Rich Wilhelm

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I Partied With The Fixx

In concerts, Music/Memory on November 26, 2013 at 5:01 pm


The original version of the following expose into the rock’n’roll lifestyle as seen in action during a post-concert meet’n’greet by The Fixx appeared in my college newspaper, Temple News, in the autumn of 1987, just after the events in question occurred. Then I added a bit of grown-up perspective to make it the 27th entry on my blog on Sept. 29, 2000. I used to get the occasional email from someone doing a search on “Pulsations,” the name of the nightclub where the Fixx played that night, but that hasn’t happened for awhile.

Just a few years ago, I further updated it for the previous incarnation of my Dichotomy of the Dog blog. And now, thanks to a recent conversation with my good friend Tom Kvech (a former Pulsations employee) at our 30th high school reunion, I again turn my attention to the night that I partied with the Fixx, with further minor updates.

I do not have any further grown-up perspective to add at this point.

On October 2, 1987 I partied with the Fixx.

It happened at a nightclub called Pulsations in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania. At this point, you need to know two things:

1. The Fixx was a “new wave” pop band that hit it big in the early 1980s with hit songs like “Red Skies,” “Deeper and Deeper,” and “Saved By Zero.” The Fixx was sort of the missing link between the Police and Duran Duran. Their vaguely philosophical lyrics (a couple of their other songs were called, “Are We Ourselves?” and “Less Cities, More Moving People”) were brainier than Duran Duran’s Simon Le Bon singing about “Girls on Film,” but not quite as pointy-headed (or as catchy) as Sting wailing about Jungian psychology in the Police’s “Synchronicity.” By 1987, the Fixx’s biggest charting hit, “One Thing Leads to Another,” was already four years behind them.

2. Pulsations began life as a Longhorn Steakhouse. In the early ‘80s, it was reborn as a glitzy discotheque several years after disco had been declared dead. The night Pulsations opened, a lighting fixture suspended from the ceiling fell on a patron’s head, killing her (I wish I was joking about that, but unfortunately, it’s true). This tragedy seemed to foretell the future of the ill-fated Pulsations. It was reinvented a few years later as a new wave nightclub, not long after new wave bit the dust. Pulsations was always a few years behind the times.

And now, on with my story…

I was the entertainment editor at the Temple News when the postcard arrived at the office. “Pulsations Cordially Invites You to Join The Fixx for a Post-Concert Party.” The concert and subsequent party was scheduled for October 2, 1987. The dress code, according to the postcard: “Dare To Be Different!”

Now, as the entertainment editor, I could have passed this little gem of an invitation on to anyone else on the newspaper staff, but I decided this was an assignment I had to take on myself. The invitation was for me and a guest, and it seems to me now that I could have waved an invitation to party with the Fixx in front of practically any woman in school and gotten an instant “yes!” out of them. In fact, with an opportunity to actually meet the Fixx, I probably could have gotten lucky, or at least luckier than I had been up to that point in my life. As the Fixx themselves said, “One thing leads to another…”

Curiously, though, I journeyed to Pulsations alone on October 2, 1987. History does not record why I didn’t try to make a date out of it.

The concert itself was fairly nondescript, or as I said in my review, “The Fixx just aren’t much fun live.” We ran a photo of the band with the review. Being smart-allecky college journalists, the caption we put under the photo read, “Party! At Pulsations! With Rich Wilhelm! We’re there dude.” I don’t think the caption was my idea, but even today I laugh when I look at it.

In a way, though, the concert itself didn’t matter. The whole point of the evening was to party with the Fixx after the show. Soon after the last note was played I flashed my special invitation in front of what I’m sure was a burly security guard (actually, I don’t remember) and found myself in a darkened private room, eating ham and cheese sandwiches on very small rolls and hanging out with record industry folks and fellow press people, all of us anxiously awaiting the arrival of the guys in the band. It was just like a new wave This Is Spinal Tap, except this time it was real.

The room had fluorescent lighting that highlighted the paintings of stained glass windows on the walls. These paintings looked just like the kind of windows you’d see in church except that they featured cartoon characters like Yosemite Sam and Pink Panther, rather than pictures of saints or scenes from the life of Christ.

A balcony off this exclusive room provided a great view of the various lighting fixtures and the spaceship that were suspended from the ceiling above the main dance floor. All the unfortunate partiers who weren’t allowed to hang out with the Fixx were getting down and getting funky (in that uptight 1980s way, of course) to the sounds of a popular disc jockey who was broadcasting his radio show live from the Pulsations dance floor.

Of course, the very private and wonderful post-concert party I was attending didn’t kick into high gear until the band arrived. The guys in the Fixx didn’t actually look too much like rock stars. In fact, after the band members had dispersed throughout the room, the only two I recognized were vocalist Cy Curnin and guitarist Jamie West-Oram.

It was all very exciting though. Cameras flashed and public relations people introduced themselves to the band members. “Hi. The name’s Joe. MCA Records. Right, we met in Chattanooga.”

Meanwhile, I had run into a guy named Peter, who was the managing editor of the newspaper on another one of Temple’s campuses. Eventually, Pete and I decided to try to ask Cy Curnin a few questions. As Pete began to interview Cy, who appeared to have a bit of a cold, I heard a woman next to me say to her friend, “I will talk to him, as soon as I get these two guys away from him.” By the way she said “guys,” I knew that if she had still been in high school she would have substituted the word “fags.”

The moment this groupie wannabe saw an opening, she interrupted Pete and said, “Cy, have you seen the Tower Records here?” I didn’t really ponder this question at the time, but with the wisdom that comes from many additional years of life, I now think that was a completely lame opening line with which to get Cy’s attention. In any event, Curnin spent the rest of the night politely nodding to everything Ms. Groupie said, and probably wishing he could just get back to his hotel room or tour bus and blow his nose.

Anyway, after being banished from Cy, I wandered over to Jamie West-Oram. Not knowing what else to say, I blurted out that I enjoyed his work on Tina Turner’s Private Dancer and Break Every Rule albums. He just nodded and said, “Yeah, well, it pays the milkman.” Then West-Oram autographed my special invitation, as I stood there wondering whether I should have mentioned how much I love the Fixx rather than his session work with Tina Turner. Oh, well. There I go, offending another famous rock guitarist.

The party broke up soon after that, but Jamie West-Oram’s words haunted me forever. OK, so they didn’t haunt me forever but I did think about them for about a week. “Yeah, well, it pays the milkman.” It made me realize that rocking and rolling isn’t always as glamorous Bon Jovi made it out to be. For guys like the Fixx, rock’n’roll was just a job. It was a good job, but sometimes it sucked as much as anyone else’s.

And here we are, 26 years later.

Believe it or not, the Fixx still exist. They still have a legion of hardcore fans who call themselves fixxtures. The Fixx’s latest album, Beautiful Friction, was released in 2012. Hopefully it is helping to pay Jamie West-Oram’s milkman, since Tina Turner has retired.

I visited Pulsations one more time, to review a concert by another new wave pop band, Human League (headline: “Humans Pulsate at Suburban Nightclub.”) Right before it closed forever in the mid-1990s, Pulsations’ owners were trying to turn it into a “gentlemen’s club,” but the Glen Mills community wouldn’t allow it. Eventually, the place simply shut down and is now gone. An assisted living facility now exists on the site of the legendary Pulsations.

And me? I’m just sitting here, daydreaming about the night I partied with the Fixx.


Preparing for Frank Black Friday

In Black Friday, Christmas shopping, Frank Black Friday, holiday shopping on November 13, 2013 at 6:13 am

As I explained in my previous post, there is a movement afoot to turn the day after Thanksgiving into Frank Black Friday. The idea is that, instead of going shopping, Frank Black Friday participants sit around their house, or wherever they want to go, and pursue something they really love. Like, for example, listening to Frank Black albums all day.

While you might not think this is true, it is important to prepare a bit for Frank Black Friday. If you want to achieve the most Zen results out of whatever it is your doing, it is important to go into the day with a clear, open, relatively untroubled mind.

The weeks leading up to both Thanksgiving Day and Frank Black Friday are, of course, the best time to do this preparation. Here are a few tips.

First of all, you’re going to want to tidy up a bit around your house. If you plan on being home all day, enjoying the many benefits of Frank Black Friday, you’re going to want to be comfortable in your surroundings and not be distracted all day by other things you ought to be doing. Things that could suck the sheer joy out of Frank Black Friday.

You are also going to want to follow the lead of both Elvis Presley and Bachmann Turner Overdrive. Take care of business! And take care of it before Frank Black Friday. Whatever the business is–administrative, financial, spiritual/emotional–wake up on Frank Black Friday with such business taken care of.

A word about the spiritual. Frank Black Friday is obviously not a religious holiday (or maybe that’s not so obvious?) but maximum enjoyment of the day will best be obtained if one spends the weeks leading up to FBF giving some thought to where you are in your life now. Think about the people and things for which you are thankful. Think about the areas of your life that could stand some improvement. Think about how you could improve the lives of those around you.

And, although Frank Black Friday is meant to be a bit of a respite from the upcoming holiday season, spend some time contemplating what your approach to this season will be. Try not to go into December unprepared! And by that I don’t mean shopping! There are other types of preparation.

Bottom line, of course, is the FBF is about fun. But you might find that, with a little bit of physical/emotional/financial/administrative/whatever-you-need preparation, the fun of FBF will be deeper and…well, more fun.

Frank Black Friday: A Brief Explanation, with Further Notes to Follow

In Black Friday, Christmas shopping, Frank Black Friday, holiday shopping on November 11, 2013 at 7:12 am

It’s early November, which means that the Christmas shopping season is emerging as a topic of conversation. Specifically, many people seem to be talking about how some giant retail chains plan on being open for part of, or all of, Thanksgiving Day. Those that aren’t will most likely open sometime very early on what is commonly known as Black Friday, a day that supposedly gets its name from the notion that it is the day that merchants go “in the black” for the year. I don’t know that there is any real evidence of this, however.

A few years ago, either my wife Donna or I made a silly pun: I told Donna, or maybe she told me, that Black Friday should really be called Frank Black Friday to celebrate the singer/guitarist who was/is part of the legendary band Pixies, and who has had a wide-ranging solo career. While Black has been responsible for many noisy guitarfest songs, he also has a fine way with a quirky pop ditty, as evidenced in the video for his song, “Headache,” which you can view and listen to in this entry.

I liked the idea of Frank Black Friday so, to whatever extent can, I try to spend the day after Thanksgiving forgoing the shopping madness in order to better indulge my love for Frank Black and his many wondrous songs, with the Pixies and on his own. It’s my little way of steering clear of the Christmas Industrial Complex (CIC) and I enjoy it.

With all of the complaints I’ve been hearing about the rush to shop on Thanksgiving and the day after, it’s occurred to me to spread the word about the alternative that Frank Black Friday provides. And you don’t even have to be a fan of Frank Black’s. All you need to do is pick your favorite quirky hobby/interest/love/passion/etc. and devote Frank Black Friday to that, instead of joining the hordes at the mall.

Essentially Frank Black Friday is all about doing what you love instead of shopping on the day after Thanksgiving. But maybe shopping is that thing you love? That could be fine–it’s all about your approach. Do you have fun when you go out shopping? Do you find a certain quirky delight in getting out there with all the turkey-stuffed consumers on the day after Thanksgiving? In that event, then shopping might indeed be the way for you to spend your Frank Black Friday, and I won’t judge you for that. Have fun.

However, if you are so driven to get that cheap DVD player or laptop that your lust for said object strips you of your sense of humor, and maybe even your humanity? Wow, then shopping is totally NOT what you should be doing on Frank Black Friday. Get the hell away from the malls with that kind of attitude, before you hurt somebody or yourself.

So essentially, your attitude going into the shopping experience determines whether you are experiencing the joys of Frank Black Friday by shopping on that day or not.

One rule is ironclad: DO NOT SHOP ON THANKSGIVING DAY. Doing so will disqualify you from enjoying the many benefits of Frank Black Friday.

This is just a brief explanation of the wonders of Frank Black Friday. Hopefully, I will provide more notes and instruction on how to make the best of FBF durng the coming weeks as we approach the big day. Stay tuned!

Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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