Hanging Out At The Zap

June 27, 2012

It was hardly the most clever of names, but, it was so generic that it now strikes me as endearing.

The Zap.

It could have been an arcade in any small, Midwestern town in of the early ’80, but it was all ours.

Our town wasn’t unlike the one in the movie Footloose, though we did have a bowling alley, a public pool, and a ratio of bars to citizens that I have only observed in the UK.

(any (all) of those establishments might have been verboten in Footlooseville)

And we had The Zap.

For the couple of years that it existed, The Zap was the hub of my friends and my world. It was the dingy command center for our plots, plans, and schemes.

Housed in a minimally remodeled building that had previously been home to a beauty salon on one side, an auto repair garage on the other, The Zap was a less glamourous version of the game room in Dazed And Confused on a smaller scale.

The Zap had refrigerated air and concrete floors, making it one of the few places we kids could escape the heat and humidity of summer.

(though the place was frigid in the winter)

It had video games and pinball machines.

It was about the greatest place on earth.

(provided we define earth as the six square miles that was our hometown)

And The Zap had a jukebox.

That jukebox provided some of the earliest financial dilemmas we faced as kids – burn through your limited funds playing Defender or Robotron or playing a few more songs on the jukebox.

I usually opted for more music.

As the summer began in 1984, my friends and I had our driver’s license. The sole objective most days was, somehow, to procure a vehicle and head for Cincinnati.

(and, often, such plots were hatched at The Zap)

But once you’d roamed the malls of the dirty city – been to arcades that would fill a barn – a dozen games, a few pinball machines, and a pair of pool tables is not impressive.

It was sometime toward the end of that same summer that The Zap closed.

And as we left The Zap in our dust and escaped to civilization, we often had the radio tuned to 96Rock, a station that, despite its shortcomings, was the one that meshed most with our various interests.

Here are four fairly random songs that we would have likely heard on one of those summer road trips in the year of Orwell…

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire (1984)

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve who had been in Santana with Schon. There were a few songs from the short-lived union’s lone album that I heard on radio at the time.

Their version of the iconic A Whiter Shade Of Pale got played quite a bit and I suspect I hadn’t heard the original.

(and, if I had, I doubt I could have told you it was Procol Harum)

The Pretenders – My City Was Gone
from Learning To Crawl (1984)

I got really burned out on My City Was Gone in 1984. Most of the radio stations which we listened to were located across the state in Ohio, so the song – about Chrissie Hynde’s home state – got played on all of the rock stations.

By summer, six months after the wonderful Learning To Crawl was released and radio stations had stopped playing Middle Of The Road, Show Me, and Back On The Chain Gang, My City Was Gone was still being played as if it had just come out.

(I much like the song again twenty-eight years later when it pops up)

Box Of Frogs – Back Where I Started
from Box Of Frogs (1984)

I loved the name of Box Of Frogs, but I was mostly indifferent to Back Where I Started. Like Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve, Box Of Frogs had a brief existence, reuniting three founding members of The Yardbirds.

Fellow Yardbird Jeff Beck guested on several tracks including the shuffling Back Where I Started which I really dig now.

Iron Maiden – 2 Minutes To Midnight
from Powerslave (1984)

Though no metalhead, when 2 Minutes To Midnight arrived, I was well acquainted with Iron Maiden through my buddy Beej’s brother, who was obsessed with the band, and another buddy who, if we had snagged his dad’s car, would pop in a cassette with The Number Of The Beast on one side and Men Without Hats’ debut on the other.

The scorching 2 Minutes To Midnight got played a lot – 96Rock had an odd mix that ranged from Motley Crue and Ozzy to The Fixx and Missing Persons – and it was one of the few songs by Iron Maiden that I ever heard on the radio.

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No Jakes Were Actually Harmed

July 15, 2010

Donnie lived a few houses down from me as a kid. As we were the same age, we knew each other from school, but he was one of those second-tier friends we all have growing up – not your first choice but someone to hang out with if options were limited.

(or, if the kid’s family had a pool)

I actually hung out with Donnie a fair amount during those last summers before I could drive. There were only a handful of kids in our age group in the neighborhood, so, we needed every warm body we had to have a baseball game.

When we opted to play hoops, Donnie had the home-court incentive of having a court with an eight-foot goal on which some of us could dunk. So, we’d hang out at his house.

There was usually a boom box when we played hoops, especially during the summer, which meant an inevitible argument. It was Donnie’s court and, by law, Donnie’s decision.

I was good with most of his choices. I remember him having stuff like The Go-Gos and Missing Persons, and I vividly recollect him having Men At Work’s second album, Cargo, as he played that one into the ground.

And, then, overnight, he went metalhead.

He was the first metalhead I’d ever known.

Donnie was a slight kid, with lank strands of blonde hair. His eyes were rather beady and darted back and forth behind wire-rimmed glasses. His nose would twitch in a manner that made me think of a rodent.

The offbeat music of Men At Work suited him.

It created a juxtaposition that struck me as odd and comical when I’d look through his cassettes and find Krokus, Mötley Crüe, and Twisted Sister titles where The Fixx had been a week before.

He was quite serious about these bands that I knew mostly from leafing through Circus in the drugstore, having already read Rolling Stone.

(those were pretty much the only music magazines that the store stocked on a regular – or even erratic – schedule)

Sometime in ’84, my buddy Beej informed me of cassette that his brother David had. The tape had a home-made cover that made me think it could have been done by a very rambunctious six-year old with poor motor skills.

It was Donnie.

As best as we could make out, the band was called Room Of Doom and one of the songs had the same title.

(it did work for Big Country)

The songs were actual metal songs by other bands – and not instrumentals – over which Donnie delivered his own lyrics, sometimes using a cookie monster-style. I suppose that he was a bit of a visionary.

It was dreadful. I still remember one of the lyrics from Room Of Doom – “I met a man named Jake, so I killed him with a rake.”

I suppose that a rake could be wielded with menace. Maybe.

The tape made the rounds for a few days and was soon forgotten. I had forgotten about it until, for whatever reason, the incident popped into my head the other day.

Of course, in a post-Columbine world, Donnie would have likely been disappeared.

Then, again, in a post-You Tube world, he might have become a sensation.

The outcome was more mundane and less tragic. Donnie was just some kid who liked heavy metal. I saw him several years ago on a trip to our hometown. He was cruising the main drag of town near the movie theater.

Something loud was blaring from his car stereo.

It was like being back in 1984.

1983 saw heavy metal go mainstream with acts like Def Leppard and Quiet Riot selling millions of albums and getting airplay on radio and the fledgling MTV.

Though I suppose it could be debated as to what bands were or weren’t heavy metal, here are four songs from acts that, during the summer of ’84, I’m sure I saw while perusing Circus or heard on 96Rock…

Van Halen – Panama
from 1984

Panama immediately makes me think of MTV as the channel finally became available in our town in 1984 and, that summer, I must have seen the video for the song several hundred times (and we didn’t even have cable). I’d go over to my friend Beej’s house, we’d turn on MTV, and, more often than not, we’d hear the drone of the airplane that opened the video before the band crashed into the song.

What odds would you have gotten in Vegas that a year later, Van Halen would be no more?

Def Leppard – Bringin’ On The Heartbreak
from Vault: Def Leppard Greatest Hits (1980–1995)

Def Leppard’s Pyromania had been one of the best-selling albums of ’83 and I think that I heard just about every song on the album on the radio at some point. As it began to lose steam in ’84, the band’s previous album, High ‘N Dry, was reissued.

Bringin’ On The Heartache was remixed and gave radio something new to play from the band, but it was the video for the song Me And My Wine – a new track added to High ‘N Dry – that seemed to be on MTV when Panama wasn’t.

(we waited for almost three years to get MTV and the only two songs that I got to see that first summer were those two)

Ratt – Wanted Man
from Out Of The Cellar

By the time school ended in ’84, there was a lot of hard rock/heavy metal on the radio, but it was Ratt that had one of the songs of the summer with Round And Round. The song seemed to be everywhere that summer – especially blasting from cars – and it truly is difficult to dislodge it from the brain.

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.

Hagar Schon Aaronson Shrieve – A Whiter Shade Of Pale
from Through the Fire

HSAS brought together Sammy Hagar, Journey guitarist Neal Schon, bassist Kenny Aaronson, and drummer Michael Shrieve – the latter two had been in Santana together.

Hearing the group’s version of Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade Of Pale on radio might have been the first time I ever heard the song.

I don’t think that the original is quite as iconic here in the States as it seems to be in the UK, but it’s a beautifully trippy song and I could have done worse in experiencing it for the first time than hearing this version.