Sharona Would Have To Wait

February 16, 2010

During the summer of 1979, I was still a couple of years from being a teenager, so it was one of the final years where summer meant no responsibilities.

The subdivision outside our small town where we lived was still sparsely populated and there were no more than eight or nine kids roughly the age of me and my brother. It was a forbidden trek into town on our bikes, but it was one we sometimes opted to make.

But it was a lengthy trip for us and though the lure of getting to hang out more with our classmates had sway, as our town was so small, there was an almost absolute certainty of running into a number of folks who spoke to your parents on a weekly, sometimes daily basis.

Usually, we hung out in the neighborhood or roamed the many wooded areas. Because we weren’t quite old enough to be focused on girls – not that there were many our ages in our subdivision – baseball was the constant.

Most mornings, we would be out on our makeshift field by mid-morning and would play until things ground to a halt because, a) of an argument over a call, or, b) our ball would be lost in the soybean field which bordered the third base line.

(there was also an outcome c where someone intentionally hit the ball into a neighbor’s strawberry patch down the first base line which allowed us to gorge on strawberries under the pretense of searching for the ball)

Tempers usually flared more quickly when we would, invariably, reconvene after lunch before wilting in the oppressive heat and humidity of early afternoon. The games we’d put together after dinner, when the early evening provided some respite from the heat, usually fared better and we’d often play until dark.

For us, there wasn’t much interest in music. Sometimes someone might have a transistor radio, but usually our only soundtrack was au natural. That’s why it wasn’t until I returned to school in late August that I caught the buzz that had been building for months surrounding The Knack and their monstrous single My Sharona.

So, for the most part, I missed the mania surrounding the band. By the end of the following summer, baseball was struggling to retain its hold on us, as both girls and music were becoming increasingly important. And The Knack had already flamed out, partially snuffed out by an inevitible backlash to the massive success of My Sharona.

The Knack would break up after releasing Round Trip in 1981 and though they’d reunite and issue a handful of albums over the next two decades, there was no recapturing that lightning in a bottle.

And, over the weekend, word spread that The Knack’s lead singer and founder Doug Fieger has passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer.

According to Billboard magazine, My Sharona reached the top of the US pop chart the final week of August in 1979 – just as the school year began. It would stay there for six weeks. Here is My Sharona and a trio of other songs on the chart as my friends and I settled in for sixth grade…

The Knack – My Sharona
from Retrospective: The Best of the Knack

Though I don’t really recall hearing My Sharona on the radio, I was well aware of the song. It was on my younger brother’s copy of Chipmunk Punk and a staple of the school band’s performances during high school basketball games that winter. It was simply an unstoppable power pop song.

Though what I know of the band, from their 1992 compilation Retrospective and, years later, snagging a used vinyl copy of the debut, reveals a band deserving far more than its brief time in the spotlight. It’s also understandable that everything else was swallowed by the wake of My Sharona.

Electric Light Orchestra – Don’t Bring Me Down
from Strange Magic: The Best Of Electric Light Orchestra

Willie, my best friend in our neighborhood, had older siblings, so there was some music that had been passed down to him – some 45s from an older sister, a Nazereth Hair Of The Dog eight-track.

And he did have a handful of more current singles of his own, including Don’t Bring Me Down which, without fail, ended up on his turntable on the rare summer day when the weather kept us indoors.

Sniff ‘n’ The Tears – Driver’s Seat
from Fickle Heart

Driver’s Seat is one song that I do remember from that summer more than thirty years ago. Though our town was small, we had a rather nice public pool where we spent as many days as we could and, on those days, it seemed I would often hear the wiry, nimble song playing over the loudspeakers.

Journey – Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’
from Evolution

In late summer of ’79, Journey was still two years away from being a commercial juggernaut with Escape, but the group was having a hint of that future success with the slinky Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

The song was indelibly etched into my young brain that fall when, one Friday night at the pizza place that served as a hang-out for kids from junior high and high school, the song came on the jukebox. As my friends and I watched, Mary, one of the true beauties in our class, and Deb, a few years older and already possessing a PG-13 reputation, began to dance to Lovin’, Touchin’, Squeezin’.

As they swayed to the song, we all stood there – slack-jawed, inert, and mystified by the skittering rush of hormones.

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Baseball

July 16, 2009

For the first time in I have no idea how many years, I watched the MLB All-Star game the other night. It surprised me a bit to realize how rarely I’ve watched the game in the last twenty years.

I stared quizzically at half of the players during this year’s introductions as though I was trying to identify someone from a police line-up.

As a kid, the All-Star game was appointment viewing. We knew all of the players and most of us could rattle of a relevant stat or two.

In a world where summer had no internet, no mp3 players, only the most rudimentary of video games, and no cable television, baseball was often our favorite waste of time.

By ten o’clock in the morning, most mornings, the first pick-up game in our neighborhood would have already ended (usually in an argument, sometimes to steal strawberries from the patch out beyond our first base line).

The afternoon game that would come together (once tempers cooled and boredom set in) was like an Ironman competition and a test to merely endure in 95 degree heat.

Over the years, my interest in the sport has waned. I think it’s mostly due to the disparity in spending between the teams.

But it’s also football. Now, even in the middle of July, my focus is not on baseball but rather that my favorite team has signed some free agent linebacker and how that signing might affect a season that won’t really be underway for another three months.

It’s an onslaught of information that is, in the middle of summer, mostly empty calories. Even a dedicated fan doesn’t need to be so in the loop (and, if you do, you might have a serious gambling problem).

The first All-Star game that I vividly remember was 1979. Maybe it’s because my grandfather, a lifelong Pittsburgh fan, had passed away a few months earlier.

Almost every evening during baseball season, he’d sit on the couch with my grandmother. They’d hold hands and watch the Pirates on television or listen to them on radio.

(that autumn, the team would win the World Series in dramatic fashion)

Baseball was far more important to me than music in 1979, but perusing the Billboard charts from July of that year revealed a number of songs that, even as a casual listener, I recall hearing…

John Stewart (with Stevie Nicks) – Gold
from Bombs Away Dream Babies

The man who wrote Daydream Believer, Stewart was joined by Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks on the timeless-sounding Gold. It’s a pretty perfect pop song.

If Paloma and I ever open up a bait shop in the Southwest (I always pictured this song taking place on some dusty, desolate stretch of road in Arizona), I’d insist this song be on the jukebox.

The Knack- My Sharona
from Get The Knack

I had little interest in music in ’79, but, like all of us, I knew My Sharona. I don’t recall the mania surrounding them or the backlash, but I’ve wondered if it was similar to Oasis a decade and a half later.

Joe Jackson – Is She Really Going Out With Him?
from Look Sharp!

OK, I can’t honestly say that I ever heard Is She Really Going Out With Him? at the time. In fact, I’m positively certain that I didn’t hear it ’til several years later after Jackson had hit with Steppin’ Out.

Better late than never, though, and Is She Really Going Out With Him? is classic stuff.

Supertramp – Goodbye Stranger
from Breakfast In America

I’ve declared my affection for Breakfast In America before. But, as a non-music fan in 1979, I thought Goodbye Stranger was the brothers Gibb.