or a moment that’s held in your arms” hit me like a bag of bricks the first time I heard it and even twenty years later it’s hard not to cry whenever I hear John quietly sing it. I remember I had a copy of the Treasure Planet DVD—at the time DVDs were putting more special features on how they made the movie and that appealed to my love of the animation process. If I wasn’t watching the special feature of how they computer animated John Silver’s robotic arm on 2D animation, I was watching the scene “I’m Still Here” is on and griping that one of the lyrics on the subtitles was wrong (“And I’ll never be what you want, made of pain” instead of “And I’ll never be what you want me to be”).

For Christmas last year, my husband went all out for me. He bought me a replica of the leather vest Claire Redfield wore in Resident Evil: CODE Veronica, a complete copy of the rare PS2 game Rule of Rose, and a ticket to see the Goo Goo Dolls the following September. A ticket for a second row seat.

There was just the physical ticket so I didn’t realize it also included a meet and greet with the Goo Goo Dolls until my husband told me. He showed me all the stuff this meet and greet was supposed to come with: an autographed poster, an autographed drumhead, a picnic set, a clear bag, and a tour jacket—a freaking tour jacket! I’ve met a bunch of bands and done a few paid meet and greets and none of them ever came with a jacket.

“HOW much did this cost?” I asked.

My husband says his classic “Don’t worry about it” line.

The day of the show we get to the gate a good two hours before the official check in time. While my husband took me out of for sushi, we had realized that all the emails had been in my husband’s name and we suddenly became worried that this might mean I might not be able to go to a meet and greet meant for me because everything was in my husband’s name. We checked with the box office and they confirmed the ticket was in my husband’s name. There was already a table with all the VIP goodies set up outside the gate so we figured that maybe a VIP rep would come out earlier than the check in time.

The rep didn’t come until just before the check-in time. We thought you had to check-in by 4:30pm when actually check-in started at 4:30pm and you had to back by 5pm. But I’m glad we got there early: the venue is outdoors so we could hear the sound check while we were waiting. I have a video clip on my Instagram of hearing them play “Yeah, I Like You” during their sound check. They also sound checked a bunch of other songs. At some point they were playing a song I didn’t recognize—I admittedly am not familiar with a lot of their material after the Let Love In album, but I’m 99% positive it was “Free Of Me”—and John was on the microphone making suggestions of how they should play an instrumental part live. He said something like “Instead of playing it like this (strums guitar four times while humming the notes simultaneously…like they usually do I guess) we should play it like this (two long played out guitar strums while humming the four notes). I kind of like this better.” I thought it was pleasantly amusing that a band could still edit the way they play a song they already recorded (and if I got the right song, one they released nine years ago).   

Besides being the only VIP member with blue hair and blue fox ears, I was probably the youngest person there. Most of the other people were closer to the band’s age. I felt like a young kid who just discovered this old band when really I had been listening to them for almost two decades. It also seemed like I was the only one who wanted to meet them because they had an impact of my life. A lot of the other people I talked to were there because they love the music purely for its sound and thought it would be cool to meet the band. They seemed like these older, retired types who pay extra for these VIP experiences with the extra perks just because it is fun and they have the disposable income to do so. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that—it just felt strange to me because I’m used to meet and greets where there are at least a couple people who want to meet the band because they listened to the music when they were struggling. But the people I talked to were super excited for me knowing how much the music meant to me.   

Our VIP rep finally rounds up from the meeting place at the time listed on our schedules and takes us to the back where we wait for John and Robby to come out. He goes over the rules: we’re not allowed to take photos (he will be taking a photo with the band for us and it will be posted within a day or so), we can give a fist bump or high five but unfortunately no hugs due to Covid (obviously don’t want the band getting sick), we’ll be standing on opposite ends of the amp they have set up, and we have to leave any drinks on a table away from the band because it’s a sober tour (likely because John is a recovering alcoholic and has been sober since 2014). 

“Don’t be shy! Ask them that question you’ve always wanted to know the answer to! Chat with them! And have fun! Now…are you guys ready to meet the Goo Goo Dolls?!”

Fuck no, but this was as ready as I was ever going to be.

I never thought I was going to have the opportunity to meet them. Hell, I thought I would have been dead by now let alone meet one of the bands that helped me keep going. I felt woefully unprepared even though I had been thinking about what I would say to them for the past two weeks. I wanted to write it down and give it to them in case I fucked up, but we weren’t allowed to bring personal items for the band to sign because of Covid and I figured this also extended to giving personal gifts to the band. My only option was to practice all the things I would say in my head and hope for the best when the actual moment came.

I was internally freaking out. Every time the door would open I would panic and then felt a weird sense of relief when it turned out to be a crew member. 

Then John and Robby came out.

While the others were shouting in excitement as they took their position by the amp, I quietly said to myself, “Aaaaaaaaaaah shit!”

There were about three people ahead of me so I hoped that would buy me a little more time, but of  course they rushed right through it without barely saying a word to the band. Dammit. They could have spent a little more time with them!

I sheepishly walk up to the amp. I’m trying not to be nervous, but I feel like my heart is going to drop out of the bottom of me. There they were in all their rock star glory: John’s chiseled facial features… Robby’s brightly colored hair… both bursting with confidence that only music legends have.

Admittedly, it was a bit of a blur and it felt so surreal. Both of them were grinning politely at me and they thanked me for coming. We did fist bumps. Robby told me he liked my ears and John kindly agreed. I’ve always heard they were kind and nothing about my interaction with them suggests otherwise.

Against all odds, I somehow got everything I wanted to tell them out of my mouth. It went something like:

“Sorry…I’m nervous…I, uh, I’ve been listening to you guys since I was 11…my parents divorced and my mom became abusive towards me not too long after I got Dizzy Up The Girl… it was one of the first albums I listened to as self-therapy…so…thank you! Also, Robby, I love your singing so I like your guy’s earlier punk rock stuff!”

If I came off as a fucking weirdo, they didn’t tell me. I remember they smiled and thanked me and I said we should take the photo before I start getting too emotional. We get the photos taken. I figured they probably look amazing because they’ve been getting their photo taken for literal decades while I probably look like a smiling goofball because I never fucking know how to pose for pictures. (And I was right).

I head outside and stop to put my hands on my knees to bend over and try to breathe.

“You okay?” one of the others that went before me asked. Two other people join in. 

“I’m okay. Holy shit…my heart pooped its pants.”

“What did you say to them?”

“Well…everything I wanted to say to them!” I explained what I told the band and what they said to me.

“Wow! That’s amazing! Good job!” the other lady and her friend told me like a couple of encouraging moms.

“Shoot!” the first guy said. “Had I known you were going to say stuff to them I would have snuck in a recording!”

We talked some more and I started relaxing some more.

“Dave Grohl said something like ‘concerts bring music into 3D’. When you met the band did it feel like they…became real for you?”

Holy shit. I understood that sentiment completely. I know what the band looks like from seeing them on TV or printed media and I know what they sound like from listening to their music and interviews, but the moment John and Robby walked into the room it was like watching the sketch from a-ha’s “Take On Me” music video becoming a real person. There was something different and exhilarating about being able to touch and talk with the band for that brief moment as opposed to decades of viewing them on a brightly lit screen or printed on a piece of paper. David Grohl had a point when he said “It’s the most life-affirming experience, to see your favorite performer onstage, in the flesh, rather than as a one-dimensional image glowing in your lap as your spiral down a midnight YouTube wormhole. Even our most beloved superheroes become human in person.”

Now that I think about it, one of the lyrics John Rzeznik wrote actually came true the moment I met the band:

And I want a moment to be real

Want to touch things I don’t feel

It almost feels like a dream, but I have the tour jacket and the picture where I look like a goofball standing next to the band to prove it was real.

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