Dirty old river
Must you keep rolling
Rolling into the night
I was not exactly a schoolboy in disgrace. Not quite. But the school year could not end quickly enough to suit me.
It was May of 1978. My freshman year in college at Brockport was sputtering to its unremarkable conclusion. My roommate and I had been friends; now, we were barely speaking to each other. My grades weren't terrible, but nor were they anything special. I was drinking and partying too much, while deriving little pleasure from the process. I was neither a dedicated follower of fashion nor a well-respected man. I was...well, I was nothing much. I wanted to be more than that.
People so busy
Make me feel dizzy
Taxi light shines so bright
Musically, at least, there was something to be said for 1978 up to that point. I had seen The Flashcubes--Syracuse's own power pop powerhouse!--for the very first time that January, and that was special. I saw Elvis Costello & the Attractions on campus in February. Back home in Syracuse, I saw The Ramones and The Runaways (with The Flashcubes) over Spring break. Before the year was done, I would see New Math, Herman's Hermits, and Bob Dylan, plus a few more local acts, each of them as riveting in my mind as the internationally famous ones. Music provided me with something I may have otherwise lacked.
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
And, in May of 1978, I was going to see The Kinks.
I had become a fan of The Kinks during my senior year in high school. A year later, my Kinks kollection was still inkomplete, perfunktory. I owned the Kinks-Size LP, Sleepwalker, probably Schoolboys In Disgrace, a Kinks compilation called The Pye History Of British Pop Music, the "Well Respected Man" 45, and "You Really Got Me" and "All Day And All Of The Night" on the first two volumes of Sire Records' British Invasion anthology series The History Of British Rock.
The skimpy nature of my Kinks holdings up to this point would seem to contradict what is nonetheless true: I loved The Kinks. Wholeheartedly. I hadn't yet acquired an understanding of The Kinks' body of work, and I was still in the very early stages of building my own Kinks library. In the mean time, I sang along to "No More Looking Back," "Juke Box Music," and "Celluloid Heroes" on the radio, thrilled to see The Kinks on NBC's Saturday Night in '77, and mentally (if reluctantly) dedicated "Set Me Free" to my girlfriend Theresa at the end of '77, recognizing that things were moving way, way too fast between us for immature and unprepared little me. When I auditioned to be the singer for a country rock band in the Fall of '77, the band asked me what kind of music I liked to sing. The Kinks! was my immediate reply. This response was met with Ah, we don't like The Kinks. They didn't like me any better than they liked The Kinks. And the world kept going round.
Sha la la
Every day I look at the world from my window
Sha la la
Chilly chilly is the evening time
Waterloo sunset's fine
I needed to see The Kinks.
My friend Rich Firestone has noted (and I'm paraphrasing) that every boy's story of discovering The Kinks involves a girl. I'm no exception, given that my older sister Denise was a key link in my nascent but burgeoning Kinks fandom. But there was another girl on the periphery. Her name was Lisa, which she preferred to spell as "Lissa." In high school, I kinda thought Lissa and I would be married someday.
Yeah, I messed that one up pretty good.
Oh, I'd realized the error of my ways by '78, but it was way, way too late. If Lissa was ever interested in me as more than just a friend, she'd learned by then that she couldn't rely on me, couldn't trust me to refrain from breaking her heart. We were still friends. I would spend the summer of 1978 trying to earn the right to be more than just a friend, but that was all we could ever be.
Lissa discovered The Kinks through me, when we were still in high school. In 1977, digging The Kinks was like being in a secret club; at least that's how it seemed at my high school, where Lissa and I (and my friend Linda) were the only known members of that club. It wasn't a deep fandom; Linda lent me her "Lola" 45, and Lissa and I discussed The Kinks' SNL appearance in one of our lengthy phone conversations. I talked to Lissa on the phone nearly every night of my senior year in high school. I would use the phone in my family's basement for privacy, and stay on the line with her for God knows how long, chatting about music, and people, and music, and art, and music. In one conversation, Lissa even said, Wouldn't it be funny if you and I wound up getting married? Funny? Not to me it wouldn't.
I don't know whether or not Lissa ever knew quite how I felt. If not, I can't blame her; she certainly knew about my fickle nature, about all of my many other crushes. She knew I asked another girl to the Senior Ball in '77, and that I only asked Lissa after Girl # 1 declined. Lissa likewise opted out. Why did I do that? Mixed signals. Damn me.
(On the other hand, there was the time we learned that someone--never did find out who, and it wasn't me--had chalked her name and mine inside a heart upon a walk near our school: LISA LOVES CARL. She wanted to correct the spelling to her preferred "LISSA." She never got around to it.)
Lissa visited me at college in the fall of 1977. I was dating a girl named Sharon, and Lissa crashed in Sharon's dorm room. All friends, right? Some stupid without a flare gun set off a fire alarm, forcing the dorm's evacuation in the wee hours. Chilly, chilly is the evening time, so Sharon and Lissa both snuggled up against me for warmth. A guy strolling by saw the three of us and cried out in dismay, Two...?! Damn! Sharon, I think, rolled her eyes but may have also giggled. Lissa was amused by it.
We were copacetic then. I wouldn't actually break Lissa's heart until December, which was right after I broke Sharon's heart. The previously-mentioned Theresa turned my head, and it wasn't Theresa's fault, either. I regret my actions to this day. I called Lissa to tell her I planned to marry Theresa. The memory of the crack in Lissa's voice hurts me still, as it damned well should. I have no explanation. I have no excuse. I broke up with Theresa at the end of the year. That Kinks record echoed in my head: Set me free little girl. All you gotta do is set me free little girl. And I had thrown away any chance I could have had with Lissa. She would never think of me the same way again.
Terry meets Julie at Waterloo Station
Every Friday night
But I am so lazy
Don't want to wander
I stay at home at night
I still associate my memory of becoming a Kinks fan with my memory of Lissa. It's a tenuous connection at best. But it's there. It's always going to be there.
Lissa did not accompany me to see The Kinks, though she kind of did. If memory serves, I paid my pal Jay to buy my ticket while I was still off at college, and we would attend with our friend Joe Boudreau (whose sister Maura is now one half of The Kennedys). Lissa bought her ticket separately, and she would attend with Tom Bushnell, whom she'd recently introduced me to (and whom I'd introduce to the music of The Flashcubes in short order). Their seats were in the balcony; ours were on the floor. We all rode together in Jay's car.
The venue was The Landmark Theater, a classic old movie house (originally Lowe's State Theater, opened in 1928), then just recently saved from the wrecking ball that would have turned it into a parking lot. You can't demolish a landmark. On May 28th of 1978, this Landmark played host to The Kinks.
But I don't feel afraid
As long as I gaze on Waterloo sunset
I am in paradise
My life-long fixation on the music of the British Invasion remains undimmed. I was never going to see The Beatles in concert (though I would eventually see Paul McCartney, and attend a Ringo press conference). I wouldn't see The Rolling Stones until 1989 (the same week I saw The Kinks for the third and final time). I never got around to seeing The Who. As noted above, I would see Herman's Hermits (albeit without Peter Noone) in a bar that summer of 1978. In the '80s, I would be fortunate enough to see The Searchers and The Animals on separate occasions in Buffalo. But my first British Invasion concert would be The Kinks.
The opening act was another British group, Charlie. Years later, my future This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio co-host Dana Bonn would remember Charlie as a band that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be Yes or Cheap Trick. Yeah, Dana also saw this Kinks show at The Landmark, though this was years before we actually met. My memory of Charlie jibes with Dana's, though Tom Bushnell was a fan and enjoyed 'em just fine. Charlie did have a decent (if overly slick) pop tune called "She Loves To Be In Love," and I liked their performance of that; I remember being turned off by the smug nature of a song called "Watching TV." Charlie was not the band I was there to see.
Sha la la
In 1978, I did not yet know The Kinks' repertoire well enough to identify each song in the group's set. A new album called Misfits had just been released, and I doubt I'd heard much (if any) of that on the radio prior to the show. I didn't know deep cuts. Hell, I didn't know most of The Kinks' classics beyond "You Really Got Me," "All Day And All Of The Night," "Tired Of Waiting For You," "Well Respected Man," and "Lola." I may have known "I Need You" via a live cover by The Flashcubes. I knew "Sunny Afternoon," "Till The End Of The Day," "Where Have All The Good Times Gone," and "Dedicated Follower Of Fashion" from my Pye History Of British Pop Music LP, and I knew "Dead End Street" from a Rock Of The '60s video show Lissa and I had seen at Syracuse University in 1977. As a result, I don't have specific contemporaneous memories of much of what The Kinks played at The Landmark.
But there are some things I do remember.
If you're a music fan with breath and a pulse, you know this: there are moments in our concert-going lives that stand out, moments that simply shimmer in our recollections, moments that seem to live eternally, above and beyond our cherished memories of the concert as a whole. Carl Wilson singing "God Only Knows" at a Beach Boys show. Micky Dolenz singing "As We Go Along" at a Monkees show. David Bowie singing "Life On Mars?" Paul McCartney singing...well, that would be the whole McCartney show, I guess.
One of those moments was at The Landmark in 1978, when The Kinks performed "Waterloo Sunset."
Millions of people, swarming like flies 'round Waterloo underground
But Terry and Julie cross over the river
Where they feel safe and sound
I'm reasonably certain I'd never heard the song before. From that second forward, I would never forget it. A backdrop behind The Kinks displayed a projection simulating a sunset. The band played. Ray Davies sang. And we were in paradise.
According to setlist.fm, The Kinks opened the Landmark show with an instrumental vamp of "You Really Got Me." "Life On The Road," "Mr. Big Man," and "Sleepwalker" (all from Sleepwalker) followed, leading into "Waterloo Sunset." The new Misfits LP was mined for "Misfits," "Permanent Waves," and "Hay Fever." I don't know how many times Ray teased the opening lick of "Lola," declaring We're not doing that one tonight!, before The Kinks did indeed do that one that night, after "Hay Fever" (it says here).
It also says here that The Kinks did "Celluloid Heroes," but I am confident that song was not performed that night. The online setlist resource indicates two unidentified songs, alongside renditions of "You Really Got Me," "Sunny Afternoon," "Death Of A Clown," "Slum Kids," and "Well Respected Man," plus more from Misfits ("Trust Your Heart," "A Rock 'n' Roll Fantasy," and "Live Life"). Other than "Celluloid Heroes," my imprecise recollection has no cause to dispute any of this.
We always want great concerts to go on just a little longer. Sitting in The Landmark after The Kinks left the stage, the audience clamoring for an encore, there were still Kinks songs I wished I could hear right then and there. "Tired Of Waiting For You." "No More Looking Back," a Schoolboys In Disgrace favorite I knew damned well they'd never play. "Celluloid Heroes" would be nice. But there was one more song I wanted to hear above all others.
The Kinks returned to the Landmark stage. Ray thanked the band, thanked his guitar hero brother Dave Davies, thanked us all, and prepared to do just one more song. He said they couldn't decide whether to do "Celluloid Heroes" or another track from Sleepwalker (DO BOTH!, I yelled), but they settled on the latter.
And it was that song. The one I was waiting to hear.
"Juke Box Music" is an underrated, underappreciated track in Kinks canon. It's a cautionary pop song about the danger of paying too much attention to pop songs, the peril of letting the music dictate the way that we feel. I've certainly been guilty of that sin, then and now, but I adored the song anyway. Hearing it live capped a wondrous evening: my first Kinks concert.
The summer of '78 beckoned. My friend Tom helped me get a part-time job as a janitor at Sears, so I had pocket money for movies, records, and rock 'n' roll shows. I saw The Flashcubes every chance I had. At Record Theatre up on the SU hill, I scored a double-LP set called The Kink Kronikles, which included "Lola" and "Waterloo Sunset," and which filled me in on The Kinks' essential mid-to-late '60s output. Magic. More would follow in due time. God save The Kinks.
My parents were away in Missouri for part of the summer, so I had the house to myself. I was 18, but slightly more responsible than my history thus far would have implied. There were no wild parties. The occasional guests behaved themselves. I harbored an AWOL Marine. I sheltered a teenaged runaway girl. I did not date. A girl at work flirted lightly with me, and another girl tried to set me up on a blind date with a friend of hers. I played my records, my Bobby Fuller Four and my Generation X, my Sex Pistols, Jam, and Dave Clark Five, my Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. My Kinks. I prepared to return to school.
And I reluctantly gave up on the notion of Lissa and me. It wasn't going to happen, and we remained friends. I took her to see The Buddy Holly Story. Lissa developed a brief crush on Flashcubes guitarist Arty Lenin (He's beautiful!), but I don't think she dated during this time frame either. In school that October, I met Brenda, the girl that I would eventually marry. That was meant to be, and I'm so grateful fate gave me an opportunity to finally get it right.
Lissa moved around the country a bit, and she later had a son named Josh. She endured hardships and tragedy, but she did endure. She ultimately settled in California. Although she and I didn't really keep in touch, our few subsequent communications were warm and cordial. Lissa was one of the few great things in my life when I was in high school. I will always wish her the best.
Many, many years later, in a free-ranging conversation about our past loves, Brenda asked me if I ever regretted that Lissa and I didn't become a couple. I answered honestly: no. Of course I wish I had done more than a few things differently--a lot differently--but I think it was inevitable that Lissa and I would go our separate ways. We parted as friends. When I last saw her a decade ago, at the unfortunate occasion of her father's wake, we were still friends, still able to chat and let time slip away, to let the warmth of friendship be a comfort for our souls. We've not been in any contact since then. People so busy make me feel dizzy. It's possible that we may never speak again, as that dirty old river keeps rolling, rolling into the night. The memories will always be fond.
I saw The Kinks a total of three times, an impersonal arena show in Buffalo and an incongruous college gym show in Oswego both woefully unable to match the perfect memory of a perfect show at The Landmark in 1978. The Village Green Preservation Society became my favorite Kinks album, one of my favorite albums by anyone at any time. When my Dad died in 2012, I recited the lyrics to The Kinks' "Days" as part of his eulogy. The Kinks are recognized as the de facto house band on This Is Rock 'n' Roll Radio with Dana & Carl. When I'm asked to name my favorite Kinks song, I can only narrow it down to two: "You Really Got Me" and "Waterloo Sunset."
And they don't need no friends
As long as they gaze on Waterloo sunset
They are in paradise
I have one more odd Kinks recollection to share. In 1983 or '84, I was working at Mighty Taco in South Buffalo. Mighty Taco was open until 5 am to serve the bar crowd. This particular early morning, the store had been closed for the better part of an hour, and I was alone except for the overnight cleaning person. I had Buffalo's 97 Rock on the store's sound system to provide music as I finished my paperwork. I called the station and made a request. My request played.
The majestic sound of "Waterloo Sunset" boomed throughout the empty restaurant. But I don't feel afraid. Here's to you, Lissa. I thank you for the days. And I hope you still gaze on the sunset. I hope you are in paradise.
Sha la la.
Waterloo sunset's fine
Waterloo sunset's fine
"Waterloo Sunset" by Ray Davies, Warner Chappell Music, Inc./Abkco Music, Inc.
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