In a previous post I discussed some of my concert experiences. I mentioned that I was a late bloomer with respect to concerts; I recently found a box containing some old movie, concert and other event concert tickets, and my first concert was August 13th, 1984 at Irvine Meadows Amphitheater in Irvine, CA, to see Billy Idol. I can remember that it was hot; I think I was wearing a tank top and jeans, as well as a studded leather bracelet in imitation of Mr. Idol that had been given to me by a girl. At that time I was 17 and I worked during the summers at a candy and ice cream store right across the street from the Seal Beach pier in Seal Beach, California. This was a cool place to work; I got the job the summer before when an old babysitter of mine told me about it. The owners were these two older people who took no shit; I had to pass a “giving change” test just to get interviewed! As an aside, I can still figure change in my head to this day; funny how those old skills die hard. It was a fun place to work, busy as heck in summer (we were open until 11 PM and were usually there a half an hour or more cleaning up afterward) but sort of a central gathering place for tourists, beach crowds, locals, surfers, punkers, kids, etc. In the winter the tourists and beach crowds left and it was usually just the locals and us.
The people who worked there were high school kids mostly, though there were some college age folks and even older people. One of the older guys was Robert, the day manager, who was working there and attending acting classes through USC’s extension program. I remember he was in a couple commercials and music videos (the one I remember specifically was the video for the song “Turn To You” by the Go-Go’s, the one where they dressed up as guys). The high school kids were a smattering from the local high schools from Seal Beach, Los Alamitos, and Long Beach (where I was from, just one town over). It was cool because you got to meet a lot of different people from different schools. When I started it was mostly girls who worked there though it waxed and waned, and I quickly became friends with several older girls (they were seniors and I was a lowly sophomore and junior).
Part of the reason I wasn’t into concerts then was because we instead were into the dance club scene, and would drive up to Los Angeles (the Big City) to go to the dance club 321, located at 321 3rd Street in Santa Monica. Long Beach and the local cities were really provincial back then (and still are to a big extent) and this was considered to be a very wild thing to do, to go to a dance club in the big city. Never mind that it was an underage (16 and under) club so no alcohol was served, it was still a very big deal.
321 was a 3 level club; you entered on the main level, which was usually deserted and served mostly as a meeting area for the other two parts of the club but occasionally they would put on a live concert there. I remember one time seeing a band called The Mod Squad there; never found out what happened to them, they had a cool name, particularly at that time, when the Paisley Underground scene was so popular. The upstairs was 21 and over and served alcohol (we never even TRIED to go up there), the downstairs was the underage club, in the basement. It was really just a big black painted room with mirrors on the walls, a DJ booth, a “bar” that served overpriced, watered down sodas, and a couple of carpeted risers (where the REALLY cool folks would dance, so they could be above everyone and be seen all around the club).
I barely remember dancing with any girls ever; I was really shy and super intimidated by the sophisticated LA girls. Little did I know that most of the REALLY sophisticated girls were sneaking into over-18 and over-21 clubs in the city. But luckily it was okay to dance by yourself or with friends (sounds pretty lame now). But it was still fun to see and be seen.
The songs I remember being cool there were pretty much across the map musically: “People Are People” by Depeche Mode, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Centipede” by Reba Jackson, “Smalltown Boy” and “Why” by the Bronski Beat, and the most popular song of all was “White Lines” by Grandmaster Flash. There was even this dance that went with it: when the lyrics got to the part where they said “Higher baby; get HIGHER baby; get HIGHER BABY, AND DON’T EVER COME DOWN, FREEBASE!” you would raise one hand palm upward then the other and so forth.
So instead of attending live concerts we mostly went to 321 and danced. That year (1983-1984) we probably went a couple dozen times, maybe less. I took to affecting a very generically Anglophilic, post-punk/new wave look—very short hair spiked up with gel in the front and top, baggy black or olive linen pants (no parachute pants though), white t-shirt with a dark shirt or sweatshirt over it, black leather shoes with white socks. It was a pretty generic post-punk look.
My friends and I also started smoking clove cigarettes then because pretty much everyone did at the dance clubs (they were popular with a wide swath of teenage culture, from surfers to punks to new wave kids to mods); I was never more than a very sporadic recreational smoker (thankfully) and mostly did it to look cool on weekends (I can never remember smoking cloves any other time or place, maybe an occasional house party but that was it, and once I felt like I was smoking too much, I simply quit cold turkey and never smoked again) and to get a little buzz on. Clove cigarettes were flavored with clove oil and had a very distinctive flavor and smell; the smell of one now INSTANTLY transports me back to those high school weekend nights like almost nothing else. My friends and I all smoked Djarum brand cloves. It was right around this time that some research came out about clove cigarettes being even worse for you than regular cigarettes, and there were rumors of surfers who were coughing up blood from smoking them too much, which was a main reason why I quit.
The only other reason my club going days were noteworthy were that it was also the one and only time I tried pot and it actually did anything for me. I’d tried pot two or three times before, usually with my brainy friends (weird how some of the biggest potheads at my high school were super smart college-bound kids; in fact, the one time I went to SCORE pot in some seedy downtown area of Long Beach was with a guy who had literally gotten a perfect 800 on his math SAT—and in the 700’s on his verbal SAT—and who eventually went to Berkeley and became a medical doctor) but it had never done anything for me. One night going up to 321 with two platonic girl friends from work we smoked pot in the car before going in; one girl was dating the biggest drug dealer at my high school and had scored some primo pot from him. I can remember feeling just very disconnected and mellow but also way out of it; in fact, after getting out of the car I lit up a clove, took a few puffs, then put it out on my palm and never felt a thing. At that moment I realized I didn’t like how out of it pot made me feel so that was the last time I smoked it.
Anyway, several of these girls and I decided to attend the Billy Idol concert in summer of 1984. I was REALLY into Billy Idol at this stage, and around this time got really seriously into his first band, Generation X, too. I guess Billy Idol was rebellious enough, but still safe enough, for an honor’s classes kid like me. Looking back it seems like cheesy cartoon rebellion but what can you say? About the only good thing was that Billy Idol served as a “gateway artist”: I got into Billy Idol, then into Generation X, and then into the Pistols and the Clash, and then eventually into X and Black Flag.
One thing I remember is that one of the girls was house sitting for a friend in Belmont Shore (a beachfront community within Long Beach) and we all went there to meet up to go to the concert. One of the girls, Debbie, offered to cook us dinner but didn’t know how to cook and managed to dirty every pot in the entire house and all we got out of it was some melted gruyere cheese on bread! So I can remember being totally starving going to the concert. That was also one of the first times in my life I ever saw MTV, which had just hit the Southern California market a few months before. I can remember seeing a video by Box of Frogs and thinking even then that all you needed was a weird name to make it big in music in the 80’s.
What I DON’T remember is if we drank before we went; I don’t think so, because Debbie was a straight arrow as I recall and the other girls felt nervous that she’d be weird about it or even “narc” on us. What I DO remember is how long it took to get into and out of the parking lot; in fact I think we missed most if not all of the opening act, which I believe was Book Of Love.
The concert itself was fun; Billy was arguably approaching the height of his popularity that summer, with a staggering four hit singles (“Rebel Yell”, “Eyes Without a Face”, and “Flesh For Fantasy”, “Catch My Fall”) off his second full-length album, Rebel Yell. And of course he performed songs off his first album that were hugely popular as well, including “White Wedding”, “Dancing With Myself”, “Nobody’s Business But My Own”, and his cover of “Mony Mony”. I can still remember how cool we thought it was when Billy substituted “Orange County” for the shout of “New York!” toward the end of the song; years later when Spinal Tap parodied that in their appearance on “The Simpsons” it totally brought back memories of how naïve we were then to think that was cool. My favorite Billy Idol songs were off his first EP Don’t Talk, “Untouchables” and “Baby Talk”; I’m pretty sure he did “Untouchables” at this concert. All in all it was a really good concert.
I’m not sure, but I think my next concert was General Public, also at Irvine Meadows. I know I saw them (though I can’t find the ticket stub) and that it was quite chilly for Southern California, which makes me think it was sometime in fall 1984; I know it had to be before summer 1985 because I graduated from high school that summer but it might have been in winter or early spring 1985 too. The single “Tenderness” was a big hit at my high school and according to Wikipedia it was released in May 1984, so fall 1984 or spring 1985 would be about right.
I attended this concert with my aunt Kris, my mom’s younger sister, who was only two years older than me and more like a big sister. She had moved out from upstate New York to live with us in California. She had this tiny little Datsun or Toyota and I can remember listening to Prince’s “Take Me With You” on the radio or tape deck (that would also fit the fall/spring timeline since Purple Rain was released in June 1984). The opening act was the Three O’Clock, who a couple of years earlier I had been really into but had cooled on. Still, they gave a good concert (although again I think we arrived late and missed part of it). General Public, Dave Wakeling and Rankin’ Roger’s band after the English Beat, had a couple of popular songs off that album but I don’t remember them doing any other songs (English Beat songs, for example), which would have sucked.
The next concert I have documentation for is Depeche Mode on their Some Great Reward tour, March 31st 1985 again at Irvine Meadows. This concert was a MAJOR event at my high school. I can still remember my friend John and I standing in line at Music Plus near the Traffic Circle in Long Beach to get tickets. We pulled up and there was this HUGE line containing a wide range of high school social strata—college-bound kids, surfers, new wavers, and outright punk rockers. It was like a who’s who of the different music and social scenes. At this time Depeche Mode was EXTREMELY popular in Southern California; the compilation album People Are People had been released in July 1984 and I can remember buying it at the independent record store Jeremiah McCain’s in Belmont Shore very soon after that, probably in August or September 1984, and this introduced many of us American fans to a broad survey of their earlier singles. Some Great Reward had been released in late August 1984, I probably bought it a month or two after that (at Music Plus I think), so the local market was completely saturated. I was utterly obsessed with Depeche Mode at this point, stemming partly from their popularity in the dance clubs I’d attended for the past year. I was also entering into a pretty major flirtation with industrial music, and this was when Depeche Mode was at their most industrial. Just as my interest in the music of Billy Idol eventually led me to seek out REAL punk by bands like Black Flag and Husker Du, my interest in Depeche Mode spurred me to explore the music of bands like Test Dept. “People Are People” was my favorite song due to its clanging, hammering industrial dissonance, but I really got into the whole Some Great Reward album. My favorite song off it was “It Doesn’t Matter”, which I would sing to my girlfriend at times, and I liked “Master and Servant”.
That concert was one of the most amazing of my life. We didn’t know it, but Depeche Mode had been on the road for over half a year by that time, but you’d never have known it by the high energy show they put on. Lead singer Dave Gahan was a whirling dervish on stage, racing from one end of the large, wide Irvine Meadows stage to the other. But the highlight was when Martin Gore took the mic and sang the ballad “Somebody”, which blew us away: it was tender and heartfelt . . . oh, and he sang it bare-chested wearing an ankle length leather skirt and a strand of pearls!!!!!!! Wow. For some reason we didn’t think this was gay (even though it so clearly WAS), we thought it was super cool. I can remember that we left for spring break on Catalina Island the next day and all we wanted to do was listen to that song over and over again! It was a strange time, what can I say.
My next concert was Madonna at the Universal Amphitheatre in Universal City, CA, April 26th, 1985. I’d been a major Madonna fan since the minute her first album came out. I can remember seeing the cover of her first album, with that iconic picture of her head, with her dyed blonde hair, all her bracelets on her arms, and a black t-shirt, and was transfixed. On the one hand I thought that the album was blasphemous (even though I’m not religious at all) because I thought it was a BAND named “Madonna”, kind of like “Judas Priest” or something. The not too long after this I saw the video for “Burning Up” and almost lost it; her raw, seething sexuality in that video totally set my teenage libido on fire. I can remember telling my best friend John about her, and insisting we watch her on “American Bandstand”. His opinion? “She looks like a slut.” Yeah, so??? I continued to consider her the epitome of desirability, mostly because of her punk/post-punk look, with dyed blonde hair, crucifixes, heavy makeup, bracelets, black clothing, etc., which reminded me of the club girls I could never dance with.
Her first album was very popular at our high school, and her second album Like a Virgin had just come out the year before and was hugely popular too. I can remember I had a small postcard-sized image of her in the wedding dress from the cover taped up in my locker; my ideal woman! She hadn’t toured for her first album, or at least hadn’t come to Southern California that I’m aware, and so we decided to go and see her on her first tour, the Like a Virgin tour. What’s funny is a bunch of really macho mook-y guys we knew at school also decided to attend, all with their girlfriends. My friend Roberto and I went “stag” and we had the WORST seats, almost at the top toward where the sloping roof of the Universal Amphitheatre came down, making it difficult to see.
But here’s what I remember the most about that concert: how much we hated the opening act, who were these obnoxious east coast rap guys (rap not even being on anyone’s radar in Southern California at this time except for dance club hits like “White Lines”) who came out and talked about how much the west coast sucked and how much the east coast ruled. We weren’t alone in booing them; most of the female teenyboppers at this concert were even less interested in rap than WE were. Who was this lousy bunch of obnoxious assholes? The Beastie Boys of course, almost two full years before License To Ill came out!!! What’s particularly funny is that probably my all-time favorite song of theirs is “She’s On It” off the Krush Groove soundtrack and they almost assuredly played it since that single had just come out, only I was booing too hard (my teenage boy testosterone and local pride having been affronted by the Beasties’ rampant east coast boosterism) to even listen.
I remember the concert being fun, but there were so many screaming teenyboppers and it was more of a dance stage show. Madonna was also rapidly leaving her punky roots and embracing a bigger, Marilyn Monroe-inspired identity and image which was much less appealing to me. It was a fine concert but nothing to write home about.
My final concert before college was another cringe-inducing one: Frankie Goes To Hollywood at the Palace in Hollywood, sometime around May or June 1985. “Relax” had broken huge in the dance clubs and I’d gotten some super-extendo remix in import cassette that I would listen to endlessly. Of course my meathead friends would give me endless grief for liking a “bunch of fags” but my friend John and I really dug the music. I also was a really big fan of their covers of “Ferry Across the Mersey” and “Born To Run” (as blasphemous as this will sound to Boss fans, I still love that cover to this day).
One humorous anecdote about this concert has to do with my friend John’s mother. She was a stay-at-home mom, unlike my own mom who was a single working mom, and she was always up in our business (but not necessarily in a bad way) because we always hung out at John’s house after school. She found out we were going to this concert and looked at the ad for it, which said, “Dress Code Enforced”. Now, to this day I have no idea what that meant, but John’s mom took it to mean that we’d need a coat and tie to get in, since that’s typically what “dress code” had meant to people of her generation. She kept telling us we were going to get turned away at the door for not having a suit and tie on. We laughed at her and dismissed this claim, but because we were insecure high school puds there was nevertheless a TINY grain of doubt in each of our hearts. So anyway we drove up there of course there was no dress code. But here’s the punch line: while we were standing in line (with every gay and/or new wave freak in the greater Southern California area), I happened to spy some weird new wave guy who was wearing not one but TWO ties!!! I assume this was some weird new wave fashion statement, but I quickly pointed him out and said to John, “Well, if we DO need a tie to get in, maybe we can borrow one of his.”
The other funny thing I remember about this concert was that we took the most circuitous route to get there. I’d only ever driven up to Santa Monica, and so instead of actually reading a map and figuring out the shortest way to go, I decided I would drive up to Santa Monica then go from there. We could have taken the 405 to the 10 to the 101 and practically been there in 15 minutes; instead we took the 405 to Santa Monica Blvd. then drove the length and breadth of the Westside and Hollywood until we reached Vine (the Palace was on Vine just above Hollywood Blvd.)!!
The concert itself was outstanding; sweaty, loud, fun. It wasn’t overtly gay (surprising since it was held in Hollywood not far from West Hollywood), but I think Frankie were as popular or more so with the straight crowd than they were with the gay crowd. I remember the bass was so deep and heavy I could feel it in my chest. All in all a great concert.