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.


October 16, 2010

God only knows how many live shows that I have had the good fortune to see over the years – several hundred, at least.

From local bands in dingy clubs to major bands at stadium shows and festivals, there are few acts that I could have reasonably hoped to see live that I have not had the opportunity to do so.

And, if asked to choose one that I’d wish to traverse time to experience again, I wouldn’t hesitate in an answer.

Peter Gabriel.

My initial exposure to the one-time Genesis frontman was during my musical formative years when Shock The Monkey became an unexpected pop hit.

As I continued through high school, I came to know songs like Games Without Frontiers, I Go Swimming, and even Walk Through The Fire (a track from the Against All Odds soundtrack) from the rock and alternative stations I listened to.

I purchased Gabriel’s commercial breakthrough So upon release and began delving into his self-titled back catalog even snagging a copy of the soundtrack to Birdy on which the singer reworked some of his previously released tracks.

By the time Passion, Gabriel’s stunningly evocative collection of music from and inspired by the movie The Last Temptation Of Christ arrived in ’89, I was completely on board and awaiting each new release.

Of course, I soon learned that waiting for new music from Peter Gabriel was almost as maddening as waiting for Godot, but arrive the next album did when he released Us in autumn of 1992.

It was on the subsequent tour for Us that a friend from the record store where I was working snagged a handful of tickets on the day of show and six of us made a three-hour road trip.

The band – featuring long-time members like bassist Tony Levin and guitarist David Rhodes as well as newer members like drummer Manu Katché and violinist Shankar – was stellar and Gabriel was riveting.

Of all those shows I’ve seen, over all these years, I have never seen a performer absolutely own an audience as Peter Gabriel that night. There were some visual effects, but they were minimal, unobtrusive, and perfectly complimented the music.

The focal point was the man and the music.

At several points during the show, I vividly recall scanning the sold-out arena and being amazed at how transfixed the entire crowd was, all eyes set on the singer.

Afterwards, my friends and I huddled outside on the concourse, smoking cigarettes and discussing what we had just witnessed. The most effusive praise coming from our receiving clerk, a tall, burly character with long, stringy hair.

The guy was a punk rock fan, had once been a road manager for Scottish punk group The Exploited, and liked relatively little music outside the genre. A good fifteen years older than most of us, he was old enough to claim to have seen Jimi Hendrix in concert.

He declared it to be the best show he’d ever seen.

I couldn’t argue otherwise.

Here are four songs Peter Gabriel performed that night which I recall as being particularly memorable…

Peter Gabriel – Solsbury Hill
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

If I ever took on the daunting task of compiling a list of personal favorite songs, I would have to think that the poignant, spiritual, and subtly anthemic Solsbury Hill would be a strong candidate for the top ten.

No matter how many times the song might serve as the musical accompaniment to a trailer for yet another vapid romantic comedy, nothing can diminish the power of the song or wear out its welcome with me.

Peter Gabriel – Family Snapshot
from Peter Gabriel

Gabriel enters the headspace of an assasin drawing on the unsuccessful attempt on George Wallace’s life and the actual murder of John Kennedy for inspiration and imagery. Each and every line resonates, upping the ante and pushing the song to its harrowing climax as the music builds.

And then, Gabriel reverts to the imagined childhood of the protagonist, witnessing the carnage as his family crumbles and offering the heartbreaking plea, “Come back mum and dad, you’re growing apart, you know that I’m growing up sad.”

Peter Gabriel – Secret World
from Secret World Live

Us had a focus on relationships in various states of disrepair none more so than Secret World which closed the album.

Live, Gabriel used the song to close the show. Walking to the front of the stage, he opened a large suitcase and, one by one, each member of the band climbed into the container and dropped out of sight as the song ended.

Gabriel then closed the suitcase and brought a conclusion to the main set.

Peter Gabriel – Here Comes The Flood
from Shaking The Tree: Sixteen Golden Greats

After ending the main set with Secret World, Gabriel and the band returned to the stage – along with with Congolese singer Papa Wemba, who had been the opening act, and his band – for encores of In Your Eyes and Biko.

At that point, the crowd of musicians bade the audience farewell, leaving Gabriel alone again. Bathed in a ghostly light, accompanying himself on keyboards, he delivered one final song – a stunning, haunting version of the sparse Here Come The Flood.

Keep On Rockin’ In The Midwest

August 8, 2009

Recently, I showed some love for Foreigner and, over the time I’ve existed here, I’ve made no effort to conceal an even greater affection for Journey.

It’s time to complete the (some might say unholy) trinity with Styx.

The mention of those three bands likely makes the blood of some run cold, but, if you were in junior high in 1979 and discovering music through mostly radio in the Midwest, you knew the songs intimately.

I’ve told of how Styx’ was my first concert. Of course, that post was more of a concert shirt post as opposed to a Styx post.

It was spring, ’83, when Styx announced their Kilroy Was Here tour and a mere thirteen dollars secured me a ticket. I did have to allay the concerns of my mom who had read a newspaper article rehashing the controversy surrounding the band’s song Snowblind – backwards masking on the song had drawn Christian wing nuts out to declare the song and band Satanic.

My mom, while not overly religious, frowned on Satanism.

(more importantly, wrap your head around Styx, the band that brought us Babe, being thought by some to be in league with the devil)

In June, my pyromaniac friend Kurt and I climbed into his older brother’s Ford Fairlaine and headed to The City. As neither Kurt nor I had our licenses, we hitched a ride with his brother and two of his friends.

I seem to recall some tension heading to the show. I think the pyro’s brother got us lost. I feared missing the beginning of the show – no opening act but a fifteen-minute movie setting up the premise of the conceptual piece that was the Kilroy Was Here album.

(there simply would be no following the intricate plotline)

So, I was introduced to the magic of live music by Styx on their Kilroy Was Here tour, one of the most ridiculed musical spectacles of the ‘80s.

I was there and I did buy the shirt (and I wouldn’t be too surprised if I still have it buried somewhere). I don’t even truly remember it aside from the movie.

(I far better remember seeing Rush at my next concert)

Fifteen years later, Styx lead singer Dennis DeYoung was shopping in a record store where I worked. I told him the tale.

He was dressed like someone’s father. I had hair down to the middle of my back and several nose rings.

It was slightly surreal.

Here are some songs I’m sure I was hoping to hear at that show (and, aside from, Mr. Roboto, don’t remember for sure whether they played them or not)…

Styx – Miss America
from The Grand Illusion

The Grand Illusion was the first Styx album I remember listening to repeatedly. We had The Grand Illusion on eight-track in our locker room when I started playing football in junior high.

Guitarist James Young growling Miss America rocked suitably and had a message. At twelve or thirteen, it made me feel like an intellectual.

(it’s deep, man)

Styx – Renegade
from Pieces Of Eight

Renegade was more straightforward. The only meaning to the song was of a desperado on the lam which was exotic as we merely had older, high school guys smoking cigarettes and cruising in Camaros in my hometown.

I actually met Tommy Shaw, who sang lead on Renegade, backstage, after seeing Styx again when I was older. Like Dennis DeYoung, Shaw seemed like a gracious, affable fellow. I feel kind of bad because I interrupted our conversation. I noticed a girl with a broken foot. I knew her from hanging out at a coffee shop and thought her to be quite fetching.

Adios, Tommy. Hello fetching, broken-footed, coffee-shop girl.

(of course, I would have understood had he done the same)

Styx – Half-Penny, Two-Penny
from Paradise Theater

Paradise Theater was one of the first cassettes I ever owned (I pretty much skipped right past vinyl as a kid) and I played it to the breaking point. Sure, I bought it for the hits I’d heard – The Best Of Times and Too Much Time On My Hands – but I’d repeatedly listen start to finish.

Half-Penny, Two-Penny was near the end of side two and, though I was initially unfamiliar with it, it soon became a favorite.

Styx – Mr. Roboto
from Kilroy Was Here

I suppose Styx was never a hip listening choice and, at the time, Mr. Roboto puzzled even the fans (or perhaps it pained listeners to know that we would soon be under the thumbs of our Japanese overlords).

Then, the song’s use in some television commercials in recent years (and the realization that we would actually end up under the thumbs of Chinese overlords) gave the song a bit of cachet.

As for me, it was Mr. Roboto’s creepy plasticized countenance leered out from the front of the shirt I bought at the show.