I saw life fill the listless.
My first concert was an outdoor music festival featuring several acts. But the only one I remember seeing that day was TLC. I remember them because I’d never seen anyone like them. The animated bravado, the candor, and the unapologetic nature of their presence captivated every pulse in attendance as they gallivanted around the stage.
The trio had something I wouldn’t have for a long time. Each member exhibited behavior I’d never witnessed, certainly not among young women. Weightlessness. They emitted an aura of absolute liberation.
It wasn’t just that T-Boz, Left Eye, and Chilli had the audacity to flaunt neon condoms across their exteriors. It wasn’t only that they were draped in bold, wildly oversized clothing that hung below their waists and seemed to care nothing about being “ladylike.” It was the defiant enthusiasm with which they did so.
This was early TLC.
One of the bestselling girl groups of all time was being introduced to the world with its members likely in their most hungry and happy to be here state. Their passion overflowed to invigorate a city thirsty for exaltation.
I saw the group perform at Gilroy Stadium in Gary, IN. The football field doubled as an event venue initially designed to hold 10,000 people. It was declared done in 1956 though space was cleared for an eight-lane running track and a parking lot that were both left unpaved. Plans for additional bleachers, restrooms, and concession stands never made it past the blueprints.
Still, the city’s symbol of hope was open for business and hosted everyone who was anyone in our small industrial town. There was a local talent competition in 1965, won by hometown kids, The Jackson 5. Even the great Stevie Wonder came through for a performance a few years later.
Gilroy also hosted a KKK (Ku Klux Klan) rally in 2001, just as the decaying, still half-done site was set to be condemned. I suppose even a field of dreams can’t outgrow its environment. The best efforts of upstanding residents could never surpass Gary’s expanding reputation as a land of iniquity.
Today, the stadium sits in further ruin.
Overrun by untamed flora and marred by failing infrastructure, it’s even less than the underdeveloped version of the vision it became. Gilroy serves as a quintessential reminder of the lesson our community learned early and often — most promises go unfulfilled. But if we can make do with what we have, we may steal moments where it feels like enough.
Decades later I can recall breathing careless air that floated about concertgoers the day TLC demonstrated for us joy as a form of resistance. I remember walking across the green grass and planting myself atop unforgiving bleachers — bearing witness to both the performance and those absorbing its energy.
I caught a glimpse of my mother and her sisters daring to be happy. Out loud. They laughed from their bellies and danced from their souls. No one spoke of their overdue light bills or neighborhood nightmares.
Local OGs like my uncle wearing his leather motorcycle vest with no shirt underneath and bootcut jeans bobbed their heads to the rhythm of songs belonging to a generation they probably didn’t understand. Small children ran around in circles, screaming and giggling with no regard for the racket. Kids remembered they were kids and weary humans laid their burdens down and people got to see how they might look in the light and I thought for a second that maybe dreams do come true because I believe we all saw a waterfall that we might wish to chase.
Like the stadium that held it on that day, our joy was left unfinished. We would go back to our uninspiring routines and perpetual challenges. But for at least 20 or so minutes, everything was alright. The old felt young — and the young felt free.