Rich Wilhelm

Posts Tagged ‘memoir’

HooplaThon Day 2: Starship and the “Art of Listening Ironically”

In 1980s, 1985, music, Music/Memory, pop music on September 13, 2016 at 2:56 am

HooplaThon HooplaMeter Day 2: Ankle Deep in Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla.

Program Note: In yesterday’s initial HooplaThon entry, I noted that I’d be listening to Knee Deep in the Hoopla and writing about it for 31 days in a row. Clearly, I was delusional. After a good night’s sleep, I have realized the insanity. I’m now not going to promise any number of entries so you can clear those early October evenings you were reserving to read HooplaThon entries. We’ll just play this all by ear.


Starship’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released on September 10, 1985. It was the first album by just plain Starship after longtime Jefferson Airplane/Jefferson Starship member Paul Kanter jumped ship and took the Jefferson with him.

Starship took the opportunity of a name change to reevaluate and update their sound for the mid-1980s. With a modern-minded producer named Peter Wolf–very clearly not the J.Geils Band singer–at the producer’s desk, Starship ceded most of the heavy songwriting work to outsiders and relied on Wolf to overlay the resulting songs with a slick synthesized veneer that was clearly meant to appeal to ’80s kids with a yen for technopop. Like me.

Of course, by the time September 1985 rolled around, a lot of us new wavers had passed through our initial synthpop rush and moved onto other things. Things that were a little more organic (R.E.M.) or rocked in a more traditional, if shambolic way (Replacements) or were less concerned with the state of their hair than the guys in A Flock of Seagulls. Though, of course, everyone was concerned with the state of their hair in the 1980s.

Don’t get me wrong though. Even in ’85, I continued to like artists who creatively incorporated electronics into their music. But artists like Eurythmics and Thomas Dolby had a knack for using synthesizers in intriguing ways, as something more than aural window dressing. Knee Deep in the Hoopla, on the other hand, is all about the electronic window dressing. Even when Marconi is playing the mamba, it’s an electronic mamba.

Anyway, for whatever reason, the initial release of Knee Deep in the Hoopla had absolutely no effect on me at all. I do not remember having any reaction at all to the huge breakout hit, “We Built This City” or the equally popular follow-up, “Sara.” What’s weird about this, is that Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released at the perfect time for me, as I was just about to fully submit to the fine art of listening to music ironically. Or, more appropriately, “listening ironically,” because when you’re going ironic, you do everything in quotation marks. Or more, appropriately “do everything.” But you get the point. Actually, you “get the point,” right?

Knee Deep in the Hoopla was released just days after I moved into the second floor of Johnson Hall for my third year of college at Temple University. As record store workers worldwide were stocking copies of Starship’s new album, I was getting to know Rick and Greg, two of my new floor mates, and good friends of mine to this day.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla could have been a huge talking point for the three of us, as we bonded early over music. Once we located each others’ senses of humor, we particularly bonded over the idea of listening to music ironically. That is, picking out a band or album that we might not actually be all that into and TOTALLY EFFIN’ ROCKIN’ OUT to said band or album.

In other words, “totally effin’ rockin’ out” in quotation marks.

We never explicitly said to each other, “Hey, let’s listen to music ironically.” It just happened.

Knee Deep in the Hoopla would have been a perfect “ironic listen” for us. And yet it wasn’t to be, because another band, a band whose name I am not going to reveal in this entry, loomed large, very large, in our ironic listening.

More on ironic rocking as I sink ever deeper into the Hoopla tomorrow night.

This HooplaThon is being sponsored by Rich’s Really Cool Notebooks!








In 1979, Music/Memory on May 9, 2016 at 2:30 am


I may spend the rest of my life contemplating 1979.

It’s not necessarily a nostalgia thing, but I bet most of us have certain years of our lives that we occasionally revisit in our imagination. We might pull out the old family photos, check out television shows from that year on YouTube, read about the exploits of our favorite sports teams that year.

As for me, this weekend I have pulled out a stack of record albums, all of which were released in June, July or August 1979. I was listening to them one at a time yesterday afternoon, though I’m currently stuck on Chic’s epic Risqué this evening. It contains their masterpiece, “Good Times,” a song of deep Zen contemplation masquerading as an escapist disco tune.

I am endlessly fascinated by 1979. I want to write about 1979. But 1979 looms so large in my mind, and it is so broad and deep–even in its apparent shallowness–that I don’t even know where to beginning writing, other than writing, “I want to write about 1979.”

If I wrote fiction well–and I do not–I would be mining my memories of ’79 to write a novel into which I’d somehow sneak about my feelings about the United States circa ’79 and how it relates to the United States circa 2016.

I want to write more about the aforementioned Chic and how much the jittery rhythm guitar of Nile Rodgers inspires me and oddly reminds me of the jittery rhythm guitar David Byrne plays on Talking Heads seminal third album, Fear of Music, released just weeks after Chic’s Risqué. Disco and new wave classics, both inextricably tied to late ’70s NYC, and thus to each other, though maybe no one wanted to recognize the connection at that point. But, oh to have Nile Rodgers co-produce that Talking Heads reunion album that most assuredly will never happen!

’79 feels so transitional, for me personally, but also for the country and for the world. A decade coming to a close. It is not a year many remember fondly, and yet I do.

’79 was the last year I wore a leisure suit (see above, taken on December 24, 1979).

’79 was the year I graduated 8th grade. The year we moved out of the house in which I grew up.

A song about ’79 is the only Smashing Pumpkins song I give anything resembling a damn about.

Right now my younger son Chris is almost exactly the same age as I was in ’79.

’79 is a pool, deceptively shallow, yet really kind of deep. And even though I am about as afraid of deep water now as I was in ’79, still I want to dive into this pool and see what I find. Not to wallow in the memories per se, but to see how ’79 connects me to NOW.

Make no mistake: for the most part, my head is very much in the present tense. And yet, there is part of my mind, part of my imagination, part of my soul, that is going to hang around ’79 for awhile. Until I figure it out, I guess.

Please consider this a work in progress. In the midst of a life in progress.



Row. And. Stop.

In 1979, high school, memoir, school, Writing on March 25, 2016 at 9:33 am


Ninth grade was one of my weirder years. But isn’t ninth grade one of everybody’s weirder years?

For me, the weirdness was enhanced by the sense of dislocation I was feeling the day I started ninth grade. Just a few months earlier, I graduated St. Joseph School, after eight years of Catholic education. Within weeks of this auspicious event, my family left the house in which I had grown up. My parents had bought a new house in the next town over but, seeing as it wasn’t quite built yet, we moved in with, first, my grandmother, then my aunt and uncle. This is where we were living when I started ninth grade at a public junior high school, at which I knew nobody.

I can still detect the ever-so-slight remnant of the knot I felt in the pit of my stomach the morning I walked into Chichester Junior High on the opening day of school. It hurts, a tiny bit, even now.

Also, did I mention that it was 1979? Therefore, this is me in Grade 9:


Life for me as a ninth grader was rough at first. As you can imagine from the photo, it wasn’t long before the class bullies introduced themselves in no uncertain terms. I was fortunate that these introductions never became physical, but it was still disconcerting to be told that my face was soon to be broken.

Gradually, I found myself. My family moved into our new house. I made some friends, who were just as weird as I was. I confused some of the kids in my art class by bringing in records by Chuck Mangione (“where’s the singing?”) and Flying Lizards (“what the fuck is this?”). I joined the school musical, Cheaper by the Musical, in which I: a) played a football player; b) sang; and c) danced. I did not do any of those three things well, but I had fun.

Amid all the craziness of my ninth grade year, I remember one island of total zen calm and stability, though I’m not sure I saw it that way at the time.

Typing class.

fff ddd sss aaa jjj kkk lll ;;; fff ddd sss aaa jjj kkk lll ;;;

“Row. And. Stop.”

Those words were intoned by our typing teacher, Mrs. Peters. I do not remember Mrs. Peters’ first name. I am not entirely certain I knew Mrs. Peters’ first name as I sat banging away at manual typewriter keys in her classroom. But Mrs. Peters was there to do a job — teaching a motley crew of ninth graders to type. She did it well, calmly instructing us to “row. and. stop.” after each line we typed.

Mrs. Peters’ voice and the clacking of keys were the only sounds ever heard in typing class. No Flying Lizards allowed.

Mrs. Peters was unflappable, so much so that I remember being somewhat startled when she enthusiastically engaged in an animated conversation about golf with one of my classmates. It just seemed so out-of-left-field that Mrs. Peters should be thinking about anything other than rowing. and. stopping. This, of course, had way more to do with my somewhat limited view of the world at that time than it did with Mrs. Peters’ interests outside the typing classroom.

And a note about that classroom: it was on the other side of the rather large school from my core classes. This was probably intimidating to me at first, but that’s another reason why I remember typing class as being an oasis of sorts. It was simply so far away from everything else.

I think I spent the entire year with Mrs. Peters and her typing class, but I might be wrong. It may have just seemed like the entire year. I’m not sure what my typing grades were, but I’m thinking they were just average. In either case I know this: once I stepped out of typing class for the last time, I never saw Mrs. Peters again.

I have typed nearly every day  of my life since the last time I saw Mrs. Peters. Both my typing speed and accuracy are top-notch, though even today, if I start thinking about how fast I’m typing, I immediately start making misteakss. Mistakes, that is.

So much of my life’s work, both as a professional writer/editor and as someone who frequently writes personal work as an avocation, is about my hands translating via a keyboard what is going through my brain at that moment. It is true that I’ve always kept a handwritten journal, and have even successfully revived that practice this year. However, much of what I write these days, including this essay, moves straight from brain to keyboard. Through my hands, without the intervention of a pen or paper. Using the techniques Mrs. Peters taught me 37 years ago in the faraway deserted island typing classroom filled with big old manual typewriters at Chichester Junior High School.

When I think back on all the stuff I learned in high school, it’s a wonder to think that ninth grade typing class may have been my most important takeaway of all. But, with all due respect to the many great teachers I had, typing class clearly had the most profoundly practical effect on my life from 1979 straight on up to this morning.

I have the mysterious, golf-loving Mrs. Peters to thank for that.

Row. And. Stop.







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.

Patrick F. O'Donnell

Children's book author, ghostwriter, content creator, editor.

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