Paper Trails

The ticket stub is disappearing, and so are your memories.

I buy my concert tickets online, like most people do these days. It’s not the most personal or memorable consumer experience, but it’s convenient, brings instant gratification, and in the end has no effect on the show one way or another.

No effect, that is, until I forget the concert entirely.

When I saw Ryan Bingham last month in Portland, I was surprised to be issued a pair of paper tickets at will-call. I’m so accustomed to having my name crossed off a list before stepping into a club that at first the gesture seemed redundant. But at show’s end, I had the memory of the concert and a ticket for a keepsake. A souvenir. A memento. Somehow, collecting those “purchase confirmation” e-mails in a digital folder doesn’t have the same cachet.

Nostalgia isn’t the only consideration with tickets, of course. There are environmental benefits to going paperless—though for safety’s sake, you print those e-mails and bring them with you, right? There’s the “problem” of scalping, but essentially that has been turned over to corporations like StubHub and Ticketmaster’s own TicketsNow. Then there’s the benefit of having everything waiting for your party at the gate—but that’s really a hassle, since it requires getting all members of your group present at the gate when you show your credit card as proof of purchase.

It’s the memories I miss. Like a photo in an album or a scent that triggers an emotional memory, an old stub resurrects a world of the past. Looking at a yellowing Lucinda Williams ticket, I remember becoming an Americorps volunteer. It was a volunteer job and I was poor, training with other broke volunteers outside Salt Lake City. We heard Williams was playing a nearby venue, and to save money we drove there in a van packed so tightly we got pulled over on the way home. (We got off with a warning; the cop didn’t find three of us hidden in the back.)

Then there was that Red Hot Chili Peppers show—the Californication tour. Sometime during the gig—likely during the Stone Temple Pilots’ yawn-inducing opener while Scott Weiland flitted about the stage in an orange boa—I gazed off and thought I recognized someone from high school in the crowd. Our eyes met, but as he walked toward me, I realized I did not know him. Yet somehow in the next moment he swept me up in a passionate kiss, like that famous V-J Day photograph. Woodstock it wasn’t, but that was my own little Woodstock moment.

My stub collection is housed in a old Monarch Cocoa tin. It’s safe to guess that in the natural world, Frank Black and the Catholics would have nothing to do with G. Love and Special Sauce, but the two have gotten quite cozy over the years in my stockpile. The stubs keep pretty quiet, but every time I open my tin, they scream “We were there!”  The uncontainable energy of a new band called the Black Keys at a small club in San Diego. Seeing Willie Nelson for the first time. Epic bills like Generation X (without Billy Idol) and the Ramones (with Joey).

As time passes and memories fade, my stubs have become markers of my personal attendance. Once I saved them for bragging rights, perhaps one day to show grandkids, but I’m realizing now they hold more value as tokens for jogging my memory when my recollection gets fuzzy.

A ticket collection anchors the collector to a time and place that sometimes seems like someone else’s life. It chronicles your phases and stages. “Don’t you remember,” asks a $10 ticket, “when you were 17, hanging on the stage at the beautiful Harro East in Rochester, New York, thinking Ani DiFranco was the coolest shit ever?”

“How could you forget,” a 1998 stub gently reminds me, “when Phish flipped the lyrics on ‘Burning Down the House’? They changed them to incorporate the name of the venue, Vernon Downs. It was brilliant! Oh, wait, you were high. Good thing you’ve got me to remember for you!”

With these small relics, you can retrieve your personal history any time you care to. Nowadays we’re focused on the next thing—getting there, where to eat afterward, how we’re getting home. We attend live events only to view them through our smartphones. Once we upload our photos, we’re on to the next thing. Sure, we have the documentation, but what good does it do us once it mingles with all the other information in our digital lives? We’re terrible at tracking these moments, even worse at treasuring them.

Thing is, I don’t miss hanging on the phone with Ticketmaster. I don’t miss waiting in line at a venue twice—once to buy tickets, then to queue for the show. Or worrying if the tickets will get lost in the mail.

I miss the paper, the notes in the margin, the memorabilia. Something for the scrapbook. Something to hold on to when so many memories are evaporating into the digital cloud.

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