Today is 4/20, and you know what that means: a bunch of jokes about how smoking weed is super cool. Today is also the 10th year anniversary of the most memorable 4/20 of my life: The time I saw a guy smoke crack at an Andrew Bird show.
My freshman year in college, I somehow ended up attending a lot of Andrew Bird shows. Don’t get me wrong, I was—and remain—a genuine fan of Bird’s clever wordplay and meticulously layered indie pop arrangements. But even taking into account how eager my friends and I were to go out, it still seems a little retrospectively bizarre that I saw Bird perform three times inside of nine months. Did I really fuck with The Mysterious Production of Eggs that much? The Last.FM counter on “Fake Palindromes” seems to suggest as much.
The second of these shows took place on April 20, at Chicago’s Riviera Theatre, a spacious, classy venue with plenty of standing room. At that point in my life, I hadn’t started smoking weed in earnest, and I didn’t have a fake ID, which meant I was blissfully stone-cold sober. (In retrospect, that’s probably the weirdest part about seeing him so many times. To be young and enthusiastic…) Of course, just because I was a walking D.A.R.E. advertisement didn’t mean the Riviera wasn’t full of decadent, depraved druggos looking to blaze it for their favorite chamber pop artist. And right before the headlining set, I excused myself to use the bathroom, where I witnessed the wildest shit I presume I will ever see at an Andrew Bird show.
I haven’t been to the Riviera in a while, and can’t say if they’ve renovated the bathrooms, but back then, the stalls didn’t have doors. There were only two of them, and they faced each other, which meant if two people were taking a dump, they’d have to try to avoid eye contact for the whole ordeal. Thankfully, I didn’t have to drop trou, and settled in for a nice spot at a urinal.
As I was finishing up my business, I heard someone speak from one of the stalls, from right next to to me. “Hey man… can I get some? I really need it.” I zipped up, and turned my head to see a balding white man in blocky glasses holding out his hand to his friend, who was standing in the other stall. The friend turned around, and promptly handed over a slender, blackened glass pipe. A strong chemical stench hung in the air. “Thanks,” the man said, and palmed it surreptitiously.
When I exited the bathroom, I tried to place the pipe, and the smell. Even though I didn’t smoke weed, I knew what it smelled like; this was not weed, and that was definitely not a pipe used for smoking it. But could it be? Could somebody really be smoking crack in the bathroom at an Andrew Bird show?
If you aren’t familiar with Bird’s music, let me assure you: It is the least appropriate music for crack-smoking ever recorded. His albums are like soundtracks to unfilmed Wes Anderson movies; his aesthetic is wine-drinking college professor. At the time, he made heavy use of delicately plucked violin strings and whimsical aural loops, beginning each song as a bare bones arrangement before building it up into the full, flowery thing. You were supposed to watch from the crowd in admiration, barely moving your body. Ah, you would think, I am witnessing a master at work.
You were not, however, supposed to stand there wired as hell on crack cocaine, which according to Wikipedia (I don’t smoke crack) produces feelings of “euphoria, supreme confidence, loss of appetite, insomnia, alertness, increased energy, a craving for more cocaine, and potential paranoia (ending after use).”
In retrospect, it might’ve been meth. Whatever it was, I knew it was bleak. Then, as I went out back to the floor to tell my friends what I’d seen, something else happened. Standing in front of us were a couple, a man and a woman. The man was cuddling his girlfriend from behind, as boyfriends are wont to do, and he started smoking a blunt right as Bird came out to perform. This, of course, seemed more appropriate for the occasion—it was 4/20! This was the carefree blazing I was expecting all along.
However, I noticed the boyfriend wasn’t passing the blunt. He smoked it by himself, and continued to smoke it by himself, all while cradling his girlfriend from behind. If you’re the type of guy who brags about how much he can smoke, that might not seem like a lot to you, but in this writer’s opinion that is not a small amount of marijuana to consume in one go. The beauty of passing a blunt is that you can take a short break in between inhalations, both to catch your breath and to gauge how stoned you are, in order to decide whether you really need to keep puffing yourself into a kush coma.
While Bird was still playing his first song, “Fiery Crash,” which was by then layered up to the full deal, the man finished his blunt. Then, I watched him release his hold on his girlfriend, take a step back, gently keel over and hit the floor. His girlfriend started screaming; there was a commotion around us, and almost immediately, a pair of security guards ran over to help the man out.
They picked him up, and steadied him on his feet. He didn’t appear to be in great condition, but he was at least conscious. After a second, he fell over again. This was a full swoon, a trust fall to nowhere in particular, but the security guards were able to react quickly, and grab him before he landed. His girlfriend continued screaming. Around us, Bird hit a defiant strum of his guitar as the music died down, leaving the emptied room to hear the last of the song’s penultimate lines: “The fiery crash / It’s just a formality / Why must I explain? / Just a nod to mortality / Before you get on a plane.”
The man was carried away. His girlfriend followed. My friends stood there thinking: What did we just see? What are we yet going to see? One song had passed, and already I’d watched a man smoke crack and another man go to sleep after consuming an entire a blunt. The potential for more 4/20-related drug insanity seemed high. But that was it, basically; I didn’t see anybody toke up for the rest of the night, and Bird’s set played out without incident. (If he’d noticed the commotion, he didn’t acknowledge it.) Once the lights went up, my friends and I booked it out of there, and got on the train back to campus to talk about all of life’s mysteries.
And that, dear readers, was the most memorable 4/20 of my life.