Depeche Mode: Becoming Part of the Mass

It was 1988 and Depeche Mode was my band.  They had the perfect combination of depressed angst and a longing for love that surprisingly surpassed that of this young Anglophile. I had just turned 13 when KROQ, the alternative radio station in LA announced a Depeche Mode concert at the Rose Bowl.   At that point I had only been to an Amy Grant concert and a Stryper/Great White concert that my much cooler older cousin had been embarrassingly forced to bring me. But this was my band. 

Related: The Smiths: A Recharge of Lost Emotions

I had saved enough from my babysitting jobs to buy a ticket.  It never occurred to my 13-year-old mind how I would get to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena 30 miles away or who I’d go with.  I simply had enough money so I thought I could go.  When I asked my parents, my mom said absolutely not.  There was nothing about this she was comfortable with and who did I think I was even asking.  My father on the other hand said if I bought him a ticket too, he’d take me.  I didn’t understand why I had to pay for his ticket or why he’d want to go too but figured this was the only way I’d be able to go. 

The show started at 3pm with 3 opening bands, Wire, Thomas Dolby and O.M.D. The ticket-taker at the gate told us 65,000 people were expected that day.  We found our seats just below the press box. My dad immediately started chatting with the people around us.  Someone said they heard that the guys from U2 were up in the press box. A young couple in their mid 20’s on one side and a group of college guys on the other side. My dad was an intimating but gregarious guy. He had a full dark beard, his hair, which he wore in a low ponytail came to the middle of his back and he weighed about 325.  I was already 5’9” at 13, two inches shorter than him. With my dad only 19 years older than me, I was used to people mistaking me as his sister or more embarrassingly, his girlfriend.  It didn’t help the situation that he lacked paternal affection, often treating me like I was a buddy following him around. 

It was blindingly hot that day.  My fair skin was already starting to burn by the end of Wire’s set.  This is when my dad told me he was going to walk around for a bit.  I awkwardly clapped and swayed to Thomas Dolby too extremely self-conscious to enjoy myself.  Oh God am I clapping on beat?  Do I look like an idiot trying to dance?  If I just stand here it’ll look like I think I’m cool.  That I’m stuck up.  What do I do with my hands?

It wasn’t until the end of O.M.D. that I realized my dad wasn’t coming back. I think the people around me realized that too.  I think they also realized how young I was.  I had no money.  The water from my water bottle had long been gone. I was getting hungry but I was glad my dad had taken me to In and Out when we left the house. The lady from the young couple offered to rub some of her sunscreen on me which I gladly took.  I was too nervous to go look for my dad in the sea of 65,000 people or to fill up my water bottle.  I was worried he’d come back and somehow I’d get in trouble for leaving my seat.  So I stayed there.

We waited for the sun to set promising the start of Depeche Mode.  A stadium vendor came by selling hot dogs. One of the college guys nudged me and asked if I wanted a dog.  He tells me that they bought too many and had an extra.  Sure I say, if it’s extra.

The audience was starting to get antsy waiting so long for the band to play. The stadium grew dark and no lights were turned on.  The other side of the stadium started chanting Tastes Great!  To which we would respond Less Filling!  I loved being part of something, yelling back the beer commercial slogan until I felt something hit my head and then a splatter across my cheek.  Food FIGHT! I heard someone scream.  Hot dogs heavy with relish and mustard flew everywhere. Out of nowhere the college guys unfold a tarp and cover the group and start throwing dogs back.  They pull me under with them protecting me.  It was coming from the press box!  Someone yelled.  I didn’t understand why U2 would want to throw hot dogs at us. Dude? Why do you have a tarp? One of the guys asked.  My mom gave it to me.  She said it was going to rain. We all laughed.  I grab a hot dog bun off the seat in front of me and hurl it back at the mass.

Then we hear it.  The piano strains of Depeche Mode’s Pimpf.  We go crazy as the gothic voices are added. A beat slams down and we recognize the beginning of Behind the Wheel.  Dave Gahan sings

My little girl
Drive anywhere
Do what you want

I’m the little girl.  Dave Gahan is my father, my boyfriend, my friend.  He’ll protect me and love me.  At least tonight.  I don’t care if I am alone and dorky.  I don’t worry about where my dad might be.  I belong here.  I know every single lyric. This is my band.  They understand me. I become part of the mass. 

I dance during Strangelove.  I nearly cry singing Stripped.  My whole body is goosebumps as I hear the songs I listened to secretly on my Walkman, late at night as my parents would fight outside my room.  These songs comforted me. They made me feel like I wasn’t the only person who thought things weren’t right in this world.  Rain starts to fall on us.  The guy with the tarp goes to grab it but we all look at each other and laugh, letting the rain rinse off the mustard and relish from the food fight.  Rain doesn’t matter anymore.  It makes this all the more epic, even more perfect. 

The concert ends with Just Can’t Get Enough.  In unison the mass jumps with shared joy.  We beg and plea for an encore which they give us in Everything Counts. Long after the band leaves the stage we stand holding hands singing

The grabbing hands grab all they can
Everything counts in large amounts

No one wants it to end.

An hour later, I find my father leaning against the outside of a bathroom laughing with a group of college-age kids.  He seems drunk or stoned or something else I don’t know about yet.  Hey!! He yells seeing me.  Did you enjoy your concert? Yeah, sure I reply, unsure if I’m in trouble or if he is or really what’s going on at all.  Alright!  Well, we’re gonna give these guys a ride.  He tells me.  I look down at the ground as we walk back to the car.  I’m trying to hold on to the feeling I had in there, it’s leaving me as anxiety creeps back in. 

On the drive home, we exit an off-ramp unknown to me.  My dad pulls off on the side of the road near the exit.  Thanks Mister. They yell back as the kids pile out the back of our dark brown Ford Aerostar. I look back as one of the girls catches my eye. I see the look of pity.

A year later, our phone rings.  I answer it in the kitchen, Hello? unwinding the long yellow cord with my fingers. I left something in the mailbox for you. It’s my father. My parents got a divorce in the last year. The last time I saw him, he had shaved off his beard, (it was the first time I had seen him without it) and lost nearly 100 pounds.

I run out to the mailbox.  In it he’s left me the two cassette tape album Depeche Mode 101 that came out that week.  I had been saving my babysitting money to buy it.  We never talked about that day.  I didn’t tell my mom that he left me, I don’t think I needed to, she didn’t want me to go in the first place.