A Teenaged Memory: Queen At Live Aid

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 7.236% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Ever remember something that made you so ineffably happy at the time, yet in retrospect it was heartbreakingly sad?

That was Live Aid for me.

I watched Bohemian Rhapsody last night, where Queen makes their triumphant performance before a massive crowd at Wembley stadium, and I’ve heard my old friends reminiscing about their shared experiences watching Live Aid – resonating to Queen, remembering all the other songs that thundered out across the world that day, highlighting their love of music.

I didn’t love music. I don’t think I even had a Walkman at that point. I’d heard songs, sure, I listened to them, but I didn’t really have a favorite band.

Possessing a favorite band would have involved having friends, which I didn’t.

Oh, I suppose some people devised their favorite band without the outside pressure of buddies asking them to defend their choices, but for me, I just like what I like. I don’t rank things. I knew other people had favorite bands, but I associated that with friendship – they chose bands the way old nations waved flags, clustering into groups of heavy metal and pop and the weirdo classicals, continually trading music and playing each other songs and what did you think of that, aren’t they good, how do they compare.

And I… just had radio.

It was a pretty barren thing.

The magic of music is often not just in the melody, but the way a song can come to capture a moment of your life. I remember Iron Maiden as the fierce triumph of battling past anxiety to attend my first music concert, Duran Duran as the girl I liked so much I took her to a pop show I didn’t like and felt her head on my shoulder, The Time Warp as that crowd of rowdies I came to fall in with at the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

But what is music when you’re nothing?

I had no friends, no social groups, no anything. My life was something I worked to avoid. I read books because that was like living something, anything, for a while, but my actual existence consisted of sliding like a ghost through the hallways at school and hoping nobody bullied me that day. My family fretted, but the best part of my day consisted of locking myself in my room and forgetting myself.

What would music capture, then?

Why would I want to relive it?

And yet everyone I vaguely knew – I only vaguely knew people – seemed very excited about Live Aid, which seemed nice to me, it was for charity, and a lot of bands were contributing.

I asked them whether they wanted to watch it at my house.

I don’t recall how that happened – they were mostly acquaintances, and risking rejection must have been such a terror for me that I whited out the memory of it. And it must have been late in the school year as well, as Live Aid happened in July, so maybe I was giddy in the last weeks of sophomore year. But…

I remember having to rearrange the house. I didn’t have people over. I only watched TV in my room, which was too small and smelled of stress. So they decorated the basement, and moved the TV there so I could have some privacy,
and put bowls of chips and cookies out.

Three people showed up.

One of them was a girl.

And though I saw Queen live, I have no memory of that. All I remember is a glorious contact high – because I had friends over, people who wanted to be with me, and maybe it wasn’t me but the concert they wanted to see, but they also wanted my company and maybe that wasn’t so bad.

And they talked about the music and oohed and aahed over the performances and we cheered whenever the money tallies were announced, but really I kept thinking, in amazement: There is a girl. In my house.

I never thought that would happen.

I didn’t have any designs on her – well, I mean, I had a massive crush on any female who didn’t reject me, but all those crushes were bound so tight I could never let any aspect of that seep out. But she was a nerdy girl like me, and very happy to see her bands at an actual party, and in retrospect she may have been as lonely as I was, or maybe she was just an extrovert.

Yet what I remember is that I had spent the last three years honestly believing that no woman would enter my house at all, ever, I’d be forty and slouching back after work to an empty apartment the way my bedroom was empty now, and endless decades of isolation and insanity would erode me because I had no concept of friendship, and yet…

Here I was. At a party. With boys and girls, and nobody seemed to be mocking me.

It was, I swear to you, the best day of 1985.

There was music. But mostly I sat back listening to other people talk, perhaps too quiet, but just bathing in this brief illusion of normality, because this is a life that other people had and I never would but God had gifted me with this one brief moment to sustain me and thank you God, thank you, thank you for giving me a glimpse of the life that other people have.

They left early, of course. We weren’t old enough to drive, and the parents had to pick them up. And before nightfall I was back in my room-cum-prison, eating the last of the chips, feeling the loneliness set back in.

I probably should have asked them for another party, maybe to see a movie, but that felt like too much.

I didn’t have another party that summer. Or that fall. Or that winter.

I didn’t call up the girl, or the other boy – the third attendee was my friend Bryan, and sometimes we hung out, but mostly the summer was just what the rest of my life was, which was to say going out to places that my parents made me yet coming home alone.

Yet every day I remembered the party.

I still do.

And that was the most brilliant moment of 1985 for me, and yet it was so small, such a trivial moment, such a thing where awkward me should have called up the girl and the boy and tried to be normal and yet I was so scared and so used to isolation that it never occurred to me that we could get together without a worldwide event to draw us.

I could have had friends. I think. It’s so easy to imagine that now.

Yet all I had was one party – a flickering ember that dwindled, dwindled, dwindled over the course of a long winter, the residual heat that kept me from committing suicide when I contemplated the desolation that was my future, and some days I wish I could find that young unwashed Ferrett and tell him that he’s worthy of love, he should call, he can do this.

Then some days I look at old adult Ferrett in fear that he’ll put his hand on the doorknob to his house with his wife and his loving children and his beautiful partners and clever friends and that doorknob will turn out to be that prison-handle and all of this will be some elaborate teenaged fantasy I created because it was better than going mad from despondency.

I left that room, one day, in 1985. I had a party. It was a good party. And I’ve had several parties since.

But some rooms you never really leave.


  1. Gayle
    Feb 20, 2019

    The album Notorious is still inextricably bound to sitting in the back seat of Uncle Tommy’s car and finding an Oz book under the seat. As Oz was my personal, private obsession that I never shared with any of my cool friends, it was like a signpost.

  2. Anonymous Alex
    Feb 20, 2019

    I recently watched the Fred Rogers doc “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” and it struck me just how tenaciously he hung on to the core idea that children need to learn–to be taught–that they are worthy of being loved. Even if you learn it, it’s awfully easy to forget that lesson, the way the world tends to beat it out of you given the chance.


  3. Mark Dijkstra
    Feb 25, 2019

    Oof, I don’t know why, but this hit me like a ton of bricks, especially those last couple of lines. It’s amazing how little you really know in your teenage years, and it seems just horrifying if the way you saw the world back then would actually be the way the world turned out to be. I’m just so happy that life didn’t turn out that way at all. Thanks for keeping up with the blog, I don’t comment that often, but your writing is greatly appreciated.

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