Bike-riding season is officially open. It’s been open for a while, but today is the first I managed to kick it off right — with a few downloads from the iTunes Music Store.
I hadn’t been there — to iTunes — for weeks and weeks, and I see that in my absence Steve Jobs has only redoubled his efforts to part me from all my money, 99 cents at a time. They’ve been adding to the iTunes Exclusives library, virtual albums built around a theme. I only needed to see they have a whole series devoted to the ’70s to start drooling.
Some people maintain the 1970s were an unrelenting sump of suckishness. They couldn’t be more wrong, especially when it comes to pop music, most of which was at least listenable and some of which was simply great. I’ll put ’70s funk up against Motown any day.
And there’s always another song to buy. I chose the Isley Brothers’ “Fight the Power.” Every song from one’s youth has a memory attached, and this is mine: Watching a bunch of gay men dance to “Fight the Power” at the Kismet, one of Columbus’ oldest gay bars, maybe the oldest. (It still is, but now it’s called the Eagle.) Every girl who knows gay men has danced with them; it’s part of their job in straight society — dance with women whose husbands refuse. At school dances, girls dance with one another, but boys can’t, lest the closet cases on the football team decide to hold their heads in the toilet over it. And as you get older, girl-girl dancing gives way to girl-gay boy dancing. It’s a perfect expression of teenage misery, one reason the “World Happiness Dance” episode of “My So-Called Life” reached the level of absolute brilliance.
If it continues into adulthood, one venue for it is gay bars, where single women go with their gay male friends for a little frisson of transgression, among other things. So it was with me at the Kismet, where we danced and danced and danced, and then “Fight the Power” came on, and everyone started doing a line dance called the Bus Stop. I didn’t know it, and I needed a break, so I stepped off and watched for a while, all those muscles and tight T-shirts and perfectly faded jeans moving together in the line. And then it came to me: They’d really rather be dancing with each other. All that dancing-with-girls stuff — they’re just humoring us.
When you have an epiphany, you remember what was on the soundtrack at the time.
I also got Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive,” which will bring no end of abuse from Alan, who considers him Lame. He’s right — Gary Wright is lame. But again, there’s a memory attached. Wright came to Ohio University to open for Peter Frampton in 1976 or so. I think Frampton was touring to support “Frampton Comes Alive,” which meant he was doing a live show of a live album. Of course, “Frampton Comes Alive” was turgid, horrible crap, but there was a certain lemming-like appeal to seeing what was all over the radio being acted out on stage. I bought tickets.
So Gary Wright comes out to play, and no one had heard of him. He opened with “Love is Alive,” and it was fabulous, this sort of jazzy organ groove pop thing. He had three sylph-like chick singers, each one a sexy goddess, doing backup. He was in and out in about eight songs, ending with “Dream Weaver,” which we also hadn’t heard, and oh my but it was one of those opening acts you remember, so fresh and new and what about those backup singers.
And then Frampton comes out, and all our hearts sank. He isn’t really going to sing that Doooo you, you! Feeeel like I doooooo thing, is he? Oh god, it sounds just like the album. Aren’t live shows supposed to sound different from the album, even live shows about live albums? We stayed to the end, but left thinking about Gary Wright.
Gary went on to have a very very good year, and he came back to OU almost a year later, and he was headlining this time. And guess who opened for him? The J. Geils Band.
Well, you know how that went. J. Geils comes out and blows the freakin’ roof off the place. I mean, it actually levitated. It was in a smaller venue this time, and they did the same opening-act thing — concise, tight, loud. Also, with lots of harmonica solos. Ain’t nothin’ but a house party!…First I look at the purse! It was outstanding. And then they went off, and out came Gary Wright, after a hard year of touring, which in the ’70s wasn’t about yoga and fresh-made carrot juice, if you catch my drift.
There was a new set of chick singers, just as sylphlike, but not the same ones as the first go-round. And he didn’t open with “Love is Alive,” but with “Dream Weaver,” his big ginormous hit. And get this — there was a slide show.
Sure. He sang, “I just closed my eyes again…” and behind him flashed a big picture of Gary Wright with his eyes closed. “Climbed aboard the dream weaver train…” And there was a train in soft focus on the screen. And so on.
Oh my, did it suck. I mean, we’d just heard “Whammer Jammer.” We didn’t want to hear this lame-ass crap. Not even.
I’m not sure if this story has a moral, but I always think of it when I hear Gary Wright, and maybe, if I had to write it down, it’s this: Stay nimble, keep your material fresh, don’t be too literal and choose your opening act carefully.