The best part was soundcheck.
Graham Gouldman and Luke invited me. It was just me and Barbara Bach and another woman in the seats and in between numbers Ringo asked who I was and then said hi to me from the stage. Kind of a mind-bending experience if you were around back then, in ’64, when meeting a Beatle was your heart’s desire and seemed impossible. Actually, after they were done and I climbed on stage Ringo made a special effort to meet me and shake hands, which I did not expect, although in truth he shook forearms, I get that, since he’s a drummer. To tell you the truth I’ve had some aged bros shake my hand so hard I wondered if I could still type.
So if you were around back then, at the beginning of the revolution, you bought a guitar. Maybe switched from acoustic to electric. That’s what I did, my mother bought a folk guitar so we could learn to play folk songs, took us for lessons with a woman in Bridgeport, who taught us some chords and insisted we play G with our third, fourth and fifth fingers, that’s why you take lessons, to get it right. I’m big on foundations. I’m a big believer in building blocks, without them it’s hard to grow, at least properly.
And then the Beatles hit and I got an electric guitar and we started to form bands. I’d go to friends’ houses, lugging my equipment, we’d plug in, and play.
That was what the soundcheck was like. Late afternoon, no one paying attention. Seven blokes having a rave-up, sans stage clothes, making a glorious noise. That’s what it was about back then, getting out your frustrations, which eventually led to punk, and replicating the songs on the radio, until you got to the point where you could improvise, which I never did, I did not have the chops.
And the highlight was when they did “Boys.” If you remember, Ringo had hair that curled up at the bottom, and he shook his head in a certain way, kinda like those guys on SNL dancing years later, and last night he did it the exact same way, which brought me back to how it was back then. The records live on, but the memories are searing, private, electric. Where we were, junior high, our risks, our victories, our losses, they’re all embodied in this music. Which was not evanescent and ridiculous like some critics believed, but definitely heart and soul material. I always used to ask my mother what it was like before TV, I couldn’t imagine it. Kids today can’t imagine the pre-internet days. But we had the radio. And records. And it was completely different. Radio was not jive, but still alive, kinda like MTV in the early eighties, when they were making it up. And you only had a few records, and you knew them through and through. And you’d punch the buttons on the car radio, turn the dial on the transistor, just praying your favorite would come on. There was no on demand culture whatsoever.
And after the soundcheck I went into the bowels of the building to catering, where Luke and Graham couldn’t stop talking politics, with no provocation, it’s on everybody’s mind, Kavanaugh, but how do you get your message out?
And then the stars started to pass through, Edgar Winter, Joe Walsh, and the show began.
It was about the audience. The girl in front of me was seven and three quarters, or so she told me, but this was not her first concert, she’d been to see Blondie, and she stood on her seat and danced the night away. Singing along to “Yellow Submarine” and “With A Little Help From My Friends,” there are certain songs we all know by heart. Which is so different from today, but that’s the way it was.
And it was astounding what applause Colin Hay got for the Men At Work numbers, which were ever-present thirty five years ago, but are rarely heard anymore. Kinda like “Tubthumping.” But if you were around, you know, and these people knew.
And these people were not hipsters, at least not in look. They were fans. That’s the power of music, at least the old music, how it could reach and touch everybody. To look and see everybody singing along…
And Gregg Rolie couldn’t be nicer. These aren’t players who gave up and went straight, they kept doing it. Colin Hay in Topanga, Rolie with Santana and Journey and back again. You’ve got no choice, you’ve got to play.
And all the performers got a huge reaction. “I’m Not In Love” and “The Things We Do For Love”…you’d figure the audience would ease up, applaud only for Beatle numbers, but that was not true. And Luke, the glue, wailed on his axe and the people ate it up, filling in Santana parts, doing “Rosanna” and “Africa.” If you ever thought this music was meaningless, passe, you should have been there last night.
But the show did not have an edge, that excitement when you’re coming up, that thrill, that tingle you get when you experience something for the first time.
But this was an audience which doesn’t see music as a sideshow, but a main course. They bought those Beatle albums. They remember when Toto dominated the airwaves. They can sing “I’m Not In Love” by heart.
So on one hand we’ve become our parents, celebrating what once was. Then again, so much of this is known by the younger generation.
But what is unknown by the younger generation is when music was everything. When you could not be a star at home, when there was no such thing as “influencers,” at least not those who weren’t household names, built within the system. Songs ran up and down the chart quickly. Go to summer camp and you missed stuff. And we listened to everything, white black and… It was a scene, comprehensible, and we could not get enough. The way you were talking about Kavanaugh and Ford the past few days, that’s the way we talked about the British Invasion, we were addicted to MTV instead of the news.
But times change.
Yet deep inside we’re still the same.
First and foremost they’re players. That’s why I think Ringo does these shows, he smiles when he plays. And they’re here to entertain us, but also themselves. And they do it not through sponsorship, but by playing. And they’re informed, and the work is hard, but when they take the stage and the audience lights up…