Thursday, January 20, 2011

First Communion

David Lee Roth
29 September 1986: Richfield Coliseum, Richfield, Ohio

The first concert concert I attended was David Lee Roth at the Richfield Coliseum. I went to the show with Courtney. She was a few years older than me and had just moved to the school district. My dad was in the local Lions Club chapter and I believe Courtney’s dad joined when they moved to our area. I seem to recall meeting her at one of our dads’ Lions Club family functions.

My musical tastes and my parents’ rarely cross, but especially then. My older sister Karen was into popular music – I remember her going to Rick Springfield and Jack Wagner and Corey Hart concerts in high school, all pretty tame. I am, however, grateful for the music Karen exposed me to and my subsequent appreciation for early ’80s pop mus
ic. From there, though, I moved on to a cocktail of hard rock and classic rock, a fairly natural progression for mid-’80s Midwestern adolescent. Rush, Boston, Aerosmith, Def Leppard, The Doors, Mötley Crüe, Led Zeppelin, and, of course, Van Halen.

I was a huge Van Halen fan in middle school and early high school. While I was ok with the Van Hagar incarnation (and saw them a couple of ye
ars later headline the Monsters of Rock Tour), it was the original lineup that always made me giddy. And, although Diamond Dave’s output took a nosedive after Eat ‘Em and Smile, that first solo album was a lot of fun.

With the Eat ‘Em and Smile concert just days before my sixteenth birthday and that I was going with someone older my parents seemed to trust, they relented and let me go. I don’t remember too much about the concert, to be honest. I vaguely remember the glam (now seemingly camp) metal group Cinderella opening for Roth. They had a few songs with videos that were in fairly heavy rotation on MTV that were up my alley a
t the time.

The now-long gone Richfield Coliseum was a cinderblock affair set in the middle of nowhere, about 20 miles south of Cleveland, and the only venue in Northeast Ohio outside of the Blossom Music Center amphitheater nearby in Cuyahoga Falls. These venues would be the site of the bulk of my mainstream concert-going activities until discovering modern rock/college radio acts in the late ’80s and the smaller downtown Cleveland stages they hung about.

Courtney got our tickets. Our seats were probably about two-thirds of the way down the floor, on an aisle, next to the front corner of the mixing board. The metal folding chair may or may not have been red cushioned, but even 25 years later I can recall that feeling of heady excitement standing on the deathtrap, straining for the best possible view of Diamond Dave while doing my best to not lose my balance and be eaten by the chair Snoopy style à la A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Much like Cinderella’s set, I couldn’t tell you specifics about what Roth and his band played that night. I don’t remember any of Steve Vai’s solos or Billy Sheehan’s playing. What I do remember was being struck by the somehow intimate experience of sharing the night with 20,000 strangers. And that communal feeling extended beyond the night of the show. I remember buying my first concert t-shirt and wearing it to school the next day. I was suddenly in a club – exclusive to those that had been to a rock show, a concert at the Coliseum. I had credibility of sorts. It was a very cool feeling.

I lost track of Courtney quickly after she graduated, but I will always be grateful for her role in finally getting me to my first rock show.

I may not be a huge David Lee Roth fan these days, but that first experience of witnessing music I love live – the raw power, the transcending energy, the sense of community – was transformative. For a kid to whom music was so important to anyway, the live experience forever altered how I both perceive and listen to music.

Monday, January 17, 2011

When Music Matters Most

My blog post on The Cure’s Disintegration has prompted some great feedback via comments, Twitter, and email. One of those personal emails was from my good friend and musical confidant Jeff. I’m of the mind that if he had intended for the contents of the email to be shared with a wider audience, he would have sent it as a comment on the blog, but there are some sentiments in his email that I think are worth exploring a bit and using as a jumping off point.

Jeff agreed with my observations on the importance of specific albums being tied to the fervor of one’s fandom at the time of its release, as well as the ties between songs and memories. But to me, his most interesting observation was that “all of the really memorable and important albums [in his life] are from high school and college.”

This is an idea I have always maintained. I wear my sentimentality on my sleeve, and I have no problem looking backwards in order to understand my present. There is something to be said about that period in your life – college in particular, that carries immense weight in shaping who we become as adults.

Jeff and John and I all went to college together, and they, along with Jen and Erin, were my closest friends that freshman year at Bowling Green. John and I have talked at length about the importance of the first year of college. Never before or after in one’s life do we find ourselves away from home for the first time, thrown into a hyper-real mini-society that combines all the cliquishness of high school with the quasi-responsibility of young adulthood. Everything is dramatic. Every decision is the Most. Important. Decision. Ever.

Because of this, at least among my friends it seems, the music of that era is imparted with more significance than music from any other time in our lives. Meeting and dating my wife, getting married. All arguably more significant periods in my life, and music accompanied them all, but not in the way it did when I was 18 and 19 years-old. I have mentioned before how U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind is the only album I can think of that entered my adult consciousness with anywhere near the importance of the music from my youth.

Last year, I wrote about that significance this way in a blog post about Nine Inch Nails’ Pretty Hate Machine: “The closest any other album has ever come to being as fundamentally meaningful to a period in my life is U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Released just after my 30th birthday at the end of 2000, this collection of songs became the soundtrack to our return to Ohio after ten years away, our trip to Paris, the birth of our son, our friendship with Jeff and Anna, our post-9/11 trip to New York City in December 2001, and on and on. But it was different, in that this was a collective soundtrack for experiences Tracy and I shared. And if you’re lucky, your thirties inhabit a very different worldview from that of your 19-year-old self.”

From a practical perspective, I don’t think we consume music in the same way we once did. Listening to Disintegration over and over as I was writing about the album, I recognized that as each song was ending I knew instinctively the next song’s opening notes. I anticipated them, and took comfort in that familiarity. I think that comes from being a product of the last generation to listen to music on LPs and cassette tapes. There was no “shuffle” or downloaded singles. It wasn’t until compact discs that we had a random play option outside of mix tapes (which, of course, are set playlists anyway). And now with digital downloads we live in a singles driven, “album optional” world.

While the way music is consumed affects what is listened to (i.e., our downloadable world lends itself to singles versus whole albums), that doesn’t diminish the importance of the music to today’s youth. I’m sure they are hit just as hard by “their” music today as we were at the same age by “our” music.