Rich Wilhelm

Archive for the ‘concerts’ 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
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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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Going Down to Alphabet Street: A Few Princely Thoughts

In 1980s, concerts, music, Music/Memory, Prince on April 24, 2016 at 12:42 pm

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My 18-year-old son, Jimmy, is an ’80’s skeptic. He simply doesn’t believe that the 1980s could have possibly been as great as many of us who lived through it say it was. In short, Jim doesn’t feel that the ’80s were “all that.”

I encourage this kind of thinking, probably because I remember what it was like, in the ’80s, to hear boomers endlessly crow about how the ’60s were so much better than the ’80s. Plus, it’s nice to have warm fuzzy memories of one’s youth, but nostalgia-mongering can close you down to whatever could be going on in your life right now.

So, when Jim disses the decade of Phil Collins, Alf and Hands Across America, I give him a pass to do so. But I will be adamant about one thing:

From a musical/cultural/wow-he’s-just-mindblowing standpoint, Prince was the greatest thing to come out of the ’80s. Or pretty much any decade you care to mention.

It’s hard for me to remember when I was first aware of Prince, though I’m thinking it was during the chart run of his breakthrough album, 1999 — though during the years 1980-1988, practically every album Prince made qualified as some kind of breakthrough. I do remember walking down Market Street in Center City Philadelphia, as a senior in high school. It was one of my first solo trips into the city and I heard Prince’s “Delirious”– has a song every so thoroughly lived up to the promise of its title? — spilling out of one of the downtown record stores I’d come to frequent in college. Hearing it at that moment wasn’t necessarily a huge moment in my life, but it’s also a moment that I never forgot, because it felt like walking by that store at that moment, hearing that song, was the absolute coolest thing I could be doing that day. And it was.

Of course, Purple Rain exploded all over the place in 1984. As far as I can remember, I’ve only ever seen the complete movie once, but it was a memorable experience  — at a drive-in just over the border in Delaware, with three or four friends. Purple Rain was shown that night along with Clint Eastwood’s Sudden Impact. A double feature for the ages.

I was very fortunate to be sitting in the mega-nosebleed seats at Philadelphia’s Spectrum on a Friday night when Prince and the Revolution, with opening act Sheila E, brought the Purple Rain tour to town. I am pretty certain that I was about as far away from the man and his band as I could possibly be but the concert was electrifying, as I noted in the November 29, 1984 edition of the Temple University News:

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Here’s what I wrote about the Purple Rain album in the review:

The Purple Rain album, which defies simple classifications like “rock” and “soul,” will probably become one of the most influential albums of the last 20 years.

20? Try 40. 60. Oh, hell college-age Rich, just call Purple Rain one of the most influential albums ever. It’ll sound like a huge overstatement, but you’ll be proven right.

What is truly amazing is that I saw Prince again in 1988, touring behind his infamous, and unreleased, Black Album, as well as the officially released Lovesexy album. The Purple Rain hype had long passed, but the ’88 concert was even better than the ’84 show, with Prince in full command of his immense musical powers that night. From a purely musical standpoint, it was probably the best concert I’ve ever seen.

I’ve tried to keep up with Prince’s musical journey but since the mid-’90s, the man has made it easy, releasing floods of new music and daring you to follow along with him. The albums weren’t always great but the genius would show up when you’d least expect it, if you were patient. A well-informed box set covering the best of Prince’s post-1995 work would be a really good thing. But then, with hundreds of hours of music locked away in the vaults of Prince’s Paisley Park, we all need to accept the fact that there’s always going to be Prince music that we will never hear.

A final note. I saw a meme floating around Facebook the other day. It read “151,600 people die each day and no one bats an eye. Prince dies and everyone freakin’ loses their minds.”

I think this is a flawed meme. First of all,  I’m fairly certain that the friends and family of many of those 151,600 people were certainly affected by the passing of their loved one. Second, I’m not sure everyone was freakin’ losing their minds, though maybe some fans were going a little crazy, trying to get through this thing called Prince’s death. Finally, the text of the meme was accompanied by a photo of Heath Ledger’s Joker. Ledger’s tragic passing was certainly greeted with much public mourning as well, so I’m not sure if that photo choice was meant to be ironic or not.

As it happens, of the 151,600 people who died on April 21, 2016, the one whose name I knew was Prince. If marking Prince’s passing and acknowledging how his work touched me means I’m freakin’ losing my mind, so be it.

 

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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