My Life

Sunday in the Park with Brian: Therapy Session #11 (The “In Which We Hoist Our Lighters High” Version)

Note: One, this was originally written right after a certain American political event in 2016. Two, for those who are not interested in such, this post is not about politics. (Relax.) Three, one of the plot points involves a sub-story that I just shared recently. Mea culpa for the repeat story thread, but if I ripped that section out then the flow would be jacked, and we can’t have that. Enjoy.


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 involve 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, as 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.



Originally published in “Bonnywood Manor” on 11/14/16. Slight changes made, although I had to fight the urge to include additional concerts that I attended during the mind-bend that was the 80s. (Again, I have no idea where the money for tickets came from, as I usually couldn’t afford to fill up my gas tank during that whole decade, instead relying on incremental purchases and a lot of hope.) Perhaps there will be a sequel to this bit?


“Oh, hey hey Johnny

Can’t you come out to play?”


19 replies »

  1. *sigh*… now I must correct a very wee, very slight bit of misinformation. In the paragraph about the loss of your concert ‘virginity’, you stated that Oklahoma is dead last in the doing anything trendy or fun, until ‘everyone else in the USA’ has done it first. Uh wrong. UTAH holds that trophy and will hold it until more ‘outsiders’ flock here and change things, which is in the works, but isn’t ‘there’ yet.

    Example: I’m going to see Bob Seger in January. Ol’ Bob is still mighty (to his fans) and I’m highly excited (an uneasy state of being, given I creak and rattle around most of the time hoping I don’t barf on the dog or something). My point is that Bob didn’t put Utah on his tour list. He put IDAHO (ffs) and well less surprisingly Nevada – because I think going to Vegas must be some kind of end of career artist’s stop. But really? IDAHO? Oh my gawd. Still they have the lottery and *GASP* gambling up there. That’ll NEVER come to Utah. The Mormon Leaders have said as much. (sorry COJCOLDS… we’re now members of the “CoJColds”). Don’t ask. So until the Mormons return to their promised land in Missouri, nothing of modern, sleek or up-to-date will occur. We stay a staid 20 years BEHIND everyone else. Including Oklahoma. um. Sorry. We both lived through being in places we did not belong, given our rather more colorful personalities. You escaped. Kudos dude.

    The concerts? Excellent. Elton came to Utah (twice or more maybe) with Billy Joel in tow. I passed. I couldn’t afford to miss a house payment. I have to wonder how much of that money goes to the performers, because the cost continues to sky rocket. Bob is going to cost me some nimble juggling of the budget, which is bitching more than the guy with helmet hair. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • We’ll probably have to call it “even” with which state is in the caboose of the Train of Progress. I’ve never been to Utah, have to admit that right up front, so I can’t adequately make an estimation of the good and the bad and the ugly. But I have the sense that both of our home states would not fare well on a some national “quality of life” ranking. On the flip side, at least Utah has hosted the Olympics, so that’s a leg up. Oklahoma has hosted.. um, nothing really comes to mind. Bass-fishing tournaments? KKK national conventions? I’m really trying to find something here but I’m coming up with nothing, other than music concerts that are solely based on the central location of the state and not the citizens of the state.

      But speaking of the concerts, your pondering is the same as mine? Who really gets all that money from the outrageous ticket prices? The superstars are already rich, so surely they don’t depend on concert income. Somebody somewhere is getting a hefty cut that we don’t know about.


  2. Loved this the first time through and love it more on the rerun. Probably because in second reads you always notice things you missed the first time, as in the Christmas tree head. Lovin’ that image!
    I wouldn’t mind hearing more of your concert adventures, if you feel so inclined to share them. The only “concerts” I attended were at the Arizona State Fair and were my mother’s choosing. Meaning we saw Freddie Fender, the Oak Ridge Boys, Mel Tillis and Marty Robbins. Of them, Marty Robbins was the best, no contest. But then he was an Arizona native, so there you go. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps I’ll share more concert memories. As I’ve mentioned, I somehow managed to see a ton of people despite the fact that I never really had any money in my salad days. It was mainly a confluence of being in the right place at the right time and off to the venue we would go.

      As for Marty Robbins, well, my radar pinged on him WAY back in the day, if you know what I mean. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Loved this! These are the moments that we look back on and think “Wow!” My best concert experience was seeing Audioslave years ago. So glad I did, but it still breaks my heart when I think about Chris Cornell–who could have known, seeing him there on the stage, such an incredible presence. Second best was Gary Numan this year–got to meet him as well, which was so cool. Happy New Year!

    Liked by 2 people

    • I completely agree with the “looking back and thinking WOW” angle. There were a ton of bands that I got to see way before they were recognized on a national or even regional level. There’s something raw and hungry about a band that hasn’t made it yet that speaks to me much more than the “professionalism” that comes with success. Happy New Year to you as well, although I’m a few days late on saying that…

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I also saw the Elton John 1982 tour. He finished the tour with 16 consecutive nights at the London Hammersmith Odeon, a relatively small (3,000 seats) venue over Christmas. In typical understated EJ fashion, he wrapped the whole building in Christmas paper and put a big pink bow around it. This was a formative moment in my introduction to the sophistication of life in a big city!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I must admit to being a bit jealous, as your EJ venue was much more fancy than mine. The building where he performed wasn’t wrapped in anything, unless you count the despair of being in Oklahoma. But it’s nice to know that we unknowingly shared something all those years ago…

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I’d love to hear more of your concert tales too. I also got to see EJ, but much later in life. And he was the SUPPORT act! OK, technically it was a double-bill, but I was there for Eric Clapton. So a host of others also played and I thought Hey, at least I get to see Elton whilst I wait for Eric. I looooooove 70s Elton, but can take or leave the rest, so wasn’t that fussed. Well, I sang my bloody socks off to every single song. What a performance (EJ, not me), what an entertainer (again, EJ, not me). Amazing show. Seeing live bands was my hobby in my teens and twenties. I can only imagine I afforded it cos I had a crumby retail job and tickets were only two quid 😉 More of this please.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I will certainly try to capture a few more memories. I think the next installment will focus on concerts from the later years, as there were just as many dubious moments with those experiences. (I just seem to attract awkwardness, what can I say?)

      I still don’t know where I found the money for all those concerts in my salad says. Maybe I did some things I shouldn’t have in order to earn to some extra cash, and I have since blocked such action from my memories? Perhaps I should speak to a hypno-therapist…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. You remember these so well. Makes for a fun read. My concert years started earlier than yours and are a jumble of memories that I couldn’t possibly assemble so nicely. Likely due in some small part to the purple unicorns and the dizzying speed of my life and travels around those frazzled wonder wander years. Elton, Barry, Tina sighhhhh all shexy as hale

    Liked by 1 person

    • Shexy, indeed. There was just something about the “old-school” performers that made them more “immediate” and real. With the current crop of singers, they often get lost on a stage full of dancers and special effects and 14 video screens an elaborate staging. Back then, they just came out and sang… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

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