Category Archives: Music

34 years ago today, 15 year-old me was at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena to see The Concert For The Masses.

34 years ago today, 15 year-old me was at The Rose Bowl in Pasadena to see The Concert For The Masses.

This concert was headlined by Depeche Mode, ending their Music for the Masses tour. They were my favorite band in the world at the time, so I was always going to go. But it wasn’t just DM. It was also Wire, OMD, and Thomas Dolby! I loved them all, and I couldn’t believe I got to see them all on the same stage, in person.

I could have bought really good tickets in the front section, if I’d thought about it. But 15 year-old me just wanted to be there, so I got tickets from the guy who drove the KROQ promotion van. I think we called him Doc on the Roc? Or Dan in the Van? Something like that. Anyway, I didn’t even have my tickets when I got there. I just got lucky and saw Dan or Doc or whoever he was, and he gave me a paper ticket.

Just think about that. You’re 15, alone, surrounded by thousands of people, and you just happen to be at that one entrance at the exact time the guy who you’re counting on to get you into the venue is there. And this is before cell phones or even pagers were widely available. I marvel at how lucky I got then, not knowing how lucky I was going to get later in the evening.

It was early in the afternoon when I went into the venue. The tickets I had were as far away from the stage as you could get while still being inside the Rose Bowl, near the top of the stadium. Hold your hand out as far as you can, and look at your thumb. GEE YOU’RE DUMB (sorry. couldn’t resist).

The band members on the stage were smaller than my thumb, and they sounded like they were in another county. So I looked around at all the empty seats and just started walking toward the stage. I figured I’d go as far as I could, until someone stopped me.

I got all the way down to like the second section, when I began to feel like I was flying too close to the sun. I tucked myself between a couple of seats, and watched Wire DESTROY that place. Their single at the time was Kidney Bingos. Kidney Dingos? Dingos. Dingoes. Point is, it was a different style than the Wire I knew from Pink Flag, but they still rocked so hard. And in the afternoon, too.

Next up was Thomas Dolby. I loved him because he was a nerd just like me. And Golden Age of Wireless had been on heavy rotation in my Walkman for years. His album at the time was Aliens Ate My Buick, which I loved for all the nerdy weird reasons so many of us still hold dear.

When he finished, it was starting to turn to dusk. The seats started filling up. The Rose Bowl started to feel like a stadium. While I waited for OMD, I stupidly made eye contact with one of the security dudes, who immediately made me as a kid who did not have a ticket for the seat he was in. He started toward me, so I got up and walked … I guess “away from that dude” was my direction. After a minute had passed and I hadn’t been yanked out of the frame by the back of my shirt, I glanced back and saw that he’d returned to his … post? What do you call it when you’re a security dude at a concert? I’m going to call it his post, and won’t bring it up again.

I made my way off the field, up some stairs, and found another empty seat a few rows up, where I watched OMD’s set. They were everything I hoped they would be. I hadn’t owned any of their albums to that point, but I knew all of their songs because of Kara (she’s also how I knew Wire). I remember it getting dark while they played, and by the time they finished their set, there were easily over 50,000 people in the venue, with more pouring in every minute.

It felt like a long time before Depeche came on, much longer than it was between sets for the openers. I’m just now remembering that I didn’t eat or drink anything because I didn’t want to lose this great not-my-seat I’d managed to occupy, probably about 100 feet from the stage, which is REAL close in a stadium. So I just stayed there and waited. Again, this is before cell phones so I didn’t have Instagram to scroll through or any of the things we take for granted today. I just sat there for what felt like an hour, looking around and waiting.

The way I remember it, there wasn’t a sense in the air that the band was about to take the stage. Just, one second everyone was talking and stuff, and then BAM all at once the lights shut off with what felt like a crash. Before we knew what was happening, PIMPF began to play in the darkness. People held up lighters, and the music got louder and louder and louder until it was almost unbearable, this intense piano phrase, ominously repeating until it felt like the walls were going to come down on top of us. It ended as suddenly as it began, the last note ringing out as the crowd roared.

We filled that darkness with our voices and our primal energy, pushing the walls back up, defying them to contain us. The lights on the stage exploded into life, and there they were, my favorite band in the world. It turned out that this crowd could roar even louder, then.

In my memory, they played Behind the Wheel first. I don’t know if that’s correct, but in honor of 15 year-old me, I’m not going to check. What I do remember is not very long into the set, a fucking storm showed up out of nowhere, filled the sky with lightning and rain for a couple songs, and then blew out just as fast.

I can’t recall what the song was. Some fans are adamant that it was “Sacred”, while Richard Blade says it was “Blasphemous Rumors”. Either way, the religious overtones of both songs were enhanced substantially by the freak cloudburst. It was just one of those random coincidences that made an already amazing thing that much more special.

After the rain (what’s up, Dokken fans? I see you. Nice fringe jacket.) I got busted. Whoever had paid for the seat I was in showed up to claim it, and while I was doing my best to find a new place to sit, a security dude nailed me.

But check this out. He looked at me and said, “are you Wesley on Star Trek?” and I was like, “Uh, yeah?” And he said, “Where’s your seat?”

I didn’t even try to pretend. I showed him my ticket.

“Okay, come with me,” he said, and walked me up the steps toward the concourse. I could hear the concert happening without me, and I was pretty sure I was getting kicked out of the Rose Bowl.

But he ended up taking me to the press box. He told me that these were great seats, nobody was using them, and I could sit anywhere. “You’re a really good actor,” he said, before he left.

Everything Went Better Than Expected dot JPEG.

I watched the rest of the concert from the front row of the press box. It wasn’t as cool as being 100 feet from the band, but the view was pretty great, and I had permission to be there.

I think they finished with Master and Servant. It was that or … Never Let Me Down Again? I can’t remember for sure. Again, 34 years ago and looking it up is cheating.

So we all knew the encore was coming, but this really weird night was about to get even more weird. I was looking out at 60,000 people holding lighters up, chanting, screaming, cheering, building the energy we would release when the band came back onstage … when the brightest, harshest, florescent lights in the universe came on in the press box. The couple dozen people in it all turned as one to yell at whoever turned them on to turn them back off … and it was my history teacher from 9th grade.

I didn’t know then that we paid teachers such appalling wages it wasn’t uncommon for them to work multiple jobs, so it was as shocking as the brightness of the light to see her in a Staff Pro jacket. I remember she looked confused, I heard someone say the encore hadn’t happened, I watched her shrug, and the lights turned back off. I didn’t see her again, which, based on how awkward I feel remembering it now, is probably for the best.

The band came back and played a couple of songs, finishing as they always did with Everything Counts.

Math says it’s unlikely any of you reading this were also at this show. But if you were, you know what an experience it was to sing along with 60,000 people, filling up the entire Rose Bowl and beyond with our voices. It felt magical. I can feel the vibration in my bones, 34 years later.

After the show, that area where I’d miraculously run into Dan the Van (I really hope that’s correct because what a great name) was a boiling mass of sweaty, post-concert humanity. I got overwhelmed and lost in it real quick, and I couldn’t find the car that was supposed to take me home. As I began to panic, I saw a familiar face: Richard Blade, who most of you know from Sirius XM, was my friend. He was the afternoon DJ on KROQ. An absolute legend in Los Angeles. A guy who knew EVERYONE you cared about in music. And what a kind human! Richard patiently let me sit in the studio all the time, because he knew I wanted to be a DJ, It was so massively inappropriate that I went there, almost every day after school at Paramount, but I didn’t know any better and nobody ever told me I couldn’t, so.

I saw Richard, and I guess he saw how panicked I was because he walked over to me immediately. He asked if I was okay, and I told him I couldn’t find my car to get home.

So Richard Blade offered to give me a ride. I think he was with his wife? I can’t remember exactly who it was, but they took me home like that had been the plan all along.

And all of that happened 34 years ago, today. Wild.

my poor friend me

I’m getting ready to head out of the house and do my adulting for the day.

I have this mix of Pennywise, Bad Religion, Lagwagon, Social Distortion, and their contemporaries playing way louder than usual, all over the house, as I am the only one home.

I get dressed like I always do. I put on a pair of Volcom pants, a Bauhaus T-shirt, and my Converse.

Then, when it’s time to transform my bedhead into not that, I look up and see this old man looking back at me in the mirror.

And let me tell you, it’s kind of a lot to see and feel that. In my head, all morning, I’ve been a wiser, calmer, more confident and happier version of the person I was in my 20s; just a guy eating cereal, drinking coffee, surrounded by second wave punk.

I got so lost in that place, it was like a bucket of cold water when I saw … myself … almost 50 … just looking back at me. Like, “What’s up dude. I’m you.” Grey all through my beard, lines in my face, bags under my eyes even though I slept perfectly last night.

And I saw this look on my face, real quick, before I knew what was happening. It was this knowing look from me, who is almost 50, reminding me, who forgot he was almost 50, that, yes, you are almost 50, Wil. It’s so weird, this disconnect between my physical, chronological aging, and the way I feel inside of a body that’s probably about halfway through its existence on this planet.

Bad Religion still fucking slams, though.

i wanna rock (rock)

I was playing Donkey Kong yesterday, listening to my 80s Arcade playlist, and I got this idea to write something that like ten people in the world would find amusing. Because I am one of those people, and my friend, Josh, who gave me a good note on the bit, is another, I’d like to say a special hello to the eight of you who also enjoy this the way we do.

*Extremely Patrick Bateman Voice*

Twisted Sister found international fame in 1984 with their album Stay Hungry, powered by the success of “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, which reached number 21 in the US. Some of the song’s popularity can be attributed to the ambiguity of what “it” was Dee Snyder would not take. Some critics claim it allowed a disaffected generation to claim the “it” for themselves, whatever “it” may be. Snyder spoke for them all, while simultaneously empowering their own voices.

But it is the album’s lesser-known single, “I Wanna Rock”, released in October of that year and only reaching number 68 on the Billboard Hot 100 that is the true anthem for the moment. “I Wanna Rock” asks nothing of the listener. It allows for even less. It declares, “I Wanna Rock, and I don’t care if you’re going to take it or not,” and in so doing, defines the entire decade.

*Ax Swinging Intensifies*

May His Memory Be A Blessing

Late yesterday afternoon, I saw that Howard Hesseman passed away. I didn’t know him, but I worked with him once, and he was wonderful. It was in the 90s, when Anne and I were still dating, in a tiny movie a classmate of mine wrote, produced, directed, and starred in. We filmed it up in San Francisco. Howard and I played rival drag queens. Oh, how I wish I could find a photo of us. It was magnificent.

It was so long ago, I can’t recall much about the movie, but I loved the story and I loved getting to do full-on drag (in a Peg Bundy wig, 10 inch platform thigh-high boots, showing way too much flabby belly God it was glorious) and I loved the unvarnished grind of making an indie movie in the 90s. I’m pretty sure Howard and I were in the same scene at least once, but I can’t recall if our characters interacted at all. I don’t think they did.

I also remember that one day on the set, we were sitting in cast chairs, talking, and the subject of jazz came up. I confessed that my familiarity with jazz musicians was ten feet wide and half an inch deep, but

I enjoyed Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, John Coltrane, Chet Baker. He asked me if I had ever listened to Charles Mingus. I told him that I hadn’t hear OF him, much less heard him play music, so Howard walked to his car, which he’d driven up from Los Angeles, and came back with a cassette of Mingus Ah Um that I still have today.

“You will love listening to this while you burn through the 5 on your way back to LA,” he said.

I loved the image of burning through interstate, just setting it afire and letting it turn to ash behind you before it blew away, having served its (your) purpose. It was so much more romantic and rebellious than the reality of trudging through mile after mile of “are we there yet” and cattle yards during seven monotonous hours.

“How can I get this back to you?” I asked him.

“You won’t want to,” he said. “I’ll get another copy. Forget it.” I can still hear the glee and enthusiasm that was in his voice. He was giving me so much more than a cassette tape.

Anne, Nolan, and I listened to Mingus Ah Um on the way home, and Howard was right. We loved it. I still love it. And I have Howard Hesseman to thank for it.

Rest easy, Howard. Thank you for being kind to me and my future family. May your memory be a blessing to others, as it is to me.

sweet and tender hooligan

Yesterday, I accidentally discovered that a friend of mine loves the same midcentury asthetic the same way I do. Not only that, but she and her husband love the same Exotica, Lounge, easy listening, Hi-Fi Souunds Of Tomorrow music that I love. I’m talking about artists like Esquivel, Martin Denny, Les Baxter, and their contemporaries.

I discovered this genre of music in the mid 90s, and fell in love with it instantly. I thought it was so weird that this guy I was, who loved punk and grunge and metal just absolutely fell head over heels in love with the soothing sounds of midcentury America. Around that time, I also discovered Squirrel Nut Zippers, Asylum Street Spankers, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and their contemporaries. So I kinda lump my midcentury obsession together with those bands, even though they aren’t exactly Hi-Fi.

Well, it turns out that my friend and her husband did the exact same thing, and we never knew it about each other. Pretty cool.

I was inspired by this revelation to build a mega playlist that I could enjoy while I played arcade games last night (this is part of my self care routine, I tell myself). So I fired up the old Spotify + Sonos, and I got to work. I started with my KROQ Happy Place playlist, added a couple Exotica and Lounge playlists to the queue, threw in Bob Baker Marionette Theater’s Halloween playlist, and finally added a Dark Wave playlist to the whole thing. I shuffled it all together, and it was really great. I think it was like 2 days worth of music?

I’d been listening for like half an hour or so. I’d heard a deeply satisfying mix of Hi-Fi and classic punk, some new wave, even some of the Halloween stuff. I was enjoying the SHIT out of it.

I was playing Mr. Do!, as one does, when A Rush and a Push and the Land Is Ours, by The Smiths, came on.

Holy shit I loved this album when it came out. It was really important to me, when I was in high school.

I stopped playing and let the little dragons kill my Mr. Do! guy, while I listened to the music. Before I knew what was happening, I fell deep into a memory.

I remembered my first significant, meaningful, head-over-heels-in-love experience as a teenager, when I was fourteen, almost fifteen. She was older than me. I think she was a senior when I was a freshman. She was in a drama production with the girl I was dating (and by “dating”, I mean, “endlessly making out with because we were horny teenagers”), and I met her at the cast party for that show.

God, I haven’t thought about this in decades. The girl who was my nominal girlfriend at the time, on our way into the cast party, told me that she’d decided it was time for us to see other people. This blindsided fourteen year-old me. It turns out that there was some dude in the cast she wanted to hook up with, like you do when you’re a teenager, so she sort of … I guess broke up with me for that night, hooked up with this other guy, and then wanted to get back together with me a few days later. I was like, “you broke up with me to hook up with that guy. That’s not cool. We’re staying broken up.” And that was it.

Remember stuff like that when we were kids? How it seemed like the most consequential thing that would ever happen in our lives until the next thing happened to eclipse it, and now when we look back on all of it, with perspective, we’re, like, “Oh boy. LOL.”

So at this party, the girl I was dating pretty much ditched me, and I was kind of alone. Or, more accurately, I was totally alone. This woman (I mean, she was probably 17? But to 14 year-old me she was a woman, unlike the girl I was dating. I feel like this is offensive to say now, but at the time, it made sense) sits down next to me and just starts talking to me about stuff. She’s super kind, and within a few minutes, we’re talking like we’ve known each other forever. We spent the rest of this party just sitting on this balcony, talking about stuff I wish I could remember, until it was time for everyone to go home. She drove me back to my house, in her BMW 2002, and we listened to KROQ on the way. When we got to my house, she gave me a hug, and suggested that we should hang out. I didn’t get any romantic interest from her at all. I just felt like this person and I clicked for whatever reason, and I was totaly into being friends with her. I wrote down my phone number for her, she wrote down hers for me, and I went into my house, much happier than I should have been, considering that my girlfriend essentially dumped me on our way into a party and hooked up with some dude under my nose just a few hours earlier.

I’m not going to name either of the ladies in this story, but I’m going to call the girl who drove me home “Kara”.

Over the next few weeks, Kara and I became insanely good friends. She lived in an apartment with her mom, and we spent endless hours sitting on the floor in her room, listening to records. She is the person who introduced me to Violent Femmes, Siouxie and the Banshees, Bauhaus, The Cure, and The Smiths. I’m positive there were others, but those are the ones that I can clearly remember.

I should have told you this earlier: she was the first real goth girl I knew. She wore a Bettie Page haircut, had incredible style, and was ALWAYS totally put together.

I honestly don’t know what 14 year-old me brought to the table, but she saw something worthwhile in me that I didn’t, and she nurtured the hell out of that part of me. She took me to plays, she took me to art shows, she introduced me to the most interesting people I had ever met to that point in my life.

Once, when I was in my 30s, related a little bit about her to a friend of mine, who is also a giant nerd who married a super cool woman who is way out of his league, and he said, “She made you cool.”

I am not, was not, and never will be cool, but I appreciated the sentiment. She certainly got me as close to cool as I’d ever get. And she opened my world to all this incredible art and culture that I never would have found without her.

So one day we were listening to records, talking about The Stranger, which she had recommended I read, because I liked the song Killing An Arab by The Cure. She pulled out this stack of 12 inch singles. Each one had gorgeous art on it, photographs of old movie stars, it looked like, with a sort of silver tone over it all.

“I collect import singles,” she said. “This is my collection of The Smiths.”

I sort of knew The Smiths, because Strangeways had recently come out, and after hearing Girlfriend in a Coma on KROQ, I went to the Warehouse and bought the CD. But to that point, I hadn’t listened to any of their other records. The extent of my New Wave at that moment was Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, maybe a very little Tears For Fears. I was still mostly punk and (I know this is incredibly weird) Pink Floyd at that moment in my life. It makes no sense, then or now. But it’s where I was, musically.

I forget what was on her turntable, but she took it off, put the record back in its sleeve, and pulled out one of those Smiths import singles. I want to tell you what it was, but I don’t remember. I feel like it could have been Bigmouth Strikes Again, or Shoplifters of the World Unite. Maybe it was This Charming Man.

Remember the first time you heard some music and you thought, “oh my god they are talking about me. They GET me,” and it changes your life?

That’s how I felt about The Smiths. We spent the next hour or so playing all of her import records, and when she drove me home, we stopped at The Warehouse so I could buy Louder Than Bombs, Meat is Murder, and The Queen Is Dead. I remember that she threw a bunch of shade at Louder Than Bombs, because it was the American compilation of the import singles she’d spent considerable time and effort collecting.

Once I started listening to The Queen Is Dead …. wow. It was … everything. I was so sad. It was so lonely. It was so sardonic and biting. He sang about my story, about my life. Oh my god “I know it’s over”? “Bigmouth Strikes Again”? “There is a Light That Never Goes Out”? Holy fucking shit fuck fuck fuck are you serious how does this even exist. This album was taken directly out of that part of my heart I hadn’t had the courage to share with ANYONE.

Okay, real quick, I’m just going to take a moment to make meaningful eye contact with all of you who know precisely what I’m talking about.

I see you, and I just want to remind you all: we made it.

For the next year or so, Kara was one of my best friends. We hung out all the time. We drove around town in her 2002, listening to the music that I still listen to and love today. I don’t remember many of the things we did, but I clearly recall how she made me feel. She was a kind, caring, gentle presence in my life at a time when I desperately needed that person. She exposed me to art, to poetry, to literature, to all the stuff that ended up defining me. She helped me pour the foundation upon which my entire adult life is built. My mother had kept me in a box for my whole life, and Kara showed me that there was a way out of that box.

And then she graduated, moved away, and we lost touch with each other.

The whole year we were friends, I was just completely in love with her. She made me feel so good about myself. She took a genuine interest in me. She just made me feel special. She made me feel, without ever saying anything directly, like I wasn’t the unlovable, unworthy piece of crap my dad made me believe I was. In one year, she did more for my self-esteem than anyone else had in my entire life. And nothing even remotely romantic ever happened between us. I mean, I would listen to The Queen Is Dead on repeat and just fucking pine away for her to love me the way I loved her, but I never said anything because I knew that she was out of my league, probably not interested in me that way anyway, and I didn’t want to risk upsetting what was one of the most important friendships I’d ever had. If she knew that I would have crawled over borken glass for her, (and honestly, I don’t know how she didn’t) she never let on. She was just kind to me, and such a good friend.

I haven’t thought about her in 20 years. But when I thought about her last night, I missed her again the way I did when she moved away back in 1988 or 1989. It only lasted a second, but I felt it, hard, in that little part of teenage me who comes out from time to time and needs to be hugged.

I don’t listen to The Smiths anymore. After Morrissey turned into … what would we even call him, now? He’s such a dick. I can’t stand to hear his voice any more. He’s like kind of a fascist, he’s kind of a bigot, and he’s just gross and awful. Is he an incel? It seems like sad kids like us can go that way, if we don’t have someone to love us and guide us through it, if we don’t have a Kara. I feel like this man who wrote so many songs that were so important to so many of us who felt alone, and alienated, and unlovable, we felt seen and validated by his lyrics. And I feel betrayed by him, now. Like, how did that guy turn into this guy? It’s a giant bummer. And The Smiths was SUCH a significant and meaningful part of my life, I can’t just look past him and separate the art from the artist. Believe me, I’ve tried.

But yesterday, when my massive playlist kicked out one of the Smiths songs that I suspect was part of the dark wave collection I added to the queue, I didn’t skip it. In my head, I created this static warp bubble where 15 year-old me could sit next to me now, and we listened to The Smiths, together. I doubt very much that Kara ever thinks of me, if she remembers me at all. But when I was 14 and 15, my life was so much better because she was in it. Teenage me wanted adult me to remember her, how kind she was to me, and how she exploded my world with her music.

And when it was all over, teenage me felt kind of … soothed, I guess? I can’t explain that part of it. I feel embarrassed and awkward when I try, kind of the way teenage me felt all the time.

Kara is the reason I still clutch my heart when I see goth kids or theatre kids. I remember being them, and I wouldn’t have even known I was one of them, without her.

I will never know why she decided to come sit next to me that night. I was just a weird kid, in a house that was filled with weird kids. I wasn’t special. There was no reason I would have stood out among them. And yet. I like to believe she saw a fellow traveler, and she helped him get as close to cool as he was ever going to get.

I’m so sad that Morrissey is such a shit. I’m so sad that I can’t listen to The Smiths like I once did, because I just can’t separate the art from the artist in this specific case.

But I’m so glad that I heard The Smiths last night, and that it inspired me to build that static warp bubble. I’ve spent a LOT of time lately with teenage me, and he’s been telling me about a lot of his pain and trauma. It was so wonderful to hear him share joyful memories, from an otherwise really tough time in his life.

Kara will never see this, but I’m putting it out into the world, anyway: Thank you. I never told you how much you meant to me, but I think you knew. Thank you for being there for me, and for being exactly who I needed. Teenage me will always miss teenage you, and I hope that adult you is happy and healthy. I hope you have kids, because I bet you’d be the most amazing mom.