The Spectrum

November 2, 2009

julius ervingOn Halloween night, Pearl Jam played The Spectrum in Philadelphia, the final concert in the forty-five year existence of the venerable arena. At some point in the very near future, the building will be razed.

I’ve never set foot in The Spectrum. Obviously, I never will.

I’ve never lived in (or near) Philadelphia and, unless Paloma surprises me and has it on her short list of potential future destinations, I don’t intend to.

But, as a kid, despite growing up some six hundred miles west of The Spectrum, the building had a prominent spot in my life and the lives of many of my friends. The Spectrum was home court for the Philadelphia 76ers basketball team.

In the pre-Larry Bird/Magic Johnson (not to mention pre-ESPN) era, the NBA wasn’t a big deal. We had the Pacers in Indianapolis, sixty miles away, and their games were shown on a local channel, but no one watched and, most seasons, there was little reason to do so.

The team that had our attention was the 76ers. There was the mammoth center Darryl Dawkins, shattering backboards with his dunks, who worked the media as savvily as Shaq with his eccentric ways. He christened himself “Chocolate Thunder” (one of many nicknames) and claimed his home planet to be Lovetron where his girlfriend Juicy Lucy still lived.

The team had guards like the scrappy Doug Collins and the lockdown artist Maurice Cheeks as well as sniper shot Andrew Toney. We loved the gangly forward Caldwell Jones as much for the fact that he was gangly and named Caldwell Jones as his game.

And, most of all, the Sixers had the good Doctor, the incomparable Julius Erving.

We all spent a lot of snowbound, Sunday afternoons hoping the Sixers would be on the weekly game of the week so we might get a glimpse of Dr. J.

(we often got our wish)

And to this day, I’m far more excited to see footage of Dr. J than Michael Jordan. I suppose it’s because he was likely the first athlete that made me stare dumbfounded, amazed at what I’d seen.

(and, as we didn’t see endless replays in Dr. J’s heyday, there was a mystique – usually, you saw the play live or you didn’t see it)

Erving’s high-flying exploits were often beamed into our living rooms on those drab, Midwestern afternoons from The Spectrum.

I think we even thought the name was cool. It sounded space-age, futuristic and intergalactic.

Maybe Chocolate Thunder was telling the truth.

It’s strange to think The Spectrum will be gone

There’s no shortage of music from Philadelphia natives. To be understated, there’s actually a staggering array of amazing stuff. Here are songs from four such acts – not necessarily classics, merely ones I wanted to hear…

The Hooters – All You Zombies
from Nervous Night

This was the introduction of The Hooters, who had a sizeable local following, to the rest of the country. All You Zombies hooked me first time I heard it in late winter/early spring of 1985. It had an interesting, reggae hitch and portentous lyrics.

Nervous Night left me mostly underwhelmed, but it had several hits over the next year or so. Their second record came and went pretty quickly (though I thought it had a couple of decent tracks).

A songwriter friend hosted a couple members of the band (main lyricists Rob Hyman and Eric Bazilian) to do some writing years later. Apparently they were delightful guests.

The Stylistics – You Are Everything
from The Stylistics

I know that Philly is famous for soul music, but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge of the genre. The Stylistics are one of those acts who I love the handful of songs I know and keep intending to check out their music beyond the hits.

They’re still on that list – thanks to a combination of apathy and forgetfulness – because I never tire of songs like Betcha By Golly Wow, I’m Stone in Love With You, Break Up To Make Up, and the smooth as silk You Are Everything.

Hall & Oates – Wait For Me
from X-Static

Whether you listened to a lot of music in the ’80s or not, if you are old enough to have been there, you likely know (or would recognize) a good number of songs by Hall & Oates – Kiss On My List, Private Eyes, Maneater

And twenty-five plus years later, the stuff holds up and seems to have earned a measure of belated respect. As good as their big hits were, the duo had a lot of hits that seem to have been forgotten a bit – Did It In A Minute and Family Man come to mind – that were pretty fantastic.

I’d put Wait For Me on that list, too.

Ween – Flutes Of Chi
from White Pepper

I just didn’t get Ween. I tried. I really did.

Then, the duo put out White Pepper. Chock full of immediately engaging melodies, I couldn’t believe how effortless it was to enjoy. I intended to revisit their earlier albums but, White Pepper was released in 2000 and I still haven’t gotten around to doing so.

Flutes Of Chi always reminded me of XTC.