Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘1983’ Category

A Tale of Two Rock Shows

In 1980s, 1982, 1983, concerts, high school, memoir, Music/Memory, R.E.M., Uncategorized on August 21, 2016 at 12:46 pm
IMG_1496

Blondie, JFK Stadium, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, August 21, 1982

This is a tale of two rock shows that happened almost exactly one year apart, back in the days when every kid in the Philadelphia area knew that the words “JFK Jam” were an invitation to a rockin’ good time. The anniversary of each of these shows is this weekend, so I thought I’d take a moment now to remember them. Starting with…

August 21, 1982

This was the line-up for the first of five shows I attended at the crumbling JFK Stadium during the 1980’s:

  • Robert Hazard and the Heroes
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • Blondie
  • Elvis Costello and the Attractions
  • Genesis

I don’t remember when I first heard about this show. It was, however, exactly from that moment that I knew I would be there, no matter what. The third act on the bill was my motivation. I was going to see Blondie, my favorite band at the time, at any cost. It had to happen.

Making this crazy rock’n’roll dream of mine a reality wasn’t as easy as it sounds, but it turned out to not be that hard either. I don’t remember my parents putting up much resistance, even though this was the first big rock show I was planning on attending. I rounded up a posse of five and tickets were purchased, though I don’t remember where or how. I wasn’t driving yet, but one of the five was, so I felt safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?

The thing is, back then, you could never really feel safe in the all-important question of How Will We Get There?, at least not until you’re there. At some point, our driver informed me that he wasn’t going to the show. There may have been extenuating circumstances, but the way I remember it, he had decided that he just didn’t feel like going. In any event, the whole venture was now in peril.

The fix was easy enough: one of the other of the five of us had an older brother who could go to the concert and drive us. In the end, this worked, though it turned out to be a drama-inducing solution that ended with us having to leave before Genesis was through with their awesome light show/concert, as well as with our driver tossing his brother out of the car after we arrived at our meeting place ten minutes late.

But this isn’t a story of my steely determination and Machiavellian machinations to be in the presence of Deborah Harry. Well, now that I think of it, it is kind of that story, but we’re going to move along with the show itself.

We arrived at JFK to a scene of general depravity the likes of which I had only witnessed once when I stood outside a Yes concert after leaving a Phillies game. It was only around 2:00 in the afternoon, but clearly some of  concertgoers that we encountered immediately upon entering the stadium had already partied way too much. I remember suddenly wondering if coming out to this huge rock show was such a good idea after all.

We missed the opening set by local legends Robert Hazard and the Heroes, thereby missing our chance to see the band perform the epic, “Escalator of Life” in front of a festival crowd. Years later, I met Hazard and told him that “Escalator of Life” loomed large in my high school musical memories. He often heard that, he replied. He seemed pleased with this knowledge, but I didn’t get to hear him play “Escalator of Life” that night either.

We hit the stands just as A Flock of Seagulls were wrapping up a short set. Even as that ghostly final guitar chord of the Seagulls’ hit, “I Ran (So Far Away)” echoed throughout JFK and floating away into the South Philly sky, I was anticipating the upcoming appearance of Blondie.

My patience was eventually rewarded and I am sure I greeted Blondie with rapturous applause. I don’t remember if the rest of the audience matched my enthusiasm, seeing as the crowd was baking in the late August afternoon sun, but I was there, my favorite band was there, and all was right in my world at that moment.

Blondie did not disappoint, delivering a performance that Philadelphia Inquirer music critic Ken Tucker described as “peppy,” despite that fact that the band was touring behind its tepid album The Hunter, which had long since flopped by the time the band hit the JFK stage. I certainly enjoyed the show, maybe even more than the band itself: at some point after their JFK performance, Blondie canceled the rest of their tour, essentially fell apart, and never played again in their classic line-up.

Elvis Costello and the Attractions were up next and, wow, did they ever perform that day. It was Ken Tucker’s opinion that Costello and company won the day with their set and, Blondie bias aside, I can’t disagree. I remember being compelled by Costello, even when he and the band weren’t playing a song that was immediately familiar to me.

Decades later, I discovered that someone had videotaped the Attractions’ show that day. At least 17 videos from the performance (along with a few from Genesis’ show later that evening) are now in YouTube. Here is one of them, Elvis & the Attractions opening their show with “Accidents Will Happen.”

 

As for Genesis, well, Genesis was Genesis. I’ve never loved Genesis, and Genesis was not my reason for being at JFK that day. At the same time, I’ve also never hated Genesis and this was just before that period in the ’80s when you couldn’t trip over a radio without hearing a Genesis/Phil Collins song. In short it was a good time to see Genesis. It was the new wavishly Abacab period of Genesis and I could easily get behind that. If you’ve ever heard the band’s Three Side Live album, you’ve heard exactly how Genesis sounded at JFK on August 21, 1982. All you’re missing is the wicked awesome light show.

Oh, also “Supper’s Ready.” You’re missing “Supper’s Ready,” the early, lengthy epic that Phil and the boys played at JFK that night. The thrilled exclamations among hardcore Genesis fans when the band launched in “Supper’s Ready” were a joy to hear, let me tell you.

Finally, a post script on the photo of Blondie that appears at the top of this entry. I did not take this photo. I took the “no cameras” policy of ’80s rock concerts very seriously! It was years later, when I was working as a media services guy at a local college, when I found this picture in a stack of photos from past student events. It was the only photo from the JFK show in the stack, but I recognized the event immediately and snatched up the photo.

August 20, 1983

So there you have it. A JFK jam, circa August 1982. I started my senior year of high school, Blondie and Costello songs still rattling around in my brain, soon thereafter. Nearly one year later, on August 20, 1983, I reentered JFK and this is who I found:

  • R.E.M.
  • Madness
  • Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
  • Police

This show was much different for me than the one just a year before. For one thing, there was no drama, aside from the fact that, again, one of the guys who was going to go, suddenly could not. That was certainly not cool, but my other friend and I did go. We found ourselves at a show that seemed much more organized, and much less decadent, than the previous year’s JFK Jam. But maybe I just just slightly more used to the big rock concert scene by then.

This was one efficient rock show. Started at noon, ended by 6:00. Everyone was home long before sunset. I am not sure if it was the Police’s Sting who demanded such efficiency, but if so, he got it.

Speaking of Sting, he remarked about the weather that day, “It is 98 degrees. That is the temperature of blood.” Could he have possible said something more Stinglike? I think not.

All of the performances rocked that day. Madness was all kinds of good fun; Joan Jett rocked hard, just as she continues to do; and the Police were riding high on Synchronicity. But, for me, the day turned out to be all about the “breakfast act,” R.E.M.

R.E.M. had released their debut album, Murmur, earlier that year; in fact, it was released–to much eventual critical acclaim–the exact week of my senior prom. I wasn’t fully clued into the band at the moment Berry Buck Mills and Stipe hit the JFK stage that afternoon. I don’t even remember if I owned Murmur at the point. I think I did, but still hadn’t full delved into it. But R.E.M. at JFK won me over, utterly and completely. When I entered college two weeks later, I was the archetypal–to use a word the Jung-loving Sting would appreciate–college kid R.E.M. fan. And I suppose I have been ever since.

But that was then, and this is now, the present. The present is all about my son Jimmy, just days away from starting college; and my son Chris, who is headed into high school, but who right at this moment, mostly just wishes I’d go grab him some breakfast. Therefore, now is about a quick trip to the supermarket for donuts, as well as dog food for Jolie, who also wishes I’d grab her breakfast. Now is about now, and not about the long-since-demolished JFK, back when it was just crumbling in ’82 or ’83. But don’t be surprised to find me humming some tunes from those long ago JFK Jams as I negotiate my way through now. Because, generally speaking, they’re still damn good tunes.

 

 

 

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“The Night Juice Newton Waved to Me” and Other Juice Newton Stories

In 1980s, 1983, Cheap Red Wine, country music, family, Juice Newton, memoir, Music/Memory on July 30, 2016 at 11:41 am

I was reminded early this morning that I have several Juice Newton stories. Everybody knows that I once walked Debbie Harry to her car, but did you know that Juice Newton once waved to me?

Way back in 2009, I recorded the video shown above. It was the first official episode of my now-dormant “Cheap Red Wine” video series, and it was about the night Juice Newton waved to me. Not to my dad. To me.

Here is the basic story, though you are welcome to watch the video. It was a September night in 1983. Our family had gone to see country music superstars Alabama at Philadelphia’s Spectrum. Juice was one of the opening acts. At one point during the show, I screamed “JUICE!!!!” and she looked up in our general direction. She waved, presumably to me, though in subsequent years, Dad would humorously note that it was actually him to whom Juice Newton waved.

Later that evening I happily purchased a “Juice on the Loose!” t-shirt.

So, that’s one Juice Newton story. But there are several more.

Like the time I was in church more than 30 years ago and the priest brought Juice Newton into his sermon, citing Brenda Lee’s “Break It To Me Gently,” but noting that Juice Newton’s more recent version was pretty darn good and we ought to check it out. I think the point of the sermon was that Jesus never broke anything to anybody gently, but my  takeaway was that there was at least one priest in the world who listened to Juice Newton, and that had to be a good thing.

Then there was that time in college. I was sitting with friends in the dorm cafeteria when another friend, Ed Masley, bounded in, as only Ed can bound. He was wearing a Juice Newton t-shirt (the “Juice on the Loose” edition? I don’t think so.) and extolling the virtues of a Juice Newtown show he had just seen, I think at the now-long-gone Valley Forge Music Fair.

Years later, Juice played a show at a water park, right here in Phoenixville. I strongly considered going, but it was 2003, the summer Dad was sick and ultimately, my heart wasn’t into going to a concert, especially since Dad wouldn’t be able to go. But if you watch the video, you’ll see that I invited Juice to come back to Phoenixville anytime. I promised Juice that I’d personally attract big crowds to the Colonial Theater, should she want to perform there. That offer stands, as long as the Colonial is OK with it.

As for the “Cheap Red Wine” video, my late friend Tommy loved it, and told me so. He particularly liked how I demonstrated the way I yelled “JUICE!!!!” at the Spectrum that night so long ago.

A few months before Tommy died of cancer, I sent him some of my Really Cool Notebooks, which are made from old record album covers. One of the notebooks was made from a Juice Newton album cover, and he told me in a thank you note that when he opened it and saw a “JUICE!!!!” notebook, he smiled and actually laughed, for the first time in months. Imagining the moment Tommy — who I never met in real life — opened that package, found the Juice Newton notebook, and smiled and laughed is something that has always made me glad I got to know Tommy to the extent that I did. We touched each other’s lives, if only for a few years, and Juice Newton played a part in that.

So those are my Juice Newton stories. Do you have any?

 

 

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert

In 1983, David Bowie on January 17, 2016 at 3:32 am

 

Dear Eighteen-Year-Old at the David Bowie Concert,

I can see you clearly, waiting for the show to start. Your seat is behind the stage, not the best view, but the best tickets you could get. You have been to a few concerts before, but have not seen Bowie. It’s the summer between your high school graduation and your freshman year at college. Your mom didn’t want you to get tickets for Bowie’s Serious Moonlight tour, but you bought them anyway. It was a tiny rebel rebellion on your part.

You are at the Spectrum, a legendary Philadelphia showplace where Bowie recorded parts of his live Stage album a few years earlier. The night before or the night after the show you’re attending, Bowie’s crew would film the footage that would become his celebrated “Modern Love” video. Philly crowds love Bowie and the crowd gathered around you at the Spectrum that night in July 1983 is no exception.

You know Bowie’s latest album, the smash, Let’s Dance, and you know the hit singles that appeared on the ChangesOneBowie compilation, but you don’t really know what to expect.

As a matter of fact, there is so much you don’t know about Bowie, and lots of other things, as you sit with your pals Joe and John, wondering what Bowie’s first song will be.

Beyond those big, glittery hits, you’ve never dived deeply into Bowie’s discography. But Bowie and his large, great band would stray beyond the hits that night, leaving earworms that would eventually lead down audio rabbit holes with titles like Low, “Heroes”, Lodger, Station to Station, and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps). Plus, that cover of “White Light/White Heat” would whet your interest in the Velvet Underground and their early proponent, Andy Warhol. And learning about Andy would lead you to learning more about this thing called Pop Art. And so it would go, a single concert leading to a lifetime of discovery.

But you don’t know any of that at the time.

You don’t know, as the lights go down, about a moment that will happen deep into the show. As Bowie performs his Major Tom songs, “Ashes to Ashes” and “Space Oddity,” he’ll enter a large clear plastic tent/spaceship and walk toward the back of the stage, facing you, Joe, John and the other behind-the-stage fans. You’ll be at eye-level with David Bowie at this point and, even though he’s not really looking at you, you’ll feel connected to him in that moment. You’ll think to yourself at that point, “I am going to remember this moment for the rest of my life,” and you will be right.

You don’t know that Bowie and his music will be a constant in your life. Or that you’ll see him live two more times and keep up, more or less, with his work over the years. Some of it will be great, some just so-so, but, as both you and Bowie get older, you’ll appreciate how age did little to dull his creativity. You don’t realize how Bowie will become a model for you for how to grow older with your creativity, enthusiasm and openness to new experiences–to life–intact.

You don’t know that, more than three decades after the show you’re about to see, on a dreary January morning in the 21st century, your wife will say “Isn’t it shocking about David Bowie?,” and when she does, tears will spring to your eyes and you’ll have to sit down for a while to collect yourself. And you don’t know that, as you sit there, you’ll think about how, in the days prior to this awful news, you have talked to your older son–who is 18, the age you were at the concert–about how the new Bowie album was influenced by somebody named Kendrick Lamar.  You’ve also just talked to your younger son about who Ziggy Stardust was.

Most of all, you don’t know how, decades after this concert, you would spend a week mourning—hell yes, it was mourning—David Bowie’s passing by listening, over and over, to Blackstar, a compelling final album released just two days before his death. And by watching, many times, the eerie, provocative video for “Lazarus,” a song from Blackstar. And how listening and watching will get you to thinking about all kinds of things, in much the same way that listening and watching the concert you’re about to witness will get you thinking about all kinds of things.

You don’t know any of this as Bowie hits the stage that night. All you really know is that you think you’re about to experience something pretty damn mind-blowing.

And that is all you need to know.

Take care, and I’ll see you in about 33 years,

Rich

 

“If I Leave Here Tomorrow”

In 1980s, 1983, Free Bird, Free Bird memories, high school, Lynryd Skynyrd on March 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

During a Toastmasters meeting yesterday, the topic of memories connected to certain songs was introduced. Several stories swirled around Lynryd Skynyrd’s epic “Free Bird.” Here’s my “Free Bird” story. I originally wrote it for my blog back in 2009 but in light of yesterday’s conversation, I thought I’d repost.

This is the story of my first kiss, so naturally, Washington D.C., my old friend Roman, two weather-obsessed guys from Georgia, national and international politics, a famed new wave boutique, a girl named Gayle, Chuck E. Cheese and a pinch—just a pinch!–of dinner theater were all involved.

And, I’d be remiss if I left Lynyrd Skynyrd off that list.

On a Friday evening in January 1983, I was dancing with Gayle in a hotel banquet room near the Pentagon. We were dancing to the live version of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s damn-near existential breakup anthem “Free Bird,” which clocks in at nearly 15 minutes long. If my memory is serving me correctly, the disc jockey at our closing dinner dance had set aside the last quarter hour of the event so that we could all hear the entire song.

According to my journal, I had danced with Gayle to every slow song that night but “Free Bird” is the only one I remember 31 years later. It was clearly an appropriate “last dance,” especially with its opening lyrical couplet, “If I leave here tomorrow/will you still remember me?”

During the early slow section of “Free Bird,” I probably had a chance to review the week, especially since the adult chaperones who hovered around might have frowned upon any first kissing action happening right on the dance floor. My mental playback might have gone something like this:

I had gone down to D.C. with a group from my high school for Close Up, a weeklong government studies program that involved schools from both Pennsylvania and Georgia. My pal Roman and I were rooming with two guys from the Atlanta area named John and Ty. At least one of them had some kind of weather obsession and frequently listened to a small, boxy radio that transmitted nothing but weather reports. Despite this, I felt like our Atlanta roomies were much cooler, better-looking and sophisticated than Roman and me.

Over the course of the week, we had visited historic sites and museums, toured the Pentagon and heard presentations from legislators and other various and sundry mid-to-low level government officials of the Reagan Administration. We dropped in on the Supreme Court, checked out the important documents at the National Archives and had, in fact, sat down for a night of rubber chicken and Kern/Hammerstein Jr.’s Showboat (I believe this is the only time I’ve ever attended dinner theater. Do people still do dinner theater?).

We even did Chuck E. Cheese one night, which seemed pretty juvenile to me at the time but, hey, I guess you just can’t afford classy dinner theater every night, right?

At some point during the week, Gayle and I noticed each other, but the exact moment has been lost to history.

Friday afternoon was free time so Roman and I took a Metro ride to Georgetown, which we had visited earlier in the week. We wanted to do some more shopping at Commander Salamander, a semi-legendary punk rock/new wave emporium, where all manner of t-shirts and pins proclaiming one’s allegiance to the various bands of the day could be purchased.

At Commander Salamander, Roman bought a t-shirt that plainly stated, “If It Ain’t Stiff It Ain’t Worth a F&$k.” I picked up a standard issue shirt bearing the store’s name and logo, along with a great big handful of small metal pins honoring bands like Stray Cats, the Clash, A Flock of Seagulls, the Fixx, the Go Go’s, Elvis Costello and more. History had yet to decide at that juncture which of these artists would eventually be inducted into the then-nonexistent Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and which would be consigned to 1980s nostalgia hell.

Hurrying back to the hotel, Roman and I immediately planned to put our purchases to use for the dinner dance that night. I wore a suit jacket festooned with new wave pins on each lapel and a necktie thrown over my Commander Salamander t-shirt. We were feeling pretty damn cool, Roman and me. Still though, even at this point our Atlantan roommates seemed cooler and, as we were all getting dressed for the dinner, Ty upped the coolness ante considerably by cautioning us to stay away from the room during the dance as a girl he had met from Pennsylvania had asked him to “show it” to her that evening. In the parlance of today’s youth, I believe this would have been called “hooking up.” But maybe she just wanted to see the weather radio.

With all of this tumbling through my brain during the early stages of “Free Bird,” I barely had time to ponder how Gayle and I would dance once Skynyrd began to rock. I needn’t have worried about that though, as we continued to dance slow and close even when the triple guitar climax duel began in earnest. In fact, the more the guitars wailed, the slower and closer Gayle and I danced. But still, our lips did not meet.

The last notes of “Free Bird” and the roar of the Skynyrd audience signaled the end of our dinner dance. We gathered ourselves up and tumbled into elevators to head back up to our rooms for the night.

As the elevator door opened for the boys’ floor, Gayle got out with me and, before I knew what was happening we were kissing good night. The kiss probably wasn’t as long or as passionate as I’d like to remember it, but it worked for me anyway. Gayle turned, without a word, and got back on the elevator. I walked down to my room; along the way, friends who had apparently witnessed what had just transpired gave me high fives.

Back in my room, John, Ty and Roman were noisily burning off whatever energy they had left, but I called Gayle in her room and we talked until it was time to go to sleep. I never did find out whether Ty had hooked up with the Pennsylvania girl or not.

The next morning, Gayle and I may have kissed one final, less memorable, time before climbing onto our buses to go home. We exchanged a few letters in the months that followed that and in an obligatory mopey prom post-mortem journal entry I lamented the fact that Gayle couldn’t have gone to the prom with me because she lived “three million miles away.” But by the end of the school year, Gayle and I had exchanged our last letters.

All these years later, I’ve never much pondered that first kiss, but now I realize that what Gayle gave me that night was a tiny bit of insight into what another, even more important kiss would be like for me, eight years later, when I first kissed my future wife, Donna. I don’t know what, if anything, I gave Gayle that night, other than a (hopefully) fun memory. If nothing else, we’ll always have “Free Bird,” which is cool with Donna. She’s not a huge Skynyrd fan anyway.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

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