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 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.