Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘Blondie’

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

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.





The Night I Walked Deborah Harry To Her Car

In journal, Music/Memory, not quite Walden on October 4, 2013 at 3:30 pm

I have been telling people about the night I walked Blondie lead singer to her car ever since the day after it happened. Since some people seem to think that I am exaggerating or, in fact, fabricating the event, I now present, unedited, the original journal entry I wrote on Nov. 5, 1989. The show was a Friday night, Nov. 3. This exclusive journal entry may very well appear in my forthcoming book, Not Quite ‘Walden’–Selected Journal Entries by Richard F. Wilhelm.

Though it is not mentioned here, I sold my stamp collection in order to pay for the Debbie Harry ticket. My proceeds just covered the ticket cost. I later wrote a poem, “The Last Stamp,” in which I mention this sale.


Friday night was the Deborah Harry concert at the Chestnut Cabaret. I left here early, stopping at South Street first to check out the singles at Tower. They had some I wanted to pick up (Linda Ronstadt, Thompson Twins, Prince w/Sheena Easton) but I’m really, really pinched for money right now, so I used some self-restraint. However, I did go through the dollar boxes at Book Trader, which are now 3 for a dollar, and wound up buying six albums there, including a Donny Osmond LP. Also got Lipps Inc. LP w/“Funky Town,” the long version, on it.

Drove to the Chestnut and arrived there at 8:00. The show didn’t start until 10:30 but I wanted to make sure I’d be able to get a good place to catch it from.

It’s strange being alone at a place like the Chestnut Cabaret, surrounded by happy socializing people. It wasn’t quite as strange once I had a drink in my hand but it wasn’t real fun. On the other hand, it was interesting to watch everyone (mostly college students and recent college grads) as they partied. Lots of drinking, it seemed.

About 8:30, no around 9:00, I positioned myself on the dance floor up by the stage with the other hardcore Deborah Harry fans. The people who came to see Deborah Harry, not necessarily to drink, socialize and then maybe catch the Debbie Harry show.

It was a long wait. Earl “’MMR” Bailey was there and he played mostly good music but I basically just wanted to see Debbie. The ad in the paper said that Young Fresh Fellows were opening but, unfortunately, they didn’t. Instead four women Cure fans dressed in black played gloomy synth dance/rock. OK, but not the Young Fresh Fellows.

Deborah Harry and her band (including Blondie guitarist Chris Stein) hit the stage at midnight. The opening number was “The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game.” A mini-hit parade followed, which included “Rapture,” “The Tide Is High,” “Heart of Glass,” “Dreaming” and a number of cool-sounding songs from her new album, Def, Dumb and Blonde.

The show took a hardcore turn toward the end with some punky songs from the new LP, along with “Cautious Lip” and “Detroit 442” from the second Blondie album. They also snuck “(I’m Always Touched by Your) Presence Dear” in somewhere.

Encores were “Call Me,” the Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting For My Man” and the Ramones’ “Pet Sematary.” It was a very loud, surprisingly raucous show. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since it has been 10 years since Blondie was at its height. I could have been like a Debby Harry-in-Vegas revue (which is how I imagine latter day Belinda Carlisle shows are) but it wasn’t, which is heartening to me, since I’ve been pretty anti-nostalgia lately.

She didn’t move around much at first, but by the end of the show, she was go-go dancing as only Debbie Harry can do and imitating a drug addict hungry for a fix during “Waiting for My Man.” She looks fantastic these days. She looks incredible in fact.

I didn’t leave right after the show was over. Instead, I waited with about 10 or 15 other true believers, hoping to get backstage or something. I had my three single picture sleeves in the lining of my jacket, just in care an autograph opportunity did come up. As we were waiting at one side of the stage, they emerged from backstage on the other side and slipped out the door. Debbie got out first and made it to the waiting car, but Chris Stein wasn’t so fast and got besieged by the raving fans.

Actually, Debbie did too; even after she was in the back seat we gathered around and shoved thing for her to sign through the opened-a-crack back window. Chris said we should come by the next night, I guess implying that maybe we could stay longer. He said something to a girl about going to CBGB and “I’ll look for you there.” I guess he still hangs out there occasionally.
I stood between the car and Chris, trying to decide whether to try to get Debbie to sign a sleeve or to get Chris to sign a sleeve or simply to tell him that Parallel Lines is my all-time favorite album.

I didn’t do any of these things though, I just took in the scene. I thought ramming something in Debbie’s face, without really getting a chance to at least say hello to her would be a little crass, so I didn’t do it. It was fun just being a part of the scene. One of the guys with Chris called his name a couple times to get in the car because he was getting a little too involved in hanging out with the fans and I guess they had to go. So he climbed in the car and they were gone. So I went home then, got home around 3 in the morning.

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