It seems almost every fan of The Airborne Toxic Event has a story to tell about meeting one or more members of the band. Given their near legendary accessibility and generosity towards their audience, it’s harder to find a fan who hasn’t met the band than one who has.
Like many of This Is Nowhere’s readers, I too have had the extreme good fortune of meeting various Airborners on a couple of occasions. After a lifetime of following other groups with whom I hadn’t a hope in hell of ever speaking, Mikel, Steven, Daren, Noah and Anna’s extreme down-to-earthiness, and their determination to dismantle even the slightest hint of a wall between them and those who come to see them, was a revelation, and a key factor in winning my allegiance. I suspect many of their followers would say the same.
Ask anyone who’s shared the privilege of spending a few moments with The Airborne Toxic Event what they are like, and the most probable answer is some variation of: “normal.”
Normal. Could there be a more mundane adjective? Applied to regular people, you might just as well say, “nothing special.” But when the subject is a rock star – or, better yet, five of them – well, normal is something special indeed.
In this case, “normal” means utterly lacking in the pretension, sense of entitlement, and general I’m-better-than-you aura that we’ve come to expect and accept from the celebrities who stand aloft our pedestals. Instead, the very real people who comprise The Airborne Toxic Event have a way of making you feel like the pleasure and privilege are all theirs.
Now, you might be tempted to think that the band’s easygoing nature and approachability would mitigate that dreaded pit in the stomach that typically strikes when you talk to Someone Important.
You would be wrong. At least as far as I am concerned.
Oh, how I wish it were so. How I wish I could talk to them like the normal people they are. Unfortunately, something always gets in the way. Or rather, someone.
He’s about 4’10”, 100 lbs soaking wet. He has dorky glasses, a cracking voice, sweatpants aplenty – and a crippling shyness that’s painful to witness.
He’s Junior High Glen, and he hasn’t been seen ’round these parts for 25 years, or at least not since he somehow – finally – got himself a girlfriend. But he’s taken to poking his pimply-faced head up at the worst possible times.
Something about coming face to face with this band brings him out of those places where I wish he would stay hidden, robbing my brain of the insightful questions I have carefully prepared and replacing them with cliches. Or worse yet: a tied tongue. It looks something like this:
I’ve seen TATE at their best, and I’ve talked to them at their most normal. But they don’t get to see the best me, or even the normal me. Just me at my most socially awkward and self-conscious.
The last time this happened, I was tempted to swear off it for good. Not the band, of course, but the whole talking-to-them thing. Perhaps I would just admire them from afar, and slowly back away the next time Mikel makes his inevitable leap down from the stage to greet fans post-show. I joked that if I ever did get face time with them again, I would just hand them some pre-typed questions instead of attempting to force my mouth to form coherent words.
But then I talked to other fans, and I discovered that I’m not the only one who finds himself stalked by his Junior High alter ego in the presence of his favorite band. In fact, it would seem that foot-in-mouth disease is an exceedingly common symptom of a close encounter with an Airborne Toxic Event. As hard as they may try to put us at ease, for some of us, it’s a losing battle.
And that’s okay. Because at the end of the day, we don’t have to impress them, any more than they have to impress us. We’re all just people, after all, and some of us get nervous sometimes. In fact, I’d bet that they get nervous sometimes, too. And maybe, just maybe, Junior High Mikel occasionally peeks his head out when he’s least welcome.
What I will do next time, should there be a next time, is go without an agenda. No more coming armed with questions that I’ll be too nervous to ask anyway. No more treating them like a prop in my quest for the perfect Facebook profile pic. Just one normal person talking to another normal person, thanking them for the fun and inspiration they’ve brought to my life.
Glen is the founder and editor of This Is Nowhere. He’s grateful for an understanding wife and kids who indulge his silly compulsion to chase a band all over the Pacific Northwest (and occasionally beyond) every time the opportunity arises.