So, the recent election did not go as I hoped, and I normally would have plenty to say about that in my Sunday installment. But I suspect that the ensuing months and years will be ripe with opportunities to pontificate on such matters, and I’m not ready to go there yet. Too raw, too soon. Instead, let’s keep it light-hearted and take a journey down memory lane, wherein I reflect upon some of my more memorable 80s concert moments. This might seem a bit trite and superficial, an easy topic, but after the heaviness of the last week, I think some levity is in order. Here we go…
ONE. In which my musical chastity is suddenly tarnished.
It was 1982. I was 17 years old and I had never been to a concert before. (This might mark me as a late-bloomer to some, and I suppose I was, but I was raised in Oklahoma, and it was standard protocol for most of the citizenry to not get around to doing things until everyone in the rest of the country had done it. Sadly, that’s still pretty much the case.) My friend Stephanie, a wonderfully anarchic being who thrilled me with her boldness and encouraged me to overcome my meekness, was the instigator behind this adventure. I don’t remember who paid for what, because we were both dirt poor at the time, but went we did.
The opening act was Quarterflash. (“Harden My Heart”) I thought they did an admirable job, but considering I had never seen an opening act before, they might have sucked mightily and I just didn’t know it as I didn’t have a reference point. Then Elton John came out, and he essentially raised my expectations for future concerts to a level that would be hard to meet for the entertainers involved. The man sang for a solid three hours. I didn’t know that this was unusual. What I did know is that he sang everything that I hoped he would sing. And although I then and still prefer his early 70s work, when he did “Empty Garden” that night, with the John Lennon thing still relatively recent, it was amazing and powerful. If you had any control over the loss of your concert virginity at that time, Elton was the way to go. Thanks, Stephanie.
TWO. In which the inherent need for love overflows.
It was 1983. This concert happened to magically transpire on my birthday, the 18th one and therefore my official transition into adulthood, even though we all now know that adulthood has nothing to do with official notches on a calendar and more so with experience and growth. In any case, a whole gaggle of my high school friends signed on to attend a concert in celebration of my tribal ascension. (To be honest, most of them didn’t give a damn that I could now vote in presidential primaries or could be entrapped in the military drafts that were still a possibility at that time. They just wanted to see Barry Manilow live on stage, screw the details.)
And Barry put on quite a show. Picture this: My birthday posse consisted of 10 or so females, and only two males, myself and an unnamed (for litigation purposes) guy who actually couldn’t stand me but agreed to join the cavalcade for whatever nefarious schemes he had in mind. When Barry took the stage and subsequently launched into his yearning ballads, all of my gal friends went into a frenzy, screaming in ecstasy and reaching out their hands in worship. (For those of you who might doubt that Barry could have such an impact, you really had to be in that place at that time. He was mesmerizing. Hell, if the stage hadn’t been so far away, I would have run down there and thrown myself across his piano, giving up all sense of shame and hoping that he would take me on his next Weekend in New England.
Side Note: This lustiness all took place in the Mabee Center on the campus of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa. Yes, that university, a bastion of conservatism and religious hypocrisy. I was a gay man on an alien planet. But I was certainly not the only gay man in the arena or in the nearby dorms.
THREE. In which things went terribly awry.
It was 1984. My friend Paul had managed to score Diana Ross tickets via some nefarious means, probably illicit and certainly not full price. He was much more invested in Diana than I was, as I much preferred her 70s work as opposed to what she was doing now. (Notice a theme here?) Still, I was happy to go along, even though said going involved a two-hour road trip from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, and then the return later that night. The concert itself was fine, with Diana being the diva that we all knew she was, but she did manage to work the crowd rather admirably. The standout memories from this concert actually involved the bookend trips to The City and back. Things did not go well.
On the way over, we were travelling in Paul’s car, a somewhat ancient Volkswagen Beetle that did not have a functioning air conditioner. (Not knocking the mode of transport, I had my own Beetle during my formative driving years.) It was freakishly hot that day (which can be any day in Oklahoma), so we motored with the windows down. Having not been apprised of the air-con situation before entering the vehicle, I had just shellacked my hair with a then-popular hair gel, a thick, viscous concoction that took quite some time to dry. I think you can do the math at this point.
By the time we arrived in OKC, I looked like the Bride of Frankenstein, with her Tastee-Freeze hairdo. And there was a tremendous amount of road debris up in that mess, from tollway tickets to cigarette butts. Before heading to the venue, we stopped at the apartment of one of Paul’s other friends, where I, with great embarrassment, asked to borrow a hairbrush. (I hadn’t brought one. Why would I need to on a day trip?) Sadly, standing in the bathroom of a person I did not know and staring into a mirror, I discovered that the bristles of the brush could not penetrate the concrete beehive on my head. I ended up going to the concert with bigger hair than Diana Ross or any of the drag queens in attendance. Yay me.
Return trip? Paul’s car got an attitude and flat out died at the midpoint on the highway. We couldn’t get it started, no matter how much we cursed and laid hands. There were no cell phones then, no easy way to let anyone know that something had gone amiss, please send an extraction team. We ended up sleeping on the side of the road, jammed as we were in a space the size of a thimble. (I don’t think my back has been the same since then.) Dawn finally broke, and after we both apologized for sleeping and drooling on one another, the car dropped its petulant attitude and miraculously started. We raced back to the University of Tulsa, and I sprinted to my French class without textbooks or note-taking implements but fully in possession of a Christmas tree on my head.
FOUR. In which another diva finally gets her due.
It was 1985. Tina Turner was huge, after a long time spent being non-huge despite admirable prior success. (Blame Ike for this. Ike was an ass.) I was desperate to see her in concert, for a variety of reasons, but the main driver at the time was her version of “I Can’t Stand the Rain”, a song that really meant a lot to me in that particular time and space. So desperate, in fact, that I presented an outrageous lie to the manager of the Quik-Trip convenience store where I worked. (To be fair, I probably wouldn’t have resorted to this measure if any of my co-workers had exhibited any sign of decency. I had begged all of them to trade shifts with me so I could go to the concert. They declined to support me in my cause despite the fact that I had, on many occasions, worked double shifts to support their own sudden emergencies. Bastards.)
Still, that doesn’t justify the following phone conversation, which I recall with almost word-for-word painful clarity, wherein I tested the limits of absurdity. Apparently, even then, I was unable to simply tell a story. Nope, I had to go for high drama and a possible Golden Globe award.
Boss Man: “Why are you calling me? You know I’m busy.”
Me: “Well, I won’t be able to come into work tonight.”
Boss Man: “And why is that? Are you going to the Tina Turner concert?”
Damn. I guess I shouldn’t have made such an obvious fuss about trying to find someone to cover for me. People talk. Still, I wanted me some Tina. Me: “Um, no. You are talking to a man with a collapsed lung.”
Those were my exact words. You are talking to a man with a collapsed lung. In the history of the crapfest that people have muttered to their bosses, this had to be the most bizarrely-phrased excuse, ever. He didn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. The entire country didn’t believe it. But I persevered, babbling about being in an emergency room and a nameless doctor that insisted I abstain from gainful employment, at least for one night.
I did go see Tina. And it was a fantastic experience, with Tina running all over that stage with more energy than most decathletes could even hope of exhibiting. (And the hunky saxophone player she had on that tour? Beam me up, Scotty.) And the next day? I called the Boss Man back and proffered my resignation. Because there was no way in hell I was going to survive any type of inquiry. A few weeks later, I moved to Dallas, in search of a new career and a new life.
FIVE. In which we sigh over the one that got away.
It was 1986. This was the last year in which the common man or woman could justifiably afford a ticket to a Madonna concert, before she exploded into the stratosphere and started charging the equivalent of a house payment for even the nose-bleed seats. This was also the year in which she didn’t have a concert tour, which means that me and my collapsed lung have never seen her in a live performance, and we probably never will.