Sunday, July 29, 2018

dirty lowdown

As you read this, I am sitting in a camp chair on the Camden Waterfront, enjoying the final day of an annual music festival — just the latest in a forty-plus year stretch of going to concerts. Here is a tale of my early concert-going days.
A day or so ago, Mrs. Pincus and I were in the car when our favorite radio station played a new song called "Radiator 110," by venerable singer/songwriter/guitarist William Royce Scaggs, more widely known by his prep school moniker: Boz.

Mrs. P smiled and bobbed her head to the music. "Have you heard this?," she asked. I replied that I had. "I like it.," she continued, explaining that she had always liked Boz Scaggs.

I, however, have never liked Boz Scaggs. I have never purchased a single one of his two dozen albums, including the two on which he served as guitarist and sometimes vocalist for The Steve Miller Band. I really have nothing against Mr. Scaggs. His voice is okay. His guitar playing is okay, too... I guess. The reason I don't like Boz Scaggs is stupid. But, in all honesty, has nothing to do with Boz Scaggs.

I have been a music lover since I was a child. When I was in grade school, my beloved Uncle Sidney gave me a stack of Beatles 45s that he "obtained" from a jukebox as part of the "sketchy" affairs through which he made a living. I spun those disks on the family hi-fi, mesmerized by the hypnotic yellow and orange Capitol Records label. Later, armed with some birthday money, I purchased my very first album - multi-Grammy winner "Tapestry" by Carole King. After buying more singles (including "Sugar Sugar" by The Archies and "Age of Aquarius" by The 5th Dimension), I went back to my old friends The Beatles and made their self-titled "White Album" my second album purchase. After that, my music obsession went full steam ahead. More albums and singles. Music magazines. Listening to songs on the radio. But one part of my love for music was missing. Concerts. But, at the time, going to a concert never occurred to me. My parents regularly attended shows at the nearby Valley Forge Music Fair. My mom went to see Sergio Franchi, the charismatic Italian tenor, every time he performed at the famed Latin Casino nightclub in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Once, we even went as a family to "the Latin" to see crooner Bobby Darin just a month before he passed away. I remember an older cousin passing on my brother's Bar Mitzvah, opting instead to see Jefferson Airplane at the Philadelphia Spectrum. My brother went to concerts, too... I suppose. At the time, I just thought it was something that older people did. That is, until a couple of classmates told me they were going to see Elton John. "What do you mean 'going to see'?" I questioned, "Do you know him? How are you going to see him?" They clarified their statement. They had bought tickets to his upcoming concert in Philadelphia. Suddenly, a light bulb went off in my 14 year-old head! "You can do that?," I thought. I now saw things from a new perspective. Maybe I was an "older person," and the time has come for me to go to a concert. 

When I got home from school, I scoured the Philadelphia Bulletin for concert listings, something I had never done before. I read that shock-rocker Alice Cooper was bringing his malevolent Welcome to My Nightmare Tour for a stop at the Spectrum in my hometown. I had — and loved — the "Welcome to My Nightmare" album. I asked my mom for permission to buy a ticket (a whopping six dollars of savings I earned from hawking pretzels at a busy intersection in Northeast Philadelphia). When she agreed, I asked if she could chauffeur a few friends and me to the show. My mom — a sympathetic rocker herself — conceded. On April 25, 1975, I found myself in a darkened Spectrum among a throng of frenzied fans watching a tuxedoed and mascaraed Mr. Cooper execute a Busby Berkeley-style chorus line, flanked by six-foot tall black widow spiders. He also executed a giant menacing cyclops. It was well worth the entire six bucks.

I was bitten by the concert bug. I wanted — nay, needed — to go to another as soon as possible. Granted, funds were low. I'd have to sell a lot of street corner pretzels to buy another ticket at these steep prices. It wasn't until a year later that I attended my second concert: America with former Raspberries lead singer Eric Carmen opening the show. America? Really? "A Horse with No Name" America? After Alice Cooper? I know, I know. But I was desperate. I wanted to go to another concert so badly that I was willing to see the first band that I heard of. I knew some America songs from the radio, but I wouldn't number myself among their die-hard fans (Do they even have die-hard fans?) I bought a ticket — setting me back a full dollar more than my Alice Cooper admission! The show was... okay. Not awful. Just not spectacular. They sang a bunch of their familiar sunny, silly Top 40 hits. Actually, it was pretty forgettable, but it was a concert nonetheless. I redeemed myself later in 1976 by attending a concert by the ubiquitous Elton John, touring in support of his "Rock of the Westies" album, an album that, despite the inclusion of the achingly putrid "Island Girl," would become my favorite Elton John release. 

With three shows under my belt, I was now an official "concert veteran." I eagerly participated in those regular high school "concert conversations." (Who have you seen? Oh I saw them. They were great!) I was constantly planning and deciding which would be my next concert. So were my friends. 

My friend Hal knew a guy named Mike. Although the word didn't exist five decades ago, Mike was — what you would now call — a "frenemy."  I knew him, but I didn't particularly like him. He was loud and overbearing and one of those people who was an expert on everything.  But, he was Hal's friend, so I put up with him. One day, I was at Hal's house and we were listening to records. I put on my copy of Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours." I wasn't a fan of the band, but it was an album that everyone had. Plus, if you were a 16 year-old male in 1977, Stevie Nicks was the shit! While we listened, Hal noticed, in the newspaper, that Mick Fleetwood and company were coming to Philadelphia in a month or so. We decided we would go and, since Mike was there, we felt obliged to invite him along. Mike had never been to a concert before. He was obviously excited by the idea, but tried to hide his excitement behind a shield of forced, cool indifference. It was pretty annoying. Exactly the thing I didn't like about Mike.

The night of the concert rolled around. Hal, Mike and I rode the bus and then the imposing Broad Street Subway to the South Philadelphia venue. Mike was so ecstatic, one would have thought we were headed to an audience with the Queen of England. He yammered on with unsubstantiated authority about the location of our seats (in a venue he had never visited) and the band (whose albums he didn't own) and — due to his limited concert and music experience — repeated himself several times. The show itself was good. Kenny Loggins opened the night, followed by a substantial hit-filled set by Fleetwood Mac. Strangely, they skipped "Don't Stop," despite its inclusion on the playlist of every radio station in the country. At the show's conclusion, Mike picked up his non-stop monologue where he had left off, only now, as the veteran of a single concert, he was an expert. He sang wrong lyrics to songs he had just heard, awkwardly fitting them into tuneless melodies. It was maddening.

During the next week at school, Mike cornered me in a hallway as I was retrieving some books from my locker. "Hey!," he began. Was he initiating a conversation with me? He was Hal's friend, not mine. What does he want? I thought. 

"Yes?" I replied. 

"You wanna go see Boz Scaggs?," Mike asked. Why was he asking me? Oh right! I'm his concert buddy now. Shit! I rolled my eyes. 

"What?," I said, hoping for a little clarification. 

"The Scaggs show. You wanna go see Scaggs?," he elaborated, narrowing his eyes, cocking his head and forcing an air of coolness about himself, like he had been to hundreds of concerts. It wasn't working. He looked and sounded like an idiot. And "Scaggs?" What the hell was that? Why does he keep saying that? Who was he trying to impress? Me, I suppose. 

"Uh, no," I answered, "I'm not a big fan of Boz Scaggs." He looked dejected, but tried to maintain his stupid "cool." It was apparent that Mike had been bitten by the concert bug as well and wanted to see another concert as soon as possible... even if it was a performer with whom he was not familiar. (At least I held out for America, a band from whom I could name a number of songs.) 

"Awright, I'll see if someone else wants to see Scaggs." His voice trailed off as he walked away. Finally, I wouldn't have to hear him say "Scaggs" again.

So, there. That's it. That's the stupid reason I don't like Boz Scaggs. Because Hal's friend Mike ruined him for me. Even if I had the notion to give Boz a second chance and another listen —  in my head, I'd only hear Mike saying "You wanna go see Scaggs?" Ugh. That was forty years ago! Some things stick with you forever. No matter what you do, you just can't shake 'em.

My apologies, Boz. Blame Mike.
This is a very unusual photograph. It was taken in 1977.
I was not friendly with anyone in the picture... especially Mike, who is second from the left. That's me in the center.

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