As Close To Live As You Could Get From The Middle Of Nowhere Without A Car

October 12, 2011

By the autumn of 1984, my friends and I all had our driver’s licenses.

Not that much could be done with them sans a mode of transport.

A fair number of the kids in our high school had cars. Our small town was rural enough that it was a necessity for some of the kids living on farms in the hinterlands.

(thus making the pick-up to car ratio close to 50/50 in our high school parking lot)

There were also those who had inherited vehicles from older siblings and, as there was a bit of wealth in the area, there were the kids whose coming-of-driving-age arrived with a complimentary car.

I belonged to none of those categories.

The lack of transportation plagued me and my friends’ efforts to attend concerts. The nearest cities having arenas of 20,000 seats – the ones most likely to get dates for the most high-profile tours – were sixty and eighty miles plus down one interstate or another.

(close enough to shimmer like an oasis on the horizon)

The first challenge was to get everyone to commit and have the funds.

To even get tickets meant getting to one of the cities to acquire them in person. If such a thing could not be arranged, it was a Saturday morning on the phone, trying to get through to Ticketmaster as thousands of other people attempted to do the same in the pre-internet ’80s.

(after someone having convinced a parent to part with a credit card)

It was quite an operation.

Most of the shows I attended in high school were someone coming up with tickets at the last minute and, usually, our buddy Beej loaning himself his older brother’s car to provide transport.

More often than not, it would be settling for a concert replay. There were stations from Cincinnati and Indianapolis at the time that would sometimes air the songs that had been played at the show with “live” crowd noise mixed in.

It wasn’t quite the same, but as these replays would air immediately after the show ended, the consolation was knowing that you weren’t sitting in post-concert traffic.

I’d often listen to the concert replays whether it was an act that I might have wanted to go see or not. There was something compelling about the rudimentary recreations.

Here are four songs that I might have heard on one of those replays in autumn of 1984…

Billy Squier – All Night Long
from Signs Of Life (1984)

For a few years, Billy Squier was a rock god amongst my classmates in junior high and high school. Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion must have resided in everyone’s collections and songs like The Stroke, In The Dark, and Everybody Wants You were staples on the rock radio stations.

And then, Squier released Signs Of Life. The first single, Rock Me Tonite, was a fixture on the radio that summer, but the song was also accompanied by an infamous video clip.

I remember the video being ridiculed, but it seems as though its role as scapegoat for Squier’s subsequent career decline has grown throughout the years. Personally, the songs just didn’t reach the heights of pure rock goodness of Don’t Say No and Emotions In Motion, though I always dug the frenetic All Night Long.

Ratt – Wanted Man
from Out Of The Cellar (1984)

Unlike Billy Squier, Ratt’s career was rocketing into the stratosphere in 1984 thanks to Round And Round, which seemed to be blaring from every car stereo wherever high school kids congregated thar summer.

It didn’t get played as much, but I quite liked the more mid-tempo Wanted Man. It has a swagger and I always picture a spaghetti Western in my head when I hear the song.

Sammy Hagar – I’ll Fall In Love Again
from Standing Hampton (1981)

In the autumn of 1984, Sammy Hagar was simply The Red Rocker, ex-member of Montrose, and a fixture on the rock radio stations in our area with songs like There’s Only One Way To Rock, Your Love Is Driving Me Crazy, Rock Is In My Blood and I Can’t Drive 55 (from his then-current album VOA).

A year later, he was the most polarizing lead singer in the history of mankind, having replaced David Lee Roth in Van Halen.

I liked Sammy fine as a solo act and, though Van Halen’s second chapter wasn’t going to make anyone forget the DLR era, I thought there was some cool stuff from the band with Hagar as lead singer.

Though I’ll Fall In Love Again didn’t make the Top 40, the Top 40 station that was my listening choice at the time played the song incessantly during the summer of ’82. The song never fails to take me back to that summer.

Triumph – Magic Power
from Allied Forces (1981)

Triumph never quite became a major act in the US, but I heard their songs often on radio in the early ’80s. And it wasn’t uncommon to see kids in our high school halls wearing Triumph concert shirts.

The trio seemed to pass through the area every six months or so and, in ’84, undoubtedly did so touring to support their Thunder Seven set.

I was mostly ambivilant about the band, but I did kind of dig Magic Power from several years earlier.

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They Never Mention Possible Cult Abduction On Cigarette Warning Labels

August 18, 2011

An episode of Seinfeld is airing in which George mistakenly assumes the identity of the leader of a Neo-Nazi organization.

It reminds of my own inadvertant encounter with some fringe folk.

I had made a pilgrimage to meet up with a couple friends and catch a U2 show. The three of us had spent three weeks traveling through the UK in a rented Daewoo, but we hadn’t all been together since that trip several years earlier.

As we hadn’t been together, the occasion required a toast and we had essentially rendered ourselves incapacitated by the time the band took the stage.

(we had arrived just moments earlier having drank all the way through the opening act with some Irish kids at a nearby bar)

As the show ended, I hastily exited Atlanta’s Georgia Dome for a cigarette. By the time my friends made their way outside, I was being chatted up by some young ’90s-styled bohemian chicks.

(I think I just heard Paloma’s eyes roll)

My compatriots ushered me off with them as my potential hackey sack harem vanished like a mirage. The next morning as we struggled through hangovers, the three of us examined the artifacts from the event – some literature with cringe-inducing poems and a CD of music.

It was hysterical stuff.

It was the Zendiks – some bunch of commune-dwellers with names like Fawn, Arol, and Wulf and concepts such as Ecolibrium and Creavolution.

(I try to be open-minded, but if you dub something Creavolution…I’m struggling to take you seriously)

As for the CD…it was so dreadful we didn’t mind laughing, loudly, incessantly through pounding hangovers as the Zendiks raged against the machine in the most obvious of fashion.

(I do hope that during the next move I stumble across it somewhere…I fear, though, that it is lost)

Ten years on and I’m still not sure if I should consider the experience with amusement or concern.

Sure I had long hair.

Sure I was no fan of The Man.

Sure I dressed a bit like Jeff Lebowski.

Sure I found hippie chicks to be fetching.

But I was just a drunken slacker that wanted a smoke.

Thanks for the consideration, Zendiks. Here are four songs by the band The Cult…

The Cult – She Sells Sanctuary
from Love

My buddy Streuss turned me onto The Cult not long after Love finally reached US shores. I thought that the name was pretty dumb and uninspiring, but I was hooked upon hearing Love.

The sleek, supersonic She Sells Sanctuary was perhaps the high point of Love, a near perfect fusion of Billy Duffy’s pyrotechnic guitar work and lead singer Ian Astbury’s otherworldly howl.

The Cult – Fire Woman
from Sonic Temple

I thought the Rick Rubin-produced Electric – the follow-up to Love – was an unredeemable disaster aside from the wonderful Love Removal Machine.

(I seem to be in a minority on this one)

I was in school in southeast Asia when Sonic Temple followed Electric in 1989 and I was surprised to read that the album had made the Top Ten back in the States.

I finally snagged a bootleg cassette of the album at a street market in Bangkok and was duly back on board with The Cult. The band had regained the slinky swagger of Love and the breakneck boogie Fire Woman almost became a Top 40 hit in the US.

The Cult – American Horse
from Sonic Temple

Of course, The Cult were well known for their psychedelic trappings and – despite hailing from the UK – a lyrical fascination with the American west and Native American culture. And lead singer Ian Astbury was oft compared to Jim Morrison.

The sturm und drang of American Horse rumbles on for five minutes or so, flattening everything in its path like The Lizard King fronting Led Zeppelin. I’ve always thought the song was an underrated gem in their catalog.

The Cult – Star
from The Cult

After Sonic Temple, The Cult lost me again with the unmemorable Ceremony. There was also plenty of tension and instability within the ranks. In 1994, the band released a self-titled album that incorporated elements from the burgeoning electronic music scene.

(it made me think of hearing U2’s Achtung, Baby for the first time)

I thought it was their most interesting stuff since Sonic Temple and I really dug the pulsating Star. I think that Paloma and I had tickets to see them on the ensuing tour but the band broke up before reaching our date.


“The Biggest Man You Ever Seen”

June 21, 2011

It was June 9, 1984 – a Saturday – that I made it into Cincinnati and bought a copy of Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band’s Born In The U.S.A, which had been released five days earlier.

Though I knew a handful of songs by Springsteen from the radio, Born In The U.S.A. was his first album released with the E Street Band since I had become obsessed with music.

It was their first album where I was there.

It was the first album by the already-legendary band that I would own.

I was hardly alone as Springsteen brought a lot of new fans into the fold as Born In The U.S.A. sold millions, dominated the musical landscape, and the band embarked on a sell-out tour that seemed to last forever.

At that age, for me, it did seem like forever.

I had just finished my sophomore year of high school that Saturday when I purchased Born In The U.S.A. and I was making plans to come home for Thanksgiving from my first semester at college when the sprawling Live/1975–85 set was released at the tour’s culmination.

A year later, Tunnel Of Love arrived and though it was a success, there was no possibilty of maintaining the fervor that had surrounded Springsteen and a portion of that audience – for whom the music might have been no more than a trendy accessory – had moved on.

I was in for the long haul.

Oh, I didn’t become one of those Springsteen fans that can recite setlists at will, but each new release was anticipated and, as those releases became catalog, the music was cherished.

I wouldn’t see Springsteen live until ’96 when Paloma and I caught a show on his acoustic, solo tour for The Ghost Of Tom Joad. It was memorable, but, after years of reading of and seeing clips of Springsteen performing with the E Street Band…

Finally, in 2000, I had the chance to see the E Street Band on their reunion tour.

It was everything I’d read of, heard of, or been told of for twenty-some years and though it was the joyous three-hour celebration I’d been promised, but perhaps the most memorable moment had been the performance of the sparse, solemn If I Should Fall Behind near the end.

One by one, Bruce, Steve, Nils, and Patti stepped up to the mic, sang a portion of the song and stepped aside for a bandmate before surrendering the spotlight to Clarence, playing the sax and singing with Bruce.

It ended with the five of them crowded around that one mic together.

Of the however many hundreds of shows I’ve attended, I have never seen a band that seemed so genuinely happy to be together. There was a love and devotion between this somewhat disparate group of people that was palpable even from the cheap seats.

I left the arena that night knowing that – trademarked self-anointments be damned – I had just seen the greatest rock and roll band in the world.

(not to mention what must have been one really cool gang to be in)

I had one last chance to see them together, sharing a show with Paloma eight years later.

I’ve been surprised at how truly sad I have felt at the passing of The Big Man.

Maybe it’s because the E Street Band loomed so large during my sixteenth summer.

Maybe it’s because it seems as though this collection of scrappy underdogs has always been there and it seemed that they always would be.

Maybe it’s the stark reminder that not even The Boss is immune from the inexorable march of time.

And maybe it’s the realization that there is no more E Street Band.

Hours I’ve spent the past few days reading the recollections of fans and those tributes rightfully mention Springsteen classics like Rosalita, Thunder Road, Born To Run, and Jungleland, songs that were made transcendent by the sound of Clarence Clemons’ saxophone.

But it was none of those songs that I heard in my head upon learning of Clarence’s death.

Instead, the song that came to mind was one from Springsteen’s 1995 Greatest Hits set that had been newly recorded by the reunited E Street Band.

The song captured the bond between Bruce and his bandmates that, for me, made them a band for the ages and makes me grateful I got to witness some of it.

Buon viaggio, Big Man

Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band – Blood Brothers
from Greatest Hits