Over the past few weeks, I’ve been seeing ads for the upcoming summer concert season, and it’s impossible not to notice that a lot of the tours feature bands from my teenage years.
Joan Jett is touring with Styx, Journey with Def Leppard, Chicago with REO Speedwagon, Foreigner with Whitesnake. Even Toto is dusting off their handful of hits for a 40th anniversary celebration. And then there’s the recently-announced Broadway jukebox musical based around the music of the Go-Go’s.
The Go-Go’s were my first live concert experience. July 11, 1984, at the Utica Memorial Auditorium. I was 15. They were on their Prime Time tour in support of their Talk Show album. The opening band was INXS, a band almost no one in my small rural town had heard of. The Aud, as we called it, was more likely to see stops by Ozzy, Blue Öyster Cult, and KISS than they were the artists who populated the Top 40.
My older cousins often attended these shows, which I was forbidden by my mother to go to because rock music was deemed detrimental to my spiritual well-being. Also, she’d heard that marijuana was involved. But my cousins kindly brought me concert shirts from every show, which I dutifully wore over long-sleeved white thermal underwear shirts in the required social uniform of our school.
My mother must have decided that the Go-Go’s were nice, harmless girls, because I don’t remember her giving me much trouble about wanting to go. As for myself, I really only knew the band from their radio hits. I also had a 45 single of “We Got the Beat,” which I liked to play at 33 speed on my turntable because it made them sound like a male Motown group. I mostly wanted to go to the concert because I had never been to one and some friends from school were going.
I remember nothing about INXS, and what I remember most about the Go-Go’s was that the second O on the big electric sign that hung behind drummer Gina Schock was burned out, so that it kept flashing GO-Gs, which we found hysterical.
But I also remember how glorious it all was. The show was general admission, I think, or maybe we just all gravitated to the big open floor of the arena so that we could be close to the stage. Down there, the music was thunderous, and we danced badly and with abandon. I remember in particular my friend Margaret, usually reserved and quiet, thrashing around without a care, tossing her head and swinging her arms along with Belinda Carlisle as she performed “Cool Jerk.” It was like seeing the person who lived inside of her.
Margaret was one of the people killed in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center buildings. Whenever I think of her, I remember 15-year-old her dancing with no thought to the future. It was summer, and we were happy to be out of school. None of us, I suspect, were thinking about growing old, let alone dying.
Now, as I’m about to turn 50, I think about dying more and more. Not because 50 is all that old, but because it’s an age where people in our lives tend to start passing away. Parents. Teachers. Sometimes friends. And, increasingly, the people who created the music that meant so much to me when I was younger.
Prince. Tom Petty. Whitney Houston. Michael Jackson. All huge when I was a teenager. All gone now. I saw Prince in concert, by the way, on the Purple Rain tour. That time, my mother did throw a fit. It was actually the only time I saw her and my father argue. He won, I got to go, and I will be forever thankful. I also am thankful that I got to see Tom Petty, although I was grown then and didn’t have to ask anyone’s permission.
Now when I see that an old favorite is touring, the first thing I do is look to see if any of the original members are still involved. Usually, only a few are, and generally not the singers who made them famous. Steve Perry left Journey long ago. Dennis DeYoung hasn’t sung with Styx in almost twenty years. Foreigner, with only one original member at all, is essentially a cover band.
Still, I’m sometimes tempted. My friend Stephanie and I bonded over our shared love of KISS when we were nine and lived across the street from one another. We talked endlessly about going to see them, but it never happened. At least until the night of July 12, 2014 (almost 30 years to the day since I saw the Go-Go’s) when we finally saw our favorite childhood band live, celebrating our lifelong friendship as we sang along to “God of Thunder” and “Rock and Roll All Nite.” Did it matter that Peter and Ace weren’t on stage with Paul and Gene?
Not one bit.
Michael Thomas Ford’s most recent novel, Lily, is a Tiptree Award long list title and is a finalist for the Lambda Literary award and the Shirley Jackson Award. More Michael Thomas Ford