Total Pageviews

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Rock, Loss, and What I Saw

Stuff gets left behind as you move through life. You can’t prevent it; the stuff you collect sometimes gets put aside, stored, relegated to places of minor importance but not quite disposed of, largely forgotten until one day you remember them and you realize you haven’t seen these once-valuable items in, well… a pretty long time. And you go look for them, and yeah, sometimes they end up gone. For good. Misplacement? Probably. Theft? Maybe you should have been nicer to that short-term lover. Accidental disposal; caught in a psychotic weekend-long cleaning rush… whaddya mean I threw out the dog…?
I spent a lot of money on concert tickets in my youth. No kidding… A LOT. Music was important to me; I had hundreds of albums (still have most of them) and like many a sad, pathetic teenage geek, without a girlfriend or anything better to do, read all of the album liner notes religiously.
(Ahhhh, now there’s something to regret the loss of: the beautiful art that album covers featured. The Yes albums by Roger Dean, Pink Floyd and others by Hipgnosis, and many, many more. Packages a foot square that were more than mere protection and packaging. “School’s Out” by Alice Cooper, with its schooldesk flap and mesh panties caressing the vinyl, The Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” with its zipper… Ehh.  Another blog, another time.)
The lost item I lead up to? My collection of concert ticket stubs. I kept nearly all of them, starting with the Jethro Tull concert January 17, 1977 at Radio City Music Hall. (I refuse to count the Edward Bear show I saw at Disneyland when I was eight.) In the throes of some youthful ideal (and partially because I’m an anal-retentive squirrel), I decided to keep my stubs as a record, a life-marker, a souvenir of every concert I attended, having some vague idea that there was an important purpose to retaining them, or because no such purpose materialized, a purpose that would eventually become evident and prove to be.
Folks my age (officially categorized as “pre-geezerhood”) were poised, geologically,  to see the original greats of late-60s, and 1970’s rock. (Cuz as we all know, kids today listen to crap.) Having been introduced to the Woodstock album at the tender age of eight, I found that rock music was indeed something to be taken notice of, and possibly feared. One half of my parentals was a bit of a conservative and not likely to be sympathetic to any COMMIE with a BEARD and a GODDAMNGUITAR. So, upon hearing the word “FUCK” spelled out by Country Joe in front of and then chanted by thousands . . . I guess you could say a whole realm of possibilities . . . a whole new reality opened up. Listening to . . . OMG . . . renegade Americans decry the Vietnam war and vilify our revered government? (And what exactly, pray tell, was wrong with the brown acid?) I took an illicit, delicious pleasure in knowing that my father and his political compatriots did not have the pulse of the world, and that, holy shit, there was a world outside my lower-middle class blue collar zoo. I mean we saw it on the news, but that was . . . cripes . . . somewhere else. Up until then it had about as much reality as Magilla Gorilla cartoons.
Hey. I was eight, okay? It was a jolt-start along a path that promised excitement, dangerous thrills, and the proliferation of anarchistic speech. It was a revelation to me that the status quo could be challenged. And could be challenged significantly. It was my first realization that my parents' opinions could be WRONG. And just how bad was my indoctrination into conservatism and right-wing opinions? I freely admit to feeling shocked a year or two later when I heard Robert Plant sing about his lemon being squeezed until the juice ran down his leg, and, on the same album, giving someone every inch of his love. (I may have been repressed, but I wasn’t dumb; I knew he was singing about his pee-pee.)
Don’t think I wasn’t raised with music. I was. It wavered between my grandmother’s influence: show tunes (how many other first-graders did you know who knew all the words to “Fiddler on the Roof” and “South Pacific”?), to my Mom’s infusion of classical, and thrust upon me by my father: patriotic anthems of all sorts. I could go from “Anchors Aweigh” to “Anatevka” to “The Anvil Chorus.” And that’s just the “A”s.
So rock ‘n’ roll and I finally crossed paths and I became hooked. My record player became my bestest-ever friend and I started collecting 45s of all kinds; whatever sounded good on the radio: “Maggie May,” “Ma Belle Amie”, “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” “Garden Party”, “I Got a Brand New Pair of Roller Skates” and “I’m Eighteen” to name but a few. Pop radio saved my fucking life.
I soon began, by listening to friends and burying myself deep into every issue of Creem magazine, learning who was good and who wasn’t. David Bowie… holy shit… a skinny guy with orange hair and wearing a dress! The Beatles, if you can believe it today, were as popular as Jesus, and yet, conversely, John Lennon was regarded as a serious threat to a democratic society, and on his own he was feared as much as the entire Rolling Stones, whose overtly stated satanic sympathies and groin-thrusting pigeon-on-crack lead singer made Elvis look positively tame.
The fabric of traditional American society was unraveling in a rush of perversity and I loved every damn inch of its tangled thread. But it wouldn’t have happened without the music, and the music wouldn’t have happened without the rock and folk stars who changed it all around.
I took note of the passing of the highly talented such as Janis, Jimi, Jim Croce, and when I started getting chances to catch the legends still around, I jumped at them. I caught Warren Zevon one year; never saw Keith Moon. Was lucky enough to catch Madness open for Joan Jett and The Police. Saw Rockpile open for The Cars. Ani DiFranco. Saw Squeeze on their final tour. Stray Cats. Talking Heads. Joan Baez. Judy Collins. U2. Heart. Had tickets for Lynyrd Skynyrd, but their ill-fated plane flight happened two weeks before the concert date (co-billed with Ted Nugent; they were replaced by Rex Smith).
Many groups I saw more than once. I saw Yes at least six times. Emerson, Lake and Palmer three times. Zebra easily more than a dozen. Jethro Tull close to ten times. The Rolling Stones, Springsteen, Van Halen, Hot Tuna, Billy Joel, Rush, Elton John, The Pretenders, Genesis… all at least three times each. At last reliable calculation I had seen probably 150 major concerts and over 250 bands. Hell, I saw the Plasmatics three times, too.
There have been some notable missed opportunities. David Bowie. Paul McCartney. Pearl Jam. The Grateful Dead. Allman Brothers. REM I missed TWICE.
A majority of the concerts I saw took place at Madison Square Garden. Tickets were hard to get, good ones anyway. Your friends would want to know where you were sitting and you always responded with the color of the seat. At best rememberance, the order from floor level to Nose Bleed City was greyish red, red, orange, yellow, green, and the dreaded blue. Blue seats were pretty easy to get; unless the band was a huge draw there were always tickets left. My friend Chuck learned how to enter and negotiate the myriad passageways of the Garden. He regularly bought blues and wended his way down stairwells and pipe shafts to backstage. Blues were pretty bad, but the worst thing you could see on a ticket were the words “Behind Stage.”
Floor/orchestra tickets, for me anyway, were extremely rare to come by, but they did happen at least four times. Black Sabbath, 18th row. Bob Dylan, 6th row (a concert so bad we walked out after 45 minutes). Pink Floyd (“Animals” tour), 11th row. Queen (“Jazz” tour), front row center. $90. A helluva deal by today’s standards. So close Brian May stepped on my hand.
Some opening bands became superstar headliners later, such as Aerosmith and Van Halen, both of whom opened for Black Sabbath. Robert Cray opened for Clapton and pretty much gave him a run for his money (even with Phil Collins drumming for EC). Bob Seger’s opener was a kickass rockin’ band fronted by none other than, yeah, don’t laugh cuz he smoked the joint…  Michael Bolton. I had a list of every show and every band, opening and headliner, way back, but that, like the envelope full to bursting of ticket stubs, is long gone. It’s not important anymore, at least not in the grand scheme of things, but I did for a long time endeavor to create not just a resource for memory but a testament to a dedication. Honestly, I saw a whopping shitload of concerts and there were only two that sucked: Bob Dylan and Frank Zappa. The rest were all good to ragingly excellent. I saw The Who four times; Pete Townshend may be a douchebag personally, but he wrote amazing stuff and was a hell of a performer. Rod Stewart was lively and happy and great with the audience. And the ARMS Concert… the encore featured all four acts: 20-some-odd musicians onstage all at once and a guitar front of Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, and Jeff Beck, all of them jamming on “Layla.”
The stubs are gone. Now I just have the memories. Out of everything that passed through my possession, that envelope of stubs is the one thing I wish I could get back.
Back when I still had them, I came up with a magnificent idea to enshrine these evidences of attendance. I knew I had over a hundred stubs. It would have made a great wall mural, framed, with tickets emanating from a central stub. That center stub would have been the most treasured: a house left, just in front of the stage, so-close-your-ears-bled red seat at MSG for one of the June 1977 Led Zeppelin shows. They came on 90 minutes late, played three and a half hours, and by the time the show was done the Garden was so thick with pot and cigarette smoke you literally almost couldn’t see across it. It was my second rock concert ever and I was stunned by the length of the show, the volume, the sheer unstoppable high-level energy. My hearing was stunted for at least a day after that. No concert after that ever beat it for sheer brutal force. It was probably unhealthy in more ways than one, but we were young and indestructible and wouldn’t grow old for, oh, jeepers, at least a few thousand years. 


  1. I still have my ticket stubs, too (in storage). Didn't see as many as you. First ever was EL&P. Seats were above the pot smoke line. An eye opener. LOVED the giant synthesizers and the revolving drum set. Bowie, Journey, Police (several times; once with REM as openers), J Geils, Billy Joel (multiple times). Won tickets several times from the radio (we lived across the street from WTIC, I think it was. We seemed to always be the right number caller for their contests). LIterally slept through the Allman Bros., even though we were 10 rows or so back. Matt did a lot of the sleeping out overnight in line to get good seats. Trick was to buy the tickets far enough outside of the region of the venue (at least a few towns out). Get first in line. I did that once (for the Police) and once was enough.

  2. The first concert I can remember was Livingston Taylor at My Father's Place in Roslyn, Long Island. Soon thereafter was Seals & Crofts at some college or other. Best ever was Paul Simon's Graceland tour. Pretenders at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, California, was pretty awesome, too. Being dragged along to the first two or three Jethro Tull concerts (of about eight I endured) wasn't bad. Yes, EL&P, Ani DiFranco, Judy Collins last year -- amazing still! -- Carole King & James Taylor the year before. Some people get better with age. Wish I were one of 'em.

  3. This is great, stirred up a lot of memories. I was raised on the Beatles. But the first concert I saw was Janis Ian (Society's Child) with my mom... weird for a ton of reasons. I saw Carole King in Central Park on my own... that was a huge crazy place, loved it. I have seen many shows and held onto lots of ticket stubs over the years. Bonnie Raitt in Dinkytown, MN (U of MN) and later Ithaca, Joni Mitchell in Forest Lawn, Linda Ronstadt at Radio City, Patti Smith at Central Park, NYC, Little Feat, Judy Collins in MN and NYC, Laura Nyro at the Bottomline, NYC and Hartford. Ricki Lee Jones at the Village Vanguard, the Motels, Romeo Void, REM, Pretenders, the Police, Bowie, Tom
    Waits in a tiny club in Ithaca... but I won't bore you. Music was my thing then, I was obsessed. There was so much of it to love. What happened? We all got old and there IS still lots of music... being made by some of these same folks. We didn't know how good we had it.