Although my concert-going resume is neither unique nor outstanding, I have a pretty good collection of live music memories. My virtual ticket stub gallery includes concerts by The Kinks (three times), The Rolling Stones (twice), KISS (twice), Prince, David Bowie, The Beach Boys (with Carl Wilson singing "God Only Knows"--top that!), Tina Turner, The Animals, The Monkees (twice with Micky, Peter & David, once with Micky, Peter & Michael), Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, and Talking Heads; I saw The Flashcubes countless times, The Ramones nine times, Johnny Thunders, David Johansen, The Pretenders, Joe Jackson, The Records, The Searchers, The Fleshtones, The Runaways, The Saints, The Bangles, Let's Active, The Pete Best Band, Artful Dodger, The Rascals, The Ventures, The Grip Weeds, Iggy Pop, and Cockeyed Ghost, among a long list of others. And that doesn't even count free outdoor shows by the likes of Ray Charles, The Everly Brothers, Gene Pitney, Don McLean, and Belgium's phenomenal pop combo Freaky Age.
While my circle of friends and family can add some significant concert memories that make me jealous--both my brother-in-law and my friend Pete Kennedy saw The Beatles, my sister saw Led Zeppelin, my friend Dawn Franits saw The Jimi Hendrix Experience open for The Monkees, and my friends Greg Ogarrio and Fritz Van Leaven each saw The Sex Pistols--I sure can't complain about the length and breadth of my own live music experiences.
Well, except for today's blog. Because today, I'm gonna talk about the live shows that got away.
Few music fans are able to take advantage of all opportunities to see live concerts and club shows. Lack of money, lack of time, lack of the vital oomph on the night you need that oomph--all sorts of factors can cause us to miss a show, even when we suspect we're gonna regret that decision later. Here are a few of my missed concert opportunities.
|Right tour, but a little after the Syracuse date|
ALICE COOPER with SUZI QUATRO
To a 15-year-old kid in 1975, nothing in the world was cooler than Alice Cooper. Before KISS, before punk, Alice Cooper was gaudy and dangerous, potentially the most scandalous, depraved character on AM radio. It didn't matter that it was all an act--show biz!--or that David Bowie was ultimately a far more potent threat to the straight-laced status quo; at the time, Alice Cooper seemed the most dangerous, and therefore the most alluring. In the mid-'70s, an adolescent or young teen that couldn't relate to "School's Out," or didn't want to turn the radio up louder than it could actually go whenever that song came on...well, that kid just would not have been me.
Some older kids on my school bus had seen Alice Cooper's Syracuse stop on the Billion Dollar Babies tour (in 1973, I think). When the Welcome To My Nightmare tour scheduled a May 1, 1975 date at the Onondaga County War Memorial, I knew I had to be there. Ooo, and Suzi Quatro was opening! Suzi Quatro!!! In '75, I doubt I'd yet heard a note of Suzi Quatro's music, but I knew I'd seen her in Rolling Stone, and I knew I was madly, deeply in love with her. This was a show I could not miss!
|The future Mrs. Suzi Quatro-Cafarelli in 1975. And yes, that would be her bridal wardrobe.|
LOU REED; MEATLOAF
As I wrote here, I bought a ticket to see Lou Reed in the Spring of '78, my freshman year at the State University College at Brockport. Wasn't much of a Reed fan at the time, and I hadn't even heard The Velvet Underground yet. But I was a punk, baby, and I was looking forward to seeing this guy that was supposed to be such a big influence on all my new favorite bands. And I was hoping Reed would at least be able to finish his damned show at Brockport; Elvis Costello and the Attractions had been basically chased off stage by my cretinous fellow students at his Brockport concert that February. But Reed never made it to Brockport at all that year; he cancelled his appearance due to illness. Meatloaf was also supposed to appear in a separate concert at Brockport that Spring, but also cancelled. Wimps.
|Not The Byrds.|
One of the most stupid reasons I've ever had for missing a concert. I was a huge fan of The Byrds, so it was great news to me when three of the band's founding five--Roger McGuinn, Gene Clark, and Chris Hillman--reunited with a new album and tour. My excitement dissipated when I heard the new group's single, "Don't You Write Her Off," on the radio, and found it boring. When this Byrdly trio was set to visit Brockport, I won a free ticket from the college radio station, but could muster little enthusiasm. You know what?, I asked myself rhetorically, I bet they won't even do any Byrds songs. Screw that! Plus, there was a floor party in my dorm that night: beer and girls! Really no choice at all, right? Still, I wasn't quite certain. Somehow, some girl I didn't know found out I had a ticket to this sold-out show her friends were going to. She pouted with her pretty face, batted her pretty eyes, and begged, "Pretty please?" I sold her the tickets at face value, and never saw her again. Dorm party was a big ol' nothin'. And the next day, I heard from friends who'd seen the show, raving about McGuinn, Clark & Hillman performing all of The Byrds' classic tunes, from "Eight Miles High" to "So You Wanna Be A Rock 'n' Roll Star." I hope the girl enjoyed it, at least.
THE DEAD BOYS, THE TROGGS
These weren't so much missed opportunities as they were the results of a choice, and it's a choice I don't regret at all. I spent my Spring Break in 1979 downstate, visiting my girlfriend on Staten Island, with a side trip to visit a high school buddy at Stony Brook. New York City was, to me, the capital of the world, and this would be my first chance to see a rock 'n' roll club show in Manhattan. I had little time, even less money, so I perused my options in The Village Voice and picked my hometown heroes, The Flashcubes, at a Bowery dive called Gildersleeves. That meant passing up on both The Dead Boys and The Troggs, who also had NYC club shows that week, but I don't think my timing would have worked out for either of them. So the 'Cubes were my first New York club show, and also my last New York club show; my subsequent trips to New York never allowed me another opportunity to get to Max's Kansas City or CBGB's. That part I do regret, a lot. I remember walking past CBGB's en route to Gildersleeves, and that's the closest I ever got.
My heroes have always been junkies. I was a huge fan of Johnny Thunders, and my favorite Thunders incarnation--even more than The New York Dolls, I think--was when he was with The Heartbreakers. I bought a copy of The Heartbreakers' Live At Max's Kansas City '79, and wore the grooves of that LP down deeper'n the tracks on Johnny Thunders' arms. I was still living in Brockport when I heard that The Heartbreakers would be playing at Scorgie's in Rochester, a mere 19 miles away. Slight problem: I didn't own a car. But a co-worker was a frequent visitor to Scorgie's; she didn't have a car either, but she knew the bus schedule, and would help me navigate my way to Heartbreakers Heaven. Problem solved! Ah, but the solution was itself a problem; my girlfriend hated The Heartbreakers, and had no interest in seeing them, but she sure as hell wasn't going to sit quietly while I went to see them with another girl. Big fight. Rather than exacerbate tension, I gave in, and gave up on ever seeing The Heartbreakers live. Did at least get a chance to see Thunders solo a few years later.
As a pale 'n' pasty suburban kid, soul music beyond Motown pop was an acquired taste. In the summer of 1980, I was hanging out one evening with my friend and neighbor Les Odom, a college pal who now lived in my apartment complex. (I haven't been able to prove it, but I'm pretty sure that contemporary Broadway star and Hamilton fave rave Leslie Odom, Jr. is my old friend Les' son.) The evening's festivities alternated between two highlights: watching Ted Kennedy's firebrand speech at the Democratic National Convention, and listening to James Brown's Live At The Apollo LP. A few years later, I picked up my first James Brown records, a bunch of beat-but-wonderful 45s rescued from a basement rummage sale in Buffalo. So when James Brown--the Godfather of Soul, Soul Brother # 1, the hardest working man in show business--scheduled a club show in Buffalo, you'd figure I'd be there for sure.
But I never got tickets. I thought I'd be the only white guy there.
My reasons for missing McGuinn, Clark & Hillman were dumb enough; my thought process (or lack thereof) for missing James Brown was beyond mere stupidity, surpassed mere idiocy, and rocketed deep into the realm of just schedule-my-freakin'-lobotomy already. First off, the reason itself was no reason at all: so what if I'd been the only white guy there? This wasn't a trip to some forbidden, secret no-honkies African-American stronghold in a Shaft movie, for God's sake; Brown's show was at The Tralfamadore Cafe, a very nice venue where I'd seen The Searchers, Lyres, and Peter Tork Project. Furthermore, there was no way, no way in hell, that this wouldn't be a racially-mixed audience. And it was James Brown!! Decades later, I'm still embarrassed by the memory of what a monumental goddamned dumbass I was. Please: don't tell Les.
RICK NELSON, LOS LOBOS
Two more shows I missed at The Tralfamadore Cafe, both just victims of the no-money blues. Nelson's plane crash was not long after his Buffalo show.
Also a casualty of insufficient funds, but this one hurt. I don't remember the exact year, some time in the late '80s, but it was right around my wedding anniversary, July 21st. The legendary Del Shannon was playing a show not far from Syracuse. Tickets were a little pricey by my standards at the time, and I think timing may have been an issue with my work schedule. But mainly, it was the price of the tickets; they weren't exorbitant, but they were priced high enough that I had to think about it, and I decided I couldn't afford to spend the money right then. My friend Rich Firestone tells a similar story about missing a Gene Pitney show for the same reason. In both of our separate circumstances, both Rich and I thought--or at least hoped--we'd get another chance to see a cherished artist. That chance never came.
I had the tickets in my hand! For McCartney's New World Tour in 1993, The Cute One was going to make his first-ever Central New York appearance, a June 9th show at Syracuse's Carrier Dome. You can see his set list online even now, but don't be fooled--McCartney's Syracuse show never happened, and he has yet to appear in concert in Syracuse. I've heard a couple of reasons why this show was cancelled, either for disappointing ticket sales or a scheduling conflict with time Macca and his band needed for a TV performance. I figure he owes me this one.
Though not as well-known as anyone else on this list, the band Mannix is a long-time favorite on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. Their track "Highway Lines" is one of my all-time favorite tracks by anybody, so when Mannix's Come To California tour hit Syracuse, of course I was gonna be there! And I would have been there, if flu-like symptoms hadn't effectively grounded me for the night. At least Dana went; and he never tires of telling me what a great show I missed.
There were many other acts I missed along the way, of course: Dr. Demento, The Laughing Dogs, R.E.M., The Long Ryders, The Police, The Fabulous Poodles, Devo (another cancelled show, that one), The Godfathers (had to choose between three different shows that night, and picked The Ventures over either The Godfathers or The Bodeans), The Go-Go's, X, INXS, The Divynls, Bruce Wooley and the Camera Club (cancelled before it was even scheduled!), Aretha Franklin, Magazine, Foghat, Cyndi Lauper, The Grateful Dead, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. And yeah, I know how lucky I am to have seen the many shows I did get to see, from The dB's to The Posies to Bob Dylan to Peter, Paul & Mary. But sometimes you want to pause, and think about the ones that got away.