Jean Paul Sartre was quite wrong. Hell is not just other people, as he famously claimed, but other people's rock bands performing in public. Unfortunately, there are enough of them that one or two are probably even good friends of yours. Bipolar singers; waxen bassists; aimless drummers; balding guitarists wearing funky hats; amateur, aging musicians who lacked the confidence or talent to quit their day jobs in their twenties. If only they didn't demand your presence when their wretched ensembles go through the motions in dingy bars or out-of-the-way lofts every third weekend.
This was a tolerable Hell, of course, when you were young and bored of sitting at home; a reasonably comfortable Inferno into which Dante might cast those who are merely mean to small animals or use their fingers at salad bars. But as you get older you sink further and further into the fiery pit of unacceptable inconvenience. The music grows ever more cacophonous and unbearable until eventually you're rubbing shoulders with murderers, rapists and heavy-metal guitarists in the lowest circle of Hell, and the torments of the damned don't stop until the amplifiers are packed away. Wouldn't you much rather be at home, curled up with a mug of cocoa and a decent book?
Consequently, one of the great consolations of having bypass surgery has been the instant excuse it provides to avoid seeing a friend of mine's talentless band. I thank heaven for the unassailable alibi afforded by my residual aches and pains, even if they are somewhat fabricated rather than real in this case. "I'm sorry but I'm feeling particularly weak this evening and can't be there," the malingerer croaks in his best sick-note voice. "But definitely let me know next time you guys have a gig. I'm sure I'll be feeling better then."
No doubt such subterfuge practiced upon a friend seems both rude and deceitful, even a little white lie like that. However, the ends unequivocally justify the means when you're standing in a pool of spilled beer all night, watching sweaty middle-aged men play unsuitable teenage songs to an audience of their equally geriatric acquaintances.
In my more eldritch moments, I often wonder if I subconsciously made a Faustian pact with the Devil regarding attendance at my friend's wretched concerts: a high-stakes, diabolical deal to undergo heart surgery and receive a free pass to never go again in exchange. If so, it was an unbeatable bargain and I encourage everyone to contact the Devil immediately about their own friends' bands. You know it makes sense.
These days you will only find me at the bandstand in my local park, well wrapped up in an Astrakhan coat and homburg hat, slouching in my rolling chaise, listening to an afternoon concert of light orchestral music and beating time with my blackthorn stick. I happen to know Norman, the third trombonist. We met in hospital while waiting for our stress tests. Soon I hope to say truthfully to him: "Sorry, Norman, but I won't be at the bandstand today because I'm feeling so much better, so I'm taking endurance cycling classes instead. I've just bought a new bike with a zillion gears and a lycra tank top." And then I'll pedal off into the sunset with the wind in my armpit hair.