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Doors at 8. Music at 9. Tinnitus is Forever.

I didn’t realize how much I’d missed the ringing in my ears until the smell of stale Pabst welcomed me into Smith’s Olde Bar. I hadn’t gone to a show in over a year. It wasn’t the lineup of local bands that drew me out of my studio apartment. It was everything orbiting the stage. The chatter of a couple complaining about the flat Sprite in their plastic-cupped cocktails. The struggle for a perfect place to see the drummer and bass player make intermittent eye contact. The limitless potential of an open tab in a crowded room.

Of course, the first cough in the audience sent me scrambling like a cold-war student in a duck-and-cover drill. But the fear of mutually assured respiratory destruction soon subsided. I devoured a dozen lemon-pepper wings and the first band took the stage.

When you press play, you’re searching for something to suit your mood, or change your mood, or help you endure another day working from home in your aforementioned studio apartment. When you follow the radioactive hum of a cranked amp through a dimly lit bar, you’re rolling the dice—no expectations. Anything more than a stiff drink becomes a bonus.

I can’t recall a single lyric uttered into the mic that night. The bass threatened to shake my lungs loose from my chest—vengeance for their year in hiding. I had no regard for flubbed drum fills or pitchy vocals. Neither did the guy next to me who bought me a shot and forgot my name the moment it left my lips.

I wasn’t there to impersonate Vasco de Gama and discover a band that would change my life. Although that guitarist sure did some damage. I was there to remind myself that a voice I’d never hear again could trick me into believing the show could go on forever. That a set of songs could be discarded faster than a basket of citrus-scented chicken bones and I’d still be better off for having Ubered to the playpen of a sadistic sound guy and made to feel immortal by a night I barely remember.

Somewhere between Fauci’s first press conference and my sourdough baking phase, I lost sight of live music’s splendor. Forced myself to forget what an essential part of life it is. While I held my favorite songs dear, I lobotomized the simple joy of stumbling into a bar and seeing where the evening goes. As I was reminded, it’s all uphill from the moment the wristband of permission rips out your arm hair like a little prick to end a plague.