Friday, December 16, 2011

Halcyon Venues

I was a performer at a company holiday party recently, and in the aftermath was talking to people about having been in a band , and what sort of "wild" (or not) things we did and saw. And it made me want to see what I could find about our late-seventies musical context.

As we moved to a sort of pivotal era in Sacramento in 1978, our manager, utterly in character here:

- got us a gig, amazingly, opening for Talking Heads, who on a support tour for their second album, More Songs About Buildings and Food, agreed to play at a club called Cassidy's, and moreover, to charge a mere dollar for entry. Now Talking Heads '77 was not a debut album to catapult the band into a limelight much greater than, say, Was/Not Was (who? you might say), who had a debut at about the same time. But we thought they were phenomenal, or at the very least a couple of us did, and not just because of the somewhat specialty-tunish "Psycho Killer", this in particular still amazes me, not least because it wasn't on the record:

This is the sort of song that would have been played on Shake Some Action, a show on the Davis, California radio campus station KDVS at that time which featured "new wave" or punk new releases. And that show was influenced by what was happening at the Davis Coffee House, a single-story campus venue with a concrete floor accommodating perhaps an audience of 300, which became a concert venue casting a long shadow; on the SSA blog there's a recounting of some of the interesting events at the time:

"The Ramone's[sic] had tilted at the windmill of Sacramento's turgid rock scene at Slick Willy's in 1976. Sacramento bands like the Twinkeyz, Ozzie and Permanent Wave appeared on the scene the following year...A local bar named Cassidy's had made an effort to bring in some Bay Area talent....
And then the great coup! [Local impresario Peter] Afterman booked Elvis Costello & the Attractions to perform Feb. 8th, 1978 ... The tix were a pricey (for the time) $5.75! ...In the next year and a half [there and at the Davis Coffee House], Afterman brought in a slew of other top-level performers into the tiny venue: George Thorogood & the Destroyers, The Greg Kihn Band,.. Devo (which sold out almost a month in advance with tix only $2.50), Dave Edmunds and Rockpile (w/ Nick Lowe); "

And the list of influentials continues for the Coffee House, including XTC (supporting Drums and Wires) and The Police on the heels of their hit first album. It was impossible to see some of these acts as a performer and remain unchanged, and we were lucky to have tickets to many of them, particularly those who enjoyed multi-decade careers, for they continue to influence millenials. And, wonder of wonders, that chaotic 1976 gig of three local bands included something of a future star in a guest capacity, Kendra Smith of The Suspects:

When my quick researches were done, I found myself wondering whether there are still 300-seaters hosting soon-to-be legends. Sure hope so.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Magnificent Obsession

"My experience is nothing compared to what they have to deal with."
- Stephen Millhouse, walker for the homeless

I was struck by a recent story in the local paper about a man who decided to make a protracted forced march  for the homeless.

He decided not to concern himself with slings and arrows like our current 60+ mph wind gusts or anything else that might betide, but just to set out without another thought on foot for many days.

My first thought was of a friend who in high school around 1970 decided to try for the continuous pinball-playing record. He went for around two days, got his picture in the paper, and found out firsthand what it was to hallucinate due to exhaustion. I don't recall if it was a world record, but in any case he was handily outdone just a few years later by one Mr. Mowry, who went a full three days, losing feeling in his legs, among other things, on the way to  his victory .

The emphasis has gone down on continuous or repetitive events, at least in Guinness-Book-land - although 32 hours of continuous kissing was a notable relatively recent accomplishment - but certain people will always gravitate toward such things. And though there's something intuitive about that fact, what sort of personality lies behind it has remained somewhat of a mystery to me. I have never had the itch to run a marathon, deploy a hula hoop for a protracted time, or play Risk for 72 hours, just to say I did it, or have some particular sense of accomplishment.

One thing I did that ran somewhat in that vein was a commitment I made to myself, in the summer after high school graduation, to read a list of books, around twenty or a few more as I recall. It was a fairly dull, typically hot Sacramento summer, and blasting through a reading list in front of a fan seemed about right - "Franny and Zooey", "The Martian Chronicles", "A Tale of Two Cities", "The Wind in the Willows", and quite a few more provided punctuation to visits to a neighbor's swimming pool, lawn mowing, and getting the latest Mad magazine issue. I don't recall having the sense, at any point, of an impending deadline, or a feeling of "long haul", although as I initially assembled the list, it seemed largish.

And much later, I pursued my own version of the "Infinite Summer", D.F. Wallace readers' commitment to finishing his opus "Infinite Jest" in three months; mine was an Infinite Fall. But, again, that fall's activity didn't have that sort of "marathon" sense, and I wonder if I would have pursued it if it had. And I wonder if, on the times that I walked for ten miles and decided to pack it in rather than plan for twenty next time, I came to my senses or just wimped out.