everything counts

I mentioned earlier this morning that I couldn’t convince my brain to write what I thought I wanted to write for my column this week. Unless I do some kind of Depeche Mode retrospective at some point, which seems unlikely because I’m not a music reporter, I’m probably not going to use most of the stuff I wrote and abandoned, so I thought I’d share some of it here. It’s unpolished and very first-drafty.

I was 14, just starting high school, when I stumbled onto this radio station way over on the right side of the dial called KROQ. It was totally different than anything I’d heard before, and – more importantly – completely unlike the music I’d listened to my whole life, which served my coming teenage rebellion quite nicely. I had a musical awakening, that lead to the third significant event: The Concert for the Masses at the Rose Bowl on June 18, 1988.

It was the first (and only) stadium show I’ve ever attended, and it remains one of the greatest experiences of my life. I spent the whole day there, and watched the stadium fill up as Wired, then Thomas Dolby, then OMD played. By the time the sun went down and Depeche took the stage, I’d been there for at least six hours, but when Pimpf began and the crowd roared so furiously it seemed to shake the ground beneath our feet, I felt like I was at my generation’s Woodstock. (I know, I know, but I was 15 and I defy anyone reading this to honestly claim that they didn’t apply similarly disproportionate comparisons at the same age.)

* It rained, but only during Blasphemous Rumors; it was like god himself was watching the show and decided to get involved, if only for a moment … a sick sense of humour, indeed.

* I knew all the songs, and they played every single thing I wanted to hear, even Nothing, which was one of my favorite songs on Music for the Masses, and a point of constant disagreement with my Behind the Wheel-loving friends.

* I sang Everything Counts with 65,000 other people as the concert ended, and I felt like I was part of something unique and special, something that would never happen again. Over the years, I’ve run into other people who were at the same show, and even the ones who weren’t fifteen and given to over-romanticizing things tell me that they felt the same thing.

* When the show was over, I couldn’t find the car that was supposed to pick me up. It was a little frightening, and I felt like a kid who had been separated from his mom in a crowded department store. Before I could completely panic, though, I saw a familiar face in the mob: KROQ’s Richard Blade. I knew Richard because he was on the air from noon until Jed the Fish took over every day, and for several months, after going to school at Paramount in the morning, I’d stop at the KROQ studios in Burbank on my way home to hang out with him. I’m sure I overstayed my welcome, but nobody ever said, “Hey, kid, stop coming around here, you’re overstaying your welcome.” I wanted to be a KROQ DJ so badly in those days, and the jocks and interns at KROQ were all so fucking cool, I was a total groupie idiot. Richard was extremely kind and patient with me, though, and when he saw me wandering around the crowd after the concert, he offered to drive me home. So not only did I get to see the greatest concert of my life, I got to end it by getting a ride home with one of my favorite DJs and his girlfriend.

* I still get goosebumps when I listen to 101, and I’m afraid that if I watch the movie, I’ll fall into a nostalgic black hole and never return.

I didn’t go to another Depeche show until 1996, when I took my little sister to the Forum to see them play with The The. The crowd didn’t have much energy, and when they finished with Everything Counts, very few people sang, and the show ended with an anticlimactic fade out. We were close to the stage, and I swear I could see Dave Gahan’s shoulders slump as he walked through the curtain. Shortly after that show, he nearly died from an overdose; Grunge ruled the world at that time, and I always wondered if the lackluster audience response made him feel like the world had turned and left him and his music behind. It felt a little creepy to have been part of an audience that may have played a part in what I always thought was a suicide attempt.

It should be obvious why this all got cut out; it has little to do with the column I ended up writing, and if I’d left it in, it would have distracted from the point and made the whole thing too long. Hooray for personal blogs where I can tell people to shove it if they complain, right?
I mentioned once that, depending on your age, the seminal Depeche Mode album was probably Music for the Masses or Violator. I was smacked around by a lot of people for not offering Black Celebration as an option, but I just figured everyone who liked Depeche Mode loved that album and considered it a load-bearing pillar in the catalog; it’s like Unknown Pleasures or The Queen is Dead, right? Maybe I’m over thinking it.
The Concert for the Masses was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever experienced, and it remains one of my most cherished memories, one I can only see it through the over-romanticizing eyes of a fifteen year-old who was on the cusp of figuring out who he was and where he was going.

33 thoughts on “everything counts”

  1. When I was in junior high, I had a nasty habit of rooting through the cassette deck my parents had above our videotape cabinets. During one of those excursions when I was about 14 or 15, I found my brother’s copy of Violator and gave it a listen. I love it, and to this day, 6 or 7 years later, I still have it in my room.
    I get the experience you’re describing completely, Wil. That’s how it felt when I went to see New York Dolls back in June or July. They played the Three Rivers Arts Festival, and my mom took me to see them. I’ve been to OzzFest, and even THAT was NOTHING compared to the energy when New York Dolls took the stage. Not only did I feel badass for an hour or two, but it was nice to be able to say “Yeah, my mom and I shared this.” It’s also nice to be able to say that my mom is cool enough to take her daughter to a New York Dolls concert. 😀

  2. There’s something about stadiums/coliseums that energizes the mind.
    I just saw President Bill Clinton in Moncton, New Brunswick today (my wife got me a ticket because my birthday is today! Yay me!) giving a speech on the economy in front of about 7,000 people. He electrified the place.
    Not quite Depeche Mode, but adult brain seems to need other forms of public gatherings.
    He spoke so highly of President-elect Barack Obama (you’re right, Wil, it is fun to say that a lot) and of the new direction America is taking.
    Thanks for sharing this memory of yours. Made sense to me, and I’m a 35 year old on the cusp of figuring out who I am and where I am going.

  3. I was there too! I recently saw “101” for the first time–yeah, it really took me back. So glad you can confirm what the movie didn’t: that it rained during “Blasphemous Rumours.” I was beginning to think I’d made that up. In fact, in my memory it started when Dave Gahan sang, “Came the rain,” but maybe that’s going too far.
    I also remember that it took a verrrrrry long time for Depeche Mode to come on, and people started throwing things while they waited: cups, food trays, toilet paper, whatever else they could find. My friends and I were down on the field, and I remember looking straight up and seeing stuff flying in every direction. Good times!

  4. I have been a devoted Depeche Mode fan since I discovered Black Celebration in 1986. I am very envious that you got to attend that iconic concert. I have watched the video of it several times. Thank you for sharing your experience of it.
    I saw DM in concert for the first time in 2001, and then again in 2006. Even though those concerts can’t compare with the experience of the Concert for the Masses, finally seeing Depeche Mode perform live was a huge event for me. I even cried when I saw Dave walk on stage for the first time. I think they are one of the few bands that are worth seeing live, and I think their most recent album is one of their best. I can’t wait for the next one.

  5. I remember when DM played the Rose Bowl, but back then, living in Oxnard, Pasadena was so far away and I wasn’t quite old enough to go to concerts. Of course, I can now walk to the Rose Bowl. So there. This all reminds me of The Cure Disintegration tour at Dodger Stadium…perhaps not the Woodstock of my generation, but at that age, everything is important and meaningful. And I’ll never forget Robert walking out in a green lit fog to the tune of Plain Song. Magic.

  6. I often find myself at odds with other of my generation in that music was never a large part of my self-identity. Sure I listened, I even went to a few concerts, but I almost never bought an album and the words “I love this band!” never crossed my lips. For the most part I was happy to listen to whatever was on the radio, or whatever tape my friends had in. I invested a great deal more of myself in the books I read rather than the music I listened to.

  7. I went to the Touring the Angel concert in Toronto a couple years ago, and the entire audience was on their feet and singing. At least everyone near me was. I’ve been a fan for about 20 years (ever since I first heard Blasphemous Rumours played by a friend), but it was the first time I’d seen them live. It was fabulous. If the concert you mention was even better, it must have been something special.
    Now I want them to come through the area again so I can see them live again. :)

  8. I’ve been a DM fan-girl since I was a kid. While I wasn’t at that concert, it reminded me of my “rock & roll lifestyle” weekend in December 1998, getting amazing concert seats at the Portland show, hanging with friends and drinking beer with Andrew Fletcher, and meeting Stabbing Westward.
    There’s a fair amount of my life experiences intertwined with DM songs and concerts. Thanks for sharing!

  9. I grew up in San Diego and KROQ and later 91X were key influences. Concert wise, I would have to say that U2 is the most energizing and dynamic act I ever saw. Four of us camped out to get tickets for the Coliseum show for Joshua Tree and I also saw arena shows on that tour. I saw several big stadium type shows in my day, but no one ever topped U2.
    And the experience of singing “Forty” at the end of the U2’s shows is what I immediately thought of when you talked about “Everything Counts.”

  10. @Roymcm
    I went both ways. I had a truckload of books and as much music. Being the good little loner I was, I went to quite a few concerts, almost always and preferrably alone.
    Of all the concerts, those of Peter Hammill were the best. He is extremely intense. I still love The Smiths, The Cure, Depeche Mode etc, yet he spoiled me for somber, philosophical music. And when John Lydon names you as an inspiration for him to start doing punk (even as PH was doing prog rock at the time), Peter Gabriel asks you for backing vocals and Voi Vod, Marillion and Bruce Dickinson are your fans, you know there’s something going on.

  11. Music for the Masses was the album that changed my life from that of a child to that of a teenager. The Boston-area stop on this tour was my first concert ever. And to this day it stands out in the top ten best concerts ever. (You can’t really argue with teenage hyperbole. LOL!)
    Feel free to lapse into DM nostalgia anytime – I will happily go along for the ride. :)
    “I still get goosebumps when I listen to 101, and I’m afraid that if I watch the movie, I’ll fall into a nostalgic black hole and never return.”
    I’ll try to avoid preaching to the choir, but “Playing the Angel” is the best DM since Alan left the band; and Dave’s solo album is breathtaking. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxTNsc3U53c)

  12. I think I was about 12 when I first heard “music for the masses.” It’s interesting how stuff you hear when you’re coming-of-age gets so permanently branded into your synapses. Depeche Mode was my first concert ever, I think that must have been in 1986 or 87. At the time, it might as well have been a religious experience.

  13. Being much older than you, the bands that produced a religious experience for me were your dad’s favorites. Devonshire Downs in Northridge, in 1969, was my Woodstock. So many fantastic bands, and the festival setting was exactly the way a concert was supposed to feel back then. I remember that everyone was dancing in the field, happy to be young and amongst friends you hadn’t met. I wish they would have filmed that event like they did for Woodstock.
    One of the best indoor concerts, with energy to the brink of explosion, was at the Forum in 1969. There were two acts and both were so awesome that it was four hours of pure adrenaline. The opening act was the Ike & Tina Turner review and the main band was The Rolling Stones. An amazing night for that high school senior and her boyfriend… later to become my husband. He was the one that would drill me about who played for what band, what year the song was released, and what album it was from. We still do that.
    For unpolished and first-drafty, it’s a damn good post, Wil.

  14. That’s a pretty cool post, Wil. Thank for sharing, particularly since it’s an early draft.
    I haven’t really listend to DM, particularly. Maybe I will now. I don’t really listen to music much at all, except to channel 23 on Sirius when I’m driving.
    I did decide on my 30th birthday to go see Bon Jovi in Milwaukee. Goo-goo Dolls opened, they were really funny. Bon Jovi played their good stuff. About 3/4 of the way through, they played “Raise Your Hands”. Yes, the band was loud, but the crowd was absolutely deafening.
    My hearding didn’t return to normal acuity until sometime the next day, and I was fairly hoarse all that day. Good times.

  15. Jesus Christ god damn. I saw the same show of the same tour in Minneapolis in 1988 at the Northrup Auditorium. I snuck out with my best GF Renee. Each of us told our moms we were sleeping over at each other’s house. We were 14 or so, too. I distinctly remember riding our 10-speed Huffys to the show and locking them up VERY FUCKING CAREFULLY in the bike rack outside the auditorium!
    I ended up smoking pot with a couple of OMD’s roadies and meeting Andy and Paul from OMD. Autographs and everything.
    Crazy days those.

  16. I only discovered this just yesterday (serendipitously?) but according to a friend who lives there, Depeche Mode are the biggest thing – by a considerable distance – in Hungary, of all places. He had just bought tickets for a gig next summer. Then I learned that “Personal Jesus” was released almost 20 years ago and found the (brilliant) Johnny Cash cover at the same time.
    I’m just saying.

  17. I know exactly what you are talking about, Wil. A couple of years ago, I finally got to see my all time favourite band, Tool, live at Verizon Center in Washington DC. We had absolutely PERFECT seats, directly facing straight at the stage in the first balcony level. The ENTIRE arena was filled with 20,000+ people, with nary a seat available.
    The concert itself was absolutely amazing, with every song sounding better (and louder) than the previous one. Midway through the set, they started playing Wings for Marie (a song about and dedicated to Maynard’s mother) People started to take out lighters and lit them, and eventually the majority of the stadium had lighters up.
    Imagine that. A sea of thousands and thousands of glowing flames. You can find pictures of it online, it was an absolutely amazing moment. It felt like the arena was its own dimension, and nothing outside of the doors existed.
    Definitely something I will remember for the rest of my life.

  18. Why is it that your first drafts are better than anything I ever attempt to write? Anyway, saw DM in Dallas back in 93 supporting Songs of Faith and Devotion. There was point during Personal Jesus when all the crowd lights came up and the audience was singing back to the stage…so awesome.

  19. I completely understand the feelings you describe. I remember my first ever concert; Judas Priest with Black Sabbath.
    Probably the closest feeling since have been the ’87 U2 stadium date when the whole crowd seemed to sing a refrain from the Bible (Psalm 6) “How long …” forever!!

  20. Thanks for this! Just a couple of days ago I was trying to explain why I love concerts and all the wonderful things that can happen at them — surprise, communality and shared emotion, audience involvement and other tricks of instrumentation, the inevitable jam song, great opening acts that you follow forever after, horrible opening acts that you complain about forever after.
    O FWIW … I think I’m in the “Violator” age group — it came out when I was in 8th grade — but I’m a “Masses” adherent. :)

  21. Hmmm, I wouldn’t take that down if I were you.. that’s a load-bearing poster.
    In all seriousness, though, you’re right. Violator was my seminal Depeche Mode record; I still think of Personal Jesus when I think of DM.

  22. Wil, you and I are about one year apart, and that is pretty much how I remember 1988. I was there as well, singing, and talking about the show for days after. Proudly wearing my shirt with the Orange Megaphone on it, like I was in some secret society. “Nothing” was by far my favorite song on that album.
    Unfortunately, Violator was the album that pushed me away from Depeche. Which is sad, but I guess I had moved on when that album came out.
    Equally emotional was the Black Celebration tour. That was my first concert ever, and when the curtain fell during Black Celebration to show the band for the first time (at least to these eyes), that was the most emotional I had ever been at a concert.
    I still listen to KROQ from time to time. But, 1st Wave on Sirius/XM has been almost permanently programed on wife and my radio for a year. It’s like taking a step back in time each drive we take. And your buddy Richard is broadcasting there as well. Good times!!

  23. At the risk of sounding like a 12 year old girl – OMGOMGOMG!!
    101 was my favourite album in high school. The crowd, the vibe. And you were there. Also, you got to see OMD as well, you lucky guy. Did they play “If you leave”?
    I hope Depeche Mode do another world tour, or at least a festival here in Australia. I was too poor/young/scared/friendless to go to Violator and I still regret it, all these years later.
    On a side note, I’ve just bought tickets to see Coldplay – w00t!

  24. I was there, along with you, for the whole day. While all the opening acts were awesome, OMD was simply *amazing*. To this day, nothing has topped that concert.

  25. I’d heard a couple DM songs in high school, and I thought they were okay. Mind you, the mid Willamette Valley in Oregon was terrible as a radio market back then… top 40 was it for non country music. Then in ’85, college. I taped a couple albums off of friends. I liked them even more. Black Celebration was the big one for me. Then Violator. Masses didn’t have as huge of an impact on me. I bought it and listened to it all the time, but I wasn’t as excited about it as I was those other two.
    I’ll go even farther into heresy by saying I liked Strangelove the best.
    I first time I saw them was with The The on the Songs of Faith and Devotion tour. That was a great night. I’ve seen them twice since.
    I’ve discovered some cool music by paying attention to what the production guys play before concerts, and during he break between acts. At the Playing the Angel concert, they were playing some really cool ambient electronic stuff that I’d never heard, but it was haunting… I had to ask. The guy at the console told me it was stuff recorded by Depeche Mode! No vocals. Farking fantastic… until I was told it was experimental music that wasn’t going to be out on CD.
    As an aside, the first concert I attended was Oingo Boingo at the Hult Center in Eugene Oregon. It was the first date on the Dead Man’s Party tour. It was a killer show. My poor friends only knew Weird Science, and were relegated to head-bobbing through most of it. I had 4 of their albums and was going nuts through most of the show.

  26. Being one of “those darn kids today” I don’t have a seminal Depeche Mode album as I came to appreciate them only about 7 or so years ago. (FWIW “Dreaming of Me” is my favorite song.)
    Of course I did have a band that epitomized everything I felt about life at 15 – Pet Shop Boys. Given my assertion that “every song PSB has made or will ever make is totally about my life, man” I don’t know how I missed the boat on Depeche Mode until I was older. You know, like 20. (Still don’t have a fav album, though.)
    Thanks for sharing this. I don’t have a story that compares but I appreciate reading yours. Cheers!

  27. Hi Wil,
    I stumbled upon you tonight after calculating my Twinfluence of #451 96%. I was intrigued by the top 50 “reach” folks on twitter and found you at the #30 spot. As I landed on your blog I was delighted to see a familiar face from TV and movies from my adolescence. Even though I did not closely follow your work as a kid, I always found an endearing presence about you. After having just read your two recent posts about your delayed LA Weekly interview and this one about The Concert for the Masses – I now know why. Not surprisingly both my husband and I were huge Depeche Mode fans back in The Day – They are still my husband Jeff’s all-time favorite band – and the descriptions you captured in the retelling of both the 80’s and 90’s concerts struck a resonant chord for me. Thank you for having chosen to include it over here on your blog – it’s good stuff! I look forward to reading more from you. Isn’t social media grand!
    Amy Miyamoto
    On twitter @LotusAmy

  28. I didn’t really discover DM until 1993 or 1994, and I picked up Violator and Music For The Masses at the same time. So I always equate the two, and they really are two of my favourite albums of all time. I can’t really pick one or the other that I prefer, though.

  29. Oh man this really brought me back…I was 14 when I went to that show and I know what you mean about how it made you feel. Music for the Masses was definitely the seminal DM album for me. Thanks for the post!

Comments are closed.