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summer of rock

Right before S packed her bags for the cross-Atlantic journey with Munchkin, we went out for a rare night of rock-n-roll in Kigali. Several of our Embassy friends and colleagues play in a cover band, and the set list featured a number of 90s rock classics. It was a bittersweet show – a pointed reminder of the one thing D misses above all else while serving abroad: live music.

Flying back to the States alone several weeks after S and Munchkin had already settled in Maine, D lingered in Europe for a couple of days to attend the Download Festival in France. The headlining bands were straight out of our high school and college days: Green Day, Blink 182, Rancid, Linkin Park, System of a Down. After some 400 live shows over the course of nearly two decades of concert going, D was thrilled for the opportunity to see them again. He had seen all of them live multiple times in their heyday, but – with the exception of Rancid – none in the last fifteen years.

Live music is a good gauge for one’s mortality. Many of the more than 700 bands D has seen perform over the years no longer exist, and most of the ones that still do have stopped releasing new music long ago. The bands whose energy on stage used to thrill D two decades ago have grown soft around the edges, both physically and musically – an apt reflection of D’s own middle age: long gone is his mohawk and the red, blue, and purple hair dyes that used to adorn it, and it’s been a few years since D last stagedived or crowdsurfed at a show.

Perhaps this is why the deaths of our beloved musicians affect us so. A slice of our youth dies along with each bright flame that is extinguished. The highlight of the three-day festival was the performance by Prophets of Rage – a super-group comprised of members of Rage Against the Machine, Cypress Hill and Public Enemy. After the dissolution of RATM, these same musicians formed Audioslave with Chris Cornell, whose death shocked the music world last month. As tribute to the legendary singer, Prophets played one of Audioslave’s biggest hits, the powerful melody sweeping over the crowd while the frontman’s microphone sat untouched at center stage.

To reach the air base outside Paris that hosted the Download Festival, attendees had to follow a winding mile-long path that was covered with music-themed graffiti. One quotation struck D in particular. “Growing up is giving up. Stay punk!” it read. A fitting exhortation, and one D very much takes to heart. In addition to the Download Festival, he already has tickets to half a dozen shows for the six weeks he’ll be stateside, as well as a list of others he might add to the mix depending on how close S delivers to her due date.

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