Last weekend we attended a concert. I have been to great concerts—some with amazing music, others that featured the flavor of the month hit bands. This one was different. It was emotional, nostalgic and, in a way, naïve.
A small sandwich board sign was in front of the parking lot. On it, under a hand-drawn arrow, was stuck a 8.5×11 sheet of paper: “Bulgarian Rock Legends.” A venue that typically hosts sessions like Vision Stewards, Active Imagination and Caring for Your Soul, was the stage, on which four of the biggest rock stars I grew up with were going to entertain the two hundred or so Bulgarians, who live in Seattle.
The four musicians were from four different bands. When Bulgaria was still communist, these bands represented the tiny ray of hope that while isolated and controlled, talent could still find a way to move us. In the exhilarating years of transition, they were showing up at demonstrations, giving voice to the wide range of emotions—hope, empowerment, freedom. And then for the years since I moved away, when I went back to visit, their music would be what I recognized and connected with, despite the broad range of new pop, rock and the intellectually despised, but quite successful, “chalga” music.
And here they were – four guys in Seattle. Two of them in their late 60s, the other two a decade younger. Each of them from a different band, taking turns performing each others’ songs, the same songs that 20-30 years ago made them not just stars but symbols. Their US tour like a mission of visiting the troops, injecting patriotism and hope that we still belong not only to Bulgaria but together, in the cheesy meditation hall in the middle of nowhere.
They were great. We relived our youth, they relived theirs. Some of us cried, they mostly smiled. They seemed to enjoy themselves, joking about their age and their “limited” body of work.
I don’t often allow myself to admit that I miss Bulgaria. It is a self-preservation strategy, an emotional cop-out that makes me feel less vulnerable to regrets. When I do miss it, I try to remember that nostalgia is fake. And I tried to do that at the concert. I caught myself thinking that these past-their-prime stars from a country most people have never heard of, with their old hits (the Poplars from the title) that with age have acquired the innocent sound of “classic” rock, seemed quite naïve, as if their art never evolved past the barricades of our young democracy. On the other hand, their songs might be as dusty as my connections to Bulgaria, but they still meant more than Adele and U2 and anyone in between, put together.