Rich Wilhelm

I Partied With The Fixx

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

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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.

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Patrick F. O'Donnell

writer, editor, general wordsmith and scribe

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