How Much Longer the Ride Can Possibly Last

The older boy wanted to see ZZ Top, and because I am not a fan at first I said “no,” but then I said “if you buy your ticket, I’ll buy mine.” He did, and so we went. The show was at the Champlain Valley Fairgrounds. It was Saturday night and the fair was in full swing, the air pungent with a particular American-ized desperation – cigarette smoke and fried dough, the fumigated odor of cheap perfume from the passing women – and for a time, before the music began, we just stood and watched. In the background, beyond the grandstand bleachers, the rides whirled and gyrated; a dozen or so feet to our right, a middle-aged couple made out with unrestrained fervor, tongue-to-tongue, hand-to-ass. Her jeans looked painfully tight; you could feel the flesh of her thighs aching for freedom. Or at least the next size up. Later, I caught a glimpse of his tee shirt: “Camping without beer is just sitting in the woods.”

I was caught off guard by the cheapness and excess of it all. So many lights flashing, so much noise and circumstance. And ZZ Top itself: Such a strange – and strangely compelling – band, Billy and Dusty implacable behind beard and hat, Frank the drummer nearly invisible behind his set. They sing primarily of sunglasses, Cadillac cars, and the female anatomy (oh, and stockings. Let’s not forget those), the lyrics laid over a raunchy and infectious blues shuffle. It is not music that asks much of its listeners. But then, I suppose that is part of the appeal.

It was a short set, and who could blame them? The band has been around for nearly a half-century. They are old and presumably rich and one can only imagine how many of these shows they’ve played, how many adoring crowds they’ve seen, buzzed on over-priced fair beer and mentholated cigarettes. From the stage, they gaze out over those crowds to the stomach-churning tilt-a-whirls beyond. What are they thinking of? Home. The end of the show. Sleep. The ache in their hips.

Or maybe just wondering how much longer the ride can possibly last.





28 thoughts on “How Much Longer the Ride Can Possibly Last”

  1. Bingo! Ben you hit the nail right on the head! “Americanized desperation”.
    We are have become a culture of obsession with cheap thrills, cheap and mindless entertainment and cheap goods made in far off places. We are a people who now live in a disposable society. Nothing is valued, nothing is repaired, just thrown away and buy a new one or upgrade to the next better model or next generation of that item. How many people I know look at me when they realize I don’t have a smart phone, streaming video or the a 72′ TV. Where does it end?

    Nothing against the band you went to see. They probably could have filled any large arena too, not just a traveling ‘carny’. I, like you are not fans of their music, but to each his own. I went to one of their concerts in the mid 80’s. They filled a 15,000 seat arena on Long Island, NY. It was an interesting night of people watching, beer bottles flying about the arena and the air filled with smoke of different origins. They played a 2 hour set that night, unlike what you saw.
    Age does creep up on us.

    1. He loved it. And I had a good time, too, at least in part because he was having a good time and because I like spending time with him.

      By “they,” I assume you mean ZZ Top. And yes, they’re huge fans of mine;)


      1. Haha!
        No, I meant your sons.
        Should have clarified-thought about it at the time, but didn’t.

      2. I knew what you meant… just couldn’t help myself.

        I really don’t know how much they look at it… I do know they’re not terribly interested.


  2. You’ve touched a nerve, sort of. Not a super sensitive one. Just a small ouchy. Why is the human race, in general, the way it is? I don’t think those folks feel any desperation but that’s just me. What they might feel, but are not aware of, is a great big hole in their solar plexus and it wants to be filled. With something. Why, in general, is the human race the way it is?

  3. ZZTop is happy music to me, good singing along in the car music. Memories of years ago dancing with abandon while being more than a little intoxicated. The intoxication became an issue, but I can still along in the car. The venue that you describe sounds very sad to me. Maybe the band members did not save wisely? What did your son think of them?

  4. What a dad! Fin is sure to remember your willingness, and just maybe be capable of extending the same to a son of his. (Ironic that Frank Beard is the only member without one!)’

  5. “Caught off guard by the cheapness and excess of it all”. That surprises me. Why do I get the feeling most fair-goers day to day is defined by cheapness and dearth;cheapness and lack? Cheapness is the given, but excess I’m pretty sure is the whole appeal, no?

    1. Yeah, and they’re still getting $40 for nosebleed seats. Fortunately, there were a whole lot of much better seats that were empty, and we snagged a couple of those.


      1. Lord have mercy. That means Kid Rock will be around a long time too. Fortunately, the woods are full of hickory nuts and the paw paws have started ripening.

  6. Oh boy, we are going to the state fair tomorrow in Syracuse, lured in by the music, which happens to be Brian Wilson. (I hated the Beach Boys my entire life, but as soon as I heard the story of Brian, that was all she wrote). My daughter’s main interest is the rides, which she has been exposed to against my own desires….on the other hand, they are fun when you’re young and wild. But whatever….yeah, how long can this crap go on? My guess is another 5 years before the climate does things that make people open their eyes. Although it already has, but it’s hidden or ignored. So did ZZ Top lip sync the whole show or what?! :}

    1. I don’t know… it sure seemed like they were really singing. It never occurred to me… does that happen?


      1. ZZ Top has been accused of it, both voice and instrument. But people are forgiving and like the music, there hasn’t been too much public outcry:} Your description of the fair was dead on….that fried dough smell won’t wash off, like the smell of puke in your car. This was my first time at the state fair… it was an experience, most of it undesirable, but the cute little rabbits and peregrine falcon helped to balance it out. But jesus christ that fried grease dough smell sums it all up!

  7. Is this why you were taking a break from the blogging? 🙂
    You paid for the zz top ticket, I paid for the gas to drive up to Maine because the littlest one was screaming for beaches. Although tide pooling and crab picking fun for some of us, but the tourists and tourist traps and the rest of beach beer life… Like zz top concert on steroids. The stark contrast of nature’s beauty and what we value sometimes depresses me.

    I am now reading ” A Man Apart” by Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow from Knoll farm here in Vermont and feel much understanding for Bill Coperthwaite’s experiment in Living.

  8. The Champlain Valley Fair is where superannuated 70’s rock bands go to die. That said, of the lot of them, ZZ Top remain kind of bad-ass. And Billy Gibbons shreds. I hope Fin was able to focus on that.

    1. Yeah, the opening band was the Georgia Satellites. They needed to hang it up a really looooong time ago… Their ride is definitely over.

      And yeah, Billy is an amazing guitarist.


  9. I need to go see more live music. That’s for sure. Thanks for the reminder. (what drove that point home for me is when you commented on why you had a good time)

  10. We only get 26 letters to work with, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen them arranged as “the flesh of her thighs aching for freedom” before. Well done.

  11. That hit a nerve with this retired 62 yr old:)

    ZZ Top was never my taste either but the Doors definitely were. I drove from Tucson to LA last week to see a young group I like, The Shelters, perform at the Hermosa Beach Summer beach party series (free show!). The headline act was Robby Krieger, guitarist and songwriter for the Doors. Strangely, I had no expectations or much forethought for Robby’s performance, I am not really into nostalgic acts or classic rock, there’s plenty of great new music these days. I was actually surprised it was such a great performance, bringing back all the edgy and poetic rebellion the Doors personified and of course they were the quintessential and iconic LA band. The guy is 70 yrs old, whip thin, looking good and on top of it. He killed it and his son did the vocals channeling an understated but credible Jim Morrison part and the crowd loved it as the sun sank behind the Hermosa Beach pier.

    The ride can last as long as we get off our asses and pour our heart and souls into it. I for one am fitter than I have ever been and am up for anything.

  12. Pithy and articulate. Camping without beer IS just sitting in the woods. And when did you become a perfume snob?

  13. I love ZZ Top! They are extremely talented musicians, and they make great catchy fun music. But they have been lip-synching many of their songs during live performances for a long time. Beginning in the 1980s, they lip-synched Legs, Sharp Dressed Man, and then beginning in the 1990s they lip-synched a lot of their songs. I think some of them Billy Gibbons was never really able to sing well live (e.g., Legs), and others he can no longer sing now well because his voice is kind of shot these days. But I still love them, and they still make great music. Billy Gibbons is one of the best guitarists of all time IMO

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